The majestic Roman villa of Desenzano and the Grotte di Catullo in Sirmione
Amazing Roman secluded retreats on Lake Garda
Lake Garda, with its beauty, mild climate and caressing breezes that offer cool relief from the summer heat, has always been the ideal place for leisure and the “buen retiro”– what the Romans referred to as vacation.
And indeed it was the Romans who built sublime and sumptuous villas here on Lake Garda.
Art and myths: the mosaics of Desenzano’s Roman villa
Hidden among the streets of Desenzano and just a few steps from our hotel, the Villa Romana enchants with its colorful and treasured mosaics.
What was once the inner courtyard, the banquet hall is the heart of the villa: it is here that you may encounter the god Bacchus celebrating and the wild beasts such as the panther that give an exotic feeling to the atmosphere.
Putti, young winged children, engaged in activities such as wine cultivation and dolphin riding, transport you into their enchanted and mythological world. Made with vivid colors and accurate precision, the beauty and mastery of the mosaics promise to captivate time and time again; you will be hard pressed to take your eyes off of these incredible floors.
A small garden with a fountain lets you imagine the serene and peaceful atmosphere among the flowers and the running water.
Walking further you will come across the baths; pools of hot and cold water: it was truly a villa with all the comforts.
If you look closely you can still admire the small columns that supported the floors and space for the under-floor heating; one can’t help but think that the builders were really ahead of their time.
Moving on you will find the agricultural area of the villa, replete with storerooms and millstones, and occasional glimpses of the surrounding lake. Just imagine how the villa must have once been: rich and sumptuous, embellished with statues, mosaics and frescoes, right next to the lake.
The Grottoes of Catullus in Sirmione: framing the lake
From a distance they look simply like caves. Long ago when the vegetation completely covered the ancient ruins, villa Catullus looked like nothing more than ravines for shepherds.
Now that they have been brought back to light, the halls, corridors and what remained of the porticoes that enriched this villa can be seen in all their grandeur.
Built right at the tip of Sirmione, in one of the most panoramic places of Lake Garda, from where you can admire the lake in its entirety, the villa was built on several floors and had an internal spa, with swimming pools and steam baths.
Framed by a long portico and at the formal living area of the family on the first floor, right at the tip of the peninsula, there was a large terrace with white curtains, ready to welcome guests who could land at the small port below. Walking through the arches, columns, the evocative Hall of Giants – so called for its size – or looking out through the windows overlooking the lake, it’s easy to imagine the ancient Romans who once enjoyed the lake between idle conversation and feasts.
In addition to the thermal baths, in the "cubicula"– the bedrooms – where it is said even Julius Caesar sojourned, not to be missed is the “Bifora del Paradiso”: a large arched window that frames Mount Baldo, the result of inspiration and an ability to appreciate the beauty of our lake even more than 2,000 years ago.