Here I am, covered in mud and grinding teeth, peering over a cliff over the disheveled surface of Lake Garda.
The surface has been whipped by the hot thermal wind that descends from the Ballino Pass. To the west, the mountains plunge into its dark blue depths, while the shore is dotted with vividly colored villages almost as old as the lava they perch on.
I’m cheerful, almost rambunctious, even though I’m over 60 than 50 – and about as fit as a lard cake. We’ve bounced off potholes, tree roots and slid along mud and gravel tracks and I’m always ready to ask for more.
Invigorating: Limone on Lake Garda, where Mark Porter spends the last night of his “Lakeside Odyssey”
Mark begins his route around the lake at Riva del Garda (pictured), the Roman port on the north shore of Lake Garda
At the top of the ridge near the small green lake, we have lunch well, if not wisely, in the coolness of a roadside inn.
Huge portions of Trentino beef stew with polenta are served with an Amarone red, before descending back down to Riva del Garda, the Roman port on the north shore of Italy’s largest lake. Autumn and winter are good times for cycling along Lake Garda – and luckily the country is now open without restrictions for fully vaccinated people. It was my off-road debut, even if it’s time to admit it: I test a prototype electric bike with a small group of riders before setting off on my own around the lake. My steed is a new ‘e-gravel’ bike that’s as comfortable on and off the road as it is, and perfect for someone like me.
So after a few days on the mountain trails, I said goodbye to Johan, Ben and the technicians and set off on my lakefront odyssey, sneaking into the public park of Riva towards the far end. south of the lake.
It’s a flat, easy 40 mile drive along sunny roads to Peschiera del Garda – but I stop after 40 miles at a lakeside hotel in Torri del Benaco for lunch.
My table looks across the water to the west shore. I can make out the small town of Gargnano, where DH Lawrence wrote Sons And Lovers while he was leading an affair with the married German aristocrat who later became his wife, Frieda von Richthofen. He records the adventure in a touching way in Twilight In Italy.
Mark on his electric bike. He tests a prototype of an âe-gravelâ electric bike, finding it âas comfortable on the road as it is off the roadâ
The lake has been a writers’ paradise for over two millennia, ever since Catullus wrote erotic verses from his fabulous “cave” in Sirmione, apparently stirred by the curiously suggestive shape of the Lago di Garda (take a look – you will see this than I mean).
In Peschiera, I settle in at the Garda Bike Hotel, a cycling sanctuary if there is one.
A fleet of Pinarello bikes are there for the guests, and the owner, Nicola Verdolin, takes me to the vineyard of Tenuta Santa Maria Valverde, in the heart of Valpolicella country. It’s a bit of a climb, but I’m breaking it.
After a wine tasting with goat cheese, savoring the blackberry notes of a recent vintage from this quaint little winery, we then descend the mountain, through Marano di Valpolicella and to the seaside resort of Bardolino, where the waterfront bars do a quick trade in the blazing afternoon sun.
Peschiera, where Mark checks in at the Garda Bike Hotel – “a cycling sanctuary if there is one”
Refreshing Negroni cocktails (file photo). Mark bids farewell to the lake above a Negroni sunset in Porto Vecchio
Back at the hotel, where a team of cycling pros take care of all your cycling needs, the food is uncompromising but healthily geared towards good health as most guests are more self-conscious than I am.
In the cavernous bicycle garage, my machine, a joint venture between Shimano, the Japanese cycle widget makers, and BMC, which are Swiss bicycle makers, fascinates the pros.
It’s the Tesla of bikes, with huge distances under battery power and the latest lightweight technology, enough to propel someone like me into places where I’m not allowed to be, without too much risk of a heart attack. .
You have to pedal, however, make no mistake about it.
Taking his Pinarello with one finger, Nicola stares at my machine with a crazy air: âIt’s like comparing a BMW to a Ferrari.
Lake Garda is a mosaic of boat and ferry routes and you can get around as you like, some of them even taking cars. I continue by bike to Sirmione, the prettiest of the Garda villages.
It’s at the end of a pencil-thin peninsula and boasts a perfect fortress and ramparts, oozing elegant wealth. I admire the scenery around a plate of cassoeula, a stew from the Po Valley that dates back to Roman times.
Mark says Sirmione, pictured above, is “the most beautiful of Garda villages” and “has a perfect fortress and ramparts”
Ryanair (ryanair.com) Stansted-Milan comes back from Â£ 16. Garda Bike Shop in Riva del Garda offers electric bikes from Â£ 50 per day (gardabikeshop.com). Three night stays at the Garda Bike Hotel including daily bike tours, all meals, cycling jersey and airport transfers from Â£ 1,280; e-bikes, an additional Â£ 205 per person for three days (gardabikehotel.com).
There are a lot of routes in the hills.
Easy to access and well signposted, they avoid summer traffic jams by the lake. You can also take the ferry, which I do between Sirmione and Gardone before heading north to Limone for the last night.
But first, I visit one of the most remarkable museums I have ever seen, recommended by a dear friend as a must see. Vittoriale degli Italiani in Gardone is the former home of Gabriele D’Annunzio, Italian poet, novelist and serial seducer.
He was also a war hero whose energy and romantic image were harnessed by Mussolini to symbolize the flame of Italian fascism.
The house is a paradoxical sanctuary with tasteful kitsch, crammed with classic figurines, chinoiseries and even a life-size battleship in the majestic garden.
I bid farewell to the lake above a Negroni sunset in Porto Vecchio, the bike chained securely to a railing.
A fitting farewell to the big lake and a sad separation of the paths with the bicycle, to which I sadly became attached.
Mark Porter is the author of Coast To Coast Cycle Routes (baytreepress.com).