The Italian Lakes offer a huge variety of cycling to suit all levels of ability.
Whether you are looking to tackle one of the iconic climbs that have featured in the Giro d’Italia - Italy's biggest professional race - or just go for a gentle pedal through pretty lakeside villages, this is the place to head for.
The region is very accessible too, less than an hour's drive from Milan which is served by three international airports (Linate, Malpensa and Bergamo).
Browse trips run by our local travel partners
Greg Moore is co-founder of The MidLifeCyclist, a cycle tour operator specialising in the Italian Lakes region.
He has over 15 years’ experience organising and leading cycle tours for large and small groups.
He has worked all over Europe but Italy remains his favourite cycling destination. His company organises both self-guided and guided tours. Bespoke tours can also be organised...
From Garda in the East to Orta in the West, we take a look at the best routes for road cycling the Italian Lakes region.
Situated in the heart of Lake Como, the beautiful town of Bellagio (pictured left) is considered by many to be the “must see” destination in the whole of Italy. Its cobbled alleyways open up to spectacular views across the water to neighbours Varenna and Menaggio. The triangle of land to the south of the town offers some of the best cycling in the region. Of special interest is the tiny chapel called Madonna del Ghisallo, known as the patron saint of cycling. Crammed full of Grand Tour shirts, bikes and other memorabilia it has become a destination of pilgrimage for cyclists the world over. And next door is the Museo del Ciclismo, an impressive museum dedicated to cycling, built in 2006 with the official blessing of the Vatican.
Just beyond the chapel and museum is the infamous Muro di Sormano (“Wall of Sormano”). It is less than two kilometres long but the average gradient is 17% and the steepest 25%. The climb is associated with the Giro di Lombardia one-day race but after complaints that the climb was so steep (riders were either falling off their bikes or being pushed up by fans) it was taken off the route. It has since returned and the current record stands at seven minutes 36 seconds! Quotes from past riders and split times are helpfully stencilled on the road itself.
Garda is the biggest of the lakes and hosts some of the most famous towns and villages. Top of the list is the medieval spa village of Sirmione, with its own castle (pictured right) and Roman villa. Just across the water is the wine centre of Bardolino, a great place to sample the local grape varieties. Connecting the lakeshore towns are well surfaced, flat roads which are a joy to cycle. Go by bike and not only beat the traffic but avoid having to fight for a parking space! It is also possible to ferry hop with your bike giving you the chance to admire the scenery from the water.
Take the flat, traffic-free cycle path which leads all the way from Lake Garda to Mantova (pictured left) alongside the River Mincio. The city, also known as Mantua, was ruled for three centuries by the Gonzago family, one of Renaissance Italy’s richest and most powerful dynasties. The dramatic skyline of ancient towers, turrets, cupolas and domes has changed little since that time. Once there, you might like to try some of the local specialities, like Tortelli di Zucca (pumpkin ravioli) or even Spezzatino di Mantova (donkey stew)!
Lake Iseo is the smallest of the major lakes and one of the region’s best kept secrets. It is possible to cycle around the whole lake and get up close to the dramatic scenery. The 60km route is an excellent opportunity to complete your very own time trial. It is also possible to cycle around Monte Isola, a traffic-free island in the middle of Lake Iseo which is accessible by bike-friendly ferry. And what better way to end the day than with a glass or two of “Italian Champagne” – Lake Iseo is in the Frianciacorta wine region, famous for this delicious sparkling wine which is made using the traditional champagne method.
The spectacular scenery from the high road above Lake Valvestino is another of Italy’s best kept cycling secrets. The lake is nestled between the mountains of the Valvestino Valley forming a genuine fjord, the likes of which you’d expect to find in Norway rather than right next to Lake Garda. Once you’ve reached the top you can look forward to an impressive and exhilarating 75-minute freewheel all the way down to Lake Garda - get a taste of it with the speeded up video below!
Orta is the furthest west of all the lakes and its crowning glory is the town of Orta San Guilio. It is largely undeveloped and traffic-free with narrow cobbled streets hiding beautiful pastel-shaded medieval buildings. Water taxis jostle for trade on the waterfront Piazza Motta which overlooks the tiny island of Isola San Guilio. Legend has it that the island was once the realm of dragons; now it is home to a community of nuns. The town is easily accessible by bike (not so easily by car!).
Next to Lake Orta is big brother Maggiore. The main action on this lake is centred around the grand resorts of Stresa and Pallanza and the famous Borromeo islands that lie between them. The three islands (Bella, Madre and Superiore) can be visited by boat from Stresa and Pallanza. Perhaps the most visited is Bella, renowned for its elegant palazzo and Italianate gardens. Spend a pleasant morning or afternoon cycling alongside the lake and take one of the frequent ferries to visit the islands.
Parts of Lake Lugano are in Italy but most of it, including the main town of the same name, is in Switzerland. Surrounded by wooded hills with views of the snow-capped Alps, Lugano is a lively commercial and Swiss banking centre with upmarket bars, restaurants and shops. It is also a major music centre with festivals for classical music lovers as well as international jazz and blues artists. At the southern end of the lake lies Capolago station with regular departures up to the top of Mount Generoso (pictured right) where on a clear day it is possible to see Milan and Turin as well as Lake Maggiore and Lake Como. The train has a carriage for carrying bikes making it possible to enjoy the climb up and then freewheel down the other side towards Lake Como.
Madonna del Ghisallo
No trip to this part of Italy is complete without paying homage to the patron saint of cycling (see picture above).
Lake Iseo Island
Go traffic free with a cycle around the beautiful island of Monte Isola.
Lake Garda to Mantova
Take it easy with a scenic ride alongside the River Mincio.
Tackle the iconic climbs made famous by the Giro d’Italia and Lombardy classics.
Take the mountain train to the top of Mount Generoso and experience the thrilling descent to Lake Como.
Best times to go:
It is possible to cycle in this part of Italy at most times of the year. The best time to go is between March and November. During the winter months snow and ice are common on the mountain roads.
To filter by month, click on the blue filters.
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