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The Riviera of Lemons: an inebriating Lake Garda

Enticing scents, bright colours, and endless culinary uses: these are the hallmarks of the lemons of the Brescia area of Lake Garda, the pride of the territory.

There is a magical corner on Lake Garda, where the mountains directly overlook the water, historically coloured in yellow that has the fragrance of citrus fruits in the air: this is Limone sul Garda.

When talking about lemons in Italy, the first thing that comes to mind is the lemons of Sicily, which grow in the warm sun and mild climate of the south, but the northernmost lemon groves in all of Europe are hidden away on the Lombardy shores of the lake, protected by greenhouses and structures that allow the lemons to reap only the best of the lake climate.

A name to discover

A remote village until 1932 (reachable until then by lake or via an impervious route through the mountains) with a charming historic centre, it is famous for being mentioned by Goethe in his Italian Journey in which he describes it as ‘with its gardens and terraces up the mountainside; a spectacle of richness and grace‘.  Not much has changed to this day.

Curiously, the name is not derived from the fruit: the origin is in fact uncertain, and is probably derived from the word limen, meaning border, or lima, meaning river. But even if the origin is not related to the plant, the name is fitting, as the history of these lemon groves is what makes the place unique. 

The name perhaps comes from the legend that tells that two twins were born from the god Benaco and the nymph Phyllis: Grineo and Limone. The latter, fond of hunting, was attacked by a wild boar but was revived by his father with an elixir of heavenly flowers. After this event, Limone decided to dedicate himself to farming in a sheltered creek on Monte Baldo, sheltered from the winds and with a mild climate, where lemons grow.

Lemon groves to discover

And there are only three lemon groves in Limone sul Garda that can be visited to discover the myths, legends and cultivation of this citrus fruit – the Tesol lemon grove, the Via Borghi lemon grove and the Castél lemon grove – but it is this last one that is the most famous and offers the most immersive experience, since it is reached by walking along the winding streets and following the ceramic signs that indicate it.

Dating back to the 18th century, it is today an incredible piece of history (citrus fruit cultivation was introduced to the lake in the 13th century, the friars of the convent of San Francesco di Gargnano imported lemons from the Genoese Riviera to Limone sul Garda), botany (about seventy different citrus fruits are cultivated) and offers stunning views of the landscape.

All the fragrance of lemons in cuisine 

And in what form can these lemons be tasted? Practically all of them. As a main ingredient in risottos, seafood dishes to enhance and mellow, in revisited Caprese cakes, in tarts with fragrant creams, and lastly as a digestive, because limoncello is not only typical of the south.

Like in Provence it is easy to find shops entirely dedicated to lavender, entire craft shops are in Limone where you can literally take a plunge into citrus fruits: try entering Bottega di Alice and you will discover cedar jams and personal care products, homemade limoncellos and biscuits on the shelves.

The sublimation of local products? Search among the shelves for bottles of Olio Garda Bresciano PDO, a prized extra virgin olive oil, the hand-picked olives of which yield a delicate and unique product that is often aromatised with the most unusual citrus fruits, like bergamot or citron

The best-known local restaurants 

And if you are interested in on-site tasting, there are plenty of local chefs who have opted to add Garda lemons and other often lost or forgotten citrus fruits to their dishes.

Without leaving the town, Casa Bistrot L’Andrunèl serves a tasting menu called ‘un tuffo nel Garda’, featuring various dishes that are scented with citrus fruits, in a fine setting that is extremely refined yet never formal.

Casa Bistrot L’Andrunèl – Instagram @landrunel
Casa Bistrot L’Andrunèl – Instagram @landrunel

However, the neighbouring villages also boast mouth-watering cuisines bursting with creativity but using traditional ingredients. Impossible not to mention the now internationally famous Lido 84, where chef Riccardo Camanini, who grew up on the shores of another lake, has succeeded in absorbing all that Garda has to offer and simply turning it into a work of art. One dish that embodies all the tradition and local ingredients is his famous rose cake, made with Vov eggnog and, of course, Garda lemons.

Lido 84 – Instagram @ristorantelido84
Lido 84 – Instagram @ristorantelido84
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