Settlements on the Sirmo peninsula have been traced back to over 5,000 years BC. In Roman times the peninsula was used as a resort by the rich and powerful.
With its unique peninsular position the town was an important centre of power in medieval times controlling traffic in the southern part of the lake. The preserved historic town with its entrance guarded by the turreted 13th century Scaliger Castle with its drawbridge fortified harbour attracts many day visitors. In the 13th century the town was an important refuge for the Cathar Christians.
The only land access to the old town is via the castle drawbridge, vehicular access to the old town is restricted by permit.
The town is connected to other resorts on the lake by ferry, the ferry jetty is located in the historic area in the Piazza Gisose Carducci.
The town has attracted many famous guests in the past including; Lord Byron, Alfred the Lord Tennyson, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, George Orwell, Hemingway, Churchill, Greta Garbo Maria Callas and Naomi Jacob.
As with all resorts on the Italian lakes the visitor will be impressed with immense civic pride, which is reflected in high standards of cleanliness, a lack of graffiti and the general politeness of the people.
All people speak Italian as a first language but knowledge of basic English has increased greatly in recent years. The area is very popular with tourists from northern Europe and generally most people in tourist areas also speak fluent German.
As with anywhere in the world, it is good manners to learn how to say goodbye, hello, please, thank you etc. in Italian.
As with other towns on the southern part of Lake Garda Sirmione enjoys a a particularly pleasant climate in the summer months characterised by slightly hazy sunshine and gentle breezes. Rain storms do occur and while infrequent can spectacular.
Sirmione was the last refuge of the Cathar Christians before the sect was finally eliminated by the inquisition. The last 166 suspected Cathars were taken from the town and burned alive in the Roman arena in Verona in 1278.
Sirmione became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866 immediately prior to that it was part of the Hapsburg Empire, the northern part of Lake Garda remained under Austrian occupation until 1919.
13th century Scaliger Castle with its' drawbridge form the only entrance to the town, the magnificently restored castle is very popular with day trippers and in high season can be very overcrowded.
Catullo's Grotto is the excavated ruins (scavi) of the massive Roman villa at the headland on the tip of the peninsula. The villa is known as "Grotte di Catullo" (Catullo's Caves) stuns the visitor with its' amazing scale. A small museum at the entrance provides some extra interest. There are inspiring views from the headland and a wonderful olive grove with magnificently gnarled ancient trees.
Visitors staying in the historic part of Sirmione may enjoy a stroll out to the villa scavi after breakfast before the sun gets too hot and the crowds too hectic.
There is a small park and cafe at the museum entrance which provides a welcome chance to cool off.
Entry to the scavi & museum is modestly priced but particularly if you are an early visitor it may help to have small Euro notes and coins to hand. N.B.: Like many other public museums in Italy the site is closed on Mondays.
The museum is excellent if unspectacular but the ruins are truly magnificent. Once you have clambered over the ruins take time on the path back to exit to enjoy the peace and shade of the olive grove on the high ground above the museum buildings.
Church of Santa Maria Maggiore 14th Centory decorated with 15th century frescoes
Lakeside Markets The towns along both sides of the lake host markets which work their way up the lake from town to town up. Each town has a market day and the markets are packed up and gone by lunch time. The markets are tremedous fun but don't expect massive bargains.
Sirmione's nearest markets are Mondays at Colombare (south of Sirmione) and Fridays at Lugana di Sirmione (SE of Sirmione). However if you are staying in Sirmione's old town these markets are not well placed and I would suggest combining a market visit with a ferry trip to Bardolino or Garda town.
In Bardolino the market arrives early on Thursday morning and stretches along the lake side path from the the Hotel Kriss to about 150 meters north of the harbour area.
In Garda town the market arrives on Friday morning and as at Bardolino spans the lake shore around the harbour. To enjoy the markets I would advise buying a catching an early ferry, and buying a "South of the Lake Ticket" (Euro 23.40 in 2013) this is a one day hop on hop off ticket that gives ferry travel between any of the towns in the southern part of Lake Garda enabling you to visit more than one town in a day.
Sirmione is well served by the lake ferry service which connects the town to almost all the other resorts on Lake Garda. However be aware the ferry fares are no longer as cheap as they once were particularly if undertaking journeys to the northern half of the lake. [Ferry Company Website http://www.navigazionelaghi.it/eng/g_illago.html]
Lake Garda measure 52km from north to south and an excursion from Sirmione by ferry to a northern town on the lake such as Riva will take full day and cost Euro 33.40.
Daily Hop-on Hop-off tickets are available, the "Bottom of the Lake" ticket (Euro 23.40 in 2012) is particularly handy for combining other towns such as Garda, Bardolino, Lazise or Salo on the same day.
Outings by ferry from Sirmione
The towns on the lake all have a different ambiance, in all the towns you will find tourist restaurant/cafes clustered around the harbour with shopping area stretching inland.
If visiting Limone or Malcesine from Sirmione it is best to travel by the high speed (Rapido) hydroplane ferry, Also keep in mind that Limone and Melcesine are built on steep terrain and may not be suitable for visitors with restricted mobility.
Closer to Sirmione lie a group of three towns; Garda town, Bardolino & Lazise, which from a group of resorts on the flatter land on the east side of the lake. These three towns lie within easy walking distance of each other linked by a good lakeside path.
On the opposite side of the lake lie adjacent resorts of Gardone and Salo which form the commune of Gardone Rivera.
As in anywhere in Italy expect the standard of food to be very high however because of the popularity of the Lake Garda area with German speaking tourists and the history of Austrian rule some hotel and restaurant menus are slanted towards Austrian/German tastes, however with the rapidly increasing proportion of visitors from other countries particularly english speaking nations the menu choices evolving.
When booking any hotel it is wise to first check all the review sites, also check the exact location out using online maps ie. Open Street Map, Goolge Maps, Google Earth, Google Street View and Bing.
Most hotels in northern Italy operate on a half-board basis, however smaller establishments offering B&B can be found in Colombare
Hotel breakfast are continental buffet style, expect cold meat and Parmesan cheese a selection fruits yoghurt and cereal and also a selection of sweet biscuits and pastries. In some hotels a toaster is provided for the guests to use. Some hotels will have a waiter on duty at breakfast to cook eggs.
Sirmione and Colombare has over 60 hotels most of excellent quality they vary from traditional family run hotels with over a century of history behind them to the 1980s concrete blocks that line the road out from Colombare to the Sirmione drawbridge.
Be aware holiday brochures usually do not differentiate between Colombare and Sirmione if you want traditional holiday near the tourist hot spots and near to the ferry jetty make sure your hotel is within historic Sirmione. Rooms with a west facing view over the lake are ideal to enjoy spectacular sunsets. Not all hotels within the historic town wall have parking facilities, those that do generally have gated parking lots away from the hotel.
Hotels Within the Historic Area