As winter clamps its icy grip on the hills and mountains that we love to ride, it is time to seek motivation to see us through the dark months. For me there is no better motivation booster than looking through old photos of summer trips to get the riding stoke back. Recalling fond memories, cutting deep turns in loose dusty trails, those addictive adrenalin surges when everything gets ‘on the edge’ and the bike starts to skip and float.
Summer trips are the best part of mountain biking for me, that intoxicating spirit of adventure heading to a new destination full of hope and excitement, armed only with a handful of maps and some handwritten notes from the internet. It was just that feeling that first brought me to Lake Garda in Italy, heralded as one of the finest riding destinations in Europe, it was time to see what the fuss was all about! Thus started a tempestuous relationship, with a frustrating and disappointing start but finally finding incredible riding that would see me return time and time again and in the end work as a guide for 3 exciting summer seasons! Riding in the Alto Garda is pure mountain biking, the peaks are tall and the trails are hard and challenging, it is the perfect destination for experienced enduro riders.
Now I have been lucky enough to travel with my bike all over the world, and have seen some amazing places. Often I am asked the question “where is your favourite place to ride” and it is almost impossible to answer! However if someone asks “where is the best place to go for technical singletrack?” the answer comes instantly to my mind, the Alto Garda region. The impressive mountain ranges that ring the North of Lake Garda offer some truly epic riding with the infrastructure and cool vibe to make an incredible, memorable mountain biking holiday.
Now Garda is not the sort of place where you can turn up and ride epic enduro trails, it’s no bike park and it needs research and local knowledge to get the best out of the area. Currently there are many shuttles serving the very rocky freeride trails on the front of Monte Baldo, but there is so much more to Garda than just loose rock, but to find it you will have to work a little harder. Many MTB travelers leave with the impression that the Alto Garda is nothing but fireroad or super hard freeride trails. But delve a little deeper and secret gems start to reveal themselves, trails that offer sublime flow and challenging adventure and big mountain vistas! The precipitous cliffs that hang above the lake, spired and towering, are filled with ancient tracks, technical single trail and some of the finest gravity biased enduro riding in Europe.
Traditionally Garda has played to two audiences, primarily the home of German and Italian XC riders, linking up epic but tame fire-road climbs into the mountains where legendary trails like the Tremalzo Classic have been a pilgrimage for many years. The new movement is the freeriders, bringing big hit bikes and full armour to pit themselves against the many super technical challenges that fall steeply from Monte Baldo! But Garda offers so much more to the enduro rider, armed with a bike that can climb into the hills and handle the toughest of descents and a guide or experienced navigator, the Alto Garda is a true playground!
Garda is no sanitised trail centre, there are no sculpted berms or smoothed motorway style trails! The trails are challenging, rocky, tough and some of the most rewarding you will ever ride. To get the best out of Lake Garda you need to bring decent skill set and be up for a challenge. The trails are natural and at times very technical, with demanding surprises around every corner. Most of the routes are half or full days of full on descending so the fitter you are the more you will enjoy it! Garda is also tough on the bikes so best to bring a capable enduro machine, and make sure that the brakes and tyres are up to the job!
One of the charms of riding in Lake Garda is the excellent mountain Refugio network, after toiling up some trail in the middle of nowhere, there is nothing more surprising and rewarding than chancing upon a Refugio. These mountain huts offer excellent food, great coffee and often an eccentric owner who will good-naturedly deride you mercilessly if you order the wrong type of coffee! These Refugios were built originally for alpine walkers, linking up high mountain passes and pastures, offering a warm welcome to the many mountain bikers that frequent the hills. With huge portions and affordable prices (that should make every mountain resort in France ashamed) they are the perfect place for a high altitude rest stop. My favourite Refugio is the smaller Alpini Refugio at the top of Passo Notta, serving monumental portions of ‘super viagra’ spaghetti, many a mountain biker has attempted and failed the spaghetti challenge!
You will have to pedal but most of the best riding days in Garda start with a decent uplift, that’s not to say that it is a lazy way of doing things, just the most practical way of attaining the 1500m of height needed to start the day. It can be ridden of course, but when holiday time is short why spend it toiling up the road climbs, Luca’s Bike Shuttle runs daily out of the main bus park in Torbole and is the perfect place to start your Garda adventure! You should also look up Michael Cycle, a legendary frequenter of Lucas shuttle, for advice and guidance about the trails and the après ride spots. With local towns Riva Del Garda and Torbole offering a chilled bike friendly vibe right on the lake shore and with cheap food and excellent spots for a post ride beer in the piazza, there can be few locations to rival the Garda experience.
If you strive for an incredible amount of descending on amazing trails, sections that scare you, humbling views and massive smiles, Garda should be on your bucket list. With an endless amount of riding in the area, you need to do your research to unlock the regions amazing potential. However to sample the best of the Alto Garda it would be highly recommended to use one of the many experienced guides that operate in the area, or take one of the popular shop tours. As guides we like to keep an air of mystery about some of the routes, but in these days of Strava and GPS routes nothing is secret anymore. If you are handy with a map and do your research the web is full of amazing resources and to get you started, I will even give you some clues, Malga Caset, Monte Zugna, Altissimio 624/650 into the coast trail and of course who could forget the legendary 601!
Lake Garda is epic and more than just loose rock, what are you waiting for!
Words and Photos: Trev Worsey
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