Fresco fragment from Il grotte di Catulle, Sirmione, Italy

We visited the ruins of the astonishingly large Roman villa in its spectacular setting at the tip of a peninsula at the southern end of Lake Garda. Because many of its stones were re-used to build later buildings, not many decorative artifacts have survived, but there are some very fine plaster fresco fragments on view in the museum at the site. This one is of the boats that must have been a frequent sight from the villa, as the lake was an important transportation artery toward the mountainous region to the north. I was touched to see that the one sculptural fragment recovered from the site was a head of a Dioscuri (Castor and/or Pollux), a god who protected mariners, and the subject of Schubert’s lovely song “Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren”.

The site is called Il grotte di Catulle because it is traditionally associated with the family of the Roman poet Catullus, who mentions visiting “Sirmio” in a poem. The large villa dates from a later time than the poet, but there is evidence that this structure replaced an earlier villa, so it is possible that Catullus did indeed view Lake Garda from this wonderful vantage point.

Information on the site is most plentiful in Italian, but the wiki entry includes some photos of the villa itself


Limonaia in Gargnano

This building, known as a limonaia, is an active relic of the technology used to grow lemon trees along the western shore of Lake Garda. Apparently the Franciscans began this work several centuries back, and it continued into the 19th century, when a variety of factors (depending upon which source you read) brought it to a close, leaving these prominent and distinctive structures to gradually deteriorate, or to be renovated and reused as houses (with lots of tall pillars in the gardens). An elaborate process of covering the front and sides of the structure with boards (and if necessary lighting fires inside) protected the citrus trees during cold spells in the winter. This industry supplied central Europe with citrus fruit for centuries. A more complete description is available at (this comes up in Italian, links to translate to German or English are at the upper left hand corner of the page.)


Fresco from the Sanctuary at Montecastello, Tignale, Italy

Yesterday’s 20 km walk from Sermerio to Gagnaro was a challenge for us, not least because the treads were coming off my boots and, despite mitigating efforts with the Trail First Aid Kit, I was feeling the blisters I had developed on the previous long hike. Part of the hike involved an hour-long “steep and vertiginous at times” climb of Monte Cas, high above Lake Garda. Since I can become very anxious on narrow ledges with long drops, I heeded their advice to shorten the walk by skipping that section, meeting up with Jim at the Sanctuary of Monte Castello (which I could reach by a shorter, steep hike through the woods on the side away from the lake). I spent a relaxing portion of an hour eating my lunch and exploring the sanctuary, which the tourist information says features frescoes from the School of Giotto (although nowhere in the signage at the sanctuary does it say this–perhaps because the lower part of the church is closed off and so only one of its frescoes may be seen from the gated entrance). This fresco, of the Virgin Mary being crowned by Jesus, occupies the prominent position behind the altar (and a wooden soasa, or pillared structure). The wall on which it is painted curves it at the top, so the photograph has a somewhat strange perspective at the top. I did not find this image in a quick search of Montecastello fresco images online, so I am posting it as the image for yesterday’s hike.