This summer I decided to do something different, rather than taking a short break to the seaside, I decided to visit Sirmione, the Pearl of the Garda Lake.
In Italy we have thousands of marvellous places to visit all year-round and for every taste: big cities with ancient history and different culture, fun seaside villages, mountain towns where you can take some long walks in the forest and finally we have these beautiful lakes where relaxing is a must!
Sirmione is an annual destination for tourism and one of the most popular “sights” on Garda Lake with thousands of visitors flooding in daily, to see and enjoy this picturesque peninsula. It is situated on the south bank of Garda Lake alongside the long and narrow peninsula (the length is about 4 kms and the width is 120 meters) which divides the Desenzano and Peschiera’s gulfs.
Sirmione was made even more famous thanks to numerous writers such as: Catullo, Stendhal, Lawrence and Goethe who paid tribute to its artistic and environmental beauty. In fact, it’s been known to everyone as “the pearl of the islands and peninsulas” thanks to Catullo, though, Sirmione is also famous for its thermal water with its healing properties.
In addition, Sirmione has a rich historic and artistic heritage that includes the ruins of an ancient Roman Villa from the first imperial era, known as the Catullo Grottoes, the Scaligera Fortress and the Church of “S. Pietro” in Mavino, which dates back to at least VIII century.
The city centre is occupied by narrow alleys with stone walls offering its visitors romantic and suggestive views, as this one below:
I got the opportunity to visit my mother in Sirmione, while she was there having some thermal inhalation treatments.
As with every other trips, I like planning my days in advance to get the most of them and this one was no exception!
How I Reached Sirmione
I took a speed-train from Florence to Verona (1 hour and 30 minutes) and then a local bus (LN026), which in approximately 1 hour reached Colombare. Colombare is a small village near Sirmione. From there, though only in Summer, there is a shuttle bus that runs every 10-20 minutes to the historic centre of Sirmione. During the Winter season, the bus from Verona train station arrives directly in this center.
My suggestion: on the way back to your destination, try to take the bus earlier than at the time that you would have normally taken it. I lost my train because there was a lot of traffic on the way back and the bus arrived at the train station 1 hour and 15 minutes late: so I lost my train.
Where To Stay
There are lots of options: from camping to 5-stars hotels. I decided to stay in a 3-stars hotel, “Hotel Luna”, right in the city centre but not in the crowded part of it, just opposite the main entrance of “Terme di Catullo”, where my mother was taking the thermal cures.
The hotel is very nice and cozy and the owner is always available to give suggestions on what to visit and where to eat and also provides discounts on sites, thermal SPAs and restaurants.
My suggestion: avoid hotels that are right in the middle of the crowded streets and try to find one that is hidden within some narrow alleys.
Where To Eat
Arriving in Sirmione you will quickly notice that there are numerous shops, restaurants, bars and gelateries: so there are hundreds of possibilities. I always had my dinner in the same restaurant “La Roccia”. It has good prices and very good food.
My Suggestion: when buying a gelato, please don’t go where you see mountains of gelato exploding from the windows’ shops but go where you see normal flat gelato containers like in the “Gino Gelateria”. The fact that you see the queues in other stores doesn’t mean that those are the best and the cheapest, on the contrary, they are quite expensive for a not “home made” gelato. Gino’s gelato is made with natural and seasonal ingredients. Trust me, as an Italian loving the “home made” gelato, this is the BEST and cheapest gelato in town!
What To See
I had 2 full days and a half to explore the beauty of Sirmione and all the small villages of the Garda Lake. Looking for the best trips to do on the lake, I found the guys of “Sirmione Boats” awaiting for me at the port of Sirmione. They are a group of motorboat captains, each with his own boat, who are specializing in going around the Sirmione’s peninsula. All the tours start by the port of the Medieval Scaligero Castle.
On the afternoon of my first day, I took a 25 minutes boat tour around the peninsula of Sirmione. It started from the Scaligero Castle’s port, and we sailed along the peninsula’s coast. While on the boat, I admired the Maria Callas’s 1920’s Villa, where Callas felt inspired to create her opera characters; then we passed by the thermal spa baths, including the “Aquaria Thermal Spa”.
We made a stop for a moment to picture the place where the poet Catullus wrote his poems within the walls of the Roman villa, known as “Grotte di Catullo“. Then we looked at the waves and saw the bubbles from the Boiola sulphur spring that provides the beneficial thermal water to Sirmione. Finally, after admiring the architecture and the perfect preservation of Sirmione’s Castle, we had to lower our heads to go under the castle’s drawbridge and return to the port.
On my second day, I decided to take a full day boat tour around the lake always with the guys of Sirmione Boats, discovering some of the best places on Garda Lake.
We crossed the lake to admire the small port of Lazise and then we reached Bardolino, where we had our first one hour stop. We had a beautiful walk through the narrow streets full of shops and then right along the lake, simply admiring the colours of this amazing place.
The tour continued towards the cosy and hidden Punta San Vigilio, followed by the Mermaid Bay with its white beaches. For lunch we made a stopover at Torri del Benaco.
In the afternoon we crossed back the lake to reach the Western coast with Gargnano, Bogliaco and Fasano until Gardone. While on the tour we admired the elegant, historic buildings that used to belong to some famous people, such as Villa Feltrinelli, where Benito Mussolini once lived; Villa Fiordaliso, residence of his lover Claretta Petacci, and not to forget the Tower of San Marco that once belonged to Gabriele d’Annunzio.
Later on, we stopped in Salò for an hour, to visit the old centre of this enchanting village. On our way back to Sirmione we admired the coast of the private Garda Island with the magnificent Villa Borghese in Venetian neo-Gothic style. The Villa, with its marvellous gardens and a huge natural park, is in possession of the Cavazza family. In these settings we enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine, while reminiscing this beautiful day on Garda Lake. On our way back to Sirmione we toured around the peninsula, once more.
Since we still had some time left in Sirmione, we took a small train just opposite our hotel to reach the Grotte di Catullo. Located inside a beautiful archaeological park, with its vast oliveto-grove, there are the interesting remains of this large Roman villa, known for centuries as “Grotte di Catullo”.
The structure, which was built between the end of the 1st century B.C. and the beginning of the 1st century A.D., is in an excellent panoramic location! It is located on the extreme tip of the Sirmione peninsula and it is the most important example of a high-class residence in the whole of Northern Italy.
Upon entering the archaeological park, you will find a museum with objects brought to light during the excavation of the villa and the archaeological work, conducted in Sirmione and other areas around the Garda Lake.
In the afternoon, on our final day, we took a local bus to reach Desenzano del Garda, which is about 20 minutes away from Sirmione. We spent an hour and a half there walking and admiring its vibrant streets, beautiful shops and the port.
My suggestion: Especially in the Summer, make sure to bring a sunscreen and some light clothing, so you could change in case you get wet as waves can be high. Especially if it’s windy, the lake can act like the sea! I tell you this because I got completely wet with the first wave that came in!
What To Do
Last but not least, on the morning of our last day in town, I decided to relax in Aquaria, the thermal Spa of Terme di Sirmione. As I mentioned earlier, Sirmione is well known for its thermal waters rich in mineral salts and micronutrients. The sulphurous water contains sodium chloride, bromide and iodide which are vital for the skin and the whole body, at all times of the year.
Its temperature is constant, between 34C and 36C degrees, which allows the outdoor swimming pools to be used even in the winter and its exfoliating properties prepare the skin for tanning in the summer.
Aquaria is open all year round and is an oasis of wellness in the middle of a large park. It is a place to enjoy moments of intense pleasure, during the day or in the evening, alternating the sensorial experiences of the thermal water, with the steam and the heat, and the pampering of personalised treatments. With a breathtaking view of Garda Lake, Aquaria is the best place to find beauty, equilibrium and harmony within more than 10,000 square metres of wellness.
Depending on how many days you stay in Sirmione, there are several packages available to purchase. I had the 5-hour access ticket with an hour of cold mud massage. The entrance fee includes access to the spa pools with effervescent beds, whirlpools, swan neck jets, vascular paths, sauna and the freshwater front-lake pool, as well as indoor saunas and steam baths, nice showers and streams, relaxation areas with beautiful lake views, including the Salt Room, the Music Hall and the Starry Sky. The welcome kit includes a swimming cap, a bathrobe, a towel and some samples of Aquaria’s thermal cosmetics. Please note: personal swimsuits and slippers are not included.
What can I say: my skin looked amazing after the treatment and the 5 hours in the pool! I also received lots of product samples to try on, which I enjoyed and for sure will ask my mother to buy some more in the future. So here’s my final tip: going to Aquaria is a must… and not a suggestion!
Now, let’s get you busy planning your next Summer’s break – in this enchanting location!