The central moraine hills
Since it is over 40 km long, this route can be classified as moderately hard. However, there are no major difficulties, if not a few short stretches of uphill road that require a good set of gears. The road surface is mostly paved.
This long itinerary unwinds through the enchanting moraine hills (1) surrounding Lake Garda.
The ideal starting point is Peschiera del Garda (2). An easy stretch of road running along the edge of the lake connects the historical centre of Peschiera to Lido Ronchi, near Gardaland (3). After crossing the state road, you will find yourself in the countryside, on the border of the production zone of two DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) wines, namely Bardolino DOC (4) and Custoza DOC (5). Riding along these gently rolling hills you will soon cycle by Sandrà, one of the countless villages dotting the landscape.
A few miles further up is the charming town of Palazzolo (6), with its interesting Church of Saint Justina (7).
Having stopped to admire the breath-taking view, you then continue downhill and soon reach Sona (8), another ancient village located between Lake Garda and Verona. The surrounding countryside is an expanse of vineyards and orchards full of kiwifruit (9) and peaches (10). The next stop is Sommacampagna (11).
The route continues across the moraine hills, and takes you to the town of Salionze (12). From here, you head towards the river Mincio (13), and cycle along its left bank. When you reach the weir bridge of Salionze (5), your cross over to the other side and a beautiful bike track will lead you back to Peschiera. The view on part of the defence walls (15), just before entering the town’s historical centre, is absolutely stunning.
(1) The moraine hills surrounding this area formed millions of years ago, when the glaciers retreated, leaving large amounts of unconsolidated debris, ranging in size from silt to boulders. These hills are rather small, from 100 to 250 m high. Southwards, they wedge into the Po plain – in the environs of Mantua – whereas northwards, near Lake Garda (between the provinces of Brescia and Verona). They therefore form a semicircle embracing the southern shore of the lake. Having been formed as a consequence of the expansion and retreat of the Alpine glaciers, they are characterised by gentle slopes and valleys lined with vineyards and orchards, or are dotted with woods, small lakes and springs. These hills have been inhabited since the Neolithic ages, and the territory has much to offer to tourists. Attractions include cultural activities (visiting medieval hamlets, castles and museums), the landscape (walks, bicycle or horseback tours) and local folklore (historical re-enactments, country fairs, music festivals). The history of the area is extremely interesting, and there are many traces of the Etruscan and Roman civilizations, as well as remains dating back to the Renaissance, when this territory was under the dominion of the Gonzagas. More recently, important battles were fought in the environs during the wars for the Italian unification.
(2) Thanks to its particular geographic position, in an area linking the Alps to the Po plain, Peschiera has always played a prominent role throughout the centuries. Its environs have always been the centre for trade and commerce. The first settlements date back to the Bronze Age, as witnessed by the artifacts and remains of stilt houses found in this area. In Roman times, the town was called Arilica and lived on fishing, as testified by Pliny the Elder. Fish were indeed abundant, given that here the lake waters flow into the river Mincio. It seems that the coat of arms of this town, depicting two silver eels and a golden star, derives from the fact that this is the ideal habitat for these creatures. Peschiera was first fortified in the early Middle Ages. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna decreed that it would pass to the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia. It hence became part of the “Quadrilatero”, a famous defence mechanism of the Austrian empire. It was conquered by the Piedmont army on May 30, 1848, but was only annexed to Italy in 1866 with the Treaty of Prague, after the Third War of Independence.
(3) Gardaland is one of the biggest amusement parks in Europe. It is located in the environs of Lake Garda, but despite its name, does not overlook it. The resort was opened on July 19, 1975, and overall, extends for about 445,000 sq.m, 200,000 of which are occupied by the theme park alone. Many are its attractions and water rides, and every year, over 3 million persons come to visit it. In June 2005, Forbes magazine ranked it fifth among the highest-grossing amusement parks world-wide; more recent data (2013) reveal that it is the eighth most popular park in Europe.
(4) 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.
(5) This wine is named after Custoza, a town near Sommacampagna where two important battles were fought during the Italian Wars of Independence. Its production area is not particularly vast, and roughly coincides with the southern moraine hills that lie between Verona and Lake Garda. Various native grape varieties are sanctioned for use in Custoza wine, the main ones being Garganega, Trebbianello (a local biotype of Tocai Friulano) and Bianca Fernanda. This is a pleasantly fresh, delicately aromatic wine that is quite easy to pair. Select Custoza wines age well. Custoza is considered an excellent white wine, ideal both as an aperitif and a complement of meals. It pairs extremely well with lake fish and seafood.
(6) Palazzolo is a small town of 2,912 inhabitants, perched on a hill between Sona and Bussolengo. On the summit of this hill stood Carlo Alberto, King of Italy, on April 30, 1848, overlooking the battle of Pastrengo that was being fought in the plain below. A plaque on a house nearby commemorates his presence.
(7) Palazzolo is also known for the Pieve (Church) of Saint Justina: surrounded by a rustic graveyard, it is an important example of the local Romanesque architecture, and has been studied and visited by many architects throughout the centuries. Despite having a single nave, the church has two, near-identical apses, both of which are decorated with lesenes. Its rather clumsy-looking bell-tower is believed to date back to the 11th century. The interior of the church was frescoed in the 13th century, and faded images of saints dressed in Byzantine garments still show through the plasterwork.
(8) Sona lies about halfway between Verona and Lake Garda. The hills surrounding this town shelter many traces of its pre-historic past. In 1874, relics dating from the Neolithic Age were unearthed near San Giorgio in Salici, including some pottery, bronze artifacts, arrowheads and other flint tools. Particularly interesting are a Möhlin-type bronze hatchet, a Peschiera-type dagger and a streamline, Fiorano-type ceramic vessel dating back to the Fifth millennium b.C. In the Roman age Sona became a fortified town, because it was strategic for the defence of the Via Gallica. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it fell into the hands of the Lombards and became part of the iudiciaria Gardensis district. In the 14th century, it passed under the dominion of the Scaligers. Acknowledging its importance as a point of access to the Duchy of Milan, they decided to strengthen its walls even more. In the 15th century Sona and Verona became part of the Republic of Venice. Under the new government, the territory was reorganized, and most of the land passed into the hands of rich Venice merchants, who reclaimed and fenced it, turning it into agricultural land. In the Nineteenth century, its environs became battlefields, and much blood was spilt near Custoza during the Italian Wars of Independence.
(9) 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.
(10) The peach is native to China, and its fruit is considered as a symbol of immortality. From the Far East it reached Persia, where it was widely cultivated, hence its scientific name Prunus persica. It then spread throughout the Mediterranean basin, thanks to Alexander the Great. Given its juiciness, sweet flavour and thirst-quenching properties, the peach is considered the summer fruit par excellence. This plant species has been cultivated in Verona since Roman times, and more specifically in the environs of Lake Garda, since the early Sixteenth century. The production zone of the PGI “Verona Peach” is the province of Verona.
(11) Near Sommacampagna, in the hamlet of Palù, various artifacts were discovered dating back to the Stone Age, as well as piles for stilt houses. Many are also the relics of Roman times (the town was then called Summa Campanea), some of which can be admired near the ancient Pieve (church) of Sant'Andrea al Cimitero e San Pietro, where many pagan temples used to stand. In the Middle Ages, the historical centre of the town used to be nearby, and only afterwards it started to develop towards Verona, to reach the hill where St. Rocco’s Chapel and bell-tower were erected. Countless historical events have taken place in the environs, the most significant of which are doubtlessly the two battles fought during the first (1848) and third (1866) war for the Independence of Italy, on the hills of Custoza.
(12) The name Salionze derives from St. Leo the Great, called in Italian San Leontio. Pope Leo I and Attila the Hun are said to have met near this town, on the bank of the river Mincio. After this meeting, Attila withdrew his army from northern Italy, ceased all ravaging and sacking, and returned to Hungary. The meeting between the Pope and the king of the Huns is re-enacted every July.
(13) The river Mincio is the only outlet of Lake Garda. It flows for about 75 km before reaching the Po, which then continues to the Adriatic Sea. A natural park, the Parco del Mincio, was created around its banks in 1984. The northern part of this park extends from Peschiera del Garda to Goito, where it flows across the Garda moraine and its gravelly highlands.
(14) In 1960, a weir bridge built in Salionze sul Mincio became operational: it is now possible to adjust the flow of the river Mincio and the level of the Lake, which therefore is no longer regulated naturally.
(15) Roman stronghold, Scaliger castle and citadel, fortress of the Republic of Venice in the 1500s; Napoleonic stronghold, then one of the four fortified towns forming the legendary “Quadrilatero”. Few are the towns that reveal so much history in their bastions and fortifications. Most of the city walls were designed by Guidobaldo della Rovere, and erected in 1549. The natural course of the river was modified so as to allow the construction of this walled town: in order to defend Peschiera, the waters flowing out of the lake were split in three, and joined together again south of the town. The Republic of Venice and in later years, the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia and the Austrian empire, reinforced the fortifications of the citadel.