The waterfront resort of Gardone Riviera has an amiable and laid-back feel - a perfect match for the glorious micro-climate that Lake Garda enjoys. With a climate similar to the Bay of Naples, citrus fruits flourish on the hillsides around the lake, while the summer sun is cooled by a gentle lake breeze. Gardone Riviera is only small, with a little piazza sloping down to the lakeshore and a peaceful lakeside promenade decorated with well-kept flowerbeds. The welcoming town has lined the promenade with benches for visitors to sit and relax. This is an ideal kind of place for lazy afternoons whiled away strolling along the lake or savouring delicious ice creams at outdoors cafés.
Gardone has a couple of the lake's great tourist destinations on its doorstep. The home of eccentric poet Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938), which he named after an Italian military victory: Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, The house is a pretentious and excessive memorial to a very unusual Italian. The town's other prize attraction is a botanic garden, the Heller Garden, also known as the Giardino Hruska Botanico, which contains tropical plants and displays.
This botanic garden is situated just a short walk uphill from the waterfront. The garden is also known as the Giardino Hruska Botanico after its founder, Arthur Hruska, who was the dentist of the last Tsar as well as being a botanist. He began laying out this tropical haven between 1910 and 1971, taking advantage of the sheltered spot and mild climate to plant many exotic species. Nowadays the garden belongs to a foundation set up by the artist Andre Heller, and works of modern art are dotted among the plants, pools and streams.
Il Vittoriale is the fantastic estate of Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio, set in nine hectares of garden and complete with his legendary aeroplane, which he flew over Vienna, a battleship and various vintage cars. The house itself is well worth a visit, and the gardens are beautiful to relax in. Gabriele D'Annunzio was a poet and nationalist with a love of the grand gesture (his name means 'Gabriel of the Annunciation'; he was actually born Gaetano Rapagnetta). He was presented with this large Liberty-style villa by the Italian State; Mussolini wanted to keep the self-styled war hero away from politics. D'Annunzio spent his time here dreaming up fantastical additions to his house and gardens, and filling the darkened rooms (bright light hurt his eyes) with his collections, from religious art (it didn't matter what religion) to the gilded shell of his dead pet tortoise. In his study, the most normal and light-filled room, he kept a bust of the Italian actress Eleanora Duse, a former lover. Her head was covered with a veil so it wouldn't distract him.