Inspired by Stanley Tucci’s “Searching For Italy” and a few recently read novels, my travels took me to a multiple dream destinations in Italy this September including Lake Garda, which is between the cities of Verona and Brescia near the the border with Italy.
Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy and is known for its crystal-clear water. Its location in the north of the country makes it a popular spot for tourists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, so be prepared for crowds if you travel in high season. We were there in September and it was still busy. But it’s a great spot for winter vacations too, with temperatures on average between 12 and 18 degrees Centigrade (53 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.)
This town, found on the southern shore, is one of the most popular places to visit as a day tripper. We stayed in a fabulous hotel on the northern end of the peninsula where it was much quieter, and the town – although still bustling – was a tranquil place once the day visitors had left.
Sirmione is known for its natural thermal waters, Roman villa, photogenic Scaligero castle, tiny winding streets and Jamaica Beach.
What To Do
Although small, Sirmione has endless options for fun.
• Lido delle Bionde ~ the beach area is not for those of us who are happy sitting on the rocks and changing under a towel. You can spend your day here for a price, with an umbrella, sunbeds, showers and changing area. When sipping on a cold prosecco gets boring you can go standup paddling, kayaking or work off some of those pizza calories in a pedal boat.
• Jamaica Beach ~ this beach is on the tip of the peninsula. Don’t expect a sandy beach. The flat rocks created by the minerals in the areas thermal waters are slippery and tricky to walk on (beach shoes are a must) but provide great entertainment for those of us who are observers.
The colour of the water is incredible – the reason for the beach name – and it’s a lovely temperature for those who wander out. Set back from the beach is an area with rentable sunbeds, shade trees, play equipment for little ones and a bar.
Roman Villa ~ the remains of this 1st century villa is located at the northern tip of the peninsula and is well worth a visit if just for the views. Those Romans knew a good spot for a home when they saw it. Named Grotte di Cattulo (Cattulo Caves – it was mistakenly named in the 1800s and it stuck), the two hectare site also has over a thousand recovered olive trees and offers a cool place to wander on a hot day. There is a small museum for the artifacts found on the site.
Thermal Spas ~ there are several spas to visit, all offering treatments and a day of relaxing.
Boat tours ~ if you want to spend time on the water, there are several boat trips available, from short ones around the peninsula to sunset cruises to trips around Lake Garda.
Scaligero Castle ~ this is one of Garda’s most photographed locations and the 14th century castle is a popular tourist destination. For a small fee, you can wander the walkways and climb the tower to look out over the lake.
Malcesine and Limone
If you fancy exploring a couple of other Lake Garda towns either by car (1.5 hours) or by bus (two hours), then I recommend Malcesine and Limone.
Malcesine is a medieval village topped by photogenic Scaliger Castle and was popular with artists and writers such a Goethe, Klimt, and Ottavio Giacomazzi. Scaliger Castle is a popular wedding venue and offers breathtaking views of the lake and village, along with a room dedicated to Goethe.
Mount Baldo offers the chance for mountain biking, hiking, climbing, and paragliding and is also accessible via cable car. Due to the winds that come off the mountains on both sides – one in the morning, the other in the afternoon – there is also great windsurfing and kite surfing here. The village also has some pebble beaches to enjoy and the option for a boat trip to the north western shore of Garda.
Limone sul Garda is a small village on the northwestern shore is famous for …. lemon cultivation. It is snuggled up to the sides of the mountain and once only accessible by water. The village has everything lemony to buy, a local farmers market on a Tuesday and you can also learn about lemon farming. It is also home to a section of the biking trail, Ciclopista del Garda, a trail 50 meters above the shoreline and lit by LED’s at night. There are also lovely beaches on which to enjoy the sunshine.
Where To Stay
• We stayed at Hotel Désirée within the old town, which was in a quiet location. A super hotel with a view of Lake Garda from the balcony and a small pool overlooked by the villa once owned by opera star (and Aristotle Onassis paramour) Maria Callas!
• Nearby was Hotel Olivi and Natural Spa, which was also in a pleasant spot.
• If it’s a five-star kinda vacation then, Villa Cortine Palace Hotel is the answer with its fabulous grounds and lake views.
There are multiple small hotels in the old town and many larger hotels outside of the historic centre.
Where To Eat
There are many great restaurants at your fingertips in the historic centre of Sirmione. But a couple I would recommend are:
• L’Arcimboldo ~ a traditional Italian restaurant with gluten free options.
• Ristorante degli Olivi ~ a Mediterranean menu with gluten free options.
• Il Guelfo ~ traditional Italian and pizzas looking out onto the castle.
If it’s gelato you are craving, and who isn’t, then this is the place – every third shop sells gelato!
Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.