Sirmione: 127km (79 miles) E of Milan, 149km (92 miles) W of Venice; Riva del Garda: 170km (105 miles) NE of Milan, 199km (123 miles) NW of Venice
Lake Garda, the largest and easternmost of the lakes, laps against the flat plains of Lombardy and the Veneto at its southern extremes; in the north it becomes fjordlike and moody, its deep waters backed by Alpine peaks. Garda's shores are green and fragrant with flowery gardens, groves of olives and lemons, and forests of pines and cypress.
This pleasing, vaguely exotic landscape has attracted the likes of poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, whose villa near Gardone is one of the area's major attractions, and Benito Mussolini, whose Republic of Salo was headquartered here. Long before them, the Romans discovered the hot springs that still gush forth at Sirmione, the famed resort on a spit of land at the lake's southern reaches. Today's visitors come to swim (Garda is the cleanest of the major lakes), windsurf (Riva del Garda, at the northern end of the lake, is Europe's windsurfing capital), and enjoy the easygoing ambience of Garda's many pleasant lakeside resorts.
Getting There -- Regular trains run from Milan Stazione Centrale and stop at Desenzano del Garda (fares start at 9.20€). From here it’s a 20-minute bus ride to Sirmione; buses make the short hop every half hour for 2€).
Hydrofoils and ferries operated by Navigazione Laghi (www.navlaghi.it; (tel) 800-551-801) ply the waters of the lake. One to two hourly ferries connect Sirmione with Desenzano del Garda in season (20 min. by ferry, 3€); less frequently October to April.
Sirmione is just off the A4 between Milan and Venice. From Venice the trip takes about 1 1/2 hours, and from Milan a little over an hour. There’s ample parking in Piazzale Monte Baldo.
Visitor Information -- Sirmione's tourist office is at Viale Marconi 8 (www.comune.sirmione.bs.it; (tel) 030-374-8721). There is also a tourism kiosk at Viale Marconi 2 just before the bridge into the old part of town. In Riva del Garda, the tourist office is on the lakefront at Largo Medaglie d’Oro 5 (www.gardatrentino.it/en; tel. 0464/554-444). There’s also a tourist office in Gardone Riviera at Corso Repubblica 8 (tel. 030/3748-736). For all, hours vary depending on the season.