Monday morning I caught the train to Desenzano del Garda, a town at the southwestern tip of Lake Garda. I paid €5 to leave my backpack at a hotel near the station and spent a couple of hours exploring the town. Desenzano is nice! It seemed pretty upmarket / expensive. The outer edges of the town are all big hotels with swimming pools & gyms, then the town centre itself is nice and old. Fairly typically Italian, nice piazze, steep cobbled streets and lots of al fresco dining. I suppose the difference of Desenzano was its lakeside location, with a lovely boardwalk right along the waters edge. I wanted to visit Villa Romana but it was closed, because Monday! I'd forgotten the Italian tendency not to open..... Anything.... On a Monday, doh!
My hotel was actually a bus ride away in an area called Colombare. Of all the places I've been in Italy I guess Colombare is my least favourite - it's not really a place at all, just an area of hotels & souvenir shops that has links to the more desirable locations of Desenzano, Sirmione and most importantly, access to Lake Garda. It was a 40min walk from Sirmione itself, which was fine for me as I love walking, a nice walk too, along the lake. I guess I wouldn't have been able to get a hotel I could afford in a better area. It was a proper hotel tho! Aircon and ensuite & a flat screen TV (that I didn't watch). Sirmione itself is lovely, I think, or at least it would be if it wasn't so rammed with tourists eating enormous gelati the size of the heads that are melting faster than they can eat them in 32C heat.
It was Tuesday that I really got to appreciate Sirmione and Lake Garda for what it has to offer. After an espresso & a cornetto (croissant) in a little cafe, I caught an early ferry across the lake to the town of Garda on the eastern shore. The shores of south half of Lake Garda are much flatter, whereas the northern part rises to mountains. I had really wanted to visit Riva deal Garda, at the very northern end but quickly realised it wasn't a practical day trip from where I was staying, which is basically as south as you can get. So I compromised by exploring the south east. From Garda I walked down to the larger town of Bellagio, through the little village Cisano to the town of Lazise, all linked by gorgeous lakeside pathways with views out over the lake. The towns were all different, all charming, with narrow cobbled streets and traditional Italian houses, churches and gorgeous waterfront dining options. I feel like I'm writing this list a lot, but that is what Italy is about! It was a really pleasant way to spend a morning. If I was recommending this trip to somebody else, I'd say consider cycling and go south-north as the views are more spectacular up towards the north of the lake (I had to keep turning around whilst walking to look).
I caught the boat back to Pescheria deal Garda (south east) which was also surprisingly likeable considering it doesn't even get a mention in my Lonely Planet. Back in Sirmione I visited the Grotte di Catullo, which had been closed the day before due to it being Monday. The Grotte are ruins of a Roman villa, the largest unearthed in northern Italy. Situated at the tip of a narrow peninsula extending into the lake, rumbling arches framing lake and misty mountains beyond in the distance made for some fantastic photos. I had such a busy day!! So I had to have a little nap on a bench for 20mins.
I randomly found vegan gelato in Sirmione, some of the best I've had. Rice milk dark chocolate and soya pistachio were to die for. I had three.