Movie Tourism: The International – Sirmione, Italy – Lake Garda

The International starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts was released in 2009, but much of the content in the movie, the scandals and banking control and power, is familiar to us today. This is an exciting James Bond type of thriller, as it follows the fast moving travels of Owen, the Interpol agent, and Watts, an Assistant D.A. from Manhattan. Their investigation of international banking corruption begins in Germany, but moves to the Guggenheim in NYC, back to Turkey, and finally in Italy. They encounter assassins, terrorism, money laundering, arms trading, and underhanded financial schemes along the way.

The International was filmed in a number of locations, but this article will focus on Sirmione in northwestern Italy on the southern part of Lake Garda, the largest in the country. An area of amazing scenery, mild climate, and mountain breezes, Sirmione is known as a spa resort and a popular vacation destination. Famous for Catullus, the ancient Roman poet, it also became a favorite place for Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Tennyson, DH Lawrence, and Maria Callas. From pebble beaches, fir and pine trees to lovely gardens and lemon and olive groves, this scenic lakeside town is filled with tourists during the summer. People stroll through the historic center, visit the small shops, and enjoy pizza and gelato along the way.

Things to See & Do:

The Catullo spa complex in the Old Town features all types of therapies, massages, and treatments for skin disorders and various diseases. They also have a center for spa treatment of middle ear inflammation leading to deafness. Experience the Aquaria thermal bath for the ultimate in wellness, beauty, fitness, and health treatments. Open: Apr-Oct, 7am-6:30pm, daily except Sun.

Virgilio spa, located on the main road from Verona to Brescia (shuttle bus available from Sirmione to the spa.) In addition to the same treatments as Catullo, it offers a center for bronchopneumopathy Open: Mon-Sat, 7am-Noon, year round.

(Note: I couldn’t find any prices for the spas, but I’m sure there are several hotels which offer spa packages with their accommodations.)

Rocca Scalgera, Scaliger Castle – Built in the 13th century, this fortress is surrounded by water, making it a vital strategic location for defense and control of the lake. From the 14th to the 16th century, it served as an important military center, and some troops remained there until the 19th century. Climb150 steps to the walled walkways and the tower for a spectacular view. Admission – $5.

The most interesting attraction in Sirmione is the Grotte di Catullo, the ruins of Catullo’s private Roman villa. Dating back to the 1st century, this grand villa measured 344′ x 548′. Within the remaining structure, visitors can explore the Antiquarium, a museum of excavation and restoration photographs, sculptures, frescoes, bronze and ceramic artifacts, as well as an overall design of the villa. Admission: $5. Open: Apr-Oct, Tues-Sat, 8:30am-7pm, Sun, 8:30-6pm. Nov-Feb, Tues-Sat, 8:30-5pm, Sun, 8:30-1pm. Mar, Tues-Sat, 8:30-7pm, Sun-8:30-1:30pm.

More to Do:

Sailing, windsurfing, boat rides around the lake for about $40, or ferry service to explore other lakeshore towns. (Most hotels have schedules and prices.) There are three categories of seating, and most ferries are equipped with a bar and restaurant. You’ll pay another $3 for fast service to Desenzano. A trip to Riva takes three-four hours, $17 and $6 extra for faster service. For something different, take the paddle boat steamer to Desenzano for about $6.00. A mini train runs from the Aquaria at the Catullo Spa around town for a dollar or two.


Located on the lake not far from the Castle, the 4-star Hotel Eden offers 33 rooms with view of the lake or square, lounge and snack bars, restaurant, and private garage.

(Ezra Pound invited Joyce to visit him at the Eden in 1920.) Water sports, tennis, and golf nearby.

Rates: $100-$200/classic dbl room, $150-$263/dbl with lake view & private balconies.

Built in 1864, the Grand Hotel Gardone has kept the charm and appeal that attracted such famous people as Churchill, Sabin, Maugham, and Nabokov. Guests can choose from 167 rooms and junior suites featuring lake or mountain views and balconies. Enjoy food from the poolside snack bar, the Lemon Garden, or the Veranda restaurant, and have a cocktail at Winnie’s Piano Bar. The hotel also features a motorboat jetty, swimming pool, and sauna.

Rates (for 2): $271-$348, mountain view, $305-$382, lake view, suites $382-$462.

Ideal Hotel, located near the Grotto and the Castle, features 32 rooms, each with balconies overlooking the lake, private beach and outdoor pool, rooftop terrace, restaurant, and lounge bar. It’s only a 10-minute walk into town and shuttle service is available for a small surcharge.

Rates: $163/dbl


The elegant Ristorante Risorgimento on a main square in the Old Town is highly recommended for the variety of cuisine, Continental, Italian, and Mediterranean. Although it is somewhat expensive, with prices ranging from $60 to $200, it receives great reviews for the atmosphere, excellent service, and delicious food.

Il Girasole is considered one of the best in Sirmione for its friendly staff,

romantic atmosphere, and reasonably priced local cuisine. Dine indoors or outdoors on the partially covered terrace. Choose from a wide selection of food and beverages from the menu. Prices from $22 to $50, wine $3-$4. Open for lunch, dinner, and late night, March to end of October. Reservations.

For a memorable dining experience with family, friends, or business clients, visit the top-rated Ristorante Pace beside the lake. Food is served indoors, on the garden terrace, or on the boat dock. The extensive menu includes sushi and sashimi appetizers and entrees of beef, fish, and wild game. Prices: $32-$81 for a 7-course meal with wine.

Dine in the beauty and elegance of La Speranzina on the lakeside balcony or amid the olive trees and bougainvillea of the garden. Surrounded by the atmosphere and decor resembling the French Riviera, you’ll be impressed with the fast and efficient service from the courteous staff. The cuisine features delicious appetizers to tempting desserts. Try the foie gras and langoustine, choose from a la carte, or the entrees of lake, sea, and land specialties. Among the most expensive restaurants in Sirmione, be prepared to pay from $40. Before you leave, be sure and make a wish at the wishing well. The website states they are always open, but call first to make reservations.

Enjoy your vacation in Sirmione and relax in the dolce far niente (Italians call it the sweet idleness of life) at Lake Garda.

Getting there: Regularly scheduled flights from Venice or Milan; other airlines and charter flights can be arranged from closer airports such as Verona or Brescia. By train from Verona to Peschiera or Desenzano (every half hour, about 40 minutes.) A local bus or short taxi ride to Sirmione. Ferry service and hydrofoils to Sirmione and other lakeside towns are available from Desenzano. Easily done by car on the A4/E70 highway between Verona and Milan, only 26 miles from Verona, 85 from Milan.

Sharon L Slayton

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