Sirmione is a town 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 four kilometres long.
Italy This Way comment: Sirmione is a very impressive town with a great deal of interest to see and a visit is recommended - although it is also quite small and gets lots of visitors so can become rather crowded in summer so we suggest you visit in the morning if possible.
Park your car in one of the large car parks near the entrance - although visitors staying in one of the hotels on the peninsula can enter with their cars and drive through the old town, you will spend a lot of time stuck in crowds of people if you try to do this!
Sirmione consists of three distinct parts: the fortress and moat at the entrance to the peninsula; the historic town behind the fortress; and the roman ruins of the Grotto of Catullus at the northern end of the peninsula. You will certainly want to visit all three of these although there is an entrance fee to pay to vist the fortress and the roman ruins (these are both free to enter if you visit on the first Sunday of the month).
When you first arrive in Sirmione, you cross a bridge across a moat to reach the historical quarter of Sirmione and the entrance to the fortress which overlooks and historically protcted access to the old town. This picture-postcard turreted Scaliger Castle (Rocca Scaligera) is in a beautifully romantic setting on the edge of the lake, from where it also dominates the town centre.
The castle was built in Sirmione 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, and there is perhaps not a great deal to see in the castle, but you get excellent views from the top so it is still worth visiting.
Sirmione old town
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! There are lots of charming houses, many painted in bright colours, and numerous cafes and restaurants, the majority of the buildings now beautifully restored, and views of the lake to either side of the town.
The 14th century Church of San Pietro in Mavino in the centre of the old town has an 11th century belltower and frescoes from the medieval period adorning some of its internal walls. Close to here, the remains of a roman villa have been uncovered in Via Antiche Mura.
There are also a couple of small lake beaches on the peninsula, both here in the old town and at the northern end in the Grotto of Catallus. Bathers and sun-seekers should head for the lido at Spiaggia Lido delle Bionde for a chance to swim in the lake.
Grotto of Catullus
The remains of this roman villa are about a 15 minute walk from the old town, at the northern end of the peninsula (transport is available if necessary).
Near the entrance to the Grotto of Catullus there is a picture on the wall (rather hidden away) that shows an artists impression of the original villa - take a look before exploring, to help you better understand what you are looking at during your visit!
The Grotto of Catullus is a an extraordinary architectural work, a very extensive villa with a succession of corridors and porticoes. This complex of roman ruins is very well preserved and a highlight of a visit to Sirmione, that was originally made famous (and named after) the famous Latin poet Catullus.
The villa actually predates Catullus by at least a century so the connection is rather tenuous although Catallus did live here for a while.
Parts of the complex are dug deep in the rock and date back to the first century BC. The ruins are very extensive and suggest a very large villa about the size of a small town and set in a beautiful landscape, with views across lake Garda as a backdrop.
There is also a museum near the entrance to the complex that contains interesting prehistoric, Roman and Longobard artefacts.
Although the grotto and castle are the best known monuments, there are other several Roman and medieval sites of of historical interest in Sirmione, including an ancient Benedictine convent built for Ansa, the wife of King Desire.
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 you can visit Desenzano and the lovely town of Lazise, and you will also enjoy a visit to 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.
The nearest major town is Verona, a short distance to the east of Sirmione.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Lombardy guide.