If you are looking for an itinerary that can offer you a glance at the beauty of Lake Garda as well as of its history and tradition, this is my tip: discover the lemon houses along the western shore of the lake, that is also called, not by chance, “Riviera dei limoni”.
Into the Lemon Houses’ History
Maybe you already know the stretch of coast that goes from Salò to Limone sul Garda. Have you ever wondered what those squared white pylons are that you can see dotted here and there and that, placed in ordered rows, characterize the sweet slopes of the shore?
They are what remains of the admirable “gardens arranged in terraces and cultivated with lemons” that struck W.Goethe on 13th September 1786 while he was sailing from Torbole to Malcesine.
They were used and, sometimes, are still used today, to support the wooden frame that, during the winter, was completely covered to protect the delicate citrus fruit trees (not only lemon then, but also cedar and bitter orange trees).
You couldn’t find these particular structures anywhere else. They’re therefore the visible signs of a period when the cultivation of lemons and citrus fruits in general was crucial for the economy of Lake Garda. They are a testimony to the ingenuity and the love of work of the local people who, since the XVI century, reinvented themselves and became gardeners instead of fishermen and boatmen.
Actually, the history of the cultivation of lemon trees on Lake Garda begins much earlier. Following the tradition, the Franciscan Monks from the Franciscan Monastery in Gargnano introduced it here in the XIII century.
From here, this cultivation spread to Maderno and Toscolano first and then to Limone and to the other villages on the western shore of the lake, thanks to the particularly mild climate.
The eastern shore of the lake wasn’t suitable for lemon gardens, because of the presence of Mount Baldo that shadowed the coastal villages till midday.
That’s the reason why the Torri and Punta S.Vigilio lemon houses can be considered as isolated cases.
But lemon groves are not only remains of the past, even if most of them are now abandoned. You can still find some lemon houses in perfect working order. And you can visit them, maybe accompanied by a tour guide.
Here are some examples.
The “Pra de la Fam” Lemon House in Tignale
The most imposing and, maybe, the most famous of these structures called “limonaie” still in working order is the “Pra’ de la fam”, dating back to the XVII century. It takes its name from the place where it is built, the “hunger field” or, in local dialect, “Pra’ de la fam”, just in front of the port of Tignale.
Tradition has it that this strange name comes from the fact that in the past this subtle tongue of land was a shelter for sailors during the violent storms that occurred on the lake. Since the place was almost totally isolated, the shipwrecked sailors could go without food for several days, until they were able to sail again.
The location of this lemon house is striking, between the rock on one side and the lake on the other and it is also easy to reach, being located right on the Gardesana Road.
I just suggest you be careful if you have to cross the road coming from the port of Tignale: there is no zebra crossing and it can be dangerous.
This lemon house was restored in 1985, thanks to a local public autority which planted about 80 citrus fruit trees (lemons, bitter oranges, kumquats and other species) and has recently become an “ecomuseum” managed by the Municipality of Tignale. It is usually open from March/April to October. Further information on the website: www.limonaiagarda.com
The “Castèl” Lemon House in Limone sul Garda
This is another example of a lemon garden managed by a public authority. Since 1995, the “limonaia del Castèl” has been owned by the City of Limone sul Garda, and it was restored in 2004 and at the same time about 50 citrus fruit trees were planted.
It is located in the historical centre of this picturesque village, with the mountain on one side and Orti Street and Castle Street on the other side and it is usually open to the public from March to October further information on the website: www.visitlimonesulgarda.com
“Giardini d’Agrumi” event in Gargnano
In addition to the lemon houses administrated by some public authorities, there are some private ones. Not all of them are open for visitors but once a year it is possible to discover a fair number of them, during a special event that takes place in Gargnano (BS) and is called: “Giardini d’agrumi”.
This is a special event which has been organized every year since 2015 by the association “Terre & Sapori d’Alto Garda” in collaboration with the Municipality of Gargnano (BS).
But why just in Gargnano? Because this peaceful and picturesque village along the western bank of Lake Garda has for centuries been the main centre for the cultivation of citrus fruit on the lake. Gargnano had the largest number of lemon groves of the entire area.
Not by chance, the so called “Società Lago di Garda” was founded here in 1840. It was a sort of collective company whose members were all lemon garden owners (initially there were 254 of them, which grew to 600) and whose territory included not only Gargnano but also the neighboring villages.
Its aim is the discovery and enhancement of the Gargnano citrus fruits and lemon gardens.
Lemon Houses during the winter season: how do they appear?
Remembering what has been said so far you might think that it’s possible to visit Lake Garda lemon gardens only between March/April and October, since most of them open exclusively in that period.
This is not true for all the lemon houses.
There is a small private lemon grove right in the centre of Gargnano that you can visit in every season of the year.
I’m talking about the lemon house “La Malora” (from the original name of the stream that supplied it with its water), dating back to the XVI century and completely restored respecting ancient traditions.
In my opinion, it is really suggestive to visit a lemon garden in the winter season, with the “limonaia” showing its full essence. Indeed, it’s true that during the springtime the plants reveal all their flourishing beauty but entering one of these particular “greenhouses” covered by wooden boards and windows is a unique opportunity you shouldn’t miss.
On request, it is possible to taste the traditional “limoncello” and several kinds of citrus fruit marmalade.
Looking at the lemon houses from Lake Garda
Visiting lemon houses is one of the best things you can do if you want to know more about Lake Garda history and culture and if you want to experience the real essence of this place.
In addition to that, it might be a good idea to take a guided tour along the western bank of the lake (on foot or, better still, by boat) to discover the remains of the lemon groves I haven’t mentioned.
You may not have noticed them without the help of a tour guide who can show them to you hidden inside the magnificent gardens of a villa or of a luxury resort and tell you about the transformations they have undergone over time.