The municipality of Gargnano with its roughly 3000 inhabitants is located on the western shore of Lake Garda in an area that covers almost 78 km2 from the lake to the mountains, part of which lies within the Alto Garda Bresciano Park. The municipal territory of Gargnano includes thirteen diff erent villages whose various locations on the lake, hills and mountains, give the town a wide variety of environmental settings: Bogliaco, Gargnano and Villa are laid out on the lake in a wide valley full of orchards, olive groves, gardens and ancient lemon trees. Gently rising on the slopes of the mountains are the villages of Villavetro, Fornico and Zuino. Other villages are located more than 500 metres above sea level on the hillsides: the villages of Liano, Formaga, Navazzo, Sasso and Musaga which still retain their beautiful, rural architectural style. A little farther from the coast, the village of Muslone precipitously overlooks the lake, while Costa, 18 kilometres away, is the village most distant from its administrative centre in Italy.
Gargnano’s inland territory also includes Lake Valvestino, a genuine fj ord nestled between the mountains in the valley of the same name. There are many churches, historic buildings and artistic wonders scattered throughout the area, such as the splendid Villa Bettoni or the 16th-century Palazzo Comunale del Traff egnini (1581) overlooking Gargnano’s harbour, Palazzo Feltrinelli and Villa Feltrinelli are known to history as the “Villa del Duce” on account of Mussolini’s stay there during the days of the Italian Social Republic.
Its special charm makes Gargnano a popular destination for private and relaxing holidays. In addition to this its fame has spread in recent decades due to various intense sports, especially sailing and the Centomiglia which attracts many enthusiasts from around the world.
Built in the early 18th century by the architect Adriano Cristofori, the villa was commissioned by Giandomenico Bettoni. The body of the great palace is adorned with a balustrade of mythological statues sculpted by Giovanni Battista Locatelli. At the centre of the building, the hall separates the wings of the villa which contains frescoes by Beniamino and Fabrizio Galliari, as well as other works, which constitute a veritable gallery of Baroque painting. The villa’s spectacular Italian garden is highlighted by a large exedra, lily pond and flowerbeds. Behind the garden are some lemon groves and the park.
The old municipal building overlooks the town harbour. Built in the 16th century, it was designed by Giovanni Traffegnini after the style of Todeschini. The first floor has a marble pillar from the 15th century bearing the town’s coat of arms. The ground floor features a portico supported by large pillars with a marble plaque commemorating the bombing by Austrian ships in 1886, whose cannon-balls are still visible on the facades of the houses overlooking the harbour.
Known to history as “Villa del Duce” for having been home to Mussolini during the days of the Italian Social Republic, Villa Feltrinelli was built between 1892 and 1899 by Alberico Barbiano Belgiojoso, who was commissioned by the patriarch of the Feltrinelli family, Faustino. The facade overlooking the lake is the most sumptuous part of the villa, while the park behind the building includes rare and valuable trees. Between October 1943 and April 1945 Villa Feltrinelli was the residence of Benito Mussolini, who lived there with his family.
Built as the private house of Giuseppe Feltrinelli, it is uncertain whether the design of the project is that of Alberico Belgiojoso or Francesco Solmi. At the time of the Italian Social Republic (1943-1945), the building was confiscated by the fascist government and used as the secretariat for Benito Mussolini. The building is now a branch of the University of Milan and has been turned into a centre for international conferences, in the summer it hosts Italian language courses for learners from around the world.
The church was built in Gargnano in 1289 by Franciscan monks commissioned by the Bishop of Brescia. The exterior retains its simple and rough Romanesque style. The facade has a votive statue (1301) depicting the image of St. Anthony of Padua. The interior of the church contains paintings by Giovanni Andrea Bertanza and Andrea Celesti. The cloister next to the church holds a plaque dedicated to Neptune, and a small altar honouring the local deity, Revino, both from the Roman period. The cloister also contains the 15th-century marble coat of arms of the municipality of Gargnano - the initials C.G. (Communitatis Gargnani) depict a wolf rampant holding a lily between its paws. In 1879, the monastery became the property of the Lake Garda Company, which used it as a warehouse.
The original building, of which traces of frescoes remain, dates back to the 14th century. A well-preserved fresco depicts St Liberata (1535). Inside there are three altars: the high altar dedicated to St Thomas, one dedicated to St Andrew the Apostle and one dedicated to St Anna. The monastery adjoining the church, built in 1906 by order of Monsignor Pietro Feltrinelli, was home to Franciscan friars until just a few years ago. Today it houses the Centre Européen de Rencontre et de Ressourcement directed by Father Bruno Ducoli.
St James is the oldest Romanesque church of the Garda region and is of great artistic interest, with frescoes from the 14th century. On the external wall there is a clearly visible fresco of St Christopher with the Child on his shoulders. It was life-size so that it could be seen from far away. In fact, passers-by who gazed upon the image of the saint would be protected from sudden death for the entire day. The altar is dedicated to St James the Greater and houses a wooden statue that dates back to 1501. The present door dates back to the 16th century, as do the two square windows, opened for St Carlo Borromeo on the occasion of his Apostolic Visit in August of 1580.