Cycling Destination: Lake Garda, Italy

Cycling Destination: Lake Garda, Italy

Lake Garda in northern Italy offers a wide range of cycling routes, from flat lakeside cycle-paths to extremely demanding high mountain passes.

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””] From 6th to 8th May Lake Garda organizes a cycling event Colnago Cycling Festival 2016 offering three different cycling challenges: a 77km ride with 940m of ascent, a 110km ride with 1,384m of ascent, and a most demanding 159km ride with 2,044m of ascent.  [/box]

Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy. The towns and villages around the lake are varied, and here you can find very peaceful retreats, lively events and havens for outdoor sports such as hiking, cycling and windsurfing—just choose what you like best.

Wherever you go on the lake, you’re always within sight of the mountains’ jagged, grey-edged tops peering down onto the placid calm of the water, creating a stirring contrast, which has inspired a number of artists and writers. For the cyclist, inspiration comes from tackling the numerous twisting roads that take you high above the lake on its western and eastern shores. Littered with hairpin bends, the roads are quiet and offer a sense of remoteness in spite of being so close to the popular tourist destinations below.

The hills above Lake Garda are heavens for cycling clubs from the surrounding areas. On weekends, the roads are crammed with numerous groups of club cyclists. It’s nice to observe the workings of an Italian cycling club ride. Even cyclists from the most amateur of village clubs dress head to toe in sleek team clothes slathered with sponsor’s logos. Groups of older riders maintain a sedate peloton, with legs moving together at a synchronized pace while younger riders speed through in chain-gangs, lean, tanned and race-ready. There’s of course an excess of fluoro, a bit too much white Lycra and a tendency towards brightly colored leg and arm-warmers.

monte baldo
Monte Baldo above Lake Garda’s western shoreline can be seen from nearly every lakeside vantage point.

Monte Baldo is located above Lake Garda’s western shoreline and can be seen from nearly every lakeside vantage point. Of all the roads and climbs close to the lake, this one draws the most riders to its slopes and offers the widest variety of terrain and scenery. One of the most difficult ways to attempt the climb is from Avio. Very steep with tightly stacked hairpins in the beginning, the road soon opens out into more pleasant gradients with broad panoramic views. It traverses the hillside, steadily heading upwards through beech forests and alpine meadows. The top part of the Passo di San Valentino opens up to fascinating panoramic views. It’s only 1,315m at the top but the long and varied climb can give you an impression of a much higher peak.

If you’re looking for a riding vacation offering more than just good cycling trips, the northern and eastern sections of Lake Garda are the places where you should. Torbole, Riva del Garda and Malcesine are well-liked riding destinations but also offer a variety of lakeside entertainment for après velo relaxation. This area is extremely popular with mountain bikers as well as road cyclists. There are several ‘bike hotels’ that are meant exclusively for bike riders, offering everything a cyclist could need, from mechanics’ workshop, secure bike storage, post-ride massage and delicious meals—here you can eat as much pasta as you can.

Located at the northern-most point, Riva del Garda is the largest town at the lake and as such offers a variety of attractions and accommodation. It’s the finish location of a number of bike events including the Bike Transalp mountain bike event and hosts a cycling festival every year in May. It’s the most popular with cycling holiday companies and bike hotels; here you will also find several bike hire options and a few other good bike shops.

Torbole has the youngest and sportiest scene of any of the towns with interesting night-time life.


Torbole, on the north-eastern shore, is a popular destination with windsurfers and mountain bikers; it has the youngest and sportiest scene of any of the towns with the most interesting night-time entertainment.

Malcesine is a well preserved small town situated right at the foot of Monte Baldo; off the bike, there’s a number of narrow streets opening out into secluded courtyards and piazza leading up to the base of Scaliger Castle. For a nice rest day, take the cycle path to the shore and enjoy a swim at the small bathing area beneath the castle.

An ambitious cycle-path project is under way, which will allow cyclists to ride between Sirmione at the very south of the lake to Riva del Garda in the north. Some parts of it are already in place with a large stretch running north and south of Malcesine. Nevertheless, finding a way through the foothills of Monte Baldo has yet to be created and the roads along the south shores are often very busy with fast traffic, especially at weekends when tourists come from nearby Brescia and Verona. The Italians love flashy cars and are keen on driving at racetrack speeds. Until the cycle-path is established, it’s best to avoid the lakeside roads; take a tip from the local cyclists and head for the hills.

One of the biggest pleasures after a long bike trip is complete impunity to decide what you want from a restaurant menu. The cuisine around Lake Garda has a lot to offer the hungry rider. Located on the border between three regions—Lombardy to the west, Veneto to the east and Trentino to the north—there’s great variety in the foods available. The alpine influence of Trentino means you can find hot, stodgy comfort food based on potato, ham and cheese alongside traditional pastas and lighter dishes based on the fresh fish from the lake.

Lake Garda has several vineyards along its shores, so don’t leave without trying a red wine from Bardolino on the east shore or Lugana, a fine wine from the south shore.

If you are planning a vacation at Lake Garda, you should first check a very informative tourist information website Here you’ll be able to find everything from restaurant recommendations, accommodation,interesting local events and even cycle routes and maps.

Passo Cavallino da Vobarno
With a steady gradient, Passo Cavallino da Vobarno is a test of endurance and climbing performance.

There are a couple of very popular Strava segments to check out in the area.

If you’re visiting the south-western part of the lake, the Passo Cavallino da Vobarno is a must-do climb.  A continuous steady gradient from Vobarno, it’s a test of your endurance as well as climbing performance. Even the KoM, former pro rider Marco Zanotti, spent more than 40 minutes to cover this 8.5-mile segment.

Further along the eastern part of the lake, in Brenzone del Garda, comes a much more challenging section. Named ‘The worst 4km in the world,’ this segment averages a slightly ridiculous 17% and from the start is steep and unrelenting. In the beginning, the tight hairpins follow one after another, but the most difficult part is the straight mid-section where the road hits a peak gradient of 25% with no hairpin corners to offer respite.

For the time triallists, there’s a treat at the northern part of the lake; this 9.3-mile stretch of shore edge road is pan-flat. The KoM, with a blistering 19-13, is Marco Pinotti, set in 2013.

The climb from Torri Del Benaco to Bivio has been completed by 2,670 riders; it’s a long, steady climb with an average gradient of 5% over 4.4 miles. The route takes you quickly away from the town and up a series of switchback bends to a height of 500m. It might not be the highest climb in the area, but it’s definitely a good test.

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Written by Sean Lewis

Sean Lewis has been a keen runner since early years and took part in several 5k, 10k, half-marathons and marathons. He met his wife six years ago during a 10k race and they still like to go for a good run together.


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