Sirmione is the most famous and beautiful city on Lake Garda. It is really a narrow peninsula sticking into the southern part of the lake. Its most important tourist attractions, except for Lake Garda itself, are the Castle and the Caves of Catullo. The city is also known for its sulphur baths.
Sirmione City Guide
Useful information for tourists
Most of Sirmione is, except for the few residents that are left, not accessible by car. There are three, expensive, parking lots near the entrance to the old town, but it might be recommended to find your own spot further away from the castle, so you will not have to deal with the queues.
Sirmione is one of the stops on the bus line between Verona and Brescia. The company is called Arriva. The departure point in Verona is called Porta Nuova. The ticket can be bought in the tobacco shop near the bus stop, or (more expensive) directly from the driver. The bus stop in Sirmione is a long way from the centre in a place called Colombare, but here you can change onto a local bus without having to get a new ticket.
If you have chosen your home base in one of the other towns along the lake, you can take a ferry to Sirmione. This way you can enjoy the magnificent view from the lake and you will not have to wait in line to find a parking spot.
The most important tourist attraction, apart from Lake Garda, is still the 13th century fortress built by the Della Scala (see below). The 14th century Sant’Anna Church has a number of 16th century frescoes. The Santa Maria Maggiore Church was built in the 15th century. The city’s oldest church is the San Pietro in Mavino, which was constructed in the 8th century. The archaeological area is located at the tip of the peninsula. It is called Grotte di Catullo and contains the ruins of a Roman villa from the Imperial age. The museum connected to the area is called the Anqiquarium. The most beautiful square of the island is the Piazza Giosuè Carducci. From a purely historic point of view, the villa Maria Callas used to live in is also important.
Interesting towns near Sirmione are Desenzano and Peschiera del Garda. The nearest bigger towns are Brescia and Verona.
Sirmione was probably founded by the Etruscans. Archaeological finds seem to indicate that the city was quite important in Roman times. Even in those days it already was a popular holiday destination for wealthy patrician families.
In Byzantine and Lombard periods there used to be a staging post.
In the 12th century Sirmione became property of Verona and later of the Della Scala family, who had the enormous Rocca Scaligera built. This castle was constructed in 13th century, on top of an ancient Roman fortress.
Sirmione was at its most powerful in the 14th century, when the docks and city walls were added. Of the latter only the tower near the Santa Maria Maggiore Church and the crenellated gate facing the Piazza Flaminia remain.
The Republic of Venice conquered Sirmione in the 15th century.
In the 16th century Sirmione entered a period of decline and nearby Peschiera became the most important city in the area.
After the Unification of Italy the city became part of the province of Brescia.
The first spa was opened in the early 20th century, which led to the construction of several luxury hotels. Nowadays almost the entire centre is take up by souvenir shops, restaurants, fast food places and ice cream parlours.
Until 1930 Sirmione was called Sermione. The name could derive from the Greek word syrma, which means “tail”, or from the Gaulish sirm-ona, signifying “water train”.
The peninsula sticks about 4 km into the lake.
The two spas on the island are called Termale Acquaria and Termale Virgilio. They get their water from the Font Bola, located 18 meters underneath the lake.
Unfortunately Sirmione has become one big tourist trap and, especially in the historic centre, every available building is now a shop, selling more or less the same stuff as the one next door.
There are two weekly markets, on Monday mornings in the Piazza Mercato and on Friday mornings in the Piazza Montebaldo.