Road cycling in the Italian Lakes

From Garda in the East to Orta in the West, the Italian Lakes provide an incredible setting for amazing road cycling adventures. Greg Moore, founder of cycle tour operator MidLifeCyclist shares his expert knowledge of cycling in the Italian Lakes.

Road cycling in the Italian Lakes
Spectacular scenery, historic towns and world-famous climbs; you'll find them all with a cycling adventure around Northern Italy's majestic lakes.
In the spectacular landscapes of Northern Italy lie a string of narrow, glacial lakes distributed amongst alpine foothills and lush valleys. The network of roads created to connect this collection of beautiful lakes has provided the perfect setting for road cycling adventures.


Take in the culture, marvel at incredible scenery or move your training up a gear; whatever you're looking for, the Italian Lakes offer a huge variety of wonderful road cycling opportunities 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.

To top it off, this beautiful region is very accessible too, less than an hour's drive from Milan which is served by three international airports (Linate, Malpensa and Bergamo).

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GUIDE TO ROAD CYCLING IN THE ITALIAN LAKES

The lakes of Northern Italy provide some of the most scenic and exhilarating cycling experiences that Europe has to offer. From the cobbled streets of the famous town of Bellagio to dramatic scenery high above the valleys that connect Italy's famous lakes, there's an abundance of incredible routes and destinations to discover. 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.

Lake Como

Lake Como

Situated in the heart of Lake Como, the beautiful town of Bellagio is considered by many to be the “must see” destination in the whole of Italy. Of particular 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. Nearby 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%!

Lake Mantova

Take the flat, traffic-free cycle path which leads all the way from Lake Garda to Mantova alongside the River Mincio. The city, also known as Mantua, was ruled for three centuries by the Gonzaga 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 Garda

Lake Garda

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 castle and a Roman villa. 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.

Lake Iseo

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 Franciacorta wine region, famous for this delicious sparkling wine which is made using the traditional champagne method.

Lake Lugano

Lake Lugano

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 significant music centre with festivals for classical music lovers as well as international jazz and blues artists. 

Lake Valvestino

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 natural 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.

Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore

The main action of Lake Maggiore 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.

Lake Orta

Orta is the furthest west of all the lakes, and its crowning glory is the town of Orta San Giulio. It is mostly 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 Giulio. 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!)

TOP 5 EXPERIENCES

1. Madonna del Ghisallo

No trip to this part of Italy is complete without paying homage to the patron saint of cycling.

2. Lake Iseo Island

Go traffic free with a cycle around the beautiful island of Monte Isola.

3. Lake Garda to Mantova

Take it easy with a scenic ride alongside the River Mincio.

4. Bellagio

Tackle the iconic climbs made famous by the Giro d’Italia and Lombardy classics.

5. Lake Lugano

Take the mountain train to the top of Mount Generoso and experience the thrilling descent to Lake Como.

WHEN TO VISIT

Best times to go:

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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.

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