Punta di San Vigilio is a picturesque promontory that stretches far into the blue waters of Lago di Garda – Italy’s largest lake.
Dotted with tall cypresses and centuries-old olive trees, it is a place of magical beauty that awakens the poet in you.
Visiting Punta di San Vigilio is one of the most cinematic experiences you can have in Italy. Surrounded by water on three sides, with a citrus grove, a stunning beach, a 15th-century inn, a 16th-century villa, and a cobbled street that leads to a small harbour with the tables of a renowned tavern placed around it, the place is the interpretation of a dream. You cannot help it but fall in love with it.
It’s no wonder then that people have been attracted to Punta di San Vigilio for centuries. Among its most celebrated visitors, some standout names include the actors Vivienne Leigh and Laurence Olivier, the British statesman Winston Churchill, and even the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles.
You don’t have to be a celebrity to visit this fabled corner of Lake Garda, though.
You can come here on a hot summer day to enjoy a day at the beach, a night in the luxury hotel on site, a meal in its celebrated restaurant, or a drink in the harbour tavern.
Or you can visit Punta di San Vigilio during the cold months for an invigorating walk down the cypress-lined alley and the cobbled street all the way to the lakeshore. With the beach and the tavern closed and the summer crowds dispersed, you can truly feel the soul of the place.
Stand still and just take in the blue expanse of the lake, the black cormorants that relax on the tiny rocky outcrop just off the harbour’s tip, the weathered facades of the buildings, the tall cypresses reaching for the sky, the withered leaves of the large trellis vine, and the wind whistling in the reeds that grow in the water right next to the promontory’s edge like the crown of a mythical lake god.
For a fleeting moment in time, you have the most beautiful corner this side of Italy all for yourself.
So, today, in this blog post, I want to give you detailed information on how to visit and enjoy Punta di San Vigilio on Lake Garda in Italy in any season.
In addition to sharing my personal experiences there and briefly retelling the history of Punta di San Vigilio, I have also included lots of helpful tips on how to reach the promontory, what to do there and in the adjacent area, as well as how to choose the best time to visit.
I hope that you will find it useful! Now, let’s start:
Punta di San Vigilio – A Walk Through the Most Charming Corner of Lake Garda, Italy
I first visited Punta di San Vigilio on Lake Garda in Italy on a grey December day a couple of Christmases ago.
While Italy’s largest lake is universally famous as a summer destination, in fact, it is beautiful to visit in any season. Especially during the run-up to Christmas when a myriad of festive markets and a rich programme of events turn the lakeside towns into holiday hotspots where you shop for artisan goods, skate on the small ice rinks right on the edge of the lake, drink hot chocolate, and lose yourself in the gorgeous lake views.
And, so it happened that on this grey December day we were driving up the eastern shore of Lake Garda headed to a small medieval village lost in the hills above the lake where people every year stage a big display of Christmas Nativity Scenes.
The road followed snuggly the outlines of the lake and a few minutes after we had driven through the pretty as a picture Garda Town, we spotted Punta di San Vigilio’s lay-by.
We had driven past it many times before. In summer, there always seemed to be lots of cars there and we had never felt the urge to stop and have a look around under the hot glare of the Italian sun.
But it was winter now. The lay-by stood empty. Beyond it, we could see a cypress-lined alley disappearing down a gentle slope. It felt like something beckoned us to stop and explore this place. We parked the car in the small parking lot right past the lay-by and headed down the alley on foot.
The tall cypresses stretched up towards the sky. Centuries-old and with wide trunks covered with thick rugged bark, they led us forward one step at a time. On the right, an olive grove – perennially green – stood between us and one of Lake Garda’s most famous beaches. Curving around a beautiful bay with the poetic name Baia delle Sirene (Mermaids’ Bay), the beach was closed off for the cold winter months.
The cypress-lined alley culminated with a beautiful villa locked behind a metal gate. As we couldn’t advance forward, we took the cobbled street that met the alley perpendicularly.
The street was bordered by a tall stone wall on both sides. Plants and bushes had crept and grown above and on the surface of the wall, their green leaves and stalks complementing nicely the weathered brown of the stones.
Loud quacking shattered the air, making us suddenly realise how peaceful and quiet it all had been up to that particular moment in time.
We walked up the cobbled street to a small fenced-off yard where a gaggle of geese was making a racket. No wonder that geese saved Rome with their quacks. These large birds – white as swans but not half as graceful – really know how to make noise.
Next to the geese’s coop, stood a large olive tree. A small sign at its base stated that the tree had been planted in the 14th century. Seeing a 600-year old tree – one that still gives fruit judging by the copious amount of olives on the ground all around it – felt like such a special thing.
With the human experience usually compressed in a single-digit number of decades, we often tend to lose perspective and struggle to think in the long term. Yet life around us continues no matter what.
Leaving the olive tree behind, we followed the cobbled street down to a small, beautiful piazza. Surrounded by the defensive walls and a large facade on all sides, it would have been the end of our exploration of Punta di San Vigilio had it not been for the arched gateway that revealed the most romantic view.
We walked through the gateway and found ourselves on the edge of a stone jetty that curved into the lake thus creating the most perfect harbour.
The water in hundreds of shades of green, black, and blue quietly lapped against the old stones. A small rocky outcrop peeked above the water just off the tip of the jetty. A flock of cormorants had taken possession of it. While some of the big black birds were busy preening their feathers, others were standing still, lost in contemplation of the beauty that surrounded them.
To the left, the cormorants could see in the distance the colourful houses of Garda Town with the tall, flat-top hill of Rocca di Garda looming over them. Right in front, stretched the waters of Italy’s largest lake. The haze of the December day had hidden the opposite shore making Lake Garda look more akin to a big mysterious sea. And then, to the right, the 15th-century inn and the even older Church of St. Vigilius seemed to rise from the water.
We stood on the stone jetty’s edge admiring that rare type of beauty that is created in equal portions by nature and man. It was one of those unique moments when time seems to expand and a minute may feel like an hour with the scale of emotions and thoughts that your heart and your mind go through.
My other memorable visit to Punta di San Vigilio on Lake Garda happened this past summer.
On a three-day trip to Italy’s largest lake in the last months before we left our Italian life behind, we hired a boat for a few hours to have fun. From our base in the small town of Castelletto sul Garda we headed to Punta di San Vigilio. It was a hot and sunny day. A truly beautiful summer!
The promontory stretched deep into the water separating Lake Garda’s wide southern end from its narrow northern portion.
The beach at Baia delle Sirene was dotted with people sunning themselves while others were swimming in the shallows. Then, the majestic Villa Guarienti di Brenzone came into view – designed to be fully admired from the water. It was followed by the small Church of St. Vigilius, the old inn that nowadays is a luxury hotel, and the beautiful harbour with its stone jetty.
The tavern was open and its tables were spaced along the jetty with groups of people chatting and having fun over drinks, nibbles, and the best views this side of Italy.
Flashy yachts and motorboats were moored in front of the harbour. The people on board were waiting for the boat of the restaurant to come fetch them onshore where their table was being laden with a freshly prepared lunch to remember.
We drifted past the hubbub and found a secluded cove right where Punta di San Vigilio starts jutting into the lake. The water was a surreal shade of green and a refreshing dip was the order of the day. The tall cypresses stretched up towards the sky. Time expanded and for a fleeting moment that felt like a magical hour the world was a perfect place.
What is Punta di San Vigilio?
Punta di San Vigilio is a small promontory that juts into the blue waters of Lago di Garda – Italy’s largest lake. It serves as the northeastern boundary of the picturesque Garda Bay and it also separates the wider southern half of the lake from its elongated northern half.
Thanks to its unique position, Punta di San Vigilio offers some of the most bewitching views of Lake Garda. Standing right at the spot where land and water meet, people flock to the promontory to admire the sprawling panoramas. The fiery golden sunsets that can be observed here are a particular draw.
What is the history of Punta di San Vigilio?
With its secluded location and offering easy access to a beautiful beach, Punta di San Vigilio has been attracting people for millennia. The area has been inhabited since at least the Bronze Age. Hundreds of highly detailed rock carvings depicting people and animals, among other things, have been discovered in the adjacent area. They point to nomadic shepherds and hunters spending periods of time here several millennia ago. Monte Luppia – the steep hill towering above Punta di San Vigilio – is where some of the most interesting rock carvings can be seen nowadays.
During the Classical Roman era, a small temple dedicated to the pagan lake-god Benacus was erected on Punta di San Vigilio. Son of the sea god Neptune, Benacus was the personification of Lake Garda. In fact, up to the beginning of the 8th century AD, the lake was known by its Latin name – Lacus Benacus.
With the advent of Christianity, in the 4th century St. Vigilius – the third bishop and the Patron Saint of the city of Trent – built churches along Lake Garda and worked tirelessly to convert to Christianity the pagans living on those shores. To this day, the small promontory carries his name – in Italian, San Vigilio.
In the centuries that followed, the fate of Punta di San Vigilio mirrored closely the fate of the eastern shores of Lake Garda. Goths, Lombards, and Franks followed by the medieval dynasty of Della Scala from nearby Verona had control over them until the Republic of Venice took over at the start of the 15th century.
This is when a small hamlet with an inn and a harbour was built at Punta di San Vigilio to accommodate people travelling between the eastern and the western shores of Lake Garda. Nowadays, the hamlet has been converted into a luxury resort – Locanda di San Vigilio – which is renowned as one of the most exquisite places to stay at Italy’s largest lake.
Mid-16th century, Agostino – Count Guarienti di Brenzone – built a beautiful villa just up the road from the old inn. Respected for his scientific and literary knowledge, he was looking for peace and quiet after a busy life spent in Venice and Rome.
During his time at Punta di San Vigilio, Agostino wrote a philosophical book on the delights of solitary life. His approach to life is reflected in his motto Beatus ille qui procul negotii (Blessed are those who are far from business affairs).
In the centuries that followed, the beauty and tranquility of Punta di San Vigilio attracted statesmen and royals, celebrated actors, and other important figures. The list of illustrious guests of the Locanda di San Vigilio in this most charming corner of Lake Garda is long. The names of Napoleon III, Tzar Alexander II of Russia, Winston Churchill, Vivienne Leigh of ‘Gone with the Wind’ fame, Laurence Olivier, and Prince Charles stand out.
To this day, the noble family of Guarienti di Brenzone owns the historic villa and the Locanda di San Vigilio.
In the 50’s and 60’s of the 20th century, the Locanda di San Vigilio was managed by a legendary figure – the Englishman Leonard Walsh. Thanks to his many contacts in Europe, he turned the Locanda into a privileged destination and hosted many renowned figures. Anecdotes about Walsh and his illustrious guests abound. A special Facebook page is dedicated to him and his time at Punta di San Vigilio. It makes for fascinating reading.
Walsh’s lasting legacy are the San Vigilini biscuits which he invented especially for the visit of Winston Churchill to Punta di San Vigilio. The biscuits – a curious import of British baking traditions to this corner of Italy – have become part of Lake Garda’s traditions.
Nowadays, Punta di San Vigilio is recognised as the most romantic place at Italy’s largest lake. Some even call it the Portofino of Lake Garda. The golden sunsets that can be enjoyed sitting at a table placed on the stone jetty of the old harbour have become the stuff of legends.
In summer, the promontory attracts a colourful crowd of celebrities, beachgoers, and discerning travellers seeking to experience the beauty of Italy. In winter, this is a quiet corner where you feel at one with nature and you can hear your thoughts far from the stresses of daily life.
In whichever season you visit Punta di San Vigilio, its logo – En somnii explanatio (Here is the interpretation of a dream) – rings true.
Are There Any Interesting Legends about Punta di San Vigilio on Lake Garda?
A place of rare beauty, it’s not surprising that Punta di San Vigilio has appealed to people’s imagination through the centuries.
There are several legends about this picturesque promontory in Lake Garda. Are they true or work of fiction?! You decide!
- Legend of the Scoglio della Stella (in English, Stella’s Rock) – this is a small rocky outcrop just off the tip of the small harbour of Punta di San Vigilio. Nowadays it is a favourite place for the lake’s cormorants who love to spend time there relaxing and grooming their feathers. According to a local legend though the outcrop is the lake nymph Stella. She was turned into stone after rebuffing the advances of the satyr Vigilius – the grandson of the god of the woods.
- Legend of the Hermit – a hermit named Vigilius spent his life in prayer on the promontory. The small church that nowadays can be seen next to the Locanda of San Vigilio, was allegedly built in memory of the hermit on top of the ruins of a fortress that had been destroyed during the invasion of the Franks.
- Legend of the Baia delle Sirene (Mermaids’ Bay) – apparently, the mermaids living in the beautiful bay of Punta di San Vigilio own a very special drink – the Elixir of Love. They gifted it to the sailors who were relaxing on the bay’s shore one night many moons ago and this made them and their wives very happy.
- Legend of the Monster of Lake Garda – Italy’s largest lake, allegedly, has its own monster. Stories about a huge serpentine creature haunting Lake Garda have been circulating the lake shores for centuries. It was only in 2013 though, after a mother and a child glimpsed a 15 m long snake-like animal with the head of a whale emerge close to the Baia delle Sirene in Punta di San Vigilio, that the creature was officially recognised as a monster and given the name Bennie (from Lake Garda’s old Latin name – Lacus Benacus).
How to Reach Punta di San Vigilio on Lake Garda?
Punta di San Vigilio is on the eastern shore of Lake Garda, Italy. You will find it almost halfway between Garda Town and Torri del Benaco – two of the prettiest and most popular lakeside towns.
The easiest way to reach Punta di San Vigilio is by car. Just punch the name of the promontory into Google Maps or the GPS system you are using and follow the instructions. In any case, if you have already reached Garda Town or Torri del Benaco, you can’t get lost. There is only one lakeside road and as long as you drive up (coming from Garda Town) or down (coming from Torri del Benaco), you will reach Punta di San Vigilio within a few minutes.
When the road starts making a long curve, keep an eye out for the entry point for Punta di San Vigilio which is almost at the apex of the curve. There are two small billboards with a picture of the promontory right at the lay-by. Beyond them, there is a small free car park. You can leave your car there and then walk down to the Locanda di San Vigilio, to the Parco di San Vigilio or to the beach at Baia delle Sirene.
Bear in mind that during the high season, parking spaces can be difficult to come across. If this is the case, drive to the olive grove which is on the opposite side of the road and just a few steps further down from the Punta di San Vigilio’s lay-by. Inside the grove, there is a large paid-for car park. Here you can leave your car in the shadow of the olive trees and then walk back to Punta di San Vigilio. Please, be very careful when crossing the road on foot. Heavy traffic trundles up and down it at all times of the day, there are no pavements, and maximum caution should be exercised at all times.
You can reach Punta di San Vigilio also by bus. Bus line 484 connects Garda Town with Torri del Benaco and stops at Punta di San Vigilio along the way. There is a bus stop near the small free car park and the bus stop for the return journey is near the entrance of the paid-for car park in the olive grove. Again, please, exercise the utmost caution if you need to cross the road to reach the bus stop.
In principle, you can also reach Punta di San Vigilio on foot and/or bike by following the beachline from Garda Town to the promontory. Be aware, however, that in winter certain portions of this coastal path may become inaccessible due to fluctuations in the levels of the lake waters. Another minus is that you will have to walk the last kilometre of the trail next to the very busy lakeside road. There are no pavements and the road is narrow and with heavy traffic. Please, exercise maximum caution and consider taking the local bus or even a taxi if you don’t have a car at your disposal.
What to See and Do at Punta di San Vigilio?
Punta di San Vigilio is a state of mind.
You don’t necessarily go there to tick sights off a long list. No, you head to this most charming corner of Lake Garda in Italy to experience the beauty of history and nature in its purest form.
In winter, you walk around Punta di San Vigilio, slowly immersing yourself in a state of peace and quiet that it’s difficult to replicate in any other place. In summer, you may enjoy a day at the beach, a drink in the tavern, a meal at the restaurant, or a stay at the luxury hotel. The place is lively and yet it offers relaxation and beauty in spades.
In addition, here are some of the most beautiful and curious spots to see and experience for yourself at Punta di San Vigilio:
- Cypress Avenue – the long path lined up by centuries-old tall cypress trees that leads from the free car park to the 16th-century Villa Guarienti di Brenzone.
- Villa Guarienti di Brenzone – a 16th-century villa surrounded by lavish Italian gardens. It was designed by the renowned Venetian architect of Mannerist persuasion Michele Sanmicheli. The villa’s main facade is turned towards Lake Garda. Please, note that the villa is not open for visits.
- 15th-century hamlet – a tiny hamlet with a cobbled street and a small square leading to the picturesque harbour of Punta di San Vigilio.
- Harbour – the most evocative place on the promontory, the harbour features in the most iconic images of Punta di San Vigilio. In summer, the tables of the onsite taverna are placed directly on the stone jetty, allowing you to enjoy the most stunning views of Lake Garda over nibbles and a cold drink or two.
- Lo Scoglio della Stella – a small rocky outcrop that sticks above the water just off the tip of the small harbour. According to an old local legend, this is the nymph Stella who was turned into stone by the satyr Virgilius after she rebuked his advances.
- Locanda di San Vigilio – an exclusive hotel and restaurant with beautiful gardens and a citrus grove. The locanda’s building was built in the 15th century to accommodate travellers crossing the lake in boats.
- Church of San Vigilio – an ancient church dedicated to St. Vigilius whose name the promontory carries. The church is not open for visits by the general public and it can be admired from the stone jetty of the small harbour.
- Baia delle Sirene (Mermaids’ Bay) – one of the most beautiful beaches on the shores of Lake Garda. A pebbly half-moon shaped strip offers direct access to the crystal clear waters of Italy’s largest lake while olive and pine trees provide shade during the hot summer days. Access is paid for.
- Parco di San Vigilio – a lovely green space dotted with tall cypress trees. Access is usually reserved for the guests of Locanda di San Vigilio.
When Is the Best Time to Go for a Walk on Punta di San Vigilio on Lake Garda?
Punta di San Vigilio is a great destination on Lake Garda, Italy in any season.
If you are after a peaceful, almost meditative experience, then head to the promontory during the low season. In the cold months, this is a quiet place with shuttered windows and only the wind for company.
If you are looking for a lively and exciting experience, then come to Punta di San Vigilio in summer. This is when the beach at the Baia delle Sirene and the tavern around the old harbour are open. You can spend a great day at the beach and then have a drink and nibbles while enjoying a splendid sunset.
What Else to Do in the Vicinity of Punta di San Vigilio on Lake Garda?
Punta di San Vigilio is a must-see sight on the shores of Lake Garda, Italy.
Yet, there are many more wonderful and exciting things to do and sights to see in its immediate vicinity. Pick one or more suggestions from the shortlist below for an action-packed day of getting to know up close and personal the beauty of this corner of Italy.
Please, note that all travel times are approximate, by car, and start from the small parking area at the top of Punta di San Vigilio.
Garda Town – under 5 mins away. A beautiful lakeside town with a lovely historic centre. Some must-see highlights here are: Palazzo dei Capitani in the Venetian Gothic style, the Museum of the Territory of Garda, and the whimsical Villa Albertini.
Bardolino – under 10 mins away. Famous for its wine, Bardolino is a lakeside town with a rich history, a cute historic centre, several churches dating back to the 11th-12th centuries, and 12th-century defensive walls. You can, actually, walk all the way from Bardolino to Garda Town and back by following the long lakeside promenade allowing you to enjoy even more stunning views of Lake Garda while keeping fit.
Torri del Benaco – under 10 mins away and in the opposite direction to Garda Town and Bardolino. A picturesque lakeshore town with a pretty harbour and a ferry link to the western side of Lake Garda. Don’t miss the medieval castle which houses a small museum and has a unique citrus garden at its back.
Other Towns on the Shores of Lake Garda – Punta di San Vigilio is within a very easy reach by car and/or by boat from a number of cute and picturesque lakeside towns. Some of them are:
- going up north (past Torri del Benaco) – Malcesine, Nago-Torbole, and Riva del Garda;
- going down south (past Garda Town and Bardolino) – Lasize, Peschiera del Garda, Sirmione, and Desenzano del Garda.
Please, click here to read more about these beautiful Lake Garda towns and what to see and do in each one of them: Best 12 Towns to Visit Around Lago di Garda – Italy’s Largest Lake.
Hike to Rocca di Garda – under 10 mins away (to the car park) + 30 mins walk uphill to the summit. Rocca di Garda is a flat-top steep hill overlooking two of Lake Garda’s prettiest towns – Bardolino and Garda Town – as well as Punta di San Vigilio. In fact, I took the photos showing the full-length of the promontory stretching far into the lake from the top of Rocca di Garda. For full information on how to do this hike, please, read this blog post: Rocca di Garda – Hiking to the Best Panoramic Spot of Lake Garda, Italy
Hike to Lake Garda’s Tibetan Bridge – under 15 mins away (to the village of Crero where you need to park) + 30-40 mins on foot downhill and uphill to the bridge. Close to 40 m long, the Tibetan bridge hangs over the steep canyon of Val Valzana and opens great views towards Lake Garda. For full information on how to do this hike, please, read this blog post: Lake Garda’s Tibetan Bridge – A High-Adrenaline Hiking Experience in the Veneto, Italy
Hike to Campo di Brenzone – under 25 mins away (to Marniga where you need to park) + 30-40 mins walk uphill to the village. Campo di Brenzone is a 1,000 years old medieval village in the lush hills above Lake Garda. To reach it, you need to park your car in Marniga – a small lakeside community – and then you need to hike following centuries-old mule tracks weaving through olive groves. For full information on how to do this hike, please, read this blog post: Campo di Brenzone – A Great Day Trip to a Medieval Village in the Hills Above Lake Garda, Italy
Amusement and Aventure Parks – under 30 mins away. Several of Italy’s largest and most popular amusement and adventure parks are right next to Lake Garda. Have a look at their official websites for further details: Gardaland, Gardaland Sea Life Aquarium, Canevaworld, Busatte Adventure, and Jungle Adventure Park.
Sanctuary of Santa Corona – under 35 mins away. An important Christian sanctuary the main church of which is half-hewn in the rocky face of a steep cliff. For full information on how to visit this memorable place, please, read this blog post: Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona – Visiting Italy’s Church Suspended Between Heaven and Earth
Verona – under 50 mins away. The city of Romeo and Juliet, Verona is a great place to explore while in the Northern Italian region of the Veneto. For full information about all the unmissable things to tick off here in a day, please, read this blog post: 20 Best Things to Do and See in Verona, Italy in One Day – The Ultimate Itinerary with Photos and Tips
Parco delle Cascate and Molina – under 1 h away. A beautiful nature park nestled between three lush valleys. It is surrounded by dramatic peaks and it is famous for its 18 waterfalls. Next door to the park, is the medieval village of Molina with its centuries-old water mills. For full information on how to visit this stunning place and the adjacent village, please, read this blog post: Parco delle Cascate and Molina – A Great Day Out in the Province of Verona
Universally recognised as the most romantic corner of Lake Garda, Punta di San Vigilio is a small, picturesque promontory that juts deeply into the sparkling waters of Italy’s largest lake.
A hub of human activity for millennia, this beautiful place has been attracting poets, actors, royals, and even politicians with its promise of peace and quiet coupled with some of the most stunning views this side of Europe.
With a 15th-century inn, a 16th-century villa, Italian gardens, and a beach that the legends say the lake’s mermaids would swim to to offer their Elixir of Love to the local sailors, Punta di San Vigilio is like a piece of heaven on Earth.
In the above blog post, I give you full details on how to visit and explore Punta di San Vigilio on Lake Garda. From an abridged history of the promontory to what to do and see there, everything is covered, including detailed instructions on how to get there by car and public transport.
I hope that the information provided herewith will inspire you to visit Punta di San Vigilio on Lake Garda in Italy and experience its charm for yourself.
Thank you for reading!
Enjoy your time at Punta di San Vigilio in Italy!
More Helpful Links for Lake Garda, Italy
- Best 12 Towns to Visit around Lago di Garda – Italy’s Largest Lake
- Lake Garda with Kids or The Best 11 Things to Do at Lake Garda for Families
- 8 Best Airports for Lake Garda or How to Quickly Reach by Plane Italy’s Largest Lake
- Getting around Lake Garda – 8 Best Ways to Travel around Italy’s Largest Lake
- 30 Days of Adventures in the Veneto, Italy – #30daysofadventures
- Top 15 Places to Visit in the Veneto, Italy – The Ultimate Guide
- 10 Best Cities in Veneto, Italy to Visit and What to See in Each
- 8 Most Beautiful Villages to Visit in the Veneto, Italy
- Day Trips from Verona – 16 Destinations in Italy to Fall in Love with (With Travel Times and Train Tips)
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