The shortest river in Italy is called Aril and it’s only 175 m long.
Fed by underground freshwater streams, Aril starts as a wide pool of crystal clear waters which tumble down a small but mighty waterfall and with a deafening sound run under a road and three bridges along a narrow canal to then flow straight into Lago di Garda – Italy’s largest lake.
Although short, the river Aril is very picturesque. You will find it in the heart of Cassone – a small lakeside village just a short drive away from Malcesine – one of the most beautiful towns on Lake Garda’s shores – in the Province of Verona, Northeastern Italy.
Over 10 centuries old and with a quaint beauty, there are many interesting things about Cassone. The village was founded in the Middle Ages and until a few decades ago it was only accessible by boat.
Nowadays, Cassone stands out with its gaggle of colourful houses, picture-perfect doll-size harbour, and a tall stone tower that in the past had functioned as a windmill. It is a charming, tranquil place that makes you fall in love with it at a first glance.
Even Gustav Klimt – the Austrian painter of The Kiss fame – couldn’t resist Cassone’s charms. He depicted the village’s houses and church in a painting which was sold for nearly 27 million pounds in 2010.
Yet, the most unique thing about Cassone is that right in its historic centre springs the tiny river Aril. The locals call it Ri and are really proud of it. To the point that anyone you ask in the village would tell you that their Aril is the shortest river in the whole world. A sign in the centre of Cassone states it, too.
Unfortunately, this is not quite the truth. There are even shorter rivers all around the globe. However, without any doubt, Aril is officially recognised as the shortest river in Italy. And that was good enough for me to really want to go to Cassone and see the river for myself as soon as I found about its existence.
As luck would have it, Cassone turned out to be less than two hours away from the city of Vicenza where I currently live. An eager fan of Lake Garda, I have crisscrossed its shores and towns many times in all seasons to the point where I had started to think that this stunning lake didn’t have any more secrets left for me.
Yet, during a Christmas visit to Gardaland Sea Life – a large aquarium near Lake Garda – I came across a small informational poster affixed to one of the walls.
The poster simply stated that Aril is the shortest river in Italy and one of the 25 tributaries of Lake Garda. It also explained that the river is fed by freshwater streams flowing beneath Monte Baldo (a mountain range in the Italian Alps) and that it is a sanctuary for trout which swim upstream to lay their eggs there.
With my curiosity piqued, we picked a day to make the drive to Cassone and see the river Aril for ourselves.
This is how on 2nd January of the New Year, we piled in our car and headed out. Traffic flowed dense and tense all the way from Vicenza to Verona. Afterwards, it eased a bit. Soon, we were driving past the many large entertainment parks, flash shopping malls, and expansive vineyards dotted on the southern edges of Lake Garda.
Suddenly, the crenellated walls and towers of the medieval castle of Lazise – another beautiful lakeside town – jutted upwards in front of us. From there, the road followed the curves of Lake Garda and took us through a series of small pretty towns and places – Bardolino, Garda, Punta San Vigilio, Torri del Benaco, Brenzone sul Garda – like precious pearls on a gorgeous necklace.
The blue waters of the lake were still and peaceful. Each turn that the car took opened another stunning view in front of us. Tiny harbours surrounded by colourful houses alternated with hotels and olive groves. Inside the car, we settled into a companionable silence, just taking it all in and feeling at peace with the world.
Just then a sign spelling CASSONE came into view. It was immediately followed by another sign pointing to a lakeside parking lot. We spent a few frustrating minutes trying to work out how to pay until a kind local told us that until March the car park machine remained unplugged and parking there was free of charge.
Knowing how busy Lake Garda can get during the high season, being there in winter felt like such a treat. Free from the frenzied crowds of tourists and visitors, the lake was a place so peaceful and calm that we simply sat on a bench next to the old windmill for a while just taking in the blue tones of the splashing waters, the surrounding mountains and the sky above.
Our mission to see Italy’s shortest river had been momentarily put on hold. Nothing else mattered in the world. It was all about feeling calm and relaxed on the shores of the lake.
A family of ducks and two regal swans soon arrived to check us out.
Seeing us calmly sitting there, they soon relaxed in our company, too and regaled us with a show of fastidiously preening their feathers for minutes on end.
Finally, we walked around the old windmill and a tiny yet picture-perfect harbour opened up in front of us. A gaggle of boats was moored there and the building of the Museum of the Lake stood on the opposite to us edge.
It was such a visual pleasure just being there and taking it all in.
The museum, as it happened, was closed. So, we peeked through the glass door to see a large boat inside covered with fishing nets and surrounded with other objects of interest. Housed in a former fish hatchery, the Museum of the Lake preserves the memory of the local fishing traditions and it has two water reservoirs attached to it outside where trouts, carps, and eels swim.
Next to these reservoirs was a small curved bridge and from its high vantage point, we had our first glimpse of the river Aril.
Passing under the bridge on which we stood the river flowed into the lake.
Upstream, Aril was surrounded by local houses and the view was lovely and homely at the same time. Freshly laundered sheets hung from a balcony over the waters of Italy’s shortest river creating a landscape that was simple, comforting and very Italian in the best possible way.
We walked a bit more along the lake until a curving path took us past some more houses, a whimsical fountain and back to the river banks.
The water ran fast under three small bridges, noisily splashing all the way down to the lake.
A busy road ran right across Cassone’s heart. Called Strada Gardesana, it follows the curves of the lake. The river Aril runs right underneath this road. We crossed the road, carefully looking left and right for oncoming cars, and found ourselves taking in a delightful view.
We were now facing the wide pool formed by the river Aril’s headwater springs as they emerge from the earth’s depth. Unlike the fast and furious river channel that ran down towards the lake, the pool was an oasis of calm.
Sturdy stone walls had been built around the river’s pool. A century or so ago, the river provided the energy for a local hydroelectric station and two mills – one grinding maize and the other pressing olive oil.
A beautiful Nativity Scene had been set up on the river’s pool. Nativity Scenes are typical for Italy during the Christmas period. Intricately made in any style and size, they are placed inside churches, at town’s squares, in front yards and even on the surface of rivers and lagoons.
The tradition of placing a Nativity Scene on the river Aril in the village of Cassone was started 50 years ago. Carefully made and positioned there by a local group, Aril’s Nativity Scene this year was dedicated to the fight against the violence against women. According to data released by the Italian news agency ANSA, femicide – the murderous violence against women – has claimed the lives of 142 women in Italy in 2018.
Jealousy and a sense of possession still are an everyday problem in many relationships. Hence, among the peaceful scenes of Aril’s Nativity Scene, you could see a floating platform with red shoes – the symbol of the fight against violence – as well as a woman, huddled into a ball and all by herself in a small boat as a symbol of the feeling of loneliness and isolation from the world one suffers in such relationships.
Apart from the impact it exercises on the eyes and minds of passers-by, the Aril’s Nativity Scene also serves a charitable function. A box for donations was affixed to the railings of the river. The money collected in 2018 from the inhabitants and visitors of Cassone amounted to 3,000 euros which were donated for a charitable cause.
We spent some time just taking it all in. The peaceful oasis of the river’s pool. Baby Jesus in his manger. The adoring shepherds and the Three Wise Men. And the red shoes in the middle of it all as a constant reminder that violence still blights many lives every single day.
The Nativity Scene was touching and well-made. You could feel the attention and thought that had gone into creating its many components.
A scene with two cats – one made of cardboard and relaxing on a cardboard balcony and the other real and sleeping on a cardboard roof – made us laugh.
Right behind the river Aril’s pool, stood a hotel with a restaurant and a coffee bar attached to it. It was the perfect place for a coffee break. We asked the smiling lady who brought our coffees to the table many questions about Italy’s shortest river.
‘In summer,’ she told us, ‘it’s very beautiful here, as small white flowers grow all around the banks of the river and it looks like a garden.’ It sounded lovely and just the idea of it made me want to return to Cassone soon again.
With our coffees finished, we headed back to the car, stopping for a moment to observe the small waterfall from which the water decanted from the river’s pool into the fast-flowing river channel leading down to Lake Garda.
It was a beautiful, idyllic view, the stuff that dreams of Italy are made of.
Have you been to Cassone to see Aril – Italy’s shortest river? Did you like it? Which is your favourite corner around Lago di Garda – Italy’s largest lake? Where in the world did you make an unexpected yet lovely discovery? Let me know in the Comments section below. Thank you!
More Helpful Links
- Best 12 Towns to Visit Around Lago di Garda – Italy’s Largest Lake
- Lage Garda with Kids or the 11 Best Things to Do at Lake Garda for Families
- Campo di Brenzone – A Great Day Trip to a Medieval Village in the Hills Above Lake Garda, Italy
- 8 Most Beautiful Villages to Visit in the Veneto, Italy
- Top 15 Places to Visit in the Veneto, Italy – The Ultimate Guide
- 30 Days of Adventures in the Veneto, Italy – #30daysofadventures
- Parco delle Cascate and Molina – A Great Day Out in the Province of Verona
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- Trentino, Italy – Castles, Hikes, and Alpacas – The Perfect 4-Day Itinerary (With or Without Kids)
- Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona – Visiting Italy’s Church Suspended Between Heaven and Earth
- 25 Things to Do, Eat and Enjoy This Spring in Northern Italy
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- 20 Family-Friendly Walks and Hikes Up to an Hour and a Half from Vicenza, Italy – First Part
- 20 Family-Friendly Walks and Hikes Up to an Hour and a Half from Vicenza – Second Part
- Video of the underwater Nativity scene in Garda Town, Lake Garda
- Video of a street performer in Desenzano, Lake Garda
- Video of a traditional band in Peschiera del Garda, Lake Garda
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