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MTB Travel Guide: Lake Garda, Italy

18:15 12th June 2013 by Marcus Dyson
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Place: Lago di Garga/Lake Garda
Country: Italy
Number of trails: 10+
Predominant riding style: All-mountain/trail

Lago di Garda, or Lake Garda, is the largest lake in Italy, and it makes WIndermere look like a garden pond. There is bike riding all around the lake, but it is at its best at the mountainous north end around the villages of Torbole and Riva. Indeed these villages are so bike-oriented that there is an MTB festival every May in Riva.

The area around Garda is stupendously spectacular, one of the major draws for throngs of German tourists at all time of year.

The area around Garda is stupendously spectacular, one of the major draws for throngs of German tourists at all time of year.

The place

Garda is something of a hidden gem – at least for Brits. The place is rammed with Germans and Italians, but English is rarely heard in the bars or on the trails. The resort is unusual in that it does not have traditional uplift – no ski lifts. Instead a host of shuttle bus companies vie for business in the Torbole town centre car park. The biggest and arguably best (most able to get you where you want to go when you want to go there) of these is Luca Bike Shuttle Torbole, run by the rambunctious and ever smiling Luca and his wife Tiziana. The shuttles do not follow a set schedule, but instead go to a range of mountain-top destinations each day. Luca constantly on the phone to various guides chatting about where their riders want to go today. It’s slightly academic, because whichever hilltop you end up on, you’re almost guaranteed a whale of a time on the way down.

During the weekend of the Garda Bike Festival it seems as if everyone in RIva/Torbole is all about the bikes. But as soon as the show is over the two villages return to their somewhat sleepier demeanour. There is still plenty to do, Winds bar in Torbole is swinging every night of the week, and Riva has several bars and clubs. Torbole has a good range of surf/skate shops too and if you need any bike gear Carpentari or Mecki’s will probably be able to help.

The riding

Trail finding can be something of a challenge. There are hundreds of miles of marked trails and even more unmarked stuff. Garda was on the front line in World War one, and the mountains are riddled with military trails, access roads and tunnels. This network provides the basis for some of the most interesting and exciting mountain biking you’ll ever encounter. It has been extensively built on by the trail building work of an active band of local enthusiasts.

The descending around Garda is not all that easy...

Be warned that the descending around Garda is not all that easy…

Many of the tracks are known by different names to different people, what is “Anaconda” to some is known as “The Snake” to others. I struggled to find a definitive site with them mapped or with gps traces for download. Fret not though, guides are plentiful and choosing the right one, who will tailor the day to your riding preferences and abilities will make all the difference to your enjoyment.

The Garda Valley is a glacial valley, and because of how the rock strata lie and how they were cleaved by the passage of the glacier, one side of the valley (the right, as you look north, up the lake from Torbole) is more loamy single-track, with the odd rocky and rooty technical section. Here you’ll find descents such as Tramalzo, which begins with a short sharp climb to a tunnel, and then a long descent on a sweeping rocky track. Watch out for riders and walkers coming up!

The left side of the valley is rockier, and here are more technical descents such as Bocca di Navene and the Coast Trail, which at one point takes you diagonally across a rocky slab. It’s a steep technical section made much more challenging with a very exposed drop to the left. If you go down, there’s nothing much to stop you. In the dry, most decent riders will get down clean. In the wet – rather you than me!

Between Riva and Torbole there is a smaller hill – Monte Brione. Like much of the area, its slopes are bedecked with vineyards and olive groves and cycling is theoretically prohibited. But it is laced with trails, including a former downhill run along its ridge. Beware though; this run was closed due to the 400m vertical drop off to the left…

About the author’s trip to Garda

I timed my visit to coincide with the Sympatex Bike Festival. All of the top bike manufacturers were there in force, and there was a wide range of smaller component stands too. Danny McAskill was even there putting on some pretty impressive sideshow entertainment. And while I wouldn’t suggest you travel all the way just for the show, it makes an entertaining distraction from the riding.

Technical trails are abundant around Garda, as are rocks. Make sure you take a suitable bike.

Technical trails are abundant around Garda, as are rocks. Make sure you take a suitable bike.

I normally travel with my bike, but decided not to this time in order to take advantage of super cheap RyanAir return flights from Milan Bergamo airport which is just 100km from Torbole. Flights are also available to Verona which is even nearerI rented a bike in resort from a good selection of Cube and Scott bikes. But be aware, most of the best trails have some very technical sections, so longer travel bikes are better suited to the terrain. The slopes are extremely steep too and you’ll find yourself braking hard, for long periods. So make sure you have a machine with modern and effective brakes, I found my hands were getting tired and cramping on the Cube AMS120 29er that had Magura MTC brakes! After a couple of days I switched to the Cube Stereo 650B bike, and I faired much better with the Formula The One brakes it sported. With 160mm of travel, the Stereo was an ideal (but expensive) bike for this resort. The standard steed was the Cube AMS 150, which handled the terrain well. Garda being in Italy, the food is excellent, and regardless of your performance on the hill you can congratulate/commiserate afterwards with some truly great ice cream.

Not a bad way to end a bike ride.

Not a bad way to end a bike ride.

The British MTB scene seems to have overlooked Garda, and it’s a shame, because the region offers world class riding, beautiful scenery, a good social scene and great food. All of this is affordably priced and just a couple of hours from UK airports.

There’s something of a chicken and egg situation though. Few UK providers do bike specific packages to Garda, and because few UK riders have experienced the area, there’s little demand for them to do so. Our group was organised by Michael Cycle, a well known character in the northern UK MTB scene, and a member of the Bogtrotters group who ride out of Lancaster. Michael lived in Italy for 6 years and now spends three or four months per year in Garda, where he helps out on Luca’s shuttles, and then guides whoever wants to tag along down the mountain. He’s a useful contact to have because he seems to know everyone in Torbole and Riva, regardless of whether they are locals or visitors.

CycleActive and Saddle Skedaddle also both offer trips to Garda, although their basic landed cost for a week (you arrange your own transport) is more than I spent in total for nine days including bike hire, flights, food and drink and uplifts. It’s worth considering the options.

I found a few websites that claim that Garda has been voted the “Best Destination in the World for MTB” They don’t say when, or by whom… but it’s a believable accolade. The guys I was riding with are frequent visitors to Les Arcs and Morzine… but after visiting Garda, say they won’t be bothering with those resorts in future. I’m already booked to visit Crested Butte, Fruita and Moab later this year, but there’s a part of me that wished I’d saved money, and spared myself jet-lag and just gone to Garda. My week in Garda was simply the greatest seven days I’ve ever spent on a bike.

How to get there

RyanAir flies to Milan Bergamo, which is just 100km from Torbole. Alternatively fly to Verona.

More information

http://www.rebbens.info - Michael Cycle
http://www.skedaddle.co.uk
http://cycleactive.com

  1. Gary Stamper

    Just recently returned from Lake Garda with Michael Cycle and had a really great time.
    I would recommend body armour and a full face helmet for this terrain as it is very rocky. Michael is an excellent guide and really looks after you both on and off the trails. He knows all the best kept secrets in Garda, trails, bars & restaurants and I shall be returning very soon.

  2. Martin Abbott

    Recently returned from a week in Garda with Michael and have to say it was awesome. The sun was shining (most of the time) and the trails are the best I have ridden, technically very challenging with lots of surprises to keep you on the edge of your seat. We did two uplifts pretty much each day and Michael really looked after us and organised all the riding so we had nothing to think about other than to enjoy ourselves.

  3. Adamn

    I have read some articles about what you write from http://attractions.bz, there is just some official information,and looking more info about this all the time.. yours is more attractive, i like your picture, and i am preparing to go there now!!!thank you for your sharing

  4. Razvi - Active Holidays

    Marcus, have you ever been to Romania for a mtb trip? It’s more “untouched” than Garda, for sure. If you’re interested contact me anytime at info@activeholidays.ro

  5. Gareth Alldred

    Lake Garda is a brilliant, some of the best trails i have ever ridden. Having Michael as a guide we got some amazing trails, ones that are only known to the locals. Do your self a favor and get some time booked out there whenever you can!

  6. Motivated

    Beware of bike thieves. I was just in Garda and my bike was stolen in the town of Torbole!
    The riding is awesome, the views are awesome and if the weather complies, can make for magical time. Agree – the trails can be very technical. I’m a good descender and occasionally rode over my head here – these trails are not “prepared” for bikes, but in the end felt that I extended my skills.

  7. Michsel Fischer

    I am biking at Lage Garda now since a couple of years. Last year I met Michael and all I knew before about Garda turns into another light. I never had so much fun before. Michael knows the really good trails. He brings you to the best Restaurants at night also. Next year holidays are already booked!

  8. Michael Cycle

    Bike theft can be an issue anywhere but also at Garda as there are a lot of bikes there and usually expensive ones. It’s simply a matter of taking precaution. Keep your bike in sight and close by when not locked. It is so easy to get distracted there. Don’t use cable locks, they can be cut in one second. Don’t leave the bike in a car or van. I had a bike stolen 2 years ago. It was my fault and easy to avoid. It was locked up but left outside in the rain. I take more care now :)

    1. Emma Clarke

      We have just returned from Garda, we met Michael by chance at Luca’s shuttle shop. We rode with Michael for a day and we had a great time, he was a fantastic guide and we can highly recommend you look him up if your planning a trip. We hope to keep in touch and ride Garda again and again!

  9. Falco Hollmann

    Hey guys, we had some amazing days out on the trails of Garda with Michael, thanks for the guiding my friend, hope to see or hear from you soon! Sunny regards from munich :)

  10. Miich Brecht

    I had an amazing time at Garda. Perfect holy and secret trails – unexpected and sooo good.
    Michael guided us the hole time – and this was great and special – thanks for that dude!
    hope to hear and see you soon! greez from beer land!

  11. Peter@traildiaries

    10 years of really good biking and windsurfing on lake garda. This year another special: Michael Cycle and his perfect guidance, perfect party and unforgettable company.
    Thanks for this experiance!
    See U next time

  12. A. Berres

    I just came back from a wonderful trip down at lake Garda. It was the second time for me joining the trails with Michael. He took me to the most perfect ones down there and i enjoyed it every minute. Thanks for guiding us and helping us with all the things. Hope to see you soon again. It was a gorgeous trip! Greetings
    Annette

  13. Emma

    Not far from perfection… Went to Lake Garda for the first time in May this year and completely fell in love with the scenery, the trails and the lifestyle! Michael can’t do enough to ensure that everyone is beaming from ear to ear, whether that be from hurtling down some incredible trail and conquering it… or taking in some of the local delights (ice cream parlour being a personal favourite!). Undoubtedly, the years spent there has made him a lot of friends who don’t mind passing on their kindness, which means to us tourists we get a great service… Luca’s Shuttles and Carpentari Bike Shop to name just a couple!

    There are more challenging trails than I could ever imagine and with the benefit of local knowledge, far too many options to ever get bored… I am already planning my return visit next year and I can’t wait!!

  14. Chris Kümmel

    You are looking for a guide on Lake Garda?
    so call to Michael Cycle.

    Super guide (y)
    It was a great week with him in Torbole
    Thank you for the wonderful tours with nice friends

  15. Joz@Zimbros

    I went to Lake Garda for the first time ever and did not really know what to expect. I was really hoping for all the rumors about the area to be true and the fact, that i was going to stay and ride with some Garda veterans was reassuring.
    They had already booked a shuttle ride for our first morning with Luca Bikeshuttle basically your first address for shuttle assisted riding in the area. 20 Euros and 40 minutes later we arrived at the Tremalzo area. Eventually we met Michael Cycle, who made us the offer of taking us around the area and showing us trails that even my friends were not familiar with. Remote trails, a little bit off the main routes paired with detailed and surpreme riding instructions by Michael Cycle made us ride like locals in unknown terrain. The day was finished right at the beach with ice cream and nice cold beers. While reflecting the day, we already had plans for the upcoming days and Michaels input and knowledge did add up to the overall experience.
    To be honest, I was a bit skeptical at first about the idea of guided riding. There were days in the past when overly careful guides were just as annoying as overly cocky guides who were seemingly practicing hard for their first attendance at a worldcup. Not so with Michael. He quickly adapted to the overall speed of the group, filling in stops when the group needed it and let it roll, when everyone was screaming and jelling in joy!
    Needles to say that my trip to the area was better than ever imagined.
    I can honestly recommend everyone who wants to come and visit the area to drop Michael Cycle a message on Facebook regarding trails, food and accommodation and to stop by at Luca Bikeshuttle in the centre of Torbole. This combination of local knowledge and superb guiding will make you tell your friends of that trip even years later!

  16. Henning

    I can just repeat what you can read above:
    Lake Gerda is a perfect bike spot and Michael makes it even better!!!

  17. Andrew Gavriluk

    So far a relatively unknown biking location in the UK. So don’t tell anyone else.

  18. Eymard Brennan

    I have been guided around by Michael best day on a MTB ever great trails great guide and I hope to return soon.

  19. steve morgs

    Have just had a fantastic weeks riding on the trails above Garda – the best and toughest riding ever. Michael Cycle’s advice with the trails proved invaluable. Also recommend staying at Al Rustico – which offers spacious and relaxed accommodation as well as great views over vineyards – perfect with a cold beer after a days riding.

  20. Travel Buddy

    Such a wonderful view, although I kinda have a fear of going near lakes, I think I wanna try and visit this place.

  21. Ian Scarborough

    This year was the second that I’ve been out to Garda with Michael. I don’t suppose it’ll be the last either.

    The area has some absolutely fantastic trails and Michael Cycle has over the years built-up a comprehensive knowledge of the trail network and a close working relationship with some useful MTB contacts in the local area. Luca’s state-of-the-art Bikeshuttle service deserves a mention for one.

    Big mountains, great trails, knowledgeable guiding, Italian food, German beer, perfect combination!

  22. Ben Shiel

    My experience of Lake Garda last year was so much better than what I expected from it, upon arriving in Torbole I was greeted by the most amazing landscapes I have seen in my life, the lake itself is beautiful, but the mountains surrounding the lake makes makes for something quite awe inspiring.

    On the first morning me and my friend who had never been mountain biking before got the uplift to the top of Tremalzo with Michael Cycle, there was a short climb(I admit after a summer of festivals and travelling to Amsterdam/Czech I wasn’t in the best of shape so I struggled towards the end) But after this climb it is a long winding descent looking over the beautiful landscapes that I mentioned before, there was nothing technical in the beginning of the ride, allowing amateur riders to get to grips with their bikes and get everything warmed up, my friend thoroughly enjoyed Tremalzo which towards the end also has some moderately technical parts and allows riders to split off to do sections with varying difficulty and meet up at the same place, the ride was extremely satisfying and we were in high spirits for the evening where we enjoyed traditional italian pizzas with other riders from the group that Michael was guiding and had a few beers to relax after a hard days ride and be ready for the next days ride, the coast trail.

    I went back to Garda again this year and ended up staying for a longer amount of time, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave, the Garda atmosphere is the most friendly place I have experienced and definitely sucks you in, I was taken down some new trails this year like the Navene and Santa Barbara trails which were guided by the same person that made me feel so accommodated in the previous trip, without Michael I know that I wouldn’t have been able to stay as long, once introduced by him to the locals they treated me like an old friend and every night there was an opportunity to go to the bar for a drink with members of the community or other riders from the day.

    I have been telling stories to all of my friends since my return from Garda this year and already have people jumping at the opportunity to come with me when I return, not only for the mountain biking but also for the fine atmosphere and adventure that Garda provides.

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