Perched on a promontory swathed in cypress and olive groves on the southernmost edge of Lake Garda, photogenic Sirmione has been a popular spot since the Romans first discovered hot springs there. Despite the onslaught of summer visitors, this historic little town manages to retain its charm. Sirmione has lakeside promenades and pleasant beaches and is small enough for everywhere to be accessible on foot. It is chiefly famous for its thermal springs, castle, and northern Italy’s largest Roman ruins.
The moated, fortified Rocca Scaligero ★★★ ((tel) 030-916-468) was built on the peninsula’s narrowest point and today dominates the centro storico. Built in the late 13th century by the Della Scala family, who ruled Verona and many of the lands surrounding the lake, the castle begs a visit for its sweeping courtyards, turreted defence towers, dungeons, and views across Lake Garda from the battlements. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday 8:30am to 7:30pm; admission is 4€, ages 18 to 25 2€.
From the castle, it’s a 15-minute walk (or take the open-air tram from Piazza Piatti) along Via Vittorio Emanuele from the town center to the tip of Sirmione’s peninsula and the Grotte di Catullo ★★ ((tel) 030-916-157), romantically placed ruins with views across the lake among the cypress and olive trees. Built around a.d. 150, the remains are thought to represent two sizeable villas owned by aristocratic Roman families. A small museum of Roman artifacts found at the site includes jewelry and mosaic fragments (Piazzale Orti Manara 4; admission 4€ adults, 2€ 18–25; open Apr–Sept Tues–Sun 9am–6pm; Mar–Oct 9am–4pm).
Exploring Riva del Garda
The northernmost settlement on Lake Garda is a thriving Italian town, with medieval towers, a smattering of Renaissance churches and palazzi, and narrow cobblestone streets where everyday business proceeds in its alluring way. Riva del Garda’s Old Town is pleasant enough, although the only historic attractions of note are the 13th-century Torre d’Apponale in Piazza III Novembre, which is open in summer for visitors to climb its 165 steps for views across the lake, and the moated lakeside castle, La Rocca. Part of the castle now houses an unassuming civic museum with changing exhibitions ((tel) 0464-573-869). It’s open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 6pm, daily July to September. Admission is 2€ adults, free for children and seniors. The tourist office on the lakefront at Largo Medaglie d’Oro al Valor Militare 5 (www.gardatrentino.it/en; (tel) 0464-554-444) supplies information on hotels, restaurants, and local activities. It’s open daily May to September from 9am to 7pm; October to April Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9:30am to 12:30pm and 2 to 6pm.
Out and about on Lake Garda
Riva del Garda becomes a cultural oasis in July, when the town hosts an international festival of classical music (www.mrf-musicfestivals.com) but the town’s main attraction is the lake, lined with plush hotels and a waterside promenade that stretches for several miles past parks and pebbly beaches. The water is warm enough for swimming May to October, and air currents fanned by the mountains make Riva and neighboring Torbole the windsurfing capitals of Europe. Kitesurfing, kayaking, and sailing are all popular pastimes.
A convenient point of embarkation for a lake outing is the beach next to La Rocca castle, where you can rent rowboats or pedal boats for about 8.50€ per hour; from March through October, the concession is open daily 8am to 8pm.
Check out the sailing and windsurfing at Sailing du Lac at the luxurious Hotel du Lac et du Parc where windsurf equipment can be rented for 47€ per day or 20€ for an hour. Lessons start at 49€ for 2 hours. Dinghy lessons are available from 75€ for 2 hours, rental from 25€ per hour. The school is open April 19 to October 12 8:30am to 6:30pm.
Lake Garda is also renowned for mountain biking; there are more than 80 routes around the waterside and up into the Alpine foothills. Rent bikes from Happy Bike, Viale Rovereto 72 (www.happy-bike.it; (tel) 34-7943-1208), open daily 9am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm; rent a mountain bike for 14€ per day, or grab an eco-friendly electric bike for 49€ per day.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.