Lake Garda & Emilia Romagna

Leaving in a couple weeks for Tuscany. Want to start planning a trip for next May. I've been to all the places in Rick's book and looking for new places I haven't been. Due to work I need to keep it at 10 days. The 2 places that come to mind first for this trip would be Lake Garda (loved pictures i've seen of Sirmine, Malcine online) and then Emilia Romagna (Bologna, Parma, Modena) for food and the smalltown of Dozza (a few miles from Bologna). Couple of questions?

1) Is that do-able in 10 days, or is that too much time and I need to add a 3rd location? I'm not sure how many days in each place. I was thinking Fly in and out of MIlan for cost & easy access to my US location (cheaper then Venice Marco Polo). Land in Milan head straight to lake Garda, then onto Emilia Region and back to Milan for 1 night before departure.

2) How many days for Lake Garda to see everything? Sirminone, Riva, Malacine etc. Best place to stay?

3) Is a trip better done with a car or train? I see ferry service around the lake but would a car better to drive to say the top part of the lake from the south? Is a car better around Parma and the towns then buses. Wouldn't mind staying in argritourmo's in the area with a car either. If we go the car route is it better to say train from Milan to Lake Garda and grab the car there or pickup the car in Milan?

4) Argritousrimo in the Emilia Romagna area for the whole time in one location vs. staying in city centers of Bologna say 2 nights, Parma 2 nights, Modena 1 night.

5) Any other thoughts on a trip to this area or sights to see?

6) Rick doesn't cover these 2 area's anyone have a good book to grab. I see Lonely Planet has a chapter on each. I'm going to check out the library one night these week to flip thru and see if I like those books. Figured I'd ask if anyone has been to this area and a good resouce to grab.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
5244 posts

1) Yes.
2) It really depends on how much you enjoy the lake environment. Garda is popular with windsurfers who would have no problems spending weeks. The lake is also popular with Germans and Dutch (besides Italians) who probably spend at least a week. Garda offers many activities (beaches, swimming, windsurfing, boating, fishing, theme parks like Gardaland or the Natura Viva Safari Park) besides bucolic villages. You could even spend your entire 10 day vacation there and come home happy. I would suggest at least 3 nights, maybe one or two more if you don't have a car.
The most beautiful part of the lake is the North Lake (north of Salo' or Garda), although Sirmione in the south is an absolute must-see town. My absolute favorite is Limone. All are connected by ferry or various boat excursions.
3) Lake Garda can be done with public transport. The train line (Verona-Milano) runs east to west through the southern part (Desenzano, Peschiera). Buses from two separate agencies connect the northern side (Riva) with Verona and Peschiera (Veneto shore) or with Desenzano/Brescia (Lombardy shore). I've been to lake Garda many times, but I always had a car, so I can't really speak about the bus service. I would imagine that it's doable, but a car is probably more efficient. Rental offices would be in Verona for sure, but maybe also in Desenzano (which is the largest town).
4) Bologna can be visited in a day and so is Parma. I would visit Modena from Bologna, since they are just minutes away, that way you don't need to change hotels. If you want you can also visit Parma from Bologna, it's up to you, to me it's faster to go by train than to check in and out of hotels. In your shoes, if you are interested in Emilia Romagna, I would base myself in Bologna and day trip from there. Don't rent a car for these towns (although a bicycle would be nice for those flat towns, especially Ferrara, the bike capital of Italy). Trains are faster and you can't use the car in the historical centers. Bologna is the hub, so it would be easier to use it as a base for quick train trips and not having to change hotels.
5) Besides the cities you mentioned, Ferrara and Ravenna are worth visiting (actually more so than Modena). Reggio and Forli are also nice. Most Emiliani will tell you that Bologna, Parma, Ravenna and Ferrara are the top choice. Reggio, Modena and Forli second choice, Piacenza is the last choice (according to the locals).
6) Don't have English guides to suggest, but you can start with surfing the official tourist website of the Emilia Romagna Region: http://www.emiliaromagnaturismo.com/en

Given your itinerary, you could consider flying into Verona (VRN) and flying out of Bologna (BLQ). Both are served greatly by Lufthansa. Otherwise arrive at Milan (MXP or LIN) and return from BLQ. BLQ is a well served airport with flights anywhere in Europe. No need to return to Milan to catch a flight at faraway Malpensa Airport, if you can get one flight out of BLQ at a reasonable price without wasting your time of transferring to Milan the day before your return trip.

Posted by Robert
Tampa, FL, USA
625 posts

As always Thanks Roberto. That's some good information for me. I was going to check the ferry times around lake garda for an idea of which cities are directly connected with each other.

How are the towns around Lake Garda for parking? If we drive around for a day or 2 to the towns. Is parking easy or is it like some of the hill towns in Tuscany where you can't drive at all and have to park outside the city.

If we want to do some day trips away from lake garda to some Valpolicalla wineries, and also some places on our own around Bologna for wine, parmar ham and cheeses and not use guided tours that would be better to have a car for correct? I'm assuming it's like Tuscany area and better suited for a car once we get outside the towns like Bologna and Parma themselves.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
5244 posts

There are parking lots available and I've never had problems, but it also depends the time of the year you go, and also if you go on weekend when the Veneti and the Lombardi go there on Sunday's getaways. Like all towns in Italy, some town streets or entire city centers are pedestrian only (like nearly all of Sirmione), so you'll have to park in a lot and walk. The only place where you might have some problem finding parking is Sirmione, because the place is visited by billions and billions of German and Dutch tourists on a daily basis and they take up all the pay parking spots with those huge Mercedes Benz and Setra buses. Sirmione is at the northern tip in a long and very narrow peninsula looking like a skin tag jutting out toward the lake (like a long pier). Get there very early to secure a parking spot more easily, because it's like Disneyland. The closest you get to the tip of the peninsula (the pedestrianized historical center), the harder it is to find a spot. But if you park too far down the peninsula, then it's a long walk. The strategy is to go as far as possible toward the city center, then stalk the German tourists that walk back to their cars from there hoping they will leave you their spot. You can easily bribe Germans with warm beer and a sausage. Valpolicella is also good for driving for some wine.
I don't have much experience visiting wineries in Emilia Romagna. They aren't really famous for their wine (other than their cheap Lambrusco and some Sangiovese), I would do the tasting in Valpolicella or maybe Franciacorta (between Lake Garda and Lake d'Iseo). Franciacorta has the best bubbly (champagne type wine) in Italy. If you rent a car for Garda, maybe you can keep it for some countryside driving in Emilia (although it's kind of flat) and return it as soon as you hit Bologna.

Posted by paulaconkey
8 posts

Hello Robert (hello everyone),

If you're open to advising; I'd love to hear your input.

My boyfriend and I are traveling from NYC to Milan in three weeks (we have 8 nights total in Italy). Our current plan is to grab the rental car and head to Lake Garda for 2 nights, then Venice for 2 nights, then drive down to Cortona for 3 nights. Due to our early Flight back from Milan, we were thinking of staying our last eve in Milan (wish to avoid the 4 hr drive back the morning of our departure). That mentioned: I assume there's a better idea for an itinerary.

Perhaps we should first drive to the Tuscany area (do you recommend Cortona), then Venice and wrap up in Lake Garda. We can stay in three hotels vs four as we'd plan to drive back in the am of our flight vs stay in Milan the eve before. Is Lake Garda too aggressive of a drive for a 1pm flight (drop the car off about 9:45am). Any thoughts on this?

Also, I used airbnb.com and had a great experience in the US. Though we have hotels scheduled in Italy; I wonder if I should scrap that and save a lot of money (perhaps) on using a hosts place via the airbnb.com service. Any thoughts/guidance?

Many thanks!
Cheers,
Paula

Posted by Robert
Tampa, FL, USA
625 posts

I'm at Newark airport now heading to Milan. You may want to post your question as a separate topic so others can answer too. There are some good people on here. Me I would maybe take the high speed train from Milan to Florence and get a rental car there and do Cortona and Tuscany. Drive up to Lake Garda area. I'd return the car before you go to Venice. Train from Garda area to Venice where a car is useless. Then high speed train back to Milan for that last night

Posted by jkc
Massachusetts
352 posts

I would endorse side trips to Dozza and Bertinoro. Also, and this is hardly an endorsement of fascism but Mussolini's birthplace is a few K outside of Forli in Predappio. Interesting Fascist/rationalist/modernist architecture with the Teatro Comunale which is often used to illustrate the architecture of that period as the centerpiece. Some colleagues and i drove through and walked around a bit, one of the highlights is that the main street is now named via Matteotti and that via Gramsci is the street directly across from the via up to Mussolini's birthplace. Such irony ;). Oh, and I am told that there is a Mussolini Souvenir shop. We missed that.

Posted by Robert
Tampa, FL, USA
625 posts

Thanks on the side trips. I'm actually planning the part in Emilia romana around the Dozza wine festival and race.

Posted by jkc
Massachusetts
352 posts

There is a nice wine shop in the castle/fort at the top of Dozza.

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
1381 posts

Cadogan has a guidebook, " Lombardy and the Italian Lakes," with a quite detailed chapter on Lake Garda and the surrounding area. If archaeology and prehistory interest you, I recommend a visit to the Valle Camonica. A national as well as a regional park are located there, which contain thousands of rock engravings, some dating back to 8000 BCE. Cadogan also has a guide entitled "Bologna and Emilia-Romagna."