If you are staying on the southwest side of Lake Garda and looking for a light walk with a viewpoint, the Rocca of Manerba should be high on your list. Although a steep incline up to the first cliff, which holds the mediaeval and Roman ruins, your panting will last only a few minutes before you are greeted by the iconic (though honestly unsightly) metal cross that marks the peak.
There’s a car park at the immediate start of the official path: it is impossible to miss, and parking there saves you the incline of the roads leading up from Manerba centre. Of course, if your legs and stamina are up for it, feel free to get some more exercise, as these roads also provide some spectacular sights of the lake.
Though the highest point is by the noted eyesore of a cross, a walk around the fortress ruins that surround it will take you to a steep decline of a path which leads to the outer cliff, bordering the lake.
The views are largely the same, but with a slight zoom. However, despite the way it appears from the peak, the walk is fairly short – fifteen minutes to half an hour, depending on your fitness level and ankle strength (remember the “steep” decline? This is not a pushchair friendly path). Flat topped like the first hill, there are less ruins and more grass covered spots to allow for a perfect picnic area (seriously, bring a picnic. It was my biggest regret arriving there without one). You could easily pass an afternoon here, especially on out of season days when the tourists are few, as it is the perfect relaxation spot watching the surrounding mountains and listening to the waves tumble against the rocks below.
If watching the water is tempting you to go for a dip, the wooded area you pass through to reach the outer cliff also crosses paths that lead to the beach. As with all Lake Garda beaches, bring water-friendly shoes. Manerba’s coast is blessed with finer pebbles, but unless you have hobbit-like feet it’s still not going to be a pleasant paddle with bare feet.
So far I have focused largely on the natural beauty: my personal attraction to the Rocca. However, it should be noted that the motivation of many tourists is related to the huge amount of history to be found here. The subject of several archeological excavations, especially in the second half of the twentieth century, the site can be dated to the Copper Age and even Mesolithic settlements, as well as the clear evidence of the Mediaeval and Roman era found in the ruins today. There are several signs along the route to inform you of the findings of these archeological studies, and if you are looking for more information there is also a museum dedicated to this as well as the natural environment. All of the information is available in English, both on the signs and in the museum.
With an intriguing history of destruction and rebuilding, a brief but satisfying walk, and arguably one of the best views you’ll get south of the lake without climbing a mountain, the Rocca of Manerba has a lot to offer in natural and historical beauty. Although not often on the essential to-do lists for Lake Garda, if you happen to be nearby it would be a loss not to see it.