Sirmione is one of the most popular holiday resorts on the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy. The small historic town is located on the tip of a long peninsula protruding from the southern shore of the lake between Desenzano del Garda and Peschiera. Sirmione has thermal springs and was a spa destination even in Roman times – you can visit some impressive Roman ruins at the end of the promontory. The town is in the province of Brescia, in the Lombardy region of Italy.
Sirmione is a pleasant place to stay, with lots of comfortable hotels, some in the town centre and others spread along the green pensinsula. They’re designed for relaxing stays, with sun terraces, pools or private beaches. The town itself offers short strolls, a couple of tourist attractions and lake views.
Although Sirmione is very attractive, its small historical heart gets choked with tourists. For atmosphere, you’re really better off visiting out of season. Almost all the businesses in Sirmione are aimed at tourists – naughty postcards, souvenirs, ice creams – and unfortunately most of the restaurants are also tourist standard. We found a very nice spot with reasonable prices however, where we were able to sit outdoors and enjoy a good meal: the Caffè Margherita.
The historical centre of Sirmione is pedestrianised; its narrow winding lanes busy with tourists. Orienting yourself can be confusing, but the town is so small that you can’t get lost for long. Sirmione is picturesque throughout, but its two main tourist attractions are the castle and the Roman ruins. A panoramic walk (signposted) leads out around the the promontory, and on a clear day you can enjoy great views over the lake and towards the mountains in the north.
The town is dominated by a thirteenth-century castle, the Rocca Scaligera, defended by a moat patrolled by swans and ducks. It is a real fairytale castle from the exterior. As our boat approached Sirmione recently, a little girl cried in Italian ‘It’s Cinderella’s castle!’. The castle – a fortress, really – is open to the public. The interior is not much more than an empty shell, but visitors can explore the ramparts, admire views over Lake Garda and climb the tower. It’s a good treat for children.
The ruined Roman villa – Villa Romana – out at the end of the headland is large and impressive. The poet Catullus had a family home in the Sirmione area, so historically this site has been associated with him, and known as the Grotte di Catullo (‘caves of Catullus’). However the villa is of a slightly later date and of a scale and grandeur suggesting a very important and rich owner. The ruins (closed Mondays) are in a lovely setting surrounded by lake, with lizards scuttling through olive groves. Visitors can wander through the ruined walls and admire archaeological finds – including a charming carving of rabbits – in the small museum.
When holiday-makers have exhausted the things to see in Sirmione, it’s a short boat or bus journey into nearby Desenzano del Garda, or a rather longer trip towards the other lake resorts. Children will be desperate to visit the Gardaland theme park, while adults may prefer day trips to Verona.
Like several other Italian resorts, Sirmione bans visitors from walking around its streets wearing swimming costumes – bare-chested and skimpily-clad foreigners can give offence.
Sirmione is connected to Lake Garda’s other destinations by ferries which depart from a jetty in the centre of town. A ticket kiosk is close by. The town is on a bus route between Brescia and Verona, so is easy to reach from those towns, each of which has a budget airport. The nearest railway stations are in the neighbouring lakeshore towns of Peschiera and Desenzano del Garda. You can catch the bus or a ferry from either of these towns to Sirmione.
Sirmione has a signposted exit from the autostrada which connects Milan with Venice. If you are staying in the historic centre, you will only be allowed to drive into the pedestrianised zone with confirmation of your hotel booking.
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