In and Around Bardolino, Lake Garda’s Best Spots to Drink, Dine, and Stay

Lake Garda, looking west from Bardolino. All photos (except 2 indicated) by Lisa Denning.

Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and its natural beauty and mild climate make it an ideal travel destination all year round. Visitors — and those lucky enough to live there — are rewarded with the Italian riviera way of life: nice weather, stunning views, excellent cuisine and some of the country’s best wines.

The lake’s shores are dotted with charming medieval villages and the ancient town of Bardolino is one of its most alluring jewels. Located in the province of Veneto, on the eastern side of the lake, Bardolino’s long lakefront features a winding walkway for pedestrians to enjoy its mountain vistas, clear waters, and marinas full of colorfully decorated boats. A few steps from the water, Bardolino’s narrow cobblestone streets provide a romantic maze leading to many fine restaurants, boutiques, and ancient stone buildings.

After exploring the town, it’s just a quick drive or bike ride up into the surrounding countryside, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by gently rolling hills of cypress trees, olive groves, and vineyards. The lake’s long-ago formation by receding glaciers resulted in the composition of rocky, mineral-rich morainic soils that extend well out into the countryside. Here you will find the vineyards that produce many of Italy’s most important wines.

December views (above) of Bardolino and the surrounding countryside: town, lake, hills, and mountains, such wonderful geographic diversity!

Wine Country

The combination of the rocky morainic soils with Lake Garda'’s windy, tempering effects (cooling in the summer and warming in the winter) provide excellent conditions for the cultivation of grapes. This is the heart of the Bardolino and Chiaretto wine region, where, like neighboring Valpolicella, Corvina grapes are the king, typically blended with small amounts of Rondinella and Molinara.

A map of the Bardolino and Chiaretto DOC and a glass of pale pink Chiaretto.

But unlike Valpolicella that is home to big and powerful Ripasso and Amarone wines, the moranic soils of Bardolino give birth to uniquely light and delicate red and rosé wines with a low percent of alcohol (typically 12-12.5%). In fact, the light pink wines are called Chiaretto which means “pale“in Italian. The color of these dry wines comes from a short period of contact between the juice and the grape skins.

It’s interesting to note that the most ancient wine of the territory is rosé. During the Roman times, and for many centuries afterwards, pink wines were the most popular kind. Over time, the Roman culture of drinking rosé was forgotten, but thankfully it’s being revived with Chiaretto, now the leader of the Italian rosé category.

And while both the red and the rosé wines are light in color and alcohol, don’t let that fool you into believing that they are light in flavor. These wines can be very complex — full of fresh raspberry, blueberry, plum, and black cherry aromas and flavors, with hints of spice in the background. Best of all, due to their salinity, freshness and citrus notes, they are a superb accompaniment to just about any type of food.

Chiaretto’s beautiful pale hues.

Some of the best olive oil in all of Italy is made in the Garda DOP.

And if you’re anything like me, the best part of vacation is eating great food, and, luckily, Bardolino and the surrounding area has some of the tastiest cuisine in all of Italy. The abundance of typical local products — lake fish, meats, produce, truffles, chestnuts, alpine cheeses, pasta and rice, to name a few — favored the development of a rich culinary tradition. Sharing meals and conversation with friends and family is a way of life for the Veronese people who welcome guests warmly into their restaurants, osterias (bars), and homes.

Angelo Peretti, Executive Director of the Bardolino and Chiaretto wine consortium says that wine is a way to socialize and share ideas. “Here in Verona we never drink wine without food, friends, and conversation,” he says. “Even business is made in osterias, but always over food.” Peretti told me when he and his friends say “Bere un goto,” or “Let’s go have a drink” what they really mean is to have moments together to talk about sports, politics, food, and, of course, women — they are Italian after all! “Wine is a good friend,”he says, “and meeting in an osteria is a great way to break barriers, unlike meeting in an office.”

Where To Eat

La Formica, Piazza Lenotti 11 37011 Bardolino. A favorite haunt of Bardolino locals, this casual restaurant’s flavorful, thin crust pizzas are so light you can eat several slices. Be prepared to swoon over the radicchio and brie pizza (in photo). The freshly prepared salads and desserts help round out the meal, with both Chiaretto rosés and Bardolino reds being a perfect accompaniment to pizza. Book ahead as the restaurant is quite popular.

Il Giardino delle Esperidi, Via Geffredo Mameli, 1, Bardolino. Locals consider this cozy, antique-filled, female-owned gem to be the best restaurant in town. Don’t miss the fish soup, a simple dish that packs a big punch of bold flavors — sweet and savory, rich and smoky — and is made from just three main ingredients: smoked lake fish, pumpkin, and black cabbage. Everything is made from scratch and there’s a fine selection of Bardolino and Chiaretto wines to enjoy with each course.

Fish soup at Il Giardino delle Esperidi.

Taverna Kus: 14 Contrada Castello - 37010 San Zeno di Montagna. Owner Giancarlo Zanolli is the brainchild of this beautiful restaurant, built in the 14th century as a castle for the lords of Verona. Originally a beer pub, this hilltop taverna is now known for its extensive selection of wines stored in an fascinating underground wine cave (tip: ask for a tour of the cellar). Recommended dishes, both meat and vegetarian options, include chestnut soup in a bread bowl, homemade pasta with truffles, ravioli stuffed with nettle and lemon balm, rack of lamb, osso bucco, and homemade ice creams. Take a walk through the colorful antique-packed rooms (photos below), that are bursting with coffee grinders, sewing machines, food scales, ceramics, clocks, paintings, and more — it’s like being in a museum! During the warmer months there’s a charming garden patio for al fresco dining.

Oseleta: Località Cordevigo - 37010 Cavaion Veronese.  Awarded one Michelin star, Chef Giuseppe D'Aquino astonishes diners with a his unique blend of Neapolitan and Veneto cuisines in one of the most beautiful and elegant restaurants in Italy. The restaurant, located on the exquisite Villa Cordevigo property, is owned by the Delibori and Cristoforetti families (Franco Cristoforetti is the President of the Bardolino Chiaretto Consortium) who produce Villabella Wines, many of which can be found on the extensive, and wonderfully curated wine list.

Oseleta’s pasta is dusted with fennel pollen.

Costabella, Via degli Alpini 1 - 37010 San Zeno di Montagna. You’ll find this charming restaurant in the Hotel Costabella, up in the hills overlooking the lake. Enjoy panoramic views while savoring the delicious homemade truffle pasta and other fine local and international dishes.

Views from Costabella Ristorante.

Costabella’s truffle pasta.

Wineries to visit

Benazzoli. Località Costiere 25, 37010 Pastrengo. The Benazzoli family has been making wine for four generations. Now run by two sisters, Claudia and Giulia, the winery specializes in Bardolino and Chiaretto. The winery hosts visitors for tours daily, and in the summertime they host “Cena in Vigna,” a dinner under the vines (see photo). Read more in Grape Collective’s interview with Claudia Benazzoli, “The Charm of Bardolino and The Benazzoli Sisters.”

Benazzoli’s annual dinner under the vines. Photo courtesy of Benazzoli Winery.

Francesco from Cavalchina is all smiles about his Chiaretto!

Cavalchina. Brothers Luciano and Franco Piona are pioneers of the Custoza DOC, being the first to label their wines Custoza before the DOC was created in the 1970s. Now aided by Luciano’s son Francesco,the winery is especially known especially for their Custoza whites, although they produce excellent red Bardolino and Chiaretto wines as well. Don’t miss a taste of their Custoza Superiore, Amadeo. The wine takes its name from Prince Amedeo of Savoia who, in 1866, fought in the Third Italian War of Independence, near the Cavalchina estate, and is remembered on a memorial stone at the entrance to the winery. The award-winning wine is made in a unique process in which they freeze some of the grapes and is a delicious example of the quality that can be achieved in Custoza white wine.

Le Fraghe. Owner Matilde Poggi grew up in a grape growing family, but instead of joining the family business, she decided to forge her own path in 1984 when she was just 22. Her plantings consist of indigenous grapes like Garganega, Corvina, and Rondinella. All of her vineyards are farmed organically and she uses mostly concrete to age the wines. Don’t miss her 2018 Chiaretto Rosé, a light, bright, deliciously saline wine with subtle fruit and spice notes. Contact Fraghe to set up your appointment ahead of time.

Cantina Gorgo. Pioneers of the Custoza DOC, Roberto and Alberta Bricolo established the winery in 1973. Today, he and his daughter, Roberta, run the organically-certified estate, producing mostly Custoza, Bardolino, and Chiaretto DOC wines. Email the winery to book a food and wine tasting with Roberta in the tavern or in the garden by the swimming pool, or stop by the modern, award-winning winery unannounced for a taste of three types of wine. Read more on Cantina Gorgo in my article with Roberta on Grape Collective.

Roberta Bricolo of Gorgo.

Cantina Gorgo’s beautiful taverna.

Gentili’s fabulous Chiaretto (Enrico Gentili in the background).

Gentili Winery. Gentili Azienda Agricola was founded 40 years ago by Carlo Gentili who sold his wines to other companies. Five years ago his son Enrico decided to bottle the best wines under the Gentili name. The winery welcomes visitors almost all year long with Enrico taking you through their old vineyards, telling you about the interesting history of the winery. You can also visit the cellar and aging rooms to learn about winemaking techniques and, of course, taste the delicious wines, including Trebianel, a forgotten variety that Enrico has brought back to life.

Guerrieri Rizzardi. With a long history dating back to 1913 with the marriage of two ancient estates, the Guerrieri Rizzardi vineyards have been in the family for centuries. Today two brothers, Count Giuseppe and Count Agostino Rizzardi manage the four estates — one in Bardolino and the other three in Valpolicella, Soave, and Valdadige. The winemaking philosophy embraces freshness, delicate aromatics, and a distinct purity of fruit in the wines. The 2017 Tacchetto Bardolino Classico is a classic example of a beautifully light, somewhat earthy, single vineyard wine made from unoaked Corvina and Merlot. Learn more about tours and tastings at this 100% solar powered estate located in the hills above the town of Bardolino.

Views for the mountains from Guerrieri Rizzardi.

Le Morette. The winery was founded 60+ years ago by Gino Zenato as a nursery for vine cuttings. Now operating as a nursery and a winery, the estate is located to the south of Lake Garda on the clay-rich soils of Lugana, an area well known for its white wines made from the Turbiana grape. The family’s extensive knowledge of the territory and the vines that grow there results in wines that are full of character, from Lugana whites to Chiaretto and Bardolino reds. Le Morette offers many tourism experiences in the vineyards and winery. Make sure to bring home a bottle of their delicious balsamic vinegar!

Fabio Zenato demonstrating how to graft vines, and afterwards I was able to give it a go!!

Vigneti Villabella. Founded over 40 years ago by the Delibori and Cristoforetti families, Vigneti Villabella produces all of the great classic wines of the Verona area. They offer Bardolino, Chiaretto, Valpolicella, Ripasso and Amarone, Lugana, Custoza, Soave and Garda, as well as special crus from its organically-farmed Villa Cordevigo property, a Relais & Châteaux property (see “Where To Stay” below). Villabella accepts visitors at their wineshop and tasting room, located at the bottom of the gardens of Villa Cordevigo.

The delicate Calicantus flowers.

Villa Calicantus. Named after a 6-petal yellow flower that grows on the winery’s property, this unique and interesting organic winery was the first in Bardolino to farm according to biodynamic principles. The estate is just up the hill from the lake and has stunning views of the mountains in the distance. Fourth-generation wine grower Daniele Delaini was working as a banker in Paris when he decided to return to his family’s farming roots. “In the summer I couldn’t wear shorts,” he said about life as a Parisian banker. “That was a big problem for me.”

Daniele is now in the process of restoring the property and its beautiful villa, purchased in the 1850s by his great grandfather. His philosophy is to make wines that are a reflection of the place, the vintage, and the grapes. These natural wines are fermented with only native yeasts, and bottled unfiltered, resulting in a wonderful stony, saline minerality with each vintage’s uniqueness shining through. Don’t miss the 2018 Bardolino Superiore, a fantastic, succulent wine that displays a great tension between earthiness and fruitiness. Visit the winery’s website to learn more about wine and food tastings at this charming villa up in the hills.

Daniele in his cellar.

Federica Zeni with her delicious Chiaretto.

Zeni. While the history of the company’s wine roots dates back to 1870, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Nino Zeni moved the production from the historic centre of Bardolino to its more spacious location in the hills above Lake Garda. In the new winery he focused on making higher quality wine and established a wine museum to promote the culture and story of wine growing and wine making. Today, Nino’s three children, Fausto, Elena and Federica, run the estate, producing wine from Bardolino and the surrounding areas of Lugana, Custoza, Soave, and Valpolicella. Visit for more information on guided tours, tastings, and special events.

Where to Stay

Villa Cordevigo. How about waking up in an opulent 18th-century, Renaissance-style villa surrounded by hills of vineyards and olive groves? Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?! Just a 10-minute drive from Lake Garda, this completely restored 5-star property, surrounded by a centuries-old park, offers an outdoor swimming pool, luxurious spa, and two highly-regarded restaurants, one of them the Michelin-starred Oseleta. The Villabella winery starts at the bottom of the gardens, just beyond the pool. Take a bike to tour the winery’s vineyards, and afterwards, enjoy a wine tasting at the winery.

I wasn’t kidding when I wrote that Villa Cordevigo is opulent!

Photo courtesy of Villa Cordevigo.

Albergo Locanda San Vigilio. A quiet retreat boasting seven elegant rooms on the shores of Lake Garda, San Vigilio has been a haven for travelers since the 1500s. The property includes a stunning restaurant overlooking the water, a casual tavern and a swimming pool nestled among olive groves. Prominent patrons have included Napoleon, Tsar Alexander II, Winston Churchill, King Juan Carlos of Bourbon, Lawrence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and Prince Charles, who is rumored to have demanded the removal of all bidets in the hotel before his arrival. Tabloid fodder? Perhaps!

The exquisite and historic Albergo Locanda San Vigilio.

Hotel Regina Adelaide. Located in the nearby town of Garda, the hotel oozes charm. Guests can enjoy a lovely spa, large outdoor swimming pool, and a gourmet restaurant (I didn’t get the chance to dine there). The buttery aromas of the hotel’s pastry shop "I Dolci della Regina" are dangerous! If you are there at Christmastime, don’t miss out on one of the best christmas cakes in town, either the Pandora or the Panettone. And if you see Annalisa, the gracious owner of the hotel who also runs the bakery, please tell her I said hello!

Regina Adelaide Hotel’s owner Annalisa Tedeschi is also a professional baker.

Hotel Quattro Stazione. A 4-minute walk from Lake Garda, this upscale hotel and spa is situated in a quiet area of the historic center of Bardolino. There is a luxurious flowering garden, rich with Mediterranean vegetation, that surrounds the swimming pool. The Arietti family has been successfully running the 59-room hotel for four generations.

Parc Hotel Germano. Pet friendly Parc Hotel Germano’s suites and apartments are just a short walk from Bardolino’s center. Two outdoor swimming pools and an indoor pool that is part of a wellness center are included in the facilities of this hotel, along with a restaurant that has panoramic views of the lake and hills.

A big thank you to the Consorzio di Tutela Chiaretto e Bardolino for hosting me and my fellow journalists in December of 2019. For more information on the wines, visit the consortium’s website.

It’s true, The Wine Chef loves Bardolino!

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