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Alpine Escape: Garda of honour in Trentino

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12 Sep 2018
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Words Mark Bailey Photography Joe McGorty

Viewed through the rich colours and shades of a relief map, Trentino is a Tolkienesque landscape of snow-coated peaks and green forests stitched together by the silver-blue threads of rivers and lakes.

Experienced on two wheels, this dramatic north Italian terrain becomes even more luxurious: the valleys are drenched in the scent of lemon groves and Mediterranean herbs; the rocky peaks are illuminated by dazzling mountain light; the landscapes enriched by the presence of crumbling castles, white churches, stone bridges and terraced vineyards.

Stretching from Riva del Garda at the northern tip of Lake Garda to the pale mountains of the Dolomites, Trentino is a mecca for road cyclists.

There is a huge variety of road cycling routes in this region alone, enabling riders to tackle some of the historic climbs of the Giro d’Italia, including the vicious 1,463m Monte Bondone.

But with the creation of over 430km of marked cycle paths, cyclists are now able to plunge even deeper into the region. This network is well mapped on the region’s tourism website, with suggested routes, drinking fountains, bike shops and panoramic viewpoints all highlighted.

There is even a range of 19 Bici Grills – cyclist-friendly restaurants which serve hearty Italian dishes and provide bike pumps and tools.

There are 11 major cycling paths in Trentino and today I am connecting two of them: the Lake Garda cycle track, which meanders east from Riva del Garda to Mori, and the Vallagarina cycle track, which travels north via Rovereto to the city of Trentino.

My journey begins in local style with a cappuccino by the shores of Lake Garda. I am accompanied by local cycling guide Giovanni Toldo, who reminds me that the Trentino region is the home of the great Italian cyclist Francesco Moser.

Known as ‘Lo Sceriffo’ (The Sheriff), Moser enjoyed 273 race wins, including three triumphs at Paris-Roubaix and 23 stages of the Giro d’Italia.

There are 297 lakes in Trentino but Lake Garda is one of the most beautiful, its inky surface sparkling in the morning sunshine.

Riva del Garda is a neat cluster of amber and ochre buildings overlooked by the ruins of the Bastion and the porcelain-white Santa Barbara Church above.

The scene is bathed in sunshine: Riva del Garda may be enshrined in mountains but it has a warm Mediterranean climate, and produces the most northerly olive oil in the world.

We ride past aromatic olive and lemon groves to the village of Nago, which sits on a rocky ledge on Monte Altissimo. The village is dominated by the ruins of the Penede Castle, which was first mentioned in historical documents in 1210.

The climb is short and steep but the journey offers spellbinding views, stretching across the red roofs of Riva del Garda to the glittering expanse of Lake Garda and its surrounding pine woods and cliffs.

Cyclists can enjoy a relaxed pedal along the bike path to Rovereto but we branch off at Loppio to enjoy a sweaty, swirling climb to the mountain towns of Val di Gresta, which involves a total ascent of around 500m.

We ride through a colourful mosaic of agricultural meadows, fir trees, vineyards, stone terraces and rock spurs. An elderly farmer, digging up vegetables in the fierce sunshine, nods as we pass his sun-toasted fields.

The terrain we are riding through is coated in vibrant shades of green. Over 60% of Trentino is forested and there are 1,000 trees for every person living in the region.

\As we ride higher, we see rocky pinnacles jutting into the sky – a reminder that the global climbing hub of Arco is located just outside Riva del Garda.

After savouring the views from the summit, we speed back down to the bike path and continue our journey to Rovereto. Here the cycle track hugs the turquoise slither of the River Adige and conveniently passes the local Zenzero ice cream shop.

After some ice-cold refreshment we continue into Rovereto’s town centre - a tightly-coiled maze of cobbled streets, arched bridges and ornate lanterns nestled beneath the rounded bastions of the Castello di Rovereto.

The castle was fortified in the 15th century but today its moats and walls harbour the Italian War History Museum. Rovereto is a busy town, but at the same time is small enough to feel welcoming for cyclists.

Views of mountains and rivers poke through the gaps between the buildings.

We fill our water bottles at a fountain in the town centre and continue through the Valle dell'Adige. We soon pass the spectacular 16th century Castel Beseno, which looks like a drawing from a child’s picture book, with its fantastical mix of towering walls, rounded turrets, dark gates and drawbridges, perched on a plump green hill.

Overlooking the Valle dell'Adige, this is the largest fortified complex in Trentino, which is dotted with around 200 other castles.

Dashing through the valley, past forests of spruce, beech, larch and fir, we are now mirroring in reverse the route of the time-trial on Stage 16 of this year’s Giro d’Italia from Trento to Rovereto won by Australian Rohan Dennis.

The pro cyclists followed a road route, but with the smooth, traffic-free bike paths it’s easy to glide along at high speed, without worrying about cars.

The bike path we’re following ends in the city of Trento, set in a wide glacial valley. The hub of the city is the buzzing Piazza Duomo, decorated with the Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral San Vigilio, the stone tower of the Palazzo Pretorio, and the 18th century Neptune Fountain.

But it is worth delaying your arrival in the city to visit the Bici Grill located just south of Trentino. Here you can enjoy fresh fish, venison, pasta or carne salada in the company of other cyclists, while soaking up the stunning mountain views from the shaded outdoor terrace.

There is no hurry: from Trentino it’s only a short distance to the South Tyrol and a whole new chapter of cycling adventures.

The route: On Trentino

Head for the pick of Trentino‘s 297 lakes 

To download this route, go to cyclist.co.uk/alpine4. This course is a combination of two cycle paths – the Lake Garda cycle track, which travels from Riva del Garda to Mori, and the Valle dell'Adige cycle track, that connects Bolzano/Bozen with Verona.

Although the route is short at 50-60km, there are lots of additional climbs and detours along the way to help you bulk up the distance and altitude, notably the twisting climb to Val di Gresta on the SP88 road from Loppio.

Detailed maps of both bike paths are available on the regional tourism website (visittrentino.info/en), complete with places to visit, distances and altitude gains.

How to get there

Travel

Verona is the nearest airport to Trentino. EasyJet and British Airways both fly from Gatwick to Verona and Ryanair flies there from Stansted. There are car rental services, shuttle buses and taxi services available to complete your journey.

You can also fly to Venice and Milan.

Where to stay

For our time in Trentino we were based at the Hotel Campagnola (hotelcampagnola.com) which has a wonderful outdoor pool looking out onto the mountains, a restaurant which serves local cuisine, and pretty gardens. The hotel also has a Jacuzzi, Turkish bath and Finnish sauna.

More info

All cycle paths are well mapped on the tourism website at trentino.com. For more information on the region see visittrentino.info/en.