When we visit Sirmione, we are walking in the footsteps of the great and the famous, including the Roman poet Catullus and the 20th Century diva, Maria Callas. It is not difficult to understand the attraction of this picturesque town nestling on the southern shores of the magnificent Lago di Garda in Lombardia.
There is something here of interest for everyone and this is why Connectitalia-NZ has chosen Sirmione as a base for 4 nights on its June 2019 tour “Escursione ai Laghi della Lombardia.” Sirmione is located at the northern tip of a long and narrow peninsula that divides the gulfs of Desenzano and Peschiera. It has long been famous for its mineral rich thermal springs and it was a spa town even in Roman times.
On the headland at the northern end of the peninsula, there are some majestic remains of ancient Roman baths known as the “Grotte di Catullo” and of an ancient Roman villa owned by the family of the poet Catullus. It was Catullus who penned the description of Sirmione as “the pearl of the islands and peninsulas.” Sirmione is located less than 50 kilometres away from the important Roman city of Verona. Wealthy Romans built holiday villas here to enjoy the thermal waters bubbling out of the lake. Metal pipes used to bring the thermal water from the lake to the baths, have even been discovered in the ruins.
In the late Roman period in the 4th and 5th Centuries AD, the peninsula took on strategic significance because of its defensive qualities and it played a key role during many conflicts involving the Lombards, and later the Guelphs and the Ghibellines in the Middle Ages. Near the end of the 12th Century AD, the castle which dominates Sirmione was constructed, complete with a moat with drawbridges and an impressive set of ramparts. This fortress is known as the Rocca Scaligera and it is open to visitors. On our tour we cruise the lake and the majestic sight of the Roman ruins on the headland and the castle reflected in the water leaves a lasting impression.
There are three wonderful old churches in the town that house frescoes from the 12th to 16th Centuries AD. These are Sant’Anna della Rocca, San Pietro in Mavino and Santa Maria Maggiore and they are definitely worth a visit. Over the last few centuries, life in Sirmione has been less eventful but its natural beauty, historical interest and of course the thermal waters have attracted many famous Italian and foreign writers and artists to the town. In 1880, Alfred Lord Tennyson described his impressions of Sirmione in a poem entitled Ave atque Vale (Hail Brother and Farewell). “Row us out from Desenzano, to your Sirmione row…. There beneath the Roman ruin where the purple flowers grow…. Sweet Catullus’s all-but-island, olive-silvery Sirmio!”
In the 1950’s, Maria Callas arrived in Sirmione with her husband, Giovan Battista Meneghini and fell in love with the place. Between 1952 and 1958 she was at the height of her career and she regarded Sirmione as an oasis of peace where she could relax. On our tour you will see her beautiful villa “Mon Repos,” and sit in the café where she drank her daily glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice each morning. It is said that she was so attached to Sirmione that even when she left and married Aristotle Onassis she never stopped thinking about it. This is equally true for many modern day visitors to Sirmione.
On a Connectitalia-NZ tour you can choose whether you want to stroll around the Roman ruins, soak in a thermal bath or simply soak up the atmosphere in the piazza – we want you to enjoy maximum freedom to do what you want to do while being appropriately looked after. Connectitalia-NZ’s 14 day tour to the lakes of Lombardia starts and finishes in Milan and runs from 5 June to 18 June 2019