Limonaie del Garda: where nature and tradition meet

Are you looking for an itinerary that allows you to enjoy the scenic beauty of Lake Garda and discover its history and traditions?

Here's a good tip: go to "lemon houses" along the western coast of Lake Garda. It is no coincidence that it was also called "Riviera dei Limoni".

Two steps in the history of lemon groves

Have you ever wondered what those are squared white pillars that, arranged in orderly rows, emerge here and there characterizing the gentle hillsides of the stretch of coast that goes from SalĂČ to Limone?



This is what remains of the marvelous “gardens arranged in terraces and planted with lemons” that so impressed W. Goethe on 13 September 1786, while he went by boat from Torbole to Malcesine.

Their function was, and in some cases still is, that of support the wooden frame which in the winter months was completely covered to protect the delicate plantations. These were not only lemon plants, even if the latter constituted the numerically most consistent part, but also, for example, cedar and bitter oranges.

Interior of a lemon house

These singular structures are the tangible signs of a past in which the cultivation of lemons was of crucial importance for the economy of Lake Garda. They testify to the tenacity and industriousness of the local inhabitants who, starting from the sixteenth century, knew how to reinvent themselves as gardeners from the fishermen and boatmen they were.

In fact, the history of lemon cultivation on Lake Garda has more ancient origins. It dates back to the XNUMXth century, when, according to tradition, the Friars of the Franciscan convent of Gargnano introduced it into the local culture. From here, cultivation also extended to Maderno and Toscolano and later to Limone and the other coastal towns, favored by the particularly mild climatic conditions.



Interior of a lemon house in winter

La Veronese shore, on the other hand, it did not lend itself to hosting lemon groves as the looming presence of Monte Baldo prevented the morning sunshine. This is why the lemon houses of Torri del Benaco and Punta S. Vigilio are rather isolated cases.

But it is not correct to speak of lemon groves only in the past. If it is true that most of them are abandoned or reused as part of homes or gardens, there are some that are still productive, perfectly preserved and above all can be visited, perhaps with a guided tour.

 

Here are some examples of lemon houses on Lake Garda.

Limonaia "Pra 'de la Fam" in Tignale

The most impressive and perhaps the most famous of these lemon houses on Lake Garda still in operation is the eighteenth-century lemon house “Pra 'de la fam”. Alternatively, Prato della fame, from the name of the homonymous locality in which it is located, opposite the port of Tignale.

It is said that this curious toponym derives from the fact that the thin strip of land where they built the lemon house, in the past constituted a shelter for sailors during violent storms.

Given the almost complete isolation of the place, the castaways could stay days without eating, until they were again able to resume their journey by lake.

The location is certainly suggestive, between the rocks and the expanse of water and is also easily accessible, just upstream of the Gardesana road.


The Mountain Community of the Alto Garda Bresciano Park has restructured the lemon house since 1985. It has overseen the planting of 80 plants including lemons, bitter oranges, kumquats and other citrus species. Today it can boast the title of "ecomuseum", established at the Municipality of Tignale, which takes care of its opening from March / April to October. For information on timetables and prices, visit the website: www.limonaiagarda.com

The lemon house seen from the outside, this is how it looks, Limonaia Pra 'de la fam.

Limonaia del CastĂšl in Limone sul Garda

Another example of a “musealized” lemon house thanks to public intervention is the so-called “limonaia del Castùl” in Limone sul Garda. It has been owned by the Municipal Administration since 1995 and has been open to visitors since 2004, when about 50 citrus trees were planted.

Also this lemon house, which is located right inside the village between the mountain and the Orti and Castello streets, is normally open from March to October (for timetables and prices, consult the website: www.visitlimonesulgarda.com

The Citrus Gardens in Gargnano

In addition to the lemon houses managed by public entities like those just mentioned, there are other privately owned lemon houses which can be visited only during an event that takes place once a year in Gargnano (BS), whose name is “Giardini d'Agrumi”.

This is an initiative organized by the Terre & Sapori d'Alto Garda social promotion association in collaboration with the Municipality of Gargnano (BS), aimed at rediscovery and enhancement of citrus fruits and lemon groves of Gargnano.


San Francesco cloister citrus gardens

But why precisely in Gargnano? Because this quiet and picturesque Garda town was for centuries the most important center for citrus growing on the lake, where the largest number of lemon groves were concentrated.

The so-called “Lake Garda Society” was founded here in 1840. It is a sort of collective enterprise wanted by 254 lemon house owners which has come to involve over 600 members. It found its field of application on a territory that included not only Gargnano, but also the neighboring municipalities.

Exhibition of citrus gardens in Gargnano

How are lemon houses managed in winter?

From what has been said so far, it would seem that the only useful period to visit the lemon houses on Lake Garda is the summer, given that most of them open to the public from March / April to October.


There are, however, some exceptions.

Covering of the “La Malora” lemon house on Lake Garda

There is a small private lemon house in the center of Gargnano accessible at any time of the year.

It is the "La Malora" lemon house (from the original name of the stream that supplied it with water), built during the 500th century and renovated in full respect of tradition.

Limonaia "La Malora"

In my opinion, winter is an extremely suggestive time for visits. In late spring, in full bloom, the lemon trees show themselves in all their beauty. Having the opportunity to enter one of these very special “greenhouses” in winter and see how the roofing system with wooden planks and windows worked, allows you to fully grasp its essence.

On request, it is also possible to taste the traditional limoncello and various types of citrus jams.

The lemon groves seen from the waters of Lake Garda

Visiting the lemon houses is one of the things to do on Lake Garda not to be missed! In addition to visiting one of the Garda lemon houses, there is the possibility of completing the path of rediscovery of the traditional "lemon gardens".

The dispassionate advice is to discover these magnificent places in the company of a tour guide who will tell you history and curiosities, along a stretch of coast (on foot or, better by boat) in search of the remains of other lemon houses.

They may not be visible as they are hidden in the gardens of luxury villas or resorts. It is very fascinating to discover the transformations they have undergone over time.

Discover Lake Garda with the help of an official guide!

This article was written by Carla, a licensed tour guide who lives and works on Lake Garda. I suggest you contact her to request a guided tour of the lemon groves or any other itinerary around the beautiful Benaco.

D.ssa Carla Ghidinelli - GB / I licensed tourist guide Contacts: +393334790361 - info@guidaturisticalagodigarda.com For more info: www.guidaturisticalagodigarda.com


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