Lake Garda - it's a cyclist's paradise
We think so! It seems not many road cyclists know of Italy’s largest lake - Lago di Garda, 158km that lies across the borders of the regions of Trentino, Veneto and Lombardia. We are based at the north of the lake in Arco (in the region of Trentino), at the foot of the Brenta Dolomites, a ten minutes bike ride from the lake shore to the picturesque and vibrant towns of Torbole and Riva del Garda. Here there are so many roads waiting to be discovered.
The local cyclists, including a few riders from professional teams, are super friendly, ‘Ciao! Buongiorno, Buon di...are just some of the Italian phrases for hello or good morning. You will be surprised at the number of people on bikes - just as a means of getting about - whether it’s tourists riding down the bike paths to visit places like Arco Castle or locals on their way to the shops or a cafe.
Giro d’Italia fever
Two stages of the race were starting in the Lake Garda area. Stage 16, an individual time trial from Trento to Rovereto and Stage 17, starting at the lake shore in Riva del Garda and finishing in Iseo (Franciacorta).
The Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) was on the back of the British professional, Simon Yates who had been climbing strongly since the race began. Yates is from Bury, Lancashire not far from our home town of Macclesfield... it was going to be quite exciting! Having lit up the race on the hilly stages, but with Tom Dumoulin still breathing down his neck, it was going to be quite cool seeing the Michelton-Scott team leader in pink as well as the rest of the peloton, including Brits - Chris Froome (Team Sky), Alex Dowsett ( Team Katusha) and Hugh Carthy (Cannondale-EducationFirst). I think we all know what happened in the final week of the Giro, unfortunately it didn’t go Simon Yates’ way!
What’s so fantastic about the cycling at Lake Garda?
You will take in the long climbs with switchback after switchback over mountain passes; the twisting valley roads alongside rivers and lakes, through small towns and past imposing castles; discover hidden paths through vineyards - where there's always a cheery wave from the local farmers looking after their vines. In fact, only last week when I was caught in a thunderstorm a farmer on his tractor waved me into the farm to offer me some shelter from the rain. We had an interesting chat about British politics in Italian!
If you need to refuel or get a caffeine hit there are lots of opportunities to stop at cafes on our rides, all with great coffee, delicious Italian food, local wine, fresh bread - focaccia, brioche and pizza. Amazingly it’s all cheaper than the UK: 1 Euro for espresso, 6 Euro’s for a pizza!
We’ve been coming to this region for many years now, having tried the usual cycling destinations around Europe. We think this part of Italy is superb, the great cycling culture, the quality of life, the roads and the dramatic scenery - it is also relatively undiscovered, from a road cycling perspective, certainly by cyclists from the UK. If you are looking for a unique cycling experience, this is definitely the place to come.
Above Lake Garda
Setting off from Arco where we live, heading towards the lakeside town of Riva del Garda. The route passes Lago di Tenno - Passo Ballino - Fiave - Passo Duron - Stenico - Ponte Arche - Sarche - Lago di Cavedine. Rolling along the undulating roads out of Arco towards Riva del Garda you begin to climb steadily towards Tenno, a small village with a dramatic looking castle overlooking Lake Garda, then up through the villages of Ville del Monte and Canale (famous for its medieval village). After passing the turquoise blue waters of Lake Tenno, the road heads up towards Passo Ballino through the small village of Ballino and on to Fiave. From here you can see the 3000 metre high peaks of the Brenta Dolomites in the distance with a few patches of snow still lingering.
Further on, the signs for Passo Duron appear as the road gets steeper and winds its way up through the trees. After about 6km it flattens out passing Rifugio Duron at 1000m and then it's a steep, twisty 8km descent down to the village of Zuclo, where you have the Gruppo Brenta on one side and the even higher peaks of the Gruppo Adamello on the other. You can refill your bottle with cold mountain water from a fountain next to a stone bear - there are brown bears in this area, although you are unlikely to come across them, unless you venture deep into the woods.
Crossing the main valley road, you climb gently, passing through a couple of small villages, traversing beneath overhanging rocks and through a few small tunnels eventually arriving up to the village of Stenico. Before the village you pass the most spectacular waterfall, you can feel the rush of cold air from the icy mountain water as you ride past. On a hot day this is such a welcome relief!
Onwards and up to the village of Sclemo, the climbing is over and you earn a fabulous descent to the town of Ponte Arche, crossing the iron bridge you look down into the spectacular gorge carved out by the river Sarca, soon you are riding on a bike path which clings to the side of this gorge with amazing views.
As you leave the gorge and descend the hairpins to the town of Sarche the views open up to reveal Monte Bondone, Lago di Toblino and Castel Toblino.
A few moments later you’re riding through the lush vineyards and orchards of Val di Sarca (or Valle dei Laghi - Valley of the lakes) with a chance to stop off at a vineyard or cafe on the way back to Lake Garda.
Strava stats: distance 85km; elevation 1,200m