I love festivals and I love wine but I hadn’t heard of the Bardolino Wine Festival until Inghams suggested I try their festival package. I thought it would be the perfect way to spend the last week of my 30s, especially as my friend Chloe was invited too. So off we trundled to Verona Airport to catch the quick 30-minute transfer into Bardolino.
The Bardolino Wine Festival
As soon as we arrived we were given an official wine carrier that went round our neck. This was so we could carry our glasses of wine but keep our hands free. Loved them. It cost €3 and came with the first glass of wine included. From then on we could swap our glass in for a new one with every sample of the 100s of wine varieties the Bardolino region produces. A glass was just €1!
The Bardolino Wine Festival has been going for 86 years and lasts five days. Little tents are set up around Lake Garda stretching for most of the Bardolino lake front showing off the best of the wines made here. Some people were buying huge crates, others bought bottles to sit on the pier and enjoy, but we stuck to as many glasses of different varieties as possible.
I’d normally be all over the reds but I had a really bad throat from the Oktoberfest cold (not the steins) and they were making me feel worse. So, poor old me, I had to stick with the fizzy pinks, to give them their technical name, for day one and enjoy the refreshing fizz as it cleared my throat.
Food at the festival
The food at the Bardolino Wine Festival seemed almost as important as the wine.
Our first foodie port of call was to try the polenta so many of the stalls were advertising, alongside some sausages. We actually had just one portion between us, so we could try more things, but that one was definitely enough for two. It was €5. The polenta was err, nice, yeah, I’d have it again, just not in that week. The sausages on the other hand were delish and I would’ve happily eaten them every day.
We also tried the fried fish platter – calamari and whitebait better than any I’d had before and I’ve had a lot of both. There was a lot of risotto stalls too, and cheese, and ham and pizza, but there just wasn’t enough time for it all.
And of course, we were in Italy, if you don’t try the gelato within an hour or two of landing you’re doing it wrong. We topped off our day’s feasting with big pistachio gelato sundaes and scoffed the crisps that came with them too.
More festival fun
The festival isn’t just about wine and food, there are events planned throughout the five days to show off the local culture beyond the vineyards. There was a kids run, which we were accidentally in prime position for while we enjoyed a wine and a sit down, a car show, a photography gallery from the locals and wine-making demonstrations too.
At one point we were about to enjoy an Aperol Spritz – the aperitif of Italy – when we were surrounded by a feathered band playing some delightful tunes. It was so loud we had to move, but we enjoyed their outfits and tooting from afar.
We were all excited for the wine awards and got ourselves a good spot to watch from, and then realised that, of course, they were in Italian. We stuck around for a bit but with no clue what was going on decided to go and find out which wine we thought was best, first hand.
Chloe and I have always agreed that we were two of the very few people in the world who don’t like fireworks. The bangs, the pips, the unpredictability, the oos and ahs – not for us. But knowing it was the highlight of the festival we decided to go along and bag our spot on the pier with a sample of the local vino to see what all the fuss was about.
As soon as the music started and the sky started fizzing we both sat mesmerised by the colours popping in the sky. It was incredible, magical even. The way the lights reflected in the water, the timings and display and the fact it wasn’t whizzing and banging right over your head made the whole show amazing. I’d have to award it second best fireworks I’ve ever seen, after the St Stephen’s Day ones in Budapest. I don’t like fireworks, but I like the ones in Budapest and Bardolino.
The town of Bardolino is beautiful. There were loads of restaurants I would’ve liked to try but didn’t have time to, so many gelato parlours and flavours I’d love to explore and some cool little boutique shops too. Wine tasting is the main attraction but there’s also waterskiing, jet skiing and bars nearby, as well as all the other towns around the lake. The houses were all bright and beautiful and I loved all the little boats round the harbour too.
Once the festival was over we decided to explore more of Lake Garda. We went to Garda on the boat, which took about 15 minutes, and had a good look round before just lounging about in the sun by the lake with Prosecco.
The next day we rented bikes from our hotel – definitely in the running for the comfiest bikes we’ve ever ridden – and cycled the 60km round trip to Sirmione.
Highlights along the way included Peschiera del Garda and Lazise. Both beautiful Italian little towns that were easy to cycle to with clear lanes and routes. It was great that you could go so far round the lake on the bike. I’d love to see if I could do the whole way round in a weekend (160km).
You can also visit the towns by bus, if you’re not feeling the whole cycling thing.
The next day it was time to leave and we got the bus to Mantova – another place in Italy I’d recommend you go.
READ MORE: Where to Go for a Long Weekend in Italy
Wine festival accommodation
We stayed at the Parc Germano Hotel during the Bardolino Wine Festival, which was in absolute prime position. A ten-minute walk from the action at least it meant we got some exercise to work off all the food we ate there on half board. With a pool, a sauna, a two bedroom maisonette overlooking the lake and epic breakfasts every day, I’ve written a separate review of the Parc Germano Hotel here, just so I can put more photos in.
The Bardolino Wine Festival was a fun celebration of the local produce that seemed pretty simple after the craziness of Oktoberfest. It was chilled, with great food, great wine and easy access to both. There was entertainment all day and of course the setting on Lake Garda was just perfect. The fireworks on the last night and the location made it a weekend both me and Chloe will remember for a long time!