Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – Italy’s chapter on Lombardy and the Lakes has to say about Sirmione:
“In the centre of the southern shore, on a sliver-like peninsula, is the impossibly quaint village of Sirmione. Even the tourists who pour into the village in their thousands don’t detract from the vil¬lage’s charm or its wraparound lake views. At the gateway to the islet, its square-cut cas¬tle (Castello Scaligero), was built by Verona’s ruling family, the Scaligeri, in 1250. There’s not a lot inside, but the views from the tower are spectacular.
Motorized vehicles are banned beyond this point, except for those with a hotel booking on the islet. Driving even the smallest car along the miniature, pedestrian-clogged main street isn’t fun, anyway. Beyond the main cluster of shops and restaurants are the open-air and indoor pools of the Terme di Sirmione. The source of the lake’s hot springs, offshore from Sirmione, were discovered in the late 1800s, and the pools are a natural 37°C.
At the northern tip of the peninsula is the maze of Roman ruins known as Grotte di Catullo. In fact it’s not a cave as the name suggests, but was called this by explorers who saw the ruins overgrown with foliage on top and mistook them for grottoes. It’s actually the largest domestic Roman villa uncovered in northern Italy, dating to the late 1st century BC.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
When I read that there was another castle to visit before leaving Lago di Garda, I pushed Anil to include Sirmione in our day’s adventures before leaving the lake district of northern Italy. I wasn’t at all prepared for the delightful surprise the castle was to show us, nothing in the description in our guide book hinted at anything very special.
We parked our rental car and began a lovely stroll towards the little peninsula and the beginning of the lakefront. Signs had warned us that only people with hotels reservations could proceed closer to the castle. That meant that the street was very quiet, with everyone on foot, or bicycle and only one or two cars passing us by.
At first, it wasn’t obvious that there was water between us and the face of the castle, but as we approached the exterior walls, we could see that we had to cross over what looked like a moat in order to pass through the main entrance gate. However, once we were inside the walls, there was even more water on either side of the stone walkways, giving the appearance that the whole stone castle, and all the battlements were floating on the lake.
I was stunned. This was completely unlike any other castle or fortress I’ve visited before. Yes, the Lake Palace Hotel in Rajasthan, India looks like a castle floating on a lake, but only from afar. Once you are inside, you look out at the water, it doesn’t come inside with you.
It was very hard for me to contain my excitement, and I kept taking picture after picture, from all different angles, as if to prove to myself that what I was seeing was real. We wandered around the narrow streets, admiring the shops, the guesthouse entrances and the little cafés and restaurants for a short while and noticed that most of the other visitors were indulging their sweet-tooths with ice cream.
We had a long day ahead of us so we didn’t have time to have a look at the hot springs or the Roman ruins, but I just couldn’t pull myself away in any sort of rush. Despite the fact that we had eaten a very hearty breakfast that morning, and it wasn’t quite noon, I convinced Anil that we should sit and have a cup of tea and share a dessert in an outdoor garden near one of the interior canals.
I wanted to soak in the atmosphere of this unusual castle just a little longer. What a treat it would have been to be able to stay overnight on the peninsula, and take in the views at different times of day. The early morning light, not to mention what sunset must be like, would make for dozens more photographs to remember Sirmione by.