The inland countryside south of Lake Garda
This trail, roughly 29 km long, is mostly on paved roads. There are quite a few hills on the way: you need to be fairly fit and have a bike with a good set of gears, because some of the uphill stretches, though not too long, are rather steep.
The circuit starts in Bardolino: at the roundabout in front of the bus station, you take the road leading to Cavaion Veronese to leave the town. The first uphill stretch leads to a scenic route overlooking the southern part of the Lake and passes in front of the Zeni Wine Museum (1). The surrounding countryside is a wide expanse of vineyards and olive groves. The route winds its way into the Bardolino DOC (2) production zone along country roads dotted here and there with wayside shrines (3). Having gone past a kiwifruit (4) orchard, you cycle uphill towards Monticelli. At the end of this path, you can admire Villa Cordevigo (5), a Seventeenth-century mansion that has recently been converted into a luxury hotel. From here, it is only a short stretch to the bike trail built along the Biffis canal (6). Upstream the canal there is the Sega di Cavaion water bridge: after crossing to the other side, you will soon approach the hotel Relais San Michele, and face a rather gruelling 400-metre climb. The road then turns left, and continues upward. The view is worth the effort: from there, you can admire the Adige valley, the town of Volargne and the huge nearby quarry (picture 7). This area is famous for its red marble (8), which has always featured prominently in the most elegant homes and churches. The route then continues towards Rivoli Veronese: a bike trail leads to Affi, and from there, to the hills surrounding Albarè and Bardolino. Worthy of mention is the 12th-century Chapel of Sts. Fermo and Rustico (9). The breakneck road leading down to Bardolino calls for some attention.
(1) The Wine Museum is in the headquarters of the Fratelli Zeni winery in Costabella, on the slopes of the hill overlooking Bardolino, the enchanting town on the shores of Lake Garda. This museum, founded in 1991 by the owner of the winery, Mr. Gaetano Zeni, not only offers evidence of a wine-making tradition involving many generations of the family, but also a fascinating journey into the world and history of wine.
(2) As testified by the archaeological finds in this area, dating back to the Bronze Age, grapes have been growing since time immemorial in what is now the production zone for Bardolino wine. Ancient artifacts show that in Roman times, wine was often used in religious ceremonies. It would seem that the first vineyards were established back then, and the wine produced was stored and transported in amphoras, many of which have been unearthed in this region. Bardolino wine is mainly made from Corvina grapes, but also contains a small percentage of Rondinella and may include other varieties as minor components. It has a bright ruby-red colour and a delicately fruity flavour, with notes of cherries, sour cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant and spices (cinnamon, cloves and black pepper). It is an exceedingly pleasant wine that pairs well with a wide array of dishes.
(3) Country wayside shrines are typical examples of popular Christian architecture: they are religious images, usually in some sort of a small shelter, placed along empty stretches of country road. These shrines were often built as votive offerings to give thanks for a lucky escape from some danger.
(4) The kiwifruit is native to China, but its cultivation only started to spread outside this country in the mid Nineteenth century. It was first imported into Italy in 1973, and became so popular that only a few years later our country was the foremost worldwide producer of kiwis. Veneto in particular is a key production zone: the environs of Lake Garda, thanks to their mild climate, are ideal territories, and the plants growing here bear fruit with a very rich flavour.
(5) Villa Cordevigo is a splendid example of those countless historical buildings dotting the countryside that have been listed as World Heritage sites. Built in the 1700s on the site of a Renaissance palace, it had the sumptuous style of the times. Over the centuries, it has been the property of a number of aristocratic families. The little church of St. Martin is more ancient, for it was built in the 1400s. The original building was probably modified and enlarged in the Eighteenth century, and became the family chapel of the owners of the villa. It boasts an exceptional collection of saints’ relics, more than 3000 pieces gathered by Bishop Marcantonio Lombardo and catalogued in 1780. The altarpiece depicts St. Martin and the beggar.
(6) The canal, designed by Ferdinando Biffis in 1921 and built in the 1930s-1940s, was completed in 1943 and is nearly 47 km long. An 8.5-km-long stretch runs inside a gallery. In Pilcante, near Ala, where the duct begins, a large amount of water (135 cubic metres per second) is channelled into it from the river Adige. The water flows gently beside the Valdadige road, inside a few galleries and along the imposing water bridge in Sega di Cavaion, built over the Tasso valley. In Bussolengo, there is a 40m-drop, exploited to produce clean energy. The canal ends in Chievo, where there is another power plant, and the waters flow back into the Adige. The two power stations produce enough energy to cover the needs of 800,000 persons. The first stretch of the canal is exploited for agricultural purposes, because its waters are used to irrigate fields in the surrounding countryside.
(7) About half a million years ago, the primitive populations inhabiting the hills around Lessinia were already making tools out of the local stone. In Roman times, people began to have an even greater appreciation of the beauty, strength and ductility of Valpolicella marble. The blocks of marble were transported down the river Adige to Verona, where it was used to pave streets and adorn various monuments such as the Arena. The quarrying of marble increased dramatically just over a century ago, and was used extensively to build forts, bridges and palaces. Thanks to their skill, Lessinia stonecutters were in great demand. After World War II, the local stone became extremely popular again. Nowadays, Dolcè, Volargne and Sant'Ambrogio di Valpolicella are among the most renowned centres world-wide for the production of marble. One of the most popular stones quarried in the area is the “Rosso Verona”, a red marble that is particular suited for interiors.
(8) The Chapel of Saints Fermo and Rustico was built around the Twelfth century and entrusted to a hermit living in a house nearby. From the year 1800, in this little church perpetual plenary indulgence was granted for every mass celebrated in memory of the deceased. The chapel however fell into ruin, and was raided by numerous thieves. Recently however it has been restored and is now open to the public.