Italy’s Brescia Province: A Land of Magical Abundance

Owner and employees at Vassalli Pasticcerie in Salo - photos by Cris Carl
Owner and employees at Vassalli Pasticcerie in Salo – photos by Cris Carl

By Cris Carl

When I was seven, I had one of those thick cardboard storybooks of the tale of Pinocchio. What it lacked in extensive storytelling, it more than made up for in illustrations.

One of the most striking images was a heavily laden table, filled with all manner of brilliant fruits, goblets and bottles of wine, rich meats and desserts, and more importantly, a sense of magical abundance.

It was an image that captured my attention and enchanted me. As I visited the towns, businesses, and people of Italy’s Brescia province, the image I carried with me all these years seemed to come alive before me.

Those traveling through Brescia will find opportunities to soak up relaxation in its spas, enjoy hiking, biking, golf, boating, shopping, exploring history, or just plain eating yourself silly in the many fine restaurants and pastry shops.

Bodywork Treatments and Outrageous Pastries

The Acquaria Spa Center in Sirmione
The Aquaria Spa Center in Sirmione

For the total spa experience, the Aquaria Spa Center on beautiful Lake Garda is a feast for the body and soul. Along with the many bodywork treatments you can enjoy, they also have a wide array of heated/therapeutic pools, a full gym, and plenty of help in creating a personalized relaxation vacation.

A wonderful town, largely overlooked by most tourists is Salo, which can be reached by car or a boat ride across Lake Garda. Salo is a charming town with many shops and eateries.

The town is named after the inventor of the violin, Gasparo da Salo. While there, check out Vassalli Pasticcerie, where you can enjoy outrageous pastries, chocolates, coffees, and alcoholic beverages. Seriously, don’t pass this one up.

An Unusual “Microclimate”

It’s important to note that the area around Lake Garda, and Brescia in general, was once one of the greatest producers of lemons, and lemons still play an important roll in the area’s tourism and economy. The area has an unusual “microclimate” that keeps the region very temperate.

And if you want to smell what heaven smells like, visit the “lemon houses” in Riviera dei Limone. We had the opportunity to tour these buildings, which are enormous open-air groves inside a structure that can be covered in the winter. They were originally built by the Romans.

There are guides available and we were told that you can even come across wild goats while hiking in the mountainous area adjacent to the houses.

Lemon vendor in Sirmione on Lake Garda
Lemon vendor in Sirmione on Lake Garda

Something for Everyone

If you are a sports enthusiast, not only can you enjoy the natural beauty of the area, but you can participate in a wide number of activities including mountain biking, rock climbing, and canoeing. Costs range from 45 to 50 euros for three- to six-hour excursions and there are activities for differing ability levels.

If your traveling companion(s) are less into sports, there is also a food and wine cultural tour. Riviera dei Limoni holds multi-sport weeks from May through October. There are also a variety of places to stay in the area which they can assist you with. You can check them out online at

Hotels, Spas, and Campgrounds

If you want to be in the center of all Brescia and the Lake Garda area has to offer, the Hotel Sirmione is an ideal place to stay. The rooms are simple and clean, but the best part is walking out onto your own balcony overlooking the lake.

Prices include breakfast and range from 19 euros per night for a single room to 192 euros for a suite depending on the time of year, with a range of rooms and prices in-between as well.

The whole town of Sirmioni is thought of as a thermal well-being center, with numerous spas, pools, and products made from their waters – which are thought to have their own healing properties. You can find out more online at The site is in English, Italian, and German as are most of the tourism websites from the region.

Street performers in Desenzano (a town in Brescia)
Street performers in Desenzano (a town in Brescia)

There are also many places in Brescia to camp. For complete information on accommodations of every kind as well as information about the region and local attractions go online to

It’s extremely helpful when traveling anywhere in Italy to have a guide, especially if you don’t speak Italian. Brescia Tourism can assist with guides, but I also highly recommend the woman who we traveled with, Chiara Garioni. She can be reached by snail mail at Via Consol, 14, Gardone Riviera, 25083 (BS), Italia. Chiara speaks several languages and is delightful and attentive.

The Race to Rome

For classic car and history buffs, you won’t want to miss the MilleMiglia Museum. The museum documents the history of the 1,000-mile car race from Brescia to Rome and back that began in 1927.

Through the race’s history it has seen many famous events and people from around the world, including Marlon Brando, until it came to an end in 1957. After a couple of false starts, the race has been on again since 1986, but the cars raced must be from the years of 1927 to 1957.

Food as art.  Many dishes in Italy are served in amazingly creative ways.  This is vegetable tempura w/tamari sauce.
Food as art. Many dishes in Italy are served in amazingly creative ways. This is vegetable tempura with tamari sauce.

I admit I wasn’t looking forward to a tour of what I thought would be just another warehouse of old cars, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a high-tech interactive museum that didn’t just show off cars, but the history and culture involved in the race. There are films, memorabilia, dresses, World War II posters, and yes, some of the most incredible classic cars.

A Complex Relationship With Food

You can’t write or think about Italy without taking in the rich and complex relationship with food that is woven into the culture. Expect to eat late and expect to have wine at lunch and dinner, and coffees at every meal.

Expect numerous courses and long meals. And expect to have some of the best food you will ever eat in your life. For those of you going green and buying local – the movement is on in Italy as well, with many restaurants making an effort to invest in the local agriculture.

If you are a chef, cook, or wanting to expand your cooking repertory, check out the international cooking school Castalimenti. There are classrooms for every type of cooking – and one devoted just to chocolate!

Passengers waiting for a boat on the dock on Lake Garda.
Passengers waiting for a boat on the dock on Lake Garda.

We got to learn a few new dishes and had a lot of fun with the very friendly staff. The school primarily caters to professionals but is working to expand into more courses for those who just love to cook.

There is no end to the amazing restaurants you can enjoy in the region, but here are just a few recommendations: Albachiara Bed & Breakfast (the rooms are gorgeous and romantic); Osteria Al Bianchi, a very “local” type of place, not often visited by tourists; and a place that serves fish even I will eat, (and I hate fish), Al Porto.

Brescia overall is a wonderful mix of old and new world with a sheen of simplicity and opulence. If you travel to Italy, this one place you shouldn’t miss.

Cris Carl

Cris Carl is a former reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in western Massachusetts. She lives in Greenfield.

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