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Simply Lake Garda

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10 days From £1,995 £1,795 per person
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Cruise to beautiful Isola del Garda, explore the medieval fortress town of Sirmione, and discover the wonders of Venice and Verona, from the historic lakeside town of Desenzano.

Operated by our sister company Great Rail Journeys

2024 Tour code: DZL24

About the tour

The vibrant town of Desenzano, set on the southern shores of Lake Garda, is our charming base. With a peaceful harbour and characterful old town, the town is perfectly placed for exploring. From here, we cruise to enchanting Isola del Garda to visit the opulent Villa Borghese-Cavazza, explore the medieval lakeside town of Sirmione, and experience the magical ambience of wondrous Venice.

Unforgettable Experiences

Cruise to Isola del Garda to Villa Borghese-Cavazza
Cruise to Isola del Garda to Villa Borghese-Cavazza
After a relaxing cruise to Isola del Garda, we visit the renowned Venetian Villa Borghese-Cavazza and its magnificent hanging gardens, followed by a drink in the grounds with a member of the Cavazza family.
Discover Desenzano, our delightful base
Discover Desenzano, our delightful base
With lively piazzas, an impressive Roman villa and an ancient harbour, Desenzano is attractive and conveniently located, near to the railway station and to the departure point for boats to other lakeside towns.
Experience the unique ambience of Venice
Experience the unique ambience of Venice
Discover ethereal Venice on a fascinating guided walking tour, seeing some of its main attractions and hidden treasures, followed by free time to explore at your own pace and soak up the unique atmosphere.
See the historic highlights of Verona
See the historic highlights of Verona
Discover Shakespeare’s view of Verona on a guided tour, visiting Juliet’s balcony, an ancient piazza and the impressive Roman Arena, now an open-air opera house.
Sail to Sirmione
Sail to Sirmione
We take a short cruise to our nearest lakeside neighbour, just across the sparkling waters of Lake Garda, to delightful Sirmione, with a fairytale castle fortress and a fascinating history.

What’s included

Itinerary

Day 1 – London to vibrant Stuttgart

Our holiday begins when we meet at London St Pancras for the Eurostar service to Paris. Changing trains in the French capital, we continue by rail to Stuttgart. Gliding through the vineyards of the Champagne region on our way to Germany, we arrive in lively Stuttgart in the early evening. Famed as the birthplace of the automobile, Stuttgart is home to both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz and contains a 140-year-old rack railway that climbs 673 feet in 1.4 miles. In the centre, the sprawling Baroque New Palace, which once housed Württemberg's dukes and kings, neighbours the attractive Palace Garden. After checking in to our hotel, we enjoy our first group dinner together in the on-site restaurant.

Includes
  • Dinner
Day 2 – Across the Brenner Pass to lakeside Desenzano

An incredible journey awaits after breakfast today. Transferring to Stuttgart station, we board a morning train to Munich. Passing through nearby Ulm, look out for its striking minster - the tallest church building in the world.

In Munich, we join the direct train to Verona. This astonishing route crosses Austria, revealing incredible scenery as the route climbs on the approach to the Brenner Pass which connects Austria to Italy. Spiralling round a valley, the elevation increases as we admire panoramas of pyramidal peaks, hilltop fortresses and alpine meadows dotted with charming chalets.

Descending the Alps via Bolzano, we arrive in Verona and head east by coach to our glistening destination - Desenzano, a lakeside town with an attractive historic centre and pleasant waterfront. Here we check into our hotel, situated in a quiet area, overlooking Lake Garda. The town's historic centre is 10 minutes' walk away and its picturesque piazzas are bordered by cafés, gelaterias and bars. There's also a pretty harbour and lakeside promenade, which you may have time to seek out before dinner at our lovely hotel.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 3 - Exploring enchanting Sirmione at your leisure

This morning we take a short cruise to our nearest lakeside neighbour, Sirmione, one of Lake Garda's most delightful towns. Set on a narrow peninsula which stretches into the lake, this fascinating fortress town is a pleasure to explore on foot. You are free to discover Sirmione independently, over lunchtime and into the afternoon. Among the old town's medieval streets and colourful piazzas, you'll find beautifully restored buildings, including a 14th century church, inviting trattorias and pavement cafés. For lunch, local specialities include fresh fish and seafood, pizza and delicious homemade pasta, including pumpkin ravioli and tortellini. You could indulge in an afternoon of people-watching and soak up the atmosphere with a coffee or a glass of local wine.

A short walk from the old town is the striking medieval Scaligero Castle, which guards the entrance to the peninsula of Sirmione, where it's possible to enjoy great views across the lake from the top of its fortified walls. Another ancient site to explore is the extraordinary Grottoes of Catullus, the preserved remains of one of the largest Roman villas in Italy, set on a small hill at the tip of the peninsula, with a museum and wonderful views from the top. We sail the short distance back to Desenzano this afternoon and dine at our hotel restaurant this evening.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 4 – Discovering delightful Desenzano

A free day and evening ahead presents the perfect opportunity to get to know Desenzano, or maybe to venture further by rail. At the heart of Desenzano is the main square, Piazza Malvezzi, behind the Venetian port and below the castle. Besides cafés, restaurants and enticing gelateria, you'll also find stylish boutiques, Italian shoe shops, delicatessens and wine shops. At the water's edge there's a pretty marina with an ancient harbour wall, and a small lighthouse. The Cesare Battisti promenade offers a relaxing walk along the lakefront.

To reach the Castle of Desenzano above the town, follow Via Stretta Castello from Piazza Malvezzi. Built over ten centuries ago on the ancient base of a Roman fort and town, the castle has fabulous views across the bay. You could also visit the Roman villa with its beautiful mosaics, thermal baths and a terrace overlooking the lake. Other highlights include the archaeological museum, and the 16th-century Cathedral of St Mary Magdalene.

Desenzano train station is five minutes' walk away, and offers frequent trains to cities including stylish Milan. An exciting architectural mix of old and new, among the city's most famous sites are the stunning Milan Cathedral, the lively Piazza Duomo and world renowned Teatro alla Scala opera house.

Exploring the lake by boat is another appealing option. Picturesque Bardolino is a great choice, known for its red wine and olive oil production - the town hosts a wine festival every year. This peaceful coastal town has a relaxed ambience and its atmospheric historic centre has bars, restaurants and shops where you can sample local produce. Another place to explore by boat is the UNESCO-listed Roman city of Peschiera, or beautiful Riva del Garda, surrounded by mountains on the northern shore. Shopping and dining continues into the evening in these lakeside towns.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 5 - A guided tour and free time in enchanting Venice

Today we travel by rail from Desenzano to glorious Venice, a high point of our holiday. On arrival we are transferred by a private boat to St Mark's Square, the heart and soul of Venice. Here we're surrounded by the impressive landmarks of St Mark's Basilica, the beautiful Doge's Palace, and historic cafés. On a guided tour we meander through hidden backstreets, seeing the house where Vivaldi was born, the distinctive Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George, and the Bridge of Sighs - which links the city's prison with the Doge's Palace. Our guide shares stories and details of the different sights along our tour, which finishes back in St Mark's Square, where we see the Clock Tower and the oldest coffee house in the world, Caffè Florian.

After our tour we have time over lunch and into the afternoon to continue discovering this wonderful city at our own pace. You may like to enter St Mark's Basilica to see its atmospheric interior, or take a closer look at some of the other grand landmarks we've passed. Venice has a fabulous choice of places to eat, from upmarket restaurants to bar counters which sell cicchetti, bite-sized open sandwiches, or you could simply stop at a 'pasticceria' for coffee and a Venetian pastry. Wandering beside the city's luminous turquoise canals, passing Venetian palazzos and beautiful bridges, is the perfect way to soak up the ethereal atmosphere. We return to Desenzano by rail and dine at our hotel this evening.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 6 – Free day in Desenzano or discovering Lake Garda

By now you'll have embraced the slow Italian pace of life, and you have the luxury of a day and evening to spend as you wish. You might choose to relax at the pool or on the roof terrace of your hotel, to discover more of the sights in Desenzano, or to explore further afield - by boat, or by rail.

The chance to sightsee by boat is a tempting option. On the western coast of the Lake is Gardone Riviera, a hidden gem and one of Italy's most beautiful small towns. Surrounded by mountains, the town features the André Heller Botanic Garden, with unusual plants from all over the world - Japanese gardens, water features and grottoes - decorated with contemporary art sculptures. This evening you are free to dine independently and there are many enticing eating places to choose from in Gardone. Alternatively, you may like to consider one of the options suggested on Day 4.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 7 - A cruise to beautiful Isola del Garda

This morning is at leisure until after lunch, so there's a chance to enjoy a lakeside walk along the Desenzano promenade, enjoy some more sightseeing, sunning or shopping. This afternoon we cruise across Lake Garda, heading to the wondrous Isola del Garda, the largest island on the lake, which is only accessible by boat. Isola del Garda has been owned by the Cavazza family for generations. Here, fragrant acacia and lemon trees frame an extraordinary neo-Gothic style villa. There's also a small wood of pines and cypresses, acacias and lemon trees, magnolias and agaves. We explore the exquisite villa and extensive gardens on a guided tour before relaxing with a drink, joined by a member of the Cavazza family. We return to Desenzano by boat and this evening we dine at our hotel.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 8 - Guided tour of Verona and free time to explore

Today we travel by coach to historic Verona, a UNESCO-listed city that may be best-known as the setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. On a guided tour we're introduced to the city's ancient history as we wander beside Roman ruins and medieval buildings, seeing Juliet's balcony and the awe-inspiring Roman Arena, which predates Rome's Colosseum and is now an open-air opera house. With free time over lunch you could stroll into the heart of romantic Verona to the Piazza delle Erbe, the city's oldest square which was originally a Roman forum, now buzzing with cafés and lined with beautiful buildings. Or maybe wander down the main shopping street, where Italy's great fashion houses are represented. Another popular attraction in Verona is an 84-metre watchtower, Torre dei Lamberti, which has fantastic panoramic views across the city to the mountains on the horizon. We return to Desenzano by coach, and this evening we enjoy dinner at our Lake Garda hotel.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 9 – Leaving Lake Garda, to Mulhouse in Alsace

A morning coach transfer follow breakfast as we leave the beautiful surroundings of Lake Garda for Milan. From this stylish city, we continue by rail to Mulhouse in France, via the Swiss city of Basel. The route takes us through incredible scenery as we pass the shores of Lake Maggiore before entering the Simplon Tunnel formerly used by the evocative Orient Express. Emerging in Switzerland, we are surrounded by incredible peaks as we make our way towards glistening Lake Thun and onwards to Basel. Here, we take a short train ride across the French border to the historic Alsace city of Mulhouse.

The focus of the medieval centre is Place de la Réunion, where you can find the Gothic Revival Temple St-Étienne and the pink and gold decorated town hall. Constructed in 1553, this striking Renaissance building displays allegoric frescoes representing vices and virtues. Our hotel is near the station, and it is here that we enjoy our final dinner together this evening.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 10 – Homeward bound

There is a leisurely morning in Mulhouse after breakfast before we take the short walk to the station, where we board the train to Paris. As we pass through the picturesque towns of the French countryside, we can recall our holiday to Lake Garda and share the experiences with our new friends.

Returning to London St Pancras International on the Eurostar, we bid farewell to our Tour Manager and the rest of our group, with whom we have shared these unforgettable experiences.

Includes
  • Breakfast

Additional information

Mobility information

Due to the nature of our tours they are generally unsuitable for those with restricted mobility. If you’d like to discuss any particular holiday with us in this respect, then please don’t hesitate to call us.

Hotel

Hotel Desenzano

Hotel Desenzano, Desenzano

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