Catherine Richards

Italy's Lake Garda & Beyond

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This is Italy's largest lake, perenially popular, and a great place for watersports and family holidays. This is the one lake that seems both Alpine and Mediterranean. The northern reaches of the lake are quite mountainous, with rugged cliffs. The south, where the lake fans out into the Lombardian plain, is altogether softer, with more Mediterranean flora. Lake Garda was originally called Lake Benacus, a name of Celtic origin. There are a number of beautiful lakeside towns, and lots of strolling or sitting in lakeside cafés to be done. The beautiful city of Verona is a short drive away. If you're traveling with kids, (or even without) Gardaland, Italy's largest theme park makes for a fun day out. The “pearl of all islands and all peninsulas,” said the Roman poet Catullus, and indeed Sirmione is a delight, with great views, ancient cypress groves, olive and lemon trees and palms. One of the best-known resorts on Lake Garda, Sirmione sits at the end of a narrow peninsula that juts northward into the southern end of the lake. On weekends particularly, the town is bursting with weekenders and day-trippers, who throng the elegant streets and make finding a spot to enjoy a coffee a little tough, though mid-week and out of high season it can be remarkably peaceful. Sirmione's sulphur springs have been attracting visitors seeking a cure for over 2,000 years. The Rocca Scaligera (the Scaligera Castle) sits at the entrance to the old town, and was built by the wealthy Della Scalla family from Verona in the mid-13th century. Completely surrounded by water and beautifully preserved, the castle's defensive walls cut the town off from the mainland. The Grotto di Cattulo is one of the most impressive Roman remains in Northern Italy. The villa, dating from the first century BC, may or may not have belonged to the Roman poet Catullus, though it is known that he had a family villa in Sirmione. The entire complex of Grotto di Cattulo was huge, including thermal baths (you can smell the sulphur), pools, shops and gardens, and hosted the likes of Julius Caesar in its day. Near Sirmione is the lovely church of San Pietro in Mavino, with stunning views over the lake. It's the oldest church in Sirmione, with eighth-century origins. These are just a few of the attractions here. Many more are described in this guide, along with all the practical details you will need: where to stay, where to eat, how to get around, what you should not miss.
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128 printed pages

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