Rather than moving around too much, we decided to use Verona as a base for two day trips – one to Lake Garda and one to Modena. Garda is Italy’s largest lake and seems to have a lot to offer by way of great towns and activities, though it often plays second fiddle to the better-known Como. To reach the southern end of Lake Garda it was an easy 40 minute train to Desenzano. It had a nice feel as soon as we started walking in the direction of the lake – nice tree-lined, clean streets and tidy houses.
With a little more time we would have had more of a look around Desenzano. We hadn’t found much info about it, but it turned out to have a great atmosphere and there looked to be some nice restaurants and shops. The lake setting sucked me in straight away – with the small harbour of boats, a little light house and the water stretching off in the distance, I was at home once again. Wanting to get out there, we jumped straight onto a ferry heading to Sirmione. The ferry system on the lake was great – a mix of fast and slow boats heading to all of the towns regularly throughout the day.
Sirmione was humming with activity, but if you looked past the hoards of day-trippers it was really very cool. There was a maze of little lanes, copious gelato shops, an awesome water-bound castle, and plenty of little nooks down to the lake edge. After sharing a quick pizza, we started wandering.
Alex had read about the Grotto of Catullo located on the tip of the Sirmione peninsula. Knowing nothing about it I duly followed him, and discovered once we arrived that it was the ancient Roman ruins of a palatial villa from the end of first century BC – start of first century AD. It wasn’t known who lived there (just that they were rich – go figure), and it is the largest in northern Italy. As with most of these sites, it had been pillaged for materials and worn down over the years, but a fair amount of it was still standing. I have no idea why anyone who didn’t have at least four families under one roof would need something so big, but apparently someone did. A lot of it was grand hallway and pools of different temperatures, but I suspect the best thing about it has always been its view.
The site was surrounded by acres of olive grove, and had 180 degree views of Lake Garda. Adding to this, on the day we were there the sky was blue, the temperature was perfect and the distance between grotto visitors made it feel as if no one was there. We spent far more time just lazily strolling the paths and soaking in the atmospheric goodness than reading the info signs, and we soon decided it was one of the prettiest places we’d been.
There were some great arches and ruin structures at end of the peninsula, and after some photos we parked up for a bit on a stone bench looking over the lake to enjoy the sunshine. A few people were swimming off the rocks below, but unfortunately the property was well-fenced so we couldn’t get down to get our feet wet.
We’d probably been there for about half an hour without a soul around, when one Alex Mamo wandered towards me where I sat and started to get down on one knee in front of me. I’m not going to lie, I actually thought mid-bend that he was going to stand up again and laugh, and how mean that would be. You may think after ‘all this time’ that I would be expecting a proposal – especially in such a spot – but I was so absorbed in the place and just enjoying the day that it took me completely by surprise. So much so, that when he stayed on his knee and said “Emmy, will you marry me?”, I gracefully replied with “are you serious?” (x5). He later admitted that some sort of pre-question speech may have made me more certain of his seriousness, but his spontaneity (he had no plans of doing it there or on that day) hadn’t allowed him to gather himself for more than just the most important question. I of course eventually found the correct response which was “yes.”
We finally left the grotto with big smiles on our faces when we thought we might get locked in at closing time. It was a great day made especially memorable, and it was hard not to start talking about it all (as we celebrated with giant gelato).