The visitor arriving for the very first time on the Brescian shore of Lake Garda is immediately struck by the many similar constructions of various dimensions facing the lake and by their mysterious purpose. Are they old fortifications, the remains of unusual dwellings, or perhaps farm buildings? These structures are just as admired today as they were more than a half century ago, when Limone and the upper lake area were certainly less famous as tourist spots.
The interest increases the day after his arrival, on a cool, sunny morning with a brisk breeze tousling his hair, when he can take a closer look at this unique place. After negotiating winding recesses and climbing narrow steps, he finds himself standing before citrus trees laden with fruit, with towering columns acting as sentinels and walls that magically block the gusts of wind. Our visitor also realizes that the sun's rays feel hotter within these walls. This also happens at the recently restored Castèl lemon house, which is open daily for visits and will soon be illuminated at night, making spectacular evening visits possible.
Due to this growing interest, the town administration has created a "museum" itinerary with not only the Castèl lemon house (where the "Madonna of the Lemons" was repainted), but also the Tesöl and Villa Boghi Park lemon houses. The last one was recently built on several terraces that were used as citrus groves in the past. Here you can admire beautiful photographs and learn more about citrus farming through interesting botanical and mythological info panels kindly on loan from the town of Riva del Garda, the Autonomous Province of Trento, the Province Agency for Environmental Protection, and the Tridentino Museum of Natural Science.
Many projects have been prepared with the contribution of ideas and resources of the Lombardy Region (the Agricultural and the Culture, Identity and Autonomy Councilors) and also Comunità Montana Parco Alto Garda Bresciano, the organization responsible for restoring the Pra dela fam lemon house in Tignale. Lighting has been installed at the Nùa lemon house and in part of the Garbéra lemon house in Limone sul Garda. The Reamòl lemon house and the Torrione lemon house, which is currently being restored by its private owners, will also be lit shortly.
By commissioning this publication, the town administration wants to underline the historical, traditional and cultural significance of these structures and promote the natural beauty of Limone.

Lemons in Limone

Citrus fruits were grown in Limone already in the early 17th century. Lodovico Bettoni (1770-1828) stated in his diary that the first lemon grove was planted in a garden of Garbéra in 1610. A painting from 1658 displayed in the rectory of the parish church portrays Saint Anthony Abbot with Limone sul Garda and the pillars of a lemon house in the background.
But it was in the second half of the 17th century, with the arrival of the Bettoni family, that the cultivation and sale of lemons gave a sudden boost to the poor Limone economy. The merit goes to Carlo Bettoni and his sons Giacomo, Gian Domenico and Arcangelo, who bought land in Garbéra, Se and Reamòl to expand existing gardens and build new ones.

Growing lemons

Each tree in the lemon house had an available surface area of between 16 and 20 square meters that was called a plot (cap or campàa). The number of plots determined the size of a garden. Already in the 16th century Agostino Gallo established several rules for growing lemons, recommending that the plants have rich gravel-free soil and that fertilizer be spread before the soil was hoed and the lemon house was still uncovered . Besides fertilizing, the soil had to be weeded and hoed, the trees had to be pruned and irrigated, and the lemon house had to be covered and uncovered. The lemons were picked (spicànda) by hand while pickers stood on special ladders or three-legged stools, and were then placed in a leather sack (grümiàl).
Lemon trees flower several times a year, first in May then throughout the summer and fall. The fruits of May are not as smooth and round as the fruits of June and July. These are the best fruits, while the lemons grown in August are considered less valuable. The trees bloom and fruit is also picked, but in minor quantity, in September and October. Taking into account the production over a decade, one tree in full production supplied between 500 and 600 lemons, on average, during the two main harvests of May and June.
Citrus fruits were used for many things. Agostino Gallo wrote "a good amount of money can be made from many parts of the plants... citron blossoms can be eaten in salads or preserved in vinegar to be served with apples or sugar; even orange blossoms can be used for making superb scented waters?.unripe fruit is used for many delicate condiments, and tiny oranges are used to make wreaths that are beautiful to look at and delightful to smell. The ripe fruit is valued for eating, making preserves and is given to the sick and also used in medicines?.even orange peels are sold for making good pickled fruit relish, orange juice, paradello focaccias, liqueur and spiced bread".
Citron water, which was first produced in Salò in the second half of the 18th century by Antonio Bonardi and has been made by Luigi Patruzzi since 1840, was also quite popular.

The lemon trade

Once the lemons were picked, they were sorted according to size (fine, superfine, second-rate, rejects, and overly ripe) and different destinations. The fine, superfine, and best of the second-rate lemons went to Hungary, Tyrol and nearby countries, "leaving in Italy the second-rates and rejects, which were rarely sold outside the province."
Thus, lemons were given various names: fine lemons for Poland, fine lemons for Hungary, fine lemons for Russia, superfine lemons for Austria, superfine lemons for Vienna, rejects for commercial purposes, rejects for Milan, etc. Each type had a different price, which was given for one hundred lemons.
Lemons were wrapped in tissue paper and placed in wooden crates: each could hold between 500 and 1,000 lemons. Transportation also had to ensure that the product arrived in good condition at destination, so crates were loaded and unloaded carefully to prevent lemons from bruising and deteriorating in quality. Shipping the fruit to the most remote destinations was the biggest hazard: fruit traveling north went by way of Torbole and Nago to Bolzano, where there was a sorting station. Because they cost less to ship compared to lemons from Genoa and Southern Italy, Limone's citrus fruits were mainly shipped to Germany, Northern Europe and Russia.
In the early 18th century, Gian Domenico Bettoni founded the "G. Francesco Bentotti" company in Bogliaco for the lemon trade. It has agents throughout Italy and Northeastern Europe. The Bettoni archive has the registry books and correspondence between the company and its agents, as well as balance sheets and letters with the names of recipients from Vienna, Prague, Krakow, Warsaw, Lviv, Ulm, Konstanz, Trieste, Milan, etc.
Since the 18th century, the coastal area north of Salò, at the latitude of 46 degrees, became the northernmost area in the world for growing citrus fruits.
The Garda lemon was appreciated for its "medicinal" qualities, its "acidity", the "aromatic fragrance of its juice and peel", and its "freshness that lasts longer than any other". Its thin, shiny peel and rounder shape were also preferred. As a result, Garda lemons cost two to three times more than lemons from other areas of Italy.
According to Lodovico Bettoni, Limone grew the "perfect lemon". A letter dated December 10, 1846, from the Bentotti company to Giuseppe Della Casa, described the goods as being the best, and pointed out, "I am sending you lemons from Limone, which are the largest and have the best color."

The crisis

There were 6.59 hectares of citrus groves in Limone by the second half of the 19th century. The first harvest of 1874 amounted to 76,000 lemons, the 1876 harvest was "just one sixth of what was harvested in 1875", and the 1878 harvest was "scarce and less than the previous year." The 1879 harvest was "50% that of an average harvest when the plants were not sick". An agricultural survey in 1879 estimated that production amounted to 550,000 lemons, 8,000 oranges, and 3 quintals of citrons.
At the turn of the 20th century, the citrus production in Limone began to suffer from the crisis caused by competition from southern regions (whose production costs were extremely low), by the discovery of synthetic citric acid, and also by the "high maintenance costs" of the lemon houses. The demand for Limone lemons, which remained stable for decades, began to diminish. Due to their particular structure, it would also have been impossible to reconvert the lemon houses into more economically viable businesses unless local inhabitants changed their mentality and were willing to make additional investments.
The price of lemons dropped. Bettoni?s "commercial" lemons went from 5.77 lire for 100 in 1892 to 2.31 lire in 1897 and 1.83 lire in 1908, while "bulk" lemons went from 2.94 lire to 1.39 lire and 1.554 lire. Clearly, the sector was in crisis!

Buy your Garda lemons here!

Construction on the Gardesana Occidentale road began in 1929. Centuries of isolation ended in October 1931 when the road was inaugurated and finally linked Limone with Gargnano and Riva del Garda. The future looked much brighter for the town.
Afterwards, tourism gradually increased, although it was still very limited and sporadic.
People thought up of new ways to sell the local lemons. Many set up tables and parked their carts along the road, beneath the towering cliffs and in the shade of olive and cypress trees, to display and sell lemons and oranges to people driving on the road.

Lemon houses: a heritage to save

The lemon houses, which are an incomparable historical and architectural legacy of Lake Garda, are vestiges of a laborious and productive past. Several major projects have been launched to preserve them. The Comunità Montana dell'Alto Garda restored three còle terraces of the Pra dela fam lemon house in Tignale in 1985, and the city of Limone restored the Castèl and Villa Boghi lemon houses in 2004. Restoration projects are underway or pending also in Toscolano Maderno and Gardone Riviera.

The Castèl lemon house in Limone sul Garda

The Castèl lemon house, which is northwest of the old town center and stands against the rocky wall of the Mughéra mountain, is just a portion of the large lemon grove that once stretched from the Mura valleys, Via Pozze and Via Castello to the Màndola valley. The garden, which covers an area of 1,633 square meters, is divided perpendicularly into two parts by the cùen dela Marches'àna, on which the main cas'èl is built on several levels. It extends to the south, in part, on a single terrace and on three in another section. To the north it is divided on four còle terraces that border to the north with the valèt del Castèl, on which another small cas'èl is built.
It was built in the early 18th century, but has clearly undergone remodeling over the years. The date "April 15, 1786" can still be seen on a water trough, which might refer to the construction of the structure itself or of the irrigation channels on the terraces. Other projects raised or moved the pillars and increased the surface area and the number of levels of the cas'èl.
Over the years, the lemon house was owned in turn by the Amadei, Bertoni, Patuzzi, and, in the 19th century, the Girardi and Polidoro families. On June 19, 1926, Giuseppe Segala (1889 - 1975) bought it after returning from the United States, where he worked as a miner. In January 1995, the city of Limone bought the lemon house.
It has undergone renovation three times: during the first project, completed in 1997, a wall was built, a sparadòs and cantér were replaced, and the còle terraces were cleaned. During the second project in 1999, the roof of a cas'èl was repaired. During the third, in 2002-2003, two cas'èi and two còle were restored thanks to contributions from the Lombardy Region through the Plan of Rural Development 2000 - 2006.
The main cas'èl connects the terraces and serves as a museum and educational center. All the còle terraces have irrigation channels for the trees. The water came from the San Giovanni Torrent through the Calmèta duct built in the early 18th century. The lemon house, which was inaugurated on July 22, 2004, has more than seventy citrus trees (citrons, lemons, sweet and bitter oranges, chinotto oranges, bergamots, grapefruits, tangerines and kumquats).

For information or reservations, please call (+39) 0365 954 720 during office hours.

The Tes'öl lemon house

Tes'öl is a town that sits below the Preàls mountain and is about 2 kilometers from downtown Limone. The date "1740" and the initials "L.C.V." can still be seen next to the jamb of the door leading from the lemon garden to the house.
The Bertelli family sold the lemon house to Count Giacomo Ferrari in 1820. The property was composed of 107 campa' plots, distributed over six còle (terraces) for a total surface area of 1,221 square meters. The supply of water was guaranteed by the Te?öl River, to the south.
In 1818, Luigi Comboni arrived at Te?öl, where his brother Giuseppe worked as a gardener. Luigi married Domenica Pace, who later gave birth to their son Daniele (1831-1881), the missionary, bishop and vicar of Central Africa and founder of the Work of the Good Shepherd (1867) and the Institute of the Pius Mothers of Nigrizia, the Comboni Missionary Sisters (1872). Daniele Comboni was proclaimed a Saint by Pope John Paul II on October 5, 2003.

The Villa Boghi lemon house

The lemon house in the garden of Villa Boghi, which is at the junction of the lakefront boulevard and the Gardesana road, was built in the early 20th century. It has seven plots with a southern exposure. The pillars and roofing materials are new, and the seven lemon trees were planted in 2004.
There is an exhibit area at the back of the garden, with panels illustrating the history and characteristics of the citrus fruit.

The Villa Boghi lemon house is open to the public daily, from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

The Pra dela fam lemon house in Tignale

According to a document dated July 27, 1754, the Parisini family of Gargnano bought land at Pra dela fam, a tiny strip of land along the lake between the mouths of the Piovere and Baès Torrents, where they built their first garden, now called the "Old Garden". In 1850 they added the "New Garden", further south, that covered eight terraces.
The two gardens of Pra, together with the one further north called Àngerer or Àngher, which was always owned by the Parisini family, produced lemons until the early 20th century. The Old Garden was later abandoned and in the mid-sixties the Àngher and "New Garden" also experienced periods of crisis. The owners unsuccessfully sought alternative solutions. In 1985, the Comunità Montana dell'Alto Garda restored 75 plots of the "New Garden", planted with about one hundred citrus plants, including 66 lemon trees.

For Info and opening times (+39) 0365 73354

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La Limonaia
del Castèl
( "Al Castèl"
Lemon House )

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