Sirmione: the pearl of Lake Garda
Are you planning a holiday and want to know which are the places to visit on Lake Garda? No doubt: Sirmione must be added to your itinerary. In this article you can find a list of the three things to see in Sirmione!
Sirmione, located between Desenzano and Peschiera, is a narrow strip of land that stretches north into Lake Garda. The Latin poet Catullo described it as the “pearl of the peninsulas and islands” and, certainly, he cannot be blamed. In fact, from a naturalistic point of view, the peninsula stands out for its particular shape, strategic position and crystalclear waters.
However, the beauties of Sirmione do not end here: the Pearl of Lake Garda is also distinguished from a historical and thermal point of view. The city has very ancient origins, dating back to the Bronze Age and, subsequently, it was frequented as a holiday resort by the Romans. Remains of a large villa, the Grotte di Catullo, testimony this illustrious past. They can still be visited and constitutes a salient part of the city.
Three things to see in Sirmione
As for the spas, Sirmione is the most famous spa town in the whole Lake Garda and one of the most popular in Italy. Its waters have healing and aesthetic powers and can act on the cardiovascular, osteoarticular and respiratory systems, but also treat dermatological and gynecological diseases. The more traditional spas are Terme di Virgilio and Terme di Catullo, but you’ll still have plenty of other choices available.
Read on if you want to know more about this place to visit on Lake Garda!
Sirmione does not cease to amaze even from an architectural point of view, where the Scaligero Castle, the historic center and its churches stand out. Once you arrive, you cannot help but enter the lively center, made up of countless alleys, perfect for strolling and having an ice cream. In addition, if you are looking for something more romantic, you will be satisfied by the road that runs along the lake and offers a breath-taking view.
I also recommend that you visit the 3 main churches: Sant’Anna della Rocca, San Pietro in Mavino and Santa Maria Maggiore. The first dates back to the mid-1300s and is characterized by cross vaults, frescoes and the precious effigy of the Madonna and Child. The second is older, 756 A.D., and, after numerous renovations, you can recognizable various influences on the facade, including the Romanesque bell tower. Finally, the last, dating back to the 15th century, is the parish church of the peninsula and houses wonderful frescoes and a wooden statue of the Madonna.
If I managed to catch your attention, I propose a list of the three things to see in Sirmione that in my opinion you cannot miss.
Impossible not to start by mentioning the Scaligero Castle, which you will meet as soon as you arrive, before the actual entrance to the historic center. You will go speechless in front of this imposing construction with crenellated edges, which rises above the lake with emerald waters. This building is an extraordinary example of lake fortification and is undoubtedly worth a visit.
The castle, which takes its name from the Della Scala family, was built over the mid-fourteenth century. You can notice how it is part of a unitary project, which also includes a fortified port, the dock, useful for accommodating the fleet. Its architecture, probably built in a few years, refers to the period of Cansignorio and Antonio II Della Scala, between 1360 and 1380.
Over time, Sirmione lost its importance as a defensive point, being replaced by the nearby Peschiera del Garda. Later, in the Napoleonic period, it was used as a weapons depot and accommodation for the troops. The storage function remained until it became the seat of the municipal and post offices, housing for the Carabinieri and a small prison.
What you see today of the castle is the result of the restorations carried out after 1919. Right in front of you, appears a structure maintaining the classic shielded towers of the Scaliger architecture and the port fortification typical of the sixteenth century. In addition, the inland water basin is now open thanks to the restoration works in 2018, promoted by the Lombardy Regional Museum Complex.
The castle takes on a fairy tale atmosphere, thanks to the three towers, the 47-meter-high keep and the lake waters that surround the four sides. The wonder gets even stronger if you decide to climb the 146 steps of the wide staircase, to see a magnificent view of Lake Garda.
Aren’t you intrigued enough?
Then, I tell you a little legend that will make your skin crawl… light a candle and keep reading.
Have you ever heard of the ghost of Sirmione castle?
It is said that in a bygone era the castle was the home of two noble newlyweds, Ebengardo and the beautiful Arice. During a stormy night the knight Elamberto del Feltrino asks them for hospitality and gets immediately enchanted by the girl. Unable to control his passion, Elamberto tries to seduce Arice, but is firmly rejected. A strong knight like him cannot overcome such an affront and, in a fit of rage, kills her with a dagger. Ebengardo hears the cries of his beloved and runs quickly to her aid. Finding her already dead, she attacks Elamberto and kills him with the same dagger.
The story continues… it is said that Ebengardo was condemned to live forever as a ghost, desperate for not being able to protect her. Even today, some testify to having seen the shadow of the ghost of the nobleman wandering around the castle. He won’t find any peace until he accepts the death of his beloved.
If you don’t want to miss this first destination of the three things to see in Sirmione, I offer you some tips and information below.
The castle is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday. The full ticket for the visit is for adults only, while the reduced ticket is for youngs aged 18 to 25. Otherwise, admission is free for visiting students and teaching staff, as for children under 18.
If you are also interested in visiting the Grotte di Catullo and the Roman Villa of Desenzano, I recommend the combined ticket. This is certainly an excellent alternative to get a complete view of the beauties of Sirmione. Finally, for the more passionate, there is also the possibility of buying an annual subscription.
In conclusion, I recommend that you leave your car in a paid parking lot, the largest is the Monte Baldo Parking at 850 meters from the Castle.
If you have been fascinated by the Scaligero Castle, read on to find out more about the places to visit on Lake Garda.
2. Le Grotte di Catullo (Catullo’s Cave)
My second proposal for the 3 things to see in Sirmione concerns the Grotte di Catullo (1st century BC – 1st century AD).
The ancient origins of the peninsula have left some evidence. For example the remains of a luxurious Roman villa, known as the “Grotte di Catullo”, from the Augustan era. The archaeological area since 1999 also includes a museum, where the oldest remains found on the site are kept.
The name “Grotte” (cave) is not accidental, but dates back to the stories of the first travellers who had mistaken the ruins covered with vegetation for caves.
Contrary to the popular past belief, the villa never belonged to the poet Catullus, but was built after his death. Nevertheless, the architectural complex takes its name from the Latin poet, a great lover of this small lake jewel. With regard to the royal residents, however, it has been hypothesized that the villa belonged to an aristocratic family from Verona, the Gens Valeria.
Originally, the villa had two floors, several arcades, panoramic terraces and a spa area. While, from the third century A.D. some parts of the villa have been rearranged and have housed poorer houses. For this reason, it is thought that the degradation of the area began exactly from that period, when the nearby necropolis was also added. Subsequently, in the fifth century, the villa changed its function again and became part of a defensive structure, only to be used as a building material.
Despite the years, you can still see an immense archaeological area of about 2 hectares, where you can immerse yourself in history at 360 degrees.
Surely the location is unique and wonderful. Being at the tip of the peninsula, you will have the clear waters of the lake forming the backdrop to the archaeological remains.
If you do not want to miss this place to visit on Lake Garda, I give you some useful access information below.
The site of the Caves is open all year round, from Monday to Sunday, and the times change according to the season. For the museum, the opening times are the same as those of the park.
The last thing you need to know about the Caves is the entrance price. Ticket is reduced for children between 18 and 25 years old, while minors enter for free. A way to encourage young people to get passionate about the ancient history of the city.
To really go back to the past, you will have to walk along Via Caio Valerio Catullo, reaching the Caves just 15 minutes from the centre. Alternatively, in the summer you can also arrive thanks to the electric little train, which will take you to the entrance in Piazzale Orti Manara.
My last tip on the 3 things to see in Sirmione concerns its beautiful beaches.
All you can do is take advantage of the blue and clear water of the peninsula to cool off and spend a few hours in total relaxation. For this reason, I recommend that you accompany a cultural visit to an afternoon on the beach, to find an escape to the heat of the summer.
If you are looking for a beach different from the classic ones, the Jamaica beach in Sirmione is the perfect proposal for you. The beach is located near the Grotte di Catullo, in a completely uncontaminated and luxuriant natural area. The clear waters and the stone slabs eroded by the water contribute making this beach unique, becoming an excellent support for bathers. If you are wondering why the name Jamaica, the answer is simple and focuses on the unusual colours of Jamaican beaches, almost reminiscent.
In case you are fascinated by this “Italian Caribbean paradise”, I suggest you get there following a path that passes from Lido delle Bionde and leads to the beach.
The second that I propose is, in fact, the Lido delle Bionde, a pebble beach equipped with every comfort, such as bars and various rentals. Surely, if you are looking for a more functional beach, Lido delle Bionde will be able to satisfy your requests. It will offer you a peaceful and relaxing stay.
In addition, the Punta Grò beach is convenient on the hottest days, as, being surrounded by trees, you can find cooler shaded areas. Also for this beach the access is free and is ideal for families who want to rest, have a picnic and a quiet swim. As for the Lido delle Bionde, the beach offers a kiosk and a pedal boat, deckchair and water ski rental service.
If you want even more alternatives, do not worry, Sirmione offers other beaches scattered on the peninsula and surroundings, suitable for every need. For families, I can recommend the Lido di Lugana, Lido Galeazzi, Punta Staffalo and the Spiaggia delle Muse. For the sportier, on the other hand, Spiaggia Brema gives the opportunity to practice kitesurfing, windsurfing, canoeing, pedal boats, beach volleyball and table tennis.
To know more about the beaches of Lake Garda, read our article “The beaches of Lake Garda“!
Finally, I list you the main events that take place in Sirmione so that you can enrich your visit with something even more characteristic.
The major events are in summer: they start with the Sports Festival in June, in the municipal sports centre, with sports games, music and food stands. Continuing, in July you will find the Sardinata, a grilled fish in the Piazzale del Porto, to taste the lake fish of the Polisportiva Sirmione. August is the most eventful month, with musical performances in the first half of the month and the opportunity to participate in astronomical observations.
After the summer period, in September, I recommend the Kite Festival, during which fun and colourful kites are built and decorated. During the day, food and wine stands open and the best kite gets awarded. Usually, you will also find inflatables, to offer guaranteed fun even for younger children. In addition, in September do not forget the Wine Festival, which gathers wine lovers to taste local wines with an incomparable lake view.
Finally, if you have the opportunity, do not miss the Christmas atmosphere in December, with the traditional castle fire and fireworks.
Here is my list of favourite things to see in Sirmione.