Saorge was a stronghold of strategic significance defending the road between Nice and Turin via the Col de Tende mountain pass. Recollect Franciscan monks founded a monastery there in 1633, at the time of the Catholic Reformation. Today it overlooks the village and waterfalls of La Roya at the gateway to Mercantour.
The cloister and the refectory contain examples of exceptional painted decoration dating from the 17th and 18th centuries: frescoes depicting the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, allegories of the virtues, sundials and trompe-l’œil features. The church still has its original furniture and magnificent wood carvings. The building is a fine example of the balance between Baroque and sobriety typical of the Franciscan Order.
The harmonious surroundings are set off by huge terraced grounds featuring an orchard and kitchen garden, looking out on to wonderfully untouched mountains.
Occupied by Franciscans until 1988, today the monastery is a residence for writers.
Sirmione castle was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. The massive fortress is totally surrounded by water and has an inner porch which houses a Roman and Medieval lapidary. From the drawbridge, a staircase leads to the walkways above the walls, providing a marvellous view of the harbour that once sheltered the Scaliger fleet. The doors were fitted with a variety of locking systems, including a drawbridge for horses, carriages and pedestrians, a metal grate and, more recently, double hinged doors. Venice conquered Sirmione in 1405, immediately adopting provisions to render the fortress even more secure, fortifying its outer walls and widening the harbour.
Thanks to its strategical geographical location as a border outpost, Sirmione became a crucial defence and control garrison for the ruling nobles, retaining this function until the 16th century, when its role was taken up by Peschiera del Garda.