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With stunning scenery and a love for all things local, find out more about Riva del Garda’s restaurants, food experiences and activities.
‘Woowwwwwwww’ we all chorused as we wiggled our way down towards Lake Garda, spotting the huge expanse of water for the first time. I couldn’t believe the scenery. Tall, rugged mountains surrounded this deep blue water, with a peachy sky in the background. Lycra-clad cyclists whizzed past, old men perched outside gelato shops while tourists wandered on foot. I’d wanted to visit Lake Garda for a long time, and it was definitely worth the wait.
I strongly believe that to appreciate what we eat we need to discover the origins of our food. This trip sounded like it would offer exactly that.
Over four days I’d be exploring the foodie side of the region with an introduction to northern Italian cuisine, visits to local producers, cooking classes, and a few activities along the way. I’d heard this was a region with food at its heart, with the mountains and lake creating a regional cuisine that’s pretty special. It’s noticeably different to the Mediterranean cuisine found further south, and has influences from neighbours Austria and Germany.
This passion for food is celebrated regularly, with popular festivals like Garda Con Gusto taking place at the start of November. I wish I could return for it, as there will be demos from top chefs and six tasting lounges dedicated to local delicacies. Yum!
So, time to grab a cuppa (or a glass of vino) and enjoy tucking into one of my tastiest blogs yet…
Where is Riva del Garda?
Riva del Garda is the second-largest town on Lake Garda, and lies on the northern tip. All my suggestions are within a twenty minute drive of the town.
Riva del Garda Restaurants and Food Experiences
For the best coffee, visit Omkafè
Personally, I can’t start the day without a proper coffee. We bought a fancy coffee machine last year and it’s one of the most-used items in our kitchen! I’d noticed the Omkafè brand around Riva del Garda – in fact it seemed to be the coffee of choice in all cafes and restaurants in the town! So, it was wonderful to take a trip to Omkafè’s home in the hills to find out more.
It’s a family business, now in its 3rd generation. Camilla took us on a tour of the factory and café, and told us tales of her father starting the company in 1947. Even today, with 25 staff, a third are from the founding family.
Along with a shop and café downstairs, there’s a free museum upstairs. It’s filled with coffee artefacts, including vintage grinders and makers. It reminded me how stylish Italian coffee has always been. Some of the machines looked more like retro jukeboxes than something you’d use to make a cup of coffee.
We had a quick peek inside the roastery, where coffee beans from countries including Guatemala, Peru, Ethiopia and Indonesia were being roasted. Then it was down to the café for a taste test. There was the dark, strong Perla, the fruity and popular Diamante, and the chocolatey Platano. You could taste the quality. It was also SO wonderful to see the name Omkafe in almost every place we visited during our trip. This is a part of the country that truly supports its local producers.
To learn how to cook Trentino delicacies, visit Passione Cucina
My favourite way to get to know a new place? By learning how to cook the local food. Our morning with Riva del Garda local Antonella, was a highlight of my trip. Over three hours we made an exciting menu of local dishes from scratch. Interestingly, her background was in banking, but food was her passion. She quit her job, set up a recipe blog and eventually her small cooking school. It was inspiring to hear her journey.
Carne salada is a popular regional dish. It translates literally as salty meat, and is absolutely melt-in-the-mouth delicious! I’d describe it as raw beef carpaccio, with a hint of herb and spice (often from black pepper corns and juniper berries). At the cooking class we made a tasty starter by stuffing the carne salada with ricotta and chives and rolling it up.
For the main course we made strangolapreti, a recipe with origins in the 16th century. The name for the tasty spinach and bread dumplings translates as ‘strangled priest’ – apparently because gluttonous priests would keep eating them until they choked!
We also prepared pane molche – bread rolls with an olive paste. And to finish? Anotonella’s take on a tiramisu. Learning how to make her dishes was a really enjoyable experience, and we certainly felt like we’d earned our lunch once we tucked into the tasty feast out on her beautiful mountain-backed terrace.
It’s worth noting that Antonella doesn’t speak much English, but if you’d like to visit, she may be able to help by providing a translator like we had.
For tasty aperitivo in Riva del Garda, visit Panem
I’ve always loved the Italian aperitivo tradition. Usually involving a drink and a snack, it’s a great marker of the day being over, and the night beginning. Whether you’re looking for lunch or a snack, Panem is a great Riva del Garda restaurant to visit.
The deli/restaurant flies the flag for regional ingredients, serving up delicious meat and cheese platters and generously topped bruschetta. My favourite story about Panem is that the menu has a sandwich for every single region of Italy. There’s the Pugliese with aubergine, Emiliano with Parma ham and parmesan, and the Lombardo with gorgonzola.
Obviously, we couldn’t resist but try two extra special sandwiches – the local offering, Trentino (filled with puzone di moena cheese and speck) and the even more local Riva del Garda Km0 (filled with walnuts and carne salada). Washed down with some of the region’s delicious spumante (Trentodoc sparkling wine), it was a delicious way to start an evening.
To learn about wine (and taste some too), visit Madonna delle Vittorie
With all this chat about food, it’s important to give a balanced view of the region… so err… onto the wine! Madonna delle Vittorie is a small winery and olive oil producer based a few miles from Riva del Garda. I’d recommend going on one of their tours to learn all about their production techniques, before taking a seat in their lovely restaurant or terrace and tasting some of their creations.
From 35 hectares of land, they produce around 200,000 bottles of wine a year, including six red, five white, one rose and a few sparkling (Trentodoc). With my new knowledge of Riva del Garda’s cuisine, I was excited to try the local wines too. The only white wine produced regionally is nosiola, and Madonna delle Vittorie’s is excellent. Light and fruity – a real taste of summer. Meanwhile the teroldego (the region’s most popular red) was rich with red fruits and a slight earthiness.
According to our guide, this is the most northern place in Europe that produces olive oil. There’s shelter from the mountains, and a warm climate from the lake, so while many places nearby might struggle, this is one spot which has it nailed. They produce a few different types too – one that’s pressed with the stones and a higher quality version that’s pressed without the stones.
For a delicious dinner in Riva del Garda, visit Leon d’Oro Restaurant
If you’re looking for a Riva del Garda restaurant with a great atmosphere and a broad menu (featuring plenty of local delicacies), I’d recommend Leon d’Oro. We had a great evening at the lively restaurant, enjoying several courses, lots of wine and a selection of desserts. The staff were so friendly and welcoming, and kept surprising us with little extras to make our evening even more special.
Highlights for me included the alpine char (straight from Lake Garda, known locally as Salmerino del Trentino), the enormous meat raviolo, truffle tagliatelle and liquorice mille feulle, which shouldn’t work but it does! I can’t say if this is one of the best restaurants in Lake Garda as I didn’t visit enough to form an opinion, but I thought the food was excellent.
To learn about balsamic production (with an incredible view), visit Acetaia del Balsamico Trentino
Just a ten-minute drive from Riva del Garda is Acetaia, a balsamic vinegar producer, with one of the most spectacular views you’ll see in the region. Along with a large restaurant and several bedrooms, you can also learn about the production of balsamic.
Acetaia doesn’t produce just any old balsamic vinegar either. Theirs is the first to be produced in the Trentino region, and is fermented in the old way, passing through multiple barrels over a number of years before being ready to use. I wasn’t aware that a basic balsamic only takes three months to make, but Acetaia’s is a thicker, more indulgent version, taking 11 years in total.
The rich flavour and thick texture are created over the course of 11 years, as the mixture passes through 11 barrels including cherry, oak, chestnut, mulberry and ash, each one allowing the mixture to ferment, grow in flavour and reduce down. I couldn’t believe it when our guide told us the only ingredient is grape juice. No additives whatsoever!
After learning so much it was wonderful to taste the balsamic, and wow was it rich and flavoursome. They offer three varieties currently, and as they’ve only been open 9 years so far, they’re still waiting for their first complete balsamic in two years time.
Regardless of whether you want to learn about the process, I’d recommend booking a table for lunch or dinner. The food is excellent, the view is extra special and the staff are some of the friendliest I came across on my trip. Oh, and as if you needed convincing any more, Acetaia also produce their own cheese and wine.
For a local lunch with a great view of Lake Garda, visit Agritur Calvola
Looking for a Lake Garda restaurant with a view? Along with Acetaia, this family-run establishment is perfect! With epic views down towards Lake Garda, and delicious traditional food on offer, it’s a popular stop with cycle tours and hikers, as well as those exploring the area by car.
After a platter of carne salada, local cheese and salad, we tucked into a few more regional delicacies including roasted rabbit with rosemary, beans, polenta and grilled mountain cheese. The restaurant was really busy on the day we visited, with locals dining inside and a huge cycling group taking up the entire outside terrace. This is one of my top places to eat if you want to try local Trentino cuisine with a view of Lake Garda.
Riva Del Garda Activities – for between meals!
Between enjoying all the delicious flavours of the region, I’d recommend exploring these gorgeous spots…
Explore Riva Del Garda
Riva del Garda is the second-largest town on Lake Garda, and lies on the northern tip. Views are dramatic with huge mountains surrounding the lake and town. I enjoyed wandering around the town on foot, snapping photos of the cobbled streets, colourful buildings, 13th Century clock tower and the Rocca, the town’s fortress.
There are lots of hotels, cafes, restaurants and gelaterias, plus a mix of gift shops and local businesses. There are several top restaurants in Riva del Garda, from pizzerias and delis to places specialising in seafood and pasta. I really enjoyed a morning stroll to see the pretty gardens by the harbour and boats heading off to other lakeside towns.
Later in the day, it was fun to see the windsurfers flying across the lake as the strong winds helped propel them along. If you have time, I’d also recommend visiting the small lakeside village of Torbole – another beautiful spot with pretty houses and a great view of the windsurfers!
Cascata del Varone Waterfall
There’s one word I’d use to describe these waterfalls: unique. While part of the waterfall is outside, and viewable from many platforms, the fascinating part is tucked away inside a narrow gorge formed over 20,000 years. There are bridges and paths to take you through the route to see the lower and upper caves, and hear the deafening roar from several angles.
I enjoyed the light show too, which illuminated the gorge in different ways, making the experience even more magical.
Canale di Tenno Medieval Village
Another wonderful spot to break up all the overindulgence is this medieval village which lies on the hills above Lake Garda. Records date back to 1211, and you can feel the history as you explore on foot. Wander along cobbled streets, look up at ancient stone houses and pass through cave-like tunnels between the buildings.
Canale di Tenno has been officially named as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, yet it wasn’t swarming with tourists during our visit. There’s a little square with places to eat and drink, so I’d spend an hour enjoying a wander, followed by a coffee and some local delicacies.
Even better, time your visit for the end of November or start of December when the village is transformed into a winter wonderland with Christmas markets adding to the charm. I heard from locals that the festive feel takes over the whole village, with local artisans showing off their arts, crafts and cuisine. Sounds like another reason to return!
Explore Riva Del Garda By Bike
Cycling seems to be the number one activity in Riva del Garda and the surrounding areas. I’ve never seen so many lycra-clad people in my life! There are several shops in the town where you can hire bikes for a day or two, or you could book onto a bike tour and visit the sights with a guide.
Some of my group went on a 5km cycle from Riva del Garda to Madonna delle Vittorie winery. It took them all along the promenade and offered some incredible views of the lake. If you’re looking for other cycle routes in the area, this site has plenty of great suggestions.
It’s worth noting that this is a hilly area! Unless you’re extremely fit, I’d recommend hiring e-bikes to help you with those steep climbs.
TOP TIP: Trentino Guest Card How amazing is this? If you book a stay in Trentino of two nights or more, you get a free Trentino Guest Card. It gives you free public transport, free entry to lots of museums, attractions and castles, plus discounts for a whole load of other things in the region. Have a read on how to get your Trentino Guest Card here.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Lake Garda?
Italy has a Mediterranean climate and is a lovely destination to visit all year round.
Temperatures vary by region, but as a quick example, you can expect lows around Lake Garda of -1°C in January, and highs of 30°C in July.
If you’re wondering when is the best time to visit Lake Garda, I’d suggest planning a trip between April and June, or in September or October, just after the peak summer season.
The weather tends to be consistent in these months, but isn’t too hot. Plus, as you’re missing peak season, you should benefit from lower prices and fewer people.
I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Riva del Garda a little better, and this post helps you plan your holiday in Trentino. I visited on a trip organised by Visit Trentino and Garda Trentino, but as always, all words and opinions are my own.
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