Long before Bardolino became a byword for the light and fruity wines that are produced on the nearby hillsides, it was once a tiny fishing village with a history dating back to before the Romans settled here. If there are few traces of its Roman history left, the last vestiges of the fishing village also seem to be slowly disappearing under the weight of tourism. Even with fewer tourists during the pandemic, the quaint medieval centre was busy.
That’s not to say that the village doesn’t have its charms. It’s a pretty place with a pleasant lakeside promenade and a couple of lovely ancient churches, the 9th century San Zeno and 11th century San Severo, plus a multitude of medieval buildings that house a variety of cafes, restaurants and ice cream parlours. Most of the historic sights date from the period when the rulers of medieval Verona, the Scaliger family, controlled Bardolino.
We approached Bardolino from the water on one of the regular passenger ferries that shuttle between Lake Garda’s villages. The hour-long journey from Sirmione across the sparkling waters provided sweeping vistas over the lake to the mountains beyond. It’s a fabulous way to travel around the lake, and from the top deck of the boat Bardolino’s ancient core was framed against the backdrop of hills and vineyards.
On the way to Bardolino the ferry had stopped in Lazise, which comes with a Scaliger-era castle (now a rather swanky-looking private family home), and a picturesque harbour, behind which sits the medieval village. We didn’t have time to visit, but it looked lovely. In Bardolino itself there was a weekly market selling food and crafts that was busy with holiday shoppers. We mooched around looking at the stalls before going off to explore.
The village is pedestrianised which makes strolling more relaxing. It didn’t take us long to cover the main sites and pretty much every street in town. We’d arrived mid-morning and it was still a bit early for lunch, so we decided to visit one of the nearby vineyards. There are tours at the Guerrieri Rizzardi winery, but we were in full holiday mode and had given up planning in favour of showing up in the hope someone would give us a glass of wine.
The walk to reach the estate looked deceptively easy and took us past the 9th century Church of San Zeno. In fact, we found ourselves on a busy road without a pavement for part of the route. By the time we arrived our nerves were in need of a glass of Bardolino classico, with a tasting of some of their other offerings as a chaser. The estate dates from the 17th century and is surrounded by vineyards stretching into the hills behind the lake.
While we were sampling some delicious wines we discovered that we’d tragically missed Bardolino’s annual Festa dell’Uva e del Vino by a couple of days. Making the most of a bad lot, we returned from our tasting with a few bottles to remind us of Lake Garda’s gastronomic glories when we got back to Berlin. We wandered downhill to the village and lunch.
Bardolino was still bustling as we waited by the harbour for the ferry to take us back to Sirmione. Even in the late afternoon there were plenty of people arriving (or returning) on the ferry. The village seemed like it would have a bit of life in the evenings, and is probably a good base. As we sailed across the serene waters to watch the sunset from the balcony of our B&B, we plotted our return. In the morning we’d head north into the Alps.