Although Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, it doesn’t quite get the attention that nearby Lake Como does. For American tourists, this could be because George Clooney owns a villa on Lake Como, or because the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas was inspired by the charming town of the same name. But Lake Garda is worth a visit for its tremendous scenic beauty, its abundant water sports, and, perhaps, because it presents a better opportunity to vacation like a European.
When we planned a side trip to the Lakes Region as part of a BMW European Delivery experience, we were looking for a hotel with a resort feel, offering plenty of relaxing pool time, plus a single room that could accommodate our family of four. And we wanted enough of a kitchen to prepare some meals on our own, since grocery shopping is one of our favorite things to do in Italy. The 23-room Hotel Bella Riva on Lake Garda’s western shore checked all the boxes nicely.
The road surrounding Lake Garda is tight in places but always manageable. The hotel sits next to a municipal dock with ferry service to nearby villages. A few restaurants and shops are within walking distance, but in most cases a visit to a neighboring village involves a very short car ride. The nearest town, Gardone Riviera, was hopping with activity on the evening we visited, due to a special event.
Few hotels in Europe allow a family of four in a single room, which can really drive costs up. An apartment in Villa Mughetto, adjacent to the main hotel, suited us perfectly. The eight apartments, completely remodeled in 2010, each have a separate bedroom and living room with a king bed and foldout sofa, plus a small kitchenette and dining area. Furnishings in the apartments are simple, but clean and comfortable. Nightly turndown service, including setting up the kids’ bed, was a nice touch.
TIP: Inquire directly with the hotel about family-friendly options — they may offer rooms that can’t be booked online.
Many hotel guests choose to spend an entire day at the pool, especially when summer temperatures soar. Plenty of comfortable lounge chairs, large towels and drink service are available. Immaculately maintained, the pool earned high marks from our 8- and 10-year-old boys.
In the evening, visit the hotel bar, where the inimitable Enzo will happily prepare an Aperol Spritz for the adults. He’d consider it a disgrace if you weren’t provided with a few complimentary snacks during your time at the bar.
Action at Hotel Bella Riva revolves around the restaurant, Riva Carne Al Fuoco. Each morning, guests are greeted with an extensive breaktast buffet with eggs made to order. The view of the lake from the restaurant’s outdoor patio is delightful. Lunch and dinner are served here as well, featuring local specialties baked in a coal-fired oven.
Isola del Garda, an island on the lake with a gorgeous villa that you can visit by boat via a guided tour, is visible from the Bella Riva. Farther afield, the charming city of Verona is within an hour’s drive. There you can visit Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House) to see the balcony where Juliet is supposed to have stood while Romeo declared his love. Although it’s mobbed with tourists, it’s a quick and fun in and out. Venice is a couple of hours away.
There are also great vineyards and wineries a short drive north of Verona. This is where Valpolicella and Amarone come from, so for those who are into wine, it’s worth checking out. We visited Allegrini, which I highly recommend; they’re a terrific producer and open for tastings without appointment.
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Editor’s Note: Robert received a media rate at Hotel Bella Riva in order to review the property for Ciao Bambino. As always, our opinions are our own. For more of Robert’s travel adventures, follow him on Twitter: @RobertDwyer. Photos by Robert Dwyer.
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