Paene insularum, Sirmio, insularumque
ocelle, quascumque in liquentibus stagnis
marique vasto fert uterque Neptunus,
quam te libenter quamque laeuts inviso,
vix mi ipse credens Thuniam atque Bithunos
liquisse campos et videre te in tuto.
Sirmio, bright eye of peninsulas and islands,
whatever ones either Neptunus bears
in liquid lakes or in the vast sea.
How willingly and happily I visit you,
scarecely trusting myself that I have left Thynia and the Bithynian plains, and that I see you in safety.
Gaio Valerio Catullo, Carme XXXI
Romans used to appreciate Sirmione for its wonderful location on the Garda Lake and so did we, also charmed by its narrow streets, its medieval castle and the crystal clear water of a lake that looks like a sea.
Once again we have been #TouristsAtHome discovering our region, Lombardy, that, despite being too often undervalued, is giving the opportunity to see magic places.
How to get there
The best way to reach Sirmione is by car because the A4 highway brings you close to the the town, then you can park on the meters ( we paid € 1 per hour ) located along the road between Colombare and Sirmione. Then you can take the public shuttle ( Link ) that for € 1 each way links Colombare with Sirmione.
Otherwise, if you wanna take the train, keep in mind that there is no railways station in Sirmione, the closest one is in Desenzano, from where you'll have to take the bus ( Link ) to get to the town.
The Medieval Town
Once you get off the shuttle, there it is one of the symbols, maybe the ultimate symbol, of Sirmione: the Scaliger Castle ( Link ). Built in the XIII century, the fortress is the best possibile introduction of the city with its medieval charm due to the rough stones it is made of, to its towers and its keep, to its loopholes and battlements from where enemies were attacked and, finally, due to legends of lost souls wandering in it.
The Scaliger luxury nowdays has been replaced by a small museum, but the reason to visit the castle is the wonderful view on Garda Lake from the terrace on top of the keep.
Once inside the fortress you'll find in the heart of Sirmione, a small town made of medieval builidngs decorated by colorful bouganvillea, narrow alleys and nice squares full of shops, bars, ice-cream parlors ( I've never seen so many flavors and so huge cones ) and restaurants ... by the way, if you wanna have a good lunch we suggest the Osteria al Torcol ( Link ), where we tasted a nice fish with a glass of local Riesling ( white wine ) for € 40.
Among the medieval alleys of Sirmione you will find the nice church of Santa Maria della Neve (XV ce. ). The frescoes inside the Church and the porch are very evocative. If you're tired of the medieval town and you want to admire the beauty of the Garda Lake, then the Passeggiata delle Muse is what you are looking for: a walkway that runs along the walls close to the lake, to beautiful gardens and ruins of a roman fortress.
The nice walk will take you to the Lido delle Bionde, one Sirmione most famous beaches... honestly a delusion! Maybe it was beacause we were there on the 14th of August, but there's no room for people, but a narrow stretch of sand between the walkway and the lake. The bar linked with the beach is without infamy nor praise and, maybe due to the proximity of Sirmione SPA, the water doesn't smell good. Instead of losing time here, get back on the main road, Via Gaio Valerio Catullo, and reach the Catullo Caves archaelogical site ( Link ).
The view from the park just outside the site is amazing, but don't be shy and get in the archaelogical site ( entrance: € 6 ) and walk among the ruins of an ancient roman villa ( despite the site's name, there are no caves here ) that should have been unbelievably amazing. The location is great and the site is interesting and bucolic with a wonderful olive grove where the villa's yard was once located.
From Catullo Caves you can easily reach Jamaica Beach that truly deserves tha title of best beach in town. Unlike Lido delle Bionde, here swimmers have enough space to live and lay down, there's a nice chiringuito with a Caribbean atmosphere, the water is crystal clear and landscape is the icing on the cake. Relax yourself a bit before walking up to the church of San Pietro in Mavino, where an oasis of peace awaits you!
What can we say about this church? Definitely evocative! Just the tower bell, built in 1070, is the only remaining part of the original building while the rest dates back to the XIV century. The structure is so humble and, for this reason, welcoming and charming.
It's time to get back to the shuttle after a last glance to the Scaliger fortress and a last picture of the narrow medieval alleys; it's time to take the car ... but before going home take some time to feel history and love of the country!
San Martino della Battaglia ( Link ) is, indeed, located just 7 kilometers from Sirmione. Here on the 24th June 1859 took place a fundamental battle of the Second Italian War of Indipendence. The Torre di San Martino rises 64 meters high upon the hillls where Italians and Austrians fought hard all day long. On his top the view is amazing. Behind the tower there is a musem that collects heirlooms and papers related to the historic battle.
Finally, not far from the tower, there's a Charnel House in memory of the fallen where the patriotic hymns on the gravestones give the idea of a love of the country that nowdays is difficult to understand and to empathize with.