We like riding bikes a lot like you do. You want to ride as much as possible, daily even, but usually life just doesn't play by the same rules. This past weekend we took advantage of another long weekend (thanks to Italian Labor Day) to explore a new area and found about 30,000 other folks who also love to ride bikes. The mountains are a part of who we are, their in our soul, returning to these mountain locales as often as we can is a refreshing recharge.
Our destination was Riva del Garda, Italy on Lake Garda. When we made our plans to come here for the weekend we didn't know about the Riva del Garda Bike Festival taking place too. One of the biggest bike festivals in Europe and the unofficial kick off to the bike season. The small town of Riva del Garda is situated at the north end of Lake Garda in the Trento region of Italy. The area is absolutely stunning. The mountains rise right out of each side of this valley long lake. Creating a view as if the end of the lake just drops off the face of the Earth. The valleys beyond the lake are just a beautiful and are filled with vineyards, quaint villages and of course...mountain bike trails. If you don't want to ride your bike here then there are plenty of options for a good time. Let's see. Sailing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, rock climbing, fishing, boating, swimming, beach bummin', etc. If you're bored, you're boring.
With bikes packed, we hopped on an evening train in Rome to Rovereto. I still can't explain how much I love traveling by train. It's so easy and relaxing! Rovereto is a short 20 minute shuttle to Riva del Garda and our hotel. Watch out for the skier/biker traffic on weekend afternoons. We stayed at the Hotel Baia Azzurra. The hotel is on the lakeshore and nestled in a quite cove with outstanding views. If you're ever headed to Lake Garda, stay here, just sayin'.
The weather had not cooperated leading into the weekend. The week had seen plenty of rain and wind but the weekend forecast looked like we'd have great riding weather for our stay. With bluebird skies, we started our first ride as most do here in Italy. Climbing a road. I'm not sure if I thought I'd ever say this but I miss climbing dirt singletrack. Dirt, not dirt roads, not asphalt, dirt singletrack. I understand that riding up roads is a necessary trade off to ride the rad trails that Europe has to offer but man do I miss me some Boneyard, ASC, or even Aspen Glade at this point. Our 1500 meter, 2.5 hour climb was well worth the trails we followed down to the town of Navene. Our route started off very rugged and peppered with loose chicken heads. Eventually it turned into a more flowy trail through lush forests with spectacular views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Heidi thought the trail even had a tropical feeling like the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The trail brought us down to the lakeshore where we hit more pavement and the 5 km return home to the hotel.
We made it back to the hotel just in time. Heidi was on the verge of a hunger breakdown as we rode into the hotel bar. Luckily for them they were still serving sandwiches and snacks. After a quick refuel we rode into Riva to check out the mayhem of the bike festival. Another tip: Don't try and drive a car in a town holding a bike festival. Bikes are boss and cars just get in the way. We rode into the Expo area where it was shocking to see so many bike brands in one spot with so many bike freaks. It was bike overload. All the latest and greatest trends in mountain biking were being displayed for you're buying pleasure. I still think E-Bikes are stupid and cheating no matter how cool they make them. Sorry.
After a lap through the madness we rode back to the hotel for an aperitvo and a shower before returning to town for a delicious local dinner and wine. Full stomachs lead to bedtime for some much needed rest. Tomorrow we'd meet up with a friend of a riding acquaintance of ours for a tour through the Sarca River valley. The tour was described as a 50 km, all-mountain riding tour.
Sunday's ride would hook us up with Lorenzo. A cool and calm Roman who now guides in Riva. Group rides with strangers is always a crap shoot. Will you get crushed? Will you be waiting around? Who'll be wearing plum smugglers? Our group was just fine. We'd joined four friendly Italians on a panoramic ride through the countryside. We did have a scare around mid day. After we spent the the morning climbing (on pavement) we stopped in a village for some water before we'd have what Lorenzo called a "test" on some singletrack. Hmmm. We reached the top of the 200 meters of "test" singletrack and Lorenzo sent us on our way. No big deal, it was an easy trail. But when one of women in our group came walking down the trail with her bike we thought we were finished. After some chatter in Italian (no, we're not that good yet) the ride continued on with more pavement and dirt roads until we stopped at a beautiful restaurant for coffee and a snack. When we continued downhill on the a paved road I really thought we were finished riding singletrack for the day. I was thinking we had just wasted a day of riding by coming on this "tour". Riding up pavement on a mountain bike is one thing, riding down pavement on a mountain bike is a sacrilege. We climbed another few hundred meters until we reached a forest road where the downhill portion of the ride was to start. Still a bit skeptical, we started our decent and found ourselves on some great mountain bike trails.
Our ride back to the valley floor was (as it always seems to work) worth the climbing. The trail was a great mix of singletracks that weaved in and out of huge slabs of rock. Towards the end of the ride we rode along a trail that was level with the tops of the vineyards that covered the valley floor. Add the giant glaciated cliff walls and it was a pretty surreal sight. Classic Italy. It made it pretty easy to forget about the pessimistic thoughts from earlier in the day. Sometimes you forget that just riding a bike, regardless of where you are, is all the fun you need.
Riva del Garda is a beautiful part of Italy. It has so much to offer. We dreamt of living here all weekend. In the long run though the riding actually changed those views. I think the best way to maximize the riding here is with shuttles. The trail system is mostly made up of shorter trails that don't necessary link together with any real flow. All the trails require you to use the road system to some degree or another. Don't get me wrong. The riding here is incredible, just maybe not what we would always chose to ride. Will we be back? Absolutely! The bikes may not make the next trip but we'll be here enjoying a perfect mountain town that is truly an outdoor lovers dream.