Limonaia La Malora: one of the last typical lemon gardens on the lake shore
The Lake Garda landscape shows itself in many fascinating facets. Especially during a boat or ship trip, providing views of the incredible different shore landscapes and the variety of impressions almost overwhelms. While nature itself is magnificent, the many manmade structures also attract the eye and arouse curiosity. For example, what is it about the stone columns that can be seen above all on the western shore in Gargnano, in Limone and other places? They stand in grouped together in geometric rows directly in the villages. No, they are not objects consecrated to gods from ancient times, but they also bear witness to the past. They tell the story of the lemon gardens on Lake Garda, the limonaie, where lemons were grown until the end of the 19th century, when cultivation was no longer profitable.
Limonaia – lemon cultivation “high in the north” on Lake Garda
When people think of lemons, which are believed to have originated in China and India and came to Europe with the Arabs, they think of sun-drenched Sicily rather than Lake Garda. Yet, in the 13th century, monks from the monastery of St. Francis in Gargnano began to bring the first citrus fruits for cultivation from the Ligurian coast. Two hundred years later, the southern western shore was characterised by lemon plantations. Although the climate is Mediterranean, especially on southern Lake Garda, the sun-drenched fruits had to be protected from the cold north-easterly winds during the winter. The characteristic lemon plantation, the limonaia, served this purpose: enclosed on the slope by stone walls on three sides, the high stone piles standing in rows supported a wooden roof structure, which were laid on in the cooler seasons. The open front facing the lake was closed off with mobile wooden walls with large windows. In this “greenhouse”, the delicate fruits could continue to thrive even in these latitudes, the northernmost in Europe and perhaps the world. The irrigation system is as archaic as it is ingenious. Following gravity, water flows first through stone and then into wooden channels, which direct it to the individual trees on the terraced area. The “Madernina” is a variety of lemon that is native to Lake Garda and features a thin and very aromatic skin. The juice is not as sweet as that of lemons from the south of Italy.
Eight million lemons from Gargnano
The centre of citrus fruit cultivation on Lake Garda was in Gargnano, and 48 hectares produced half of the regions lemons during the years 1850 to 1855. In Gargnano alone, over eight million lemons were produced every year during this period. Fifty years later, the boom was over, and so was the time of the limonaie, which either decayed or were converted into gardens. Only the picturesque stone steles remain to remind us of this special form of citrus cultivation. The Limonaia La Malora in Gargnano is perhaps the last of its kind, and a visit to this small plantation is well worthwhile. Father and son duo Giuseppe and Fabio run the limonaia, which still produces around 20,000 lemons a year. Fabio Gandossi is happy to show interested visitors around the limonaia on the hillside above Lake Garda, which has been in existence for over 400 years, and he also demonstrates the special old cultivation methods. He also explores the produce they create from the fruit, such as rich in citric acid lemon syrup, jams and liqueurs. They also produce lemon liqueur limoncello, also called limoncino here in the Italian north, which is now world-famous.
“It took a lot of effort to resurrect the lemon plantation because I wanted to follow tradition, such as the construction of the floors, the walls, the columns and even the irrigation channels,” says the younger Gandossi.
Limonaia La Malora, Via Libertà, 2 – 25084 Gargnano (BS)
Open daily from 1 March to 31 October from 10am to 12pm and from 3pm to 6pm.
Closed on Tuesday morning and Sunday afternoon.
Guided tours are also possible outside these opening hours by prior arrangement.
From 1 November to 28 February, tours must be arranged in advance.
Admission: 5 euros