The "limonaie" of Lake Garda : a unique architecture along the lake shores
The "limonaie" of Lake Garda: a story of pushing the limits and doing the impossible
The “limonaie” of Lake Garda: a story of pushing the limits and doing the impossible
Man dares the impossible and on the western coast of Lake Garda it has created two ingenious constructions: one is the road carved out of the cliffs; an incredible stretch of road overlooking the lake and cut into the surrounding rock walls creating terraces to unite the south of the lake with the north, and the second are the limonaie; open-air greenhouses specifically made for the cultivation of lemons. There is no lemon cultivation in the world further north than those of Lake Garda.
The ideal latitude for lemon cultivation is typically 40° parallel to the north and here on the shores of the Benaco we are at 46°, a miracle created by the ingenuity and perseverance of humanity and a desire to go beyond what is possible even if no one believes it is.
The lemon groves on Lake Garda
Lemons were brought to Lake Garda from Liguria by the friars of the convent of San Francesco di Gargnano at the end of the 1200s but it was between 1600 and 1800 when the production of lemons became fundamental to the economy on Garda, giving rise to a unique architecture, the limonaia, that left artists and writers like D.H. Lawrence and J. Goethe amazed.
In order to cultivate the lemons, high stone walls were built to protect them from the winds, and in winter these open-air greenhouses were covered with roofs and windows to protect them from the cold; a cold that was always mild compared to the north shore of Lake Garda, and when it snowed in Riva, it rained here instead.
If the winters were too harsh, braziers were lit inside the limonaie to heat the space, and the sight from the shores must have been spectacular; these long towers of stone, wood and glass ablaze with light.
When you drive along the western Gardesana road between Salò and Riva, you can still admire their imposing architectural presence that defies the steep slopes of the coast, rising up to the sky. Most of the limonaie are now private residences, but three historic ones still stand in Tignale, Gargnano and Limone.
The Limonaia la Malora: Where you can still find the Madernina, a lemon native to Lake Garda
In Gargnano, Fabio Gandossi still followes the dream of his father Giuseppe Gandossi in taking care of the lemon trees in the Limonaia la Malora. Recovered from complete abandonment in which it was previously vexed, today the cultivation has been completely restored and follows the ancestral tradition of covering the lemon groves when winter comes.
Here you may also find a precious treasure: The Madernina, a type of lemon native to Lake Garda.
The Limonaia del Castel in Limone
In Limone, thanks to the work of the municipality, the Limonaia del Castel is still standing and its history unfolded by Franco Usardi, a local interpreter, who is ready to tell you about the lemons; the colas used to irrigate the lemon houses; taking water from the Rio Malora; and the tenacious lemon that survived the terrible frost of 1985.
He will tell you that our forbearers faced three difficulties in growing lemons: fighting the cold, finding good soil and bringing water; but they won all three challenges and today the lemons with their white flowers and yellow fruit are testimony to that.
The Limonaia of Tignale: Pra de la Fam
The most fascinating of the limonaie is the Pra de la Fam, a stretch of coastline between Tignale and Limone, which was once only accessible from the lake. The name seems to derive from the fact that sailors once found shelter here from the terrible storms of the lake and remained there for days without food, waiting for the weather to calm down and they could return home.
Located here is the largest limonaia of Lake Garda still in operation as an ecomuseum: Where you can discover all the secrets of lemon cultivation, the tools and let yourself be enchanted by the view from the upper floors of the building. Who knows, maybe the lemons are at ease in these latitudes thanks to the beauty and enchantment of our lake.
Would you like to visit the limonaie of Garda? Ask our staff at the reception desk!