Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, is a gorgeous spot for relaxing and discovering charming towns.
The jewel of them all is Sirmione, on a peninsula at the lake’s southern edge, surrounded by water on 3 sides. If you dash in for the day, or on a weekend in the summer tourist season, you may get turned off by the throngs of travelers. But if you wander away from il centro, and spend the night after the tourists have gone, you’ll experience paradise.
The entrance to Sirmione is magical: you leave your car behind to enter this pedestrian-zoned town, and cross a moat that leads to the medieval Castello Scagliero. If you’re up for the climb up the towers, splendid views await.
The stellar attraction of Sirmione is the Grotte di Catullo, at the tip of the peninsula. You can get here by walking, or take an electric tram. Click here for opening hours–note that it’s closed on Mondays.
The villa was named after the famous Roman poet Catullus (84-54BC), who spent time in Sirmione and sang its praises. It was built in 150 AD, after his death, and now you can wander here, through the largest complex of Roman ruins in northern Italy, taking in the breathtaking panorama, imagining delightful times had by the wealthy ancients.
Or splurge and pamper yourself as the Romans did, at Sirmione’s Thermal Springs , where you can get a day pass to bliss out in the curative pools, and book massages or treatments.
Or, if you’re feeling adventurous and want to take a boat ride around the lake, call up Virgilio Bertoldi , who will tell you tales of days gone by–when his passengers were such notables as Churchill and Maria Callas.
Dinner at Osteria del Vecchio Fossato is a chance to enjoy homestyle Lombardy specialties, such as risotto and osso bucco, in a cozy family run dining room. Be sure to try Lake Garda’s crisp, fruity Lugana white wine.
Top places to stay are the luxurious Palace Hotel Villa Cortine , set amidst lovely gardens…
chic Hotel Eden,
and the charming, budget-friendly Hotel Grifone…