Whether you are staying on Lake Garda, or in one of the nearby cities, such as Verona or Brescia, you will want to spend a day in Sirmione. It has an enviable location, a long history, and a magnificent castle. It is easy to see why this pretty lakeside town has been attracting tourists since Roman times.
Why Visit Sirmione?
Sirmione is at the end of a long peninsula that juts out from the southern shore of Lake Garda. A small town surrounded by water on all sides, it offers views over the lake wherever you go.
It is also an ancient settlement, with its roots in prehistory. By the 1st century BCE Sirmione had become a favoured destination for wealthy Veronese citizens, who were drawn by the lake and by the nearby thermal springs. Because of its strategic location on the lake, the peninsula was fortified since early times. Eventually this led to the building of the massive Scaliger Castle.
How To Spend A Day In Sirmione
You could spend much of your day in Sirmione just wandering the narrow lanes of the historic centre, or lingering in one of the many cafés and restaurants. You can walk along the lakeside or take a boat trip around the peninsula. It is also possible to enjoy the spas, just as the Romans did.
However, the major sights are the Scaliger Castle and the Grotte di Catullo.
In the Middle Ages Sirmione was governed by the Scaligeri, the rulers of Verona. In the 14th century they replaced the existing fortifications on the peninsula with a new structure, now known as the Scaliger Castle. For a long time this was the most important fortification in the region.
The Scaliger Castle is one of the best preserved castles in Italy. Visitors enter via a drawbridge to reach a large courtyard surrounded by tall walls with towers and battlements. The castle is surrounded by water, and includes a small dock. Climb to the top of the keep for views of the town and the lake. Then visit the museum, with its Roman and medieval artefacts and information about the castle’s history.
Grotte Di Catullo
The Grotte di Catullo (Catullus’ Caves) are the remains of a large Roman villa. Despite the name, it seems that the villa is not actually the one in which the poet Catullus lived when he stayed on the peninsula. It was actually built around the beginning of the 1st century CE, after the poet’s death.
Whatever its ownership, it was a large and impressive dwelling. It included colonnades, porticos and terraces, and was surrounded by olive groves. It was later ruined, but was rediscovered in the 15th century. It became a popular tourist site, attracting famous visitors including the architect Palladio, who studied the villa’s design, and Isabella d’Este (of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli).
Today’s tourists can enjoy rambling among the extensive remains and the olive trees in the villa’s picturesque location at the tip of the peninsula. The Archaeological Museum includes mosaics and other finds from the villa.
How To Get To Sirmione
Sirmione is an easy day trip from Verona, Brescia or Milan. You can travel the whole way by bus, or take the train to Desenzano or Peschiera before connecting onto a local bus. Escorted tours from Verona are also available.
Regular ferry services run to Sirmione from other towns on Lake Garda.
Note that the town (and Lake Garda in general) can get very crowded during the summer season. If you are visiting at this time of year, you might wish to book an overnight stay, to make the most of the quieter evening and early morning periods.