Lago di Garda, or Lake Garda, is the largest lake in Italy, and it makes WIndermere look like a garden pond.
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 for an affordable price and just a couple of hours from UK airports. The resort is unusual in that it does not have traditional uplift – no ski lifts. Instead a host of shuttle bus companies competing 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. It’s slightly academic, because whichever hilltop you end up on, you’re almost guaranteed a whale of a time on the way down.
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.
Many of the tracks are known by different names to different people, what is “Anaconda” to some is known as “The Snake” to others. You will struggle to find a definitive site with them mapped on 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. But be aware, most of the best trails have some very technical sections, so longer travel bikes are better suited to the terrain. If you end up going mountain biking in Lake Garda, the slopes are extremely steep too and you’ll find yourself braking hard, for long periods!
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