Desenzano is the largest town on Lake Garda, and don’t be deterred by the commercial outskirts. When you continue into Desenzano and head down to the lakeside you will be rewarded with one of the prettiest promenades on the lake. What makes Desenzano so special is how it incorporates a picture-perfect lakeside scene into a large bustling town.
To talk about the lakeside first, the chocolate box perfect scene of the cafes around the square harbor takes your breath away, with the colored boats bobbing up and down on the blue water and the overhanging green trees melding perfectly with the ancient and not so ancient masonry.
Dragging yourself away from this small portion of paradise you quickly end up in the main piazza with its lovely archways, each concealing a shop hotel or pavement cafe. This is called Piazza Matteotti. It is a huge paved area which is also completely traffic-free and even in winter seems to attract “the beautiful people” of Lake Garda.
Desenzano also has a night scene. We know that everywhere around the lake is open at night and very pleasant but at night the paved area just comes alive as young people from all over the area congregate for a great night out, Italian style. That is “With style”, a great night with no rowdiness just its own brand of cool.
Desenzano also has a great shopping center all of which radiates out from the piazza selling everything from designer shoes and clothing to model cars. The shops don’t just cater to tourists either, with a town of 20,000 occupants it needs to cater for the general population as well, and looking around the shops you can see why everyone is so well dressed with that indescribable Italian style. Again a lot of the shops are hidden in arcades so there is an element of exploration involved in Desenzano shopping, but the further you move from the lakeside the higher you get in the city.
This is where most of the hotels are located too, with Hotel Tripoli being right on the main lakeside with a direct view across the lake.
Moving away from the shops the promenade at Desenzano is very wide and leafy, so it gives a wonderful view across the lake. There is also a lovely lakeside walk in both directions, East towards Sirmione and North (Desenzano is on the corner of the lake) to Padenghe Lido and the beaches.
As you walk along the promenade and just take in the atmosphere you become very conscious of what a huge sailing centre Desenzano is, with beautiful yachts moored all along the waterfront and a fantastic boatyard with yachts (on land) stacked up as far as the eye can see. Not only are the yachts interesting to the sailing fraternity, they really do add grace and elegance than only sailing boats can.
For the culture vultures there is a 16th Century Church in Desenzano, Santa Maria Maddalena designed by architect Giulio Todeschini which includes the work of some very famous artists of that time including Giambattista Tiepolo’s painting of The Last Supper. There is also the remains of a Roman Housing estate on Via Crocefisso, considered to be the most important in Northern Italy, famous for its heated mosaic floors, this is called Villa Romana (very original!) and is open Tuesday to Sunday, and if this is of interest don’t miss Grotte di Catullo at Sirmione.
On a practical level, Desenzano has the main train station on the East-West route between Milan and Venice and is a major junction off the A4 Autostrada. The tourist information office is just off the main piazza at Via Porto Vecchio 34.
In conclusion, Desenzano is not what you expect. A visitor will not be disappointed with the lakeside area and young people will love the nightlife.