Cascata del Varone (Waterfall of the Varone) was one of the more unique waterfall experiences we had in Italy. It was basically a waterfall that had carved deep slots into the mountain. There were a couple of caves (grotte) where we were able to see parts of the waterfall's drop, but it also got us drenched in the process. In a way, it kind of reminded us of the Trümmelbach Falls experience, except Cascata del Varone was more compact and put us in more direct contact with the waterfall's spray, which was very intense.
This was our waterfalling excuse to visit Riva del Garda, which was a charming town on the northern tip of Lago di Garda. It was one of those instances where chasing a waterfall such as this led us to unexpectedly beautiful scenery, and we say this because the lake was surrounded by tall and steep mountains with the town practically hugging the shores of the lake while surrounded by those mountains. The scenery reminded us of our Norway trip in 2005 as the lake could have easily been mistaken for a fjord. And apparently, we discovered that the lake and town were quite popular (at least amongst Italians and some international visitors in the know) so it wasn't surprising to see that popularity spill over into this waterfall, which was about 3km from town (see directions below).
Once we were able to park the car, we followed a walkway that headed straight for the Cascata del Varone complex. There was a cafe and souvenir shop plus some picnic tables with umbrellas. Inside the shop, we purchased our entry tickets for 5.5 euros per person (as of June 2013), went through the turnstile, and then found ourselves in a manicured garden with wide walkways, interpretive signs (in four different languages - Italian, French, German, and English), and some soothing music.
Barely a few paces into the garden, we were at a wide opening where we noticed there was a cascade falling into the main stream as well as a cave-like entrance with mist blowing out of it (called the "lower cave"). That immediately indicated to us that we were probably going to be very wet once we would go inside cave, and we turned out to be correct in our hunch. For the short walkway lit up by floodlighting ultimately ended at the base of the Cascata del Varone, and given the confinement of the slot canyon that the waterfall was in, the mist generated had nowhere to go but right onto the viewing deck. Thus, it was very difficult to take photos or even movies (plus very risky to electronics due to the intensity of the "rain"), and we pretty much had to rely on Julie's iPhone for still photos of the waterfall itself.
Back at the wide open area, the path ascended opposite a fountain with a shrine behind it. Interpretive signs continued to line the walkway highlighting various aspects of the area's history, nature, and geology. It would eventually make a switchback where a viewpoint as well as restrooms were located. Then, at the end of the ascent, the walkway ended up in front of the so-called "upper cave" at a split in the path. The left path went onto a bridge with a view of the deep gorge while also getting some of the spray coming out of the narrow opening in the gorge. The right path went into the "cave" where the path shortly ended right next to another section of the Cascata del Varone.
Like the view of the falls at the lower cave, this upper cave was also very turbulent with spray going right onto the viewing area practically daring anyone to risk drenching clothes and cameras to get a shot of the waterfall. So given how difficult it was to even satisfactorily photograph the waterfall from within any of the caves, it might have explained the relative scarcity of waterfall photos floating about on the internet regarding this waterfall.
When we left the complex and started heading to the car, I went down to the bridge on the main road to see if there was more to Cascata del Varone than what was revealed in the paid admission area. It turned out that there was at least another attractive tier that I was able to photograph from the road bridge, but it was risky in that there was no formal shoulder on the road. Thus, I was taking a chance with getting hit by a car the whole time I was taking photos from here. In any case, it turned out that the most satisfying photo I had of the waterfall was from this spot that was free (see photo at the top of this page).
This was the floodlit entrance to the so-called lower cave
Cascata del Varone was our waterfalling excuse to visit Lago di Garda, which was a breathtakingly beautiful lake. It was even better that we stayed at Riva del Garda
View of Riva del Garda and Lago di Garda from the bastione, which was a half-hour uphill walk from town
Prior to arriving at the beautiful Riva del Garda, we had stayed in the charming city of Trento, which had an interesting mix of Italian and Austrian cultures (as evident from the language mixes)
At the second car park
Looking towards Lago di Garda from the walkway leading to the waterfall complex
Julie on the walkway connecting the second car park with the waterfall complex
Julie approaching the Cascata del Varone complex. Note the limited parking space down below at the first car park
The large and wet opening near the entrance
Approaching the entrance to the lower cave
Misty view of the waterfall at the lower cave
Looking towards a cascade beneath a large rock protrusion from the wet open area before the lower cave
Looking towards a somewhat hidden shrine behind a fountain
View over the complex towards the SS421 and the surrounding mountains from the ascending walkway
At the top of the ascending walkway with a pair of women about to get drenched in the upper cave
Looking at some mist flying out of the slit from just outside the upper cave
View of the waterfall from the upper cave but this time with blue floodlighting
Going back down through the garden towards the entrance
Back at the entrance
View of the remaining drop of Cascata del Varone from the SS421 road bridge. This view was free, but did carry some risk with automobile traffic given the lack of a shoulder and the narrowness of the road
One of the colorful and charming piazzas in the center of Riva del Garda
Looking back over Riva del Garda in the general direction of Cascata del Varone
Twilight view of Lago di Garda from our hotel room
From Riva del Garda, we headed north on the SS421. There were signs for Cascata del Varone at many of the roundabouts and intersections in town so we didn't have too much difficulty covering the 3km distance from the center to the car park.
There were two car parks that we observed. The first one was right at the complex where spots were very limited. If you go in and you can't find a spot, you'll have to reverse your way out of the car park onto the SS421. However, just a few meters past this car park, there were signs pointing the way to another car park on the other side of a hotel and restaurant opposite the first car park. This second car park was much larger than the first though they apparently raise the barricades when the Cascata del Varone closes.
For the latest information on hours and cost (among other things), here's a link to the official website.
Finally, to give you some geographical context, Riva del Garda was 50km (under an hour drive) west of Trento, 106km (90 minutes drive) southwest of Bolzano, 200km (2-2.5 hours drive) northwest of Venice (Venezia), and 181km (over 2.5 hours drive) northeast of Milan (Milano).
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