Gardone guide

Gardone Riviera trip planner

A vacation guide to Gardone Riviera and Gabriele's d'Annunzio's Il Vittoriale villa on Lake Garda, Italy

The amphitheater at Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, Gardone Riviera, Lago di Garda
The outdoor theater at Il Vittoriale, D'Annunzio's spectacular villa in Gardone. (Photo by BlueSky2012)

In the wake of such intellectual Lake Garda aficionados as DH Lawrence (who lived in Limone for spell), Lord Byron (who loved Desenzano), and Goethe (who spent time in Malcesine), other visitors followed, turning Garda into a popular European resort by the 18th and 19th centuries.

Blessed by the temperate climate of the sunny side of the Alps, the lake's fishing villages sprouted summer villas and elaborate gardens.

The most magnificent of these are in Gardone Riviera on the lake's western shore, and two are visitable: the gardens of the Giardino Botanico Hruska and Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, poet Gabriele d'Annunzio's symbolism-stuffed home.

Heller Garden (Giardino Botanico Hruska)

The Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller, Gardone Riviera, Lago di Garda
The Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller, Gardone Riviera, Lake Garda.
Arturo Hruska was the Swiss dentist to Europe's royalty in the early and mid-20th century.

Hruska was also an avid naturalist, and while he may only have had a single hectare of lake property, between 1940 and 1971 he managed to turn it into a sumptuous microcosm of Alpine and exotic flora, with more than 2,000 species terraced up the hillside around pathways and ponds.

Flowers in the Hruska Gardens, Gardone Riviera
Flowers in the Giardino Heller. (Photo by AmandaK)
Since 1989, Austrian multimedia artist André Heller has kept these lush grounds open to the public as the Heller Garden—though it's still more commonly known as the Giardino Botanico Hruska.

The gardens are located at Via Roma 2, Gardone Riviera (tel. +39-336-410-877;

The gardens are open daily 9am to 7pm March to October; closed in winter. (Adm)

Il Vittoriale degli Italiani

Il Vittoriale degli Italiani
Il Vittoriale degli Italiani.
Up the road, and visited by flocks of Italians and school buses every year, is Il Vittoriale (Via del Vittoriale 12; tel. +39-0365-296511;, an over-the-top villa was built by poet, solider, and adventurer Gabriele d'Annunzio.

A voluble, if sometimes misguided, patriot, D'Annunzio once flew a biplane over Vienna in 1918 to prove an invasion was possible (the plane is preserved in an outbuilding).

In 1919 he used private troops to take over the border town of Fiume (now called Rijeka in Croatia) that had been ceded to Yugoslavia and held it for 17 months, earning himself acclaim as a national hero—and the enmity of those in power, who couldn't control him.

Nave Puglia, Il Vottoriale
Yes, that's an entire battleship nestled in the Vittoriale gardens. The Nave Puglia was donated to D'Annunzio by the Italian Navy in 1925. (Photo courtesy of the Fondazione Vitoriale degli Italiani)
Tired of his shenanigans, Mussolini basically arranged to have D'Annunzio retire here in 1921, simply to keep the heroic poet busy and out of the budding dictator's hair.

Scattered across the lush hillside property are an outdoor theater, a naval ship (no, really; see the photo to the left), and several small buildings serving as mini-museums to D'Annunzio's colorful life, including:

  • The Museo D'Annunzio Eroe (the "Museum of D'Annunzio the Hero;" modesty was not one of his failings)
  • Gabriele D'Annunzio's SAV 10 biplane at Il Vittoriale deli Italiani
    Gabriele D'Annunzio's SAV 10 biplane. (Photo by Massimo Bottelli)
  • The Auditorium (in which the SAV 10 biplane D'Annunzio flew over Vienna is suspended)
  • The MAS (an early kind of submarine D'Annunzio took on another daring, self-appointed mission)
  • The Museo D'Annunzio Segreto (no real secrets, just another set of rooms stuffed with his stuff).

At the top of the hill is the poet's grandiose mausoleum.

But the real draw here is the man's home, the villa itself. Unfortunately, you can only see this on a guided tours, and tours are only given in Italian. Still, they're worth it.

D'Annunzio's villa

Casa della Poeta, Gabriele D'Annunzio's villa at Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, Gardone Riviera, Lake Garda
Casa della Poeta, Gabriele D'Annunzio's villa at Il Vittoriale. (Photo by Flavio Biondo)
D'Annunzio spent his remaining 15 years putting his considerable energies into his kitschy Art Nouveau villa, cramming tens of thousands of objects into the claustrophobic rooms that are decorated as flamboyantly as its creator lived his life.

In addition to mementos from his affairs, including one with actress Eleonora Duse (the Angelina Jolie of her age), the décor was all carefully crafted to create a giant visual and decorative metaphor on his life and philosophy.

It reminds me a bit of Graceland, only rather than simply be filled with stuff that Elvis just kinda liked and bought, Il Vittoriale is crammed with five times as much bric-a-brac (there are 900 items in the blue bathroom alone), and all of it is linked in a web of bizarre intellectual theories.

Some of the symbolism in just the entrance room

The vestibule of the Vittoriale
The vestibule of the Vittoriale. (Photo courtesy of the Fondazione Vitoriale degli Italiani)
For example: the vestibule, just after you come in the front door. It's lined with old walnut pews, with a Franciscan stone column from Assisi topped by a basket of Punic apples, a fertility symbol.

At the base of the column are the three nails of the Passion of Christ. D'Annunzio reveled in the fact that his first name was that of an Archangel, and he called himself the "Visionary" after a flying accident in 1916 blinded him in the right eye.

He was fond of saying, of his house "Everything speaks to me, everything is a sign, for I who can read it."

D'Annunzio would also use this vestibule to divide his visitors between welcome guests and undesirables.

Friends would be shown into the room to the left of the column, the cozy Oratorio Dalmata, lined by 17th century choir stalls, and Gabriele would quickly join them.

Gabriele D'Annunzio (c. 1922)
Gabriele D'Annunzio (c. 1922)
If you were someone d'Annunzio found annoying, however, you'd be shown to the door to the right of the column and into the Stanza del Mascheraio—and be kept waiting and waiting.

On the wall is a mirror, and above the mirror, carved into green marble, the legend in Italian:

"The to visitor: are you carrying the mirror of Narcissus? This one is of lead and glass, oh mask-carrier. Adjust your masks to match your face, but remember that you are scraping glass over steel."

Mussolini was always shown to the door on the right.

Tips & links

Visiting Il Vittoriale

Open hours and contact: Il Vittoriale is at Via Vittoriale 12, Gardone Riviera (tel. +39-0365-296-511;

Il Vittoriale is open daily year-round (though the house itself and the Museo d;Annunzio Eroe are closed Mondays): April to September 8:30am to 8pm; October to March 9am to 5pm.

Required tours: While you are free to wander the landscaped grounds, war museum with d'Annunzio's plane, and other outbuildings, you can only get into the villa itself on a timed guided tour (all of which, unfortunately, are in Italian).

Recommended hotels in Gardone Riviera

Recommended hotels in Gardone Riviera

» More hotels (Booking)

How to get to Gardone Riviera

Desenzano del Garda, at the southwestern corner of Lake Garda, is a stop on the main VeniceMilan train line. From Desenzano, there are one to two buses per hour to Gardone (38 min.; There are also several buses per hour from Salò to Gardone (6 min.).

How to get around Lake Garda

If you don't take a tour or have a rental car (recommended), the easiest way is by bus ( or by boat (

Useful links & resources

Share this page

Intrepid Travel 25% off



Gardone Riviera tourist office
Corso Repubblica 8
tel. +39-0365-20-347


Recommended hotels in Gardone Riviera

» More hotels (Booking)

Useful links

Train tix

Shortcuts to popular planning sections:

Airfares, Cars, Trains, Tours, Packages, Cruises, Lodging, Itineraries, Info, Packing, Prep, Comm

Follow ReidsItaly
Follow ReidsItaly on Twitter  Join the ReidsItaly fan page  Follow Reids Italy Adventures blog