Cherished by poets such as Byron, Goethe and Dante, Lake Garda offers a spellbinding mix of natural splendour and Renaissance grace. Perched on the western coast, the small village of San Felice del Benaco remains relatively unknown.
Venetian palaces sequestered on enigmatic islands, thirteenth-century castles ringing with the sound of bells and sanctuaries in which silence is decreed by law… San Felice del Benaco has enough to keep your imagination occupied for a lifetime.
Isola del Garda
This wooded island, not far from the village itself, is the stuff of romantic legends. The owners, the Borghese Cavazza family, live peacefully in the magnificent neo-Gothic palace. Thankfully, they generously open the isle to the public from March to October, offering intimate guided tours of the villa itself. If you opt for an evening tour, you may also be treated to a live concert, serenaded among the deep green foliage as moonlight glints off the surface of the lake.
San Felice Castle
Forget ‘Game of Thrones’ – the wars of the Ghibellines and the Guelphs provide all the nail-biting historical drama you could ever want. These two tiny city-states were pitted against each other, pawns in a feud between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope.
San Felice Castle dates back to that conflict – it’s believed to have been built when the ruling family of the region, the Scaligeri, wanted to defend themselves. Now in a ruined state, parts have been converted into a church with a magnificent campanile, or bell tower.
Sanctuary of Madonna del Carmine
The Carmelite order of nuns were famous for taking vows of silence, and their oldest sanctuary is one of the most exceptional sites in San Felice. Draped in frescoes, the fifteenth-century church has a profound atmosphere, resounding with a silence you can no longer find in the modern world. The site was originally a shrine to Mary, venerated by fishermen giving thanks to the Virgin for protecting them during their dangerous voyages across the stormy lake.
Where to Stay
A few hundred metres from the lake, the Hotel San Filis is housed in a sixteenth-century villa and has been run by the same family for over two decades. Their dedication is easily seen in their personal services and special touches, like the outdoor pool set in a tranquil courtyard, spectacular vaulted ceilings and homely restaurant serving good quality local food.
The hotel has boats to hire if you want to take to the water. Alternatively, if you feel like exploring the wider region, it’s in easy reach of historic cities such as Mantova, Venice and Verona.