Lesser Known Locations of the Italian Lakes
By Joel Draba-Mann
6 November 2015
The lesser known facts and locations of the Italian Lake District and where else to go to escape the fast-growing crowds around the more famous lakes.Read more
The pretty medieval walled town of Sirmione in Lombardy, northern Italy, occupies a unique location on a narrow, three-kilometre-long peninsula which extends into Lake Garda from its southern shore.
Most likely originating as a fishing settlement in the Stone Age, Sirmione's idyllic position on the lake, surrounded by breath-taking natural beauty and benefiting from a temperate climate soon secured the village's population as a resort, favoured by Italy's aristocracy as early as the first century BC.
Sirmione's location was also recognised for its importance in the defence of Lake Garda against invaders, and a castle was built on the peninsula in the thirteenth century which remains one of the town's key attractions today.
Whilst Sirmione's historic architecture, which dates from Roman times onward, would alone justify the town's popularity as a tourist destination, in 1889 a Venetian diver discovered and harnessed a natural thermal spring in the lake and piped its warm mineral rich waters into Sirmione's first public spa. Now, Sirmione is one of Europe's foremost thermal spa resorts.
Sirmione's ancient charm coupled with an array of fine cafes, shops and restaurants, a relaxed and hospitable atmosphere and a distinct lack of traffic ensure that the city is both delightful to explore and a great base from which to discover neighbouring towns and villages on Lake Garda's picturesque southern shores.
It's not actually a grotto, and the celebrated Roman poet Catullus never lived here (although he did frequent Sirmione), but this remarkable ruin of a three-storey Italian palazzo dating from around 150AD is still one of Sirmione's historic highlights and is accompanied by a small but excellent archaeological museum.
Sirmione's magnificently-restored thirteenth-century fortress is unmissable thanks to its fish-filled moat, crossed by an authentic drawbridge, and for the stunning views of Lake Garda and of Sirmione afforded by the 150-step climb up to the castle's crenelated ramparts.
Set in a beautiful public park, Sirmione's parish church is notable for its fifteenth-century frescos, its Baroque architecture which features a stunning columned portico, its marble altar and for its unique terracotta decorations.
The eastern shore of Sirmione's peninsula features a white sand beach that is perfect for relaxing and sunbathing upon and offers superb views of southern Lake Garda's surrounding landscapes. The water here is particularly clear and well suited to swimming and water sports.