Sirmione is a town situated on a narrow peninsula at the southern end of Lake Garda, in a scenic location that has attracted visitors since ancient Roman times. The peninsula is only about 100 metres wide and almost 4 kilometres long.
The historical center of the town is in a very picturesque setting, although the outlying parts of Sirmione have not benefitted from the large amount of tourist development..
Cross the bridge to reach the peninsula where you will find the most important historical quarter of Sirmione. Of course, as with many historic Italian towns, it is the chance to stroll through the medieval streets, window shopping and sampling the local ice-cream that provides as much of the pleasure to a visit as the famous monuments!
The picture-postcard turreted 13th century Scaliger Castle (Rocca Scaligera) that you pass to reach the northern part of the peninsula is in a beautifully romantic setting on the edge of the lake and dominates the town centre of Sirmione. The castle was built by the Scaligero family in the 13th century to defend the southern shores of Lake Garda.
There is a charge if you want to enter the castle and go up the tower, but you do get excellent views from the top. If you are staying nearby we suggest you try and see the sunrise across the lake and castle from here (although it will mean getting up rather early in summer!)
The Grotto of Catallus, at the northern point of the peninsula, is a an extraordinary architectural work, a villa with a succession of corridors and porticoes. This cave systeme is a highlight of a visit to Sirmione, and originally made famous (and named after) the famous Latin poet Catullus.
Parts of the complex are dug deep in the rock and date back to the first century BC. There are ruins to explore set in the beautiful landscape, along with a museum containing interesting Roman artefacts.
Note: it seems that the villa actually predates Catallus by at least a century so the connection is rather tenuous although Catallus did live here for a while.
Although the grotto and castle are the best known monuments, there is much more to discover in Sirmione, with several Roman and medieval sites of interest including an ancient Benedictine convent built for Ansa, the wife of King Desire and the 14th century Church of San Pietro in Mavino which has an 11th century belltower and frescoes from the medieval period.
In the height of summer Sirmione can become rather opressively crowded so we suggest you visit in the morning if possible.
There are also a couple of small lake beaches on the peninsula itself. Bathers and sun-seekers should head for the lido at Spiaggia Lido delle Bionde for a chance to swim in the lake.
A ferry port in the town allows access to other resorts around the shores of Lake Garda, and arriving here by boat also gives you a very nice view of Sirmione and its castle.
Just a few kilometres from Sirmione at Desenzano you can visit Gardaland, one of the largest amusement parks in Italy and the Gardaland Sea Life Aquarium, as well as the Aqua Park and Movie Studios at Canevaworld.
See the Lombardy guide for more travel ideas...