Biking Lake Garda
Lake Garda in northern Italy may be a bit out of the way for the long-weekend, but highly recommended if you are anywhere nearby. It’s not far from Milan or Verona, and lies in the southern end of the Dolomites. Ski areas like Val di Sole — home to MTB World Cup races — and Mt Baldo are nearby. It is also referred to as ‘the most southern of Germany’s lakes’ which is a bit of a German joke, given that it is in Italy. While we were there, the place was flooded with Germans taking a long weekend. Italian, German and English are common.
Day 1 – Riva del Garda
A happy misunderstanding led to us hiring ebikes from Riva del Garda at the northern end of the lake. There are plenty of ebike hire places in town. We ended up with a couple of Focus Shimano E8000 equipped bikes. Both hardtails, mine was an XL and Meg’s was a 26″ junior bike, such was the demand that they were the last bikes available. One of Focus’ special features came into play on mine – the primary battery was dead but a bottle-cage mounted range extender battery sent me on my way.
Our route took us up a road heading south. The new vehicle road is a tunnel just above lake level, so the old road surface has been ripped up and repurposed for walkers and riders. It clings to the side of the mountain and moderate grades take you up, through tunnels and some spectacular scenery. Towards the top is a bar and restaurant, rewarding the rider with a beer, Aperol Spritz and toilet break. It would be rude not to. From here there are a few options: either continue south for a while or head up and over to Lake Ledro. We chose the latter which was really beautiful, winding through villages and around another smaller lake.
You return the same way, so that means another Aperol Spritz. It’s a tough life, the things we do for our art…
What I found remarkable was the ratio of ebikes to regular bikes (80:20), and the mix of brands. Lots of Focus, Cube, KTM, Bottecchia, Corratec, Scott and Giant. Not many Specialized like we find in NZ. This might have been a result of what the rental fleets had.
Day 2 – Mt Baldo
From Malcesine (pronounced mal-ches-anay) we took our rented bikes up the cableway. The ‘Funivia’ takes you from around 90m altitude up to 1800m. It’s essential to book for bikes (book your ebike separately) and the last uplift is 9:15am. Oddly, it is also possible to drive up so shuttles operate from Riva and Torbole. But I reckon I’d rather zap straight up in a cable car than drive in a shuttle.
Let’s just agree that the view from the top is spectacular. Before setting off on our route, we rode to a view spot towards the lake which was really worthwhile.
Our route was the popular “Red” tour which is 38km to Torbole. There is also a “Violet” route (a bit longer) and a more difficult and fairly direct “Freeride” route.
The first slopes were down a ski slope and then down the ski road. After this is the one-and-only significant uphill which was a bit of a slog on my MTB. Meg’s Giant eMTB sailed up of course… From the saddle we had a rutty bumpy downhill through summer grazing.
The Red course is generally well marked, but at times I was glad that I had loaded the course into Google Maps. Especially when it descended down some fairly significant stairs in a forested section, which didn’t match with my expectation of ‘easy’. Not to worry, you can walk the bike down.
The course is very varied, taking is magnificent views on the eastern slopes, through villages, grazing, olive groves and vineyards. When you finally get down to ‘civilisation’ about 3.5-4h later, it is a bit ho-hum but enjoyable nonetheless. The final run into Torbole was also a bit of a surprise, going from bike trail straight onto a busy road (but the downhill was fun!). We caught the ferry from Torbole back to Malcesine which added yet another scenic dimension to the tour. This is a much better option than riding back along the main road.