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Sirmione, The Veneto

The town of Sirmione sits on the southern edge of Lake Garda in the Veneto, where the land forms a point and is surrounded by water on three sides. It is practically an islet, connected to the main land by a bridge, and the land goes out 2.5 miles into the water. The water forms an integral part of the life in Sirmione, and boat rides are plentiful. The tourist industry takes advantage of the beautiful town with brightly colored buildings along the shore and piers of red, yellow, blue and pink. It is an ideal vacation spot because the climate is temperate and the vast shores in the south make the water feel like a sea coast.

Sirmione is not just a modern destination. Even the ancient people knew about it and its charms. The Roman Poet Catallus celebrated Sirmione in his writing, calling it "The pearl of every isle and every peninsula."

Always a popular bathing spot, there were Roman villas and baths in Sirmione to facilitate the "taking of the waters." In 1889 a Venetian deep-sea diver, armed with a diving suit and special pumps from England, dove two meters into the lake. This was the area around Catallus' villa. He was the first person to reach an underwater hot spring, which had been known to exist for three centuries. After several attempts he planted the tube into the rock and a sulphurous spray flew out, five meters high. Thus began the laying of 300 meters of pipes to carry the thermal waters to Sirmione. In 1900 the first spa opened. It was said to have the same qualities of the original Biola Spring.

There are several choices for spas to visit. The Catullo Spa complex was built in the old town of Sirmione. The Spa Hotels and the Virglio Spa Complex were both opened in 1987 at the base of the peninsula.

You can also rent bikes, cars, scooters and surf boards or just enjoy the views from the shore. The fishing tradition is alive and well. People still fish, and every Friday there are fish markets.

Looming over Sirmione, the castle Rocca Scaligera or Castello Scaligero was built around 1250 for the lord of Verona, Mastino I della Scala. His family inherited their money and built a mighty castle to flaunt their wealth and demonstrate their prowess. The della Scala dynasty protected themselves with a fleet of ships that surrounded the little islet. Their defensive position was excellent because they could see people coming from the lake long before they arrived. The historic center of the city still maintains some of its old-world charm, with no cars allowed and the craggy walls of the fortress above. In the summer, the castle is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is definitely worth a visit.

Via train, go to the Peschiera or Desenzano railway stations and take a coach from there. Buses are also available from Verona, Brescia and Mantova. By car, take the A4 Milan-Venice motorway. By boat, disembark at Sirmione at the landing station in Piazza Carducci.



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