It is indeed a very good place to go. The main centre for mountain biking is at the north of the lake, around Riva del Garda. On Andreas’s recommendation (and also because we found a convenient house to rent there) we also spent a week on the east, near Torri del Benaco.
Riva is well laid out for cyclists, with cycle routes along all the main roads and embarrassingly courteous motorists. Every third shop is a bike shop, mostly specialising in e-bike hire. There are numerous bike shuttle services. There is a strong German-speaking presence.
The north of Lake Garda around Riva is the classic mountain biking area, with a fame which owes a lot to one spectacular route – the Tremalzo military road – and its variants. The terrain here is rather rubbly, and the mountain biking sometimes feels more like scree running. Most rides comprise a long tarmac climb of one or two thousand metres followed by an equal descent.
The terrain is more consolidated on the east, and this makes the technical aspects more interesting to softies like us. Some rides offer an alternation of climbs and descents while others put all the climbing at the beginning. None are as spectacular as the best routes in the north.
We got by perfectly well without a car. We flew to Verona and travelled on to Mori (not far from Riva) by train; a good cycle path by the roadside took us to Riva where we stayed in the Villa de' Lutti gatehouse.
For our onward journey we travelled by bus to Torri (some services have special bike trailers) and stayed at the Casa Doria. Our return used the continuation of the same bus service as far as Peschiera, from where we cycled along tracks and minor roads to the airport (GPS track). We had a good lunch at the restaurant Dal Corso Stefano at Caselle near the airport before flying home.
Sources of information
Andreas’s book is ‘Lake Garda Bikeguide 1’ (2010), which can be bought in an English translation by Katie Stephens. The successor volumes 2 & 3 exist only in German. The map we bought before travelling was Kompass map 102.
The Garda tourist board have a website which complements their map. It gives information and GPS tracks for many of the numbered routes. Most of the route descriptions are by Valentina Bellotti, and some but not all have been translated into English. We found it somewhat alarmist in describing routes as closed when they were actually open.
Another source of maps is the Italian cartographer 4Land, whose maps are of good quality and show a rather limited selection of mountain bike routes colour-coded by difficulty.
The Italian website MTB mag hosts a large number of user-submitted GPS tracks concentrated on north and central Italy.
Versante Sud have a guide to northern Lake Garda in English. We saw several other mountain biking guides in the bookshops, some in German and others in Italian, but none tempted us to make a purchase.
Rides from Riva
At Lago d’Ampola you join a quiet road which heads up through Tremalzo village and ends at the Rifugio di Garda. There are adequate water fountains along the way. The Rifugio is a good lunch stop. From here it is gravel up to the Bocca di Val Marza/Passo di Tremalzo, where a tunnel takes you to the other side of the ridge and you begin the long spectacular descent.
At the Passo Guil you leave the old military road to follow a footpath. There are some entertaining moderate technical stretches. Eventually you rejoin the Ponale road and drop down to Riva for a celebratory gelato.
Bocca dei Fortini. A variant. You leave the previous climb at Molina di Ledro, following a narrow and scenic forest road (no water) to rejoin the Tremalzo descent at the Bocca dei Fortini. This cuts off a significant chunk of the ascent and misses the spectacular sections of old road, but retains the enjoyable footpath stretches.
This time we took Andreas’s ‘S2’ (difficult) DVD alternative on the descent. It was rubble from start to finish. We rode some of it gingerly and pushed the rest while 14-year-old laddies shot past us. If this is mountain biking, they can keep it.
You reach the lakeside road at Navene where there is a choice of places to eat. The return to Riva is disagreeable, with a sequence of tunnels and a fair amount of traffic.
Dos Remit. This was the first ride we undertook from Riva. It begins with a killer climb of the sort we were not yet habituated to, then a forest traverse, and finally a pleasant descent along various paths. There are a few short and enjoyable technical stretches (moderate), but we weren’t sure it repaid the initial effort.
Tracey took an unlucky fall near the end, and we spent much of the afternoon getting lost on the return to Riva, and then finding a first aid post at Arco to stitch her up.
Monte Velo. Andreas’s Tour 407. As usual it starts with a long climb, this time taking us to the village of Santa Barbara which has a water fountain but whose hotel was shut. Turn back from the village to follow a forest track. At first the surface is good, but as soon as Colin commented on the fact it turned to rubble.
Monte Brione. Garda-Trentino’s route 770; a pleasant brief excursion. Early on in the descent there is a short sequence of very difficult rocky obstacles (Valentina says S3): you can either accept the challenge or push round them – it’s a nice ride either way.
Rides from Torri
You emerge near the grand Palazzo Pellegrini Cipolla (now a convention centre) at Castion Veronese. We followed a stretch of doubletrack which became steep and rubbly at the end (we don’t recommend it) taking us to the start of the Albisano short cut (see below). Albisano itself is attractively situated and has a gelateria and a water fountain. The next path was a nightmare of fallen trees as far as Monte Luppia. The route now becomes harder and rubblier than we like (Andreas says S3) but affords good views of Punta San Vigilio. Then easy back to Torri.
Sperane. The various paths through the Sperane woods can be incorporated into longer rides in various ways. We did an easier ‘direct’ route a couple of days after our Monte Luppia ride as part of our Monte Sparviero trip.
Two days later we made a contrived route which grouped some additional Sperane alternatives together with the Route 41 cart track. This time we did the ‘hard’ descent of the upper part of the forest (good fun), the ‘vicious’ continuation (no fun at all), the easy ‘alternative ending’ which begins promisingly through olive groves but turns into a forest track, and the ‘short cut’ which cuts a corner off the direct route by following a rather unpleasant gully.
Returning to Torri we made a detour to the recently opened ‘Tibetan bridge’.
Route 41. This is a brief cart track descent which we thought worth visiting because (a) gaspa91 rode it uphill as part of his Prada route, and (b) the 4Land map shows it as moderate (though it’s actually easy – not really mountain biking at all). It’s a pleasant enough way of getting from its start point to its end point, but not worth much of a detour.
Albisano short cut. Several routes descend from San Zeno to Albisano. A muletrack (moderate) offers an enjoyable alternative to the road. This GPS track shows its course.