I already had Italy cruises in mind when, upon switching on my computer this morning, the ever-present google ‘moogle’ informed me that today would have been opera legend Maria Callas’ 90th birthday. Born in 1923, Maria Callas was an American-born Greek soprano who became one of the most famous opera singers of the 20th century, thanks to her incredibly wide vocal range and critically-acclaimed technique. She was born in New York, though did most of her training in Greece, after which she enjoyed on of the most celebrated careers in opera history as well as enduring a fair share of her own personal dramas, too. She died of a heart attack on September 16, 1977, at the age of 53.
By now, you may well be asking what does Maria Callas have to do with Italy cruises and indeed, cruising in general. Well, aside from being home to one of Italy’s most celebrated opera houses, Venice is of course a busy cruise port and many Italy cruises and Mediterranean adventures include a stop there. Aside from exploring the many cultural delights of the city itself, you can choose from a large number of cruise excursions, one of which will take you to Italy’s largest body of water, Lake Garda. A popular holiday location for locals and tourists alike, it’s also the place where you’ll find one of Maria Callas’ former homes, the appropriately named Villa Callas.
These days, the distinctive yellow building which was the home of Maria Callas during some of the 1950s is an exhibition and conference venue, so the best way to see it on Italy cruises is by booking a boat trip on Lake Garda while on your excursion to Sirmione, one of the numerous towns which sits on the lake and surely one of the most beautiful.
As soon as you arrive in Sirmione, it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular and why so many people choose to take an excursion to it while on Italy cruises. Located on a narrow strip of land which extends into the southern waters of the 32-mile long lake, Sirmione has a long history. Settlement dates back to prehistoric times, though it really came to prominence during Roman times, when it was fortified to defend the southern part of the lake. Indeed, one of the key attractions you can see when you visit is the Grotte di Catullo, the remains of a private Roman building which dates back to that period of the town’s history.
Another popular attraction and one which you won’t fail to miss is the 13th century Scaliger Castle, which is satisfyingly intact and boasts a number of ramparts and towers. To reach the castle, you’ll have to walk through the old town, which is an attraction in itself, boasting winding streets and quaint shops and a good choice of restaurants. Italian ice cream is believed by many to be the best in the world and those on Italy cruises should always make it their business to sample some. Sirmione certainly boasts more than its fair share of ice-cream parlours and despite its tourist-centric nature, the prices are pretty reasonable. If you have time to explore the castle, be sure to scale the highest tower for an amazing view of the lake. That’s not to say it can’t be viewed from elsewhere, however, as there are a number of viewpoints and picnic spots which are just beautiful.
On a Lake Garda boat trip, you’ll have the opportunity to view the castle from the water too and pass under one of the stone bridges which allows pedestrian access to it. You’ll also get to see a number of other lakeside landmarks, including ancient fortifications and of course Villa Callas, which is especially charming when viewed from the water, it’s distinctive yellow walls clearly visible through the trees. One of the boat trip operators on the lake is a family-run business and members from three generations still operate the tours. Amazingly, the gentleman who was captaining the boat on my tour was the same age as Maria Callas would’ve been had she still been living today and indeed, he had his fair share of tales and photographs to share from the days when one of the world’s most legendary voices lived in his picturesque little town.
By Simon Brotherton