A dynamic and lively town, rich in memories and activities, Desenzano is the ideal place for a holiday which is a perfect balance between relaxation and fun, nature and culture: thanks to its easy access and its geographical position, it is one of the easiest destinations to reach, the ideal departure point for your next holiday on Lake Garda.
Desenzano and Lake Garda: in the heart and in the history of Europe, where customs and cultures meet and blend together. A famous Riviera, set between the Alpine snows and the Mediterranean sun, caressed by a unique, mild climate all year round.
This land, which was formed by thousands of years of glacial activity, still bears the traces of prehistoric man, of Roman colonization, the passage of the Celts and the Venetian culture, of France and of Central Europe.
Time stood still on the shores of the lake and has fixed memories and emotions of a past which is recalled every day in the works of art, in the rich museums, in the precious monuments on the corners of the streets of Desenzano.
Roman remains, Middle-age fortresses, old parish churches and Renaissance paintings frame a center which is rich in history, art and culture.
Important confirmation of the most important historical eras can be found in Desenzano, starting with the Civic Archaeological Museum, which houses a plough from 2000 B.C. (the oldest to be found to date), the Roman Villa with its mosaic floors and the relics housed in the Antiquarium.
The Castle, from the High Middle Ages, and the Cathedral, which houses some precious paintings, such as Tiepolo’s “Last Supper”, are both very interesting.
The Port of Desenzano
The Republic of Venice established itself permanently in the Garda region and in the territories of Brescia and Bergamo after the peace of Lodi in 1454. During this time the port of Desenzano was completely renovated. However the outer breakwater, up to the lighthouse with its lantern, date back to the nineteenth century.
Before the nineteenth century the small port (nowadays known as the Old Port) was protected by a large quay and by some rocks which curbed the force of the waters when the lake was stormy, boats could also be moored to the quay opposite the port.
The traffic of goods in the nineteenth century was noteworthy, goods departed from Desenzano or arrived there from other lakeside towns, either on small boats or on larger craft towed by small tugs.
A tramline set out from a small square, which now houses the gardens at the start of the lakeside promenade “C. Battisti”, and linked Desenzano to Castiglione and Mantova. The Venetian style bridge which crosses the entrance to the small port was built in this century, in the thirties. The large wet dock to the south was also built in the thirties.
Nowadays the “nineteenth century style” steamboats, with their beautiful slender shape, have all but disappeared, to be replaced by motorboat-ferries and extremely fast hydrofoils.
The Roman Villa
The Villa in Desenzano is, nowadays, the most important testimony, in Northern Italy, to the grand and sumptuous ancient villas.
The building, situated just north of the Gallic way, enjoyed an excellent environment and landscape along the southern shores of Lake Garda.
Nowadays anyone who wants to have an idea of the composition of the villa must use their imagination to make the large and distinct blocks of the building, dating from the IV century B.C., emerge from the ruins, but without considering, in this first approach, all those other elements which date back to earlier dwellings, and that can be glimpsed here and there.
So, what can be drawn from these numerous separate ruins is an impression of a complex building, widely spread and characterized by three main areas, a first sector for extravagant stately functions, a second mainly residential area and a third which is for the most part thermal.
At the entrance to the villa there is also a small museum which, in three rooms, exhibits finds from numerous archaeological digs: amongst these there are the remains of some very interesting statues and pictures, as well as a mill for pressing grapes or olives.
The Castle of Desenzano
The castle is the building which characterizes the appearance of the town of Desenzano, either when seen on arrival from inland, or when seen from the port, or even further away, from the lake. At the end of the fifteenth century the castle, which has its origins in the High Middle-Ages and probably stands on the foundations of a Roman castrum, was extended towards the south; however, it never became a military fortress, although the extension was carried out in order to house a garrison. It still continued its major role as a refuge for the population.
Inside the castle there were the private homes of a few citizens which were always ready to accommodate those who lived outside the castle walls in the event of danger. In later years the castle gradually surrendered its function as a refuge, families continued to live there although its deterioration throughout the nineteenth century grew steadily worse.
In the castle there was even a church, the church of St. Ambrose, which was used as a private house. The layout of the castle is that of an irregular rectangle, with a tower rising up at the entrance, on the northern side, protecting the drawbridge, of which the loop-holes for the chains can still be seen today. It is a square-built tower with a single window in the upper part.
In 1882 the castle was used as a barracks, first as the headquarters of an infantry garrison, then for Bersaglieres and finally for the Alpine troops from the thirties until 1943. The old castle, although devoid of any particular architectural beauty, apart from the facade, is undoubtedly of great historical interest and of spectacular charm. All that remains of the old castle are some lengths of defense walls with crumbling catwalks between the four cut-off towers, with the exception of the one on the north-eastern corner which up until 1940 was used as an observatory. From its terrace you can enjoy one of the most beautiful views of Lake Garda.
How to get to Desenzano
Desenzano is located in a privileged geographic position with comfortable and fast ways of communication that connect it to several centers: the railway line on the Paris – Bern – Milan – Venice – Zagabria line, the service of bus extended also to the Veneto and the Trentino, the regular lines of navigation on the entire lake, the highways (eg. the Highway Turin – Milan – Venice “La Serenissima”).
Desenzano is also close to the airport “Catullo” of Villafranca (Verona) and to the brand new one of Montichiari (Brescia). All this makes Desenzano a node of such importance that it can be considered the “Capital of Lake Garda”.
Where to eat in Desenzano
Ristorante La Contrada: we have been there and we recommend it!
Just around the corner in Via Castello, Cavallaio sells fresh fish from the lake, plus wonderful sardines perfect for grilling.
Where to stay in Desenzano
There are hotels, apartments, villas and B&Bs available, check them out and make a reservation here.