Riva del Garda is sited at the most northerly point of Lake Garda. Flanked by Monte Brione and Monte Rocchetta it is a reassuring presence in a dramatic landscape. With a population of about 16,000 it is by far the largest town in the north, and is second only to Desenzano on the whole lake. Riva del Garda, like Desenzano, is a working town with tourism effortlessly blending into its daily activities.
If you arrive by ferry you immediately step out into the town’s most fascinating area. Passing the cafés and bars that are opposite the waterfront you quickly reach Piazza 3 Novembre, the beating heart of the town. Dominating the piazza is the Torre Apponale the 34m high clock tower, whose origins date back to the 13th century. If you feel energetic you may wish to buy a ticket, which can be combined with entrance to the civic museum, and ascend the 165 steps to the top of the tower for superb views of the town and lake.
The civic museum (MAG) is housed in the nearby Rocca, an impressive, lakeside medieval fortress, bounded by a moat. Its mission is the preservation and display of the cultural and historical heritage of the area. The archaeological section has some of the most important finds in the locality. The art gallery has works ranging from the 15th century to recent times. Each room is dedicated to a particular period, and all have information sheets in English. As well as the permanent collection, quality temporary exhibitions are held. The museum gives great value for the very modest entrance fee.
The old town
The ambience of the old town is somewhat different from that of most of the other resorts on Lake Garda. Mercifully the winding, narrow streets are not dominated by shops devoted to tourist paraphernalia, and the people you pass by are as likely to be those going about their day to day business as they are to be fellow tourists.
There are a number of piazzas dotted about the town; each one has its own charm, and a pleasant hour can be spent people watching, while enjoying a relaxing drink in one of the cafés. Dominating Piazza Cavour is Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta, a baroque church with a single nave, nine altars and works of art by important local artists. Nearby stands the Porta San Michele, one of the gates to the old town. If you go through this gate and walk down Viale Roma you will eventually reach Chiesa dell’ Inviolata, a 17th century church of mixed architectural styles. Some deem this peaceful church the most beautiful in the region.
Something a little different
Not far from the ferry stop you might spot a distinctive building that could pass for an art deco hotel or civic building. It is actually a hydro-electric power generating plant that is connected to Lake Ledro by a tunnel through the rock.
If you are a railway enthusiast then a visit to the tourist information office is a must. It is housed in what was once the railway station for the MAR, the line that connected Alto Garda to the Mori and the Brenner line. It closed in 1936.
Spectacular viewing points
The Bastion (1507) sits at a height of 200m on the mountainside, proudly overlooking Riva and the lake. You can reach it in about 20 to 30 minutes by following a signposted, well made, zig-zagging, uphill path. There is a café and a terrace from where you can enjoy superb views. If you have the time, sufficient energy and good walking shoes you can follow a much steeper, more rugged path to a mountain hut, and then on to the small chapel of Santa Barbara (625m). The views from here are even more spectacular.
Seasoned walkers can, if they wish, pursue the arduous path to the highest peak of Monte Rocchetta (1520m).
This is a mountainous region so, as you would expect, Riva del Garda tends to be cooler than southern parts of the lake. Being a windy resort, it is rarely extremely hot and oppressive.
The constancy of the wind provides ideal conditions for sailing and windsurfing. The long, well maintained, pebble beach make it popular for lake swimming. There are numerous mountain biking paths, hiking trails and opportunities for some serious climbing. These activities are unlikely to be on the itinerary of the average day visitor, but the simple stroll to Torbole (an easy 40 minutes) is a possibility.
Travelling to Riva del Garda from the southern resorts is a lengthy process: the ‘rapido’ from Desenzano takes 3 hours, from Sirmione 2.75 hours, from Bardolino just over 2 hours. And it can be even longer if you have to change at Limone.
Riva del Garda can be reached by bus both from the east coast and the west coast resorts. You must, however, check the timetables carefully as changes may be needed.
Journeys from the southern resorts are lengthy affairs and may not be a practical proposition. Journeys from the mid-lake resorts are manageable e.g. Garda to Riva del Garda takes just over one hour.
If you are staying in Riva del Garda and wish to explore further afield then a 40 minute or so bus ride will bring you to the railway station at Rovereto, where you can board trains to Bolzano and Verona.