europe quick trips
Visit ancient ruins, enjoy Italian cuisine, smell blooms in Sirmione, on the southern tip of Lake Garda
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | Stars and Stripes | Published: July 4, 2019
Roman gifts to western civilization are many: arches, roads, plumbing, numerals, the republic, to name a few.
I would also add Sirmione.
The flower-strewn town at the southern tip of Italy’s largest lake seems to me the zenith of a resort, gracefully managing and pleasing its tourist hordes with the languorous aplomb of one of the good Roman emperors. Perhaps Hadrian, who from 117 to 138 not only built a wall in Britain but ruled over what historian Edward Gibbon wrote was the “happiest era of human history.”
What does one do in Sirmione, just an hour’s drive (without traffic) from the U.S. military base in Vicenza? Lounge on the hotel dock, reading a novel and repeatedly applying sunscreen. Swim in the cool, blue lake, among swans and baby ducks, then enjoy the feeling of the water evaporating off sun-warmed skin.
Eat spaghetti with seafood. Drink cold white wine and/or Aperol spritzes. Visit ancient ruins. Walk through olive groves and fragrant, sun-dappled parks. Notice masses of hydrangea, oleander and bougainvillea. Listen to a free concert of Elton John and samba songs. Get a massage. Take a boat trip. Try to figure out what your new Scottish friends are saying.
After spending a week doing that I was impressed at just how civilized, how cultivated the resort is. Despite the crowds that line up at the gelato shops and fill the restaurants, the spacious parks and ruins are uncrowded.
Everything is so clean, so manicured, so perfect. Yet the sound of leaf blowers or street sweepers never intrudes on that of birdsong or lapping waves; all that sweeping, pruning, cutting, collecting and cleaning is apparently done without motors.
One mishap — my dog tore his dewclaw and was limping painfully — was handled expertly. A veterinarian came to my hotel within an hour, clipped off the dangling nail and gave me antibiotic gel. She charged 50 euros, apologetically explaining, “Because it’s Sunday.”
Decades ago, Sirmione was a more upscale resort like those on Lake Como, and there is a five-star hotel where British Prime Minister Theresa May was recently rumored to have decamped after she resigned as Conservative party leader. But it’s mostly three-star hotels, patronized primarily by working- and middle-class Italians, Germans and Brits, along with numerous day-trippers. As such, it brought to the mind of a harried restaurant manager the so-called “happiest place on earth.”
“It’s like Disneyland now,” he said.