The hills and the river Mincio
This easy trail, roughly 28 km long, is mostly on dirt tracks. Mountain or trekking bikes are strongly advised, as the ground can be extremely uneven.
The ideal starting point is the football field in Via campo sportivo, Peschiera del Garda (1), because nearby there is a short lane leading to the bike path alongside the river Mincio. Cycling down this lane you will leave the traffic behind, and the defence walls of the ancient citadel (2) will immediately catch your eye. Given its strategic position, Peschiera has always been a fortified town and at the time of the Italian Wars of Independence was part of the Austrian ‘quadrilatero’ (3). A magnificent, level bike trail linking Peschiera to Mantua has been built along the edge of the Mincio (4) from which you can admire the rich river fauna (5) and luscious vegetation. About 7 kilometres further on, there is the Salionze weir bridge (6). You cannot fail to see a tall chimney nearby: it is the Mincio thermal power station (7). Having crossed over the bridge to the other side, the trail takes you back along the opposite side of the river, and you soon reach a lane leading to the town of Salionze (8).
At first, you may meet some traffic, then the trail continues along narrow dirt tracks winding across a vast expanse of vineyards. Needless to say, this is the production area of the renowned Custoza DOC (9) wine. The countryside however is also dotted with a number of apple orchards.
It is an easy route that takes you to the village of Oliosi first, and then Castelnuovo del Garda (10). It is only a few miles more to the shores of Lake Garda, in Pacengo di Lazise. A lakefront route then takes you back to Peschiera del Garda.
(1) Grazie alla sua particolare collocazione geografica di collegamento tra l'area alpina e la pianura padana, Peschiera ha giocato nel corso della storia un ruolo di rilevante importanza. Da sempre l'area è stata al centro di scambi e commerci. I primi insediamenti in questa zona sono datati intorno all'età del Bronzo, di cui rendono testimonianza alcuni siti palafitticoli e diversi reperti archeologici. La città romana, dal nome di Arilica era situata nell'attuale centro storico. Plinio il Vecchio, riguardo alla città, descrive l'abbondanza del pescato complice l'uscita dell'acqua dal lago verso il fiume Mincio. Sembra che lo stemma comunale nasca proprio da queste condizioni favorevoli, due anguille d'argento con una stella d'oro. Le prime mura difensive risalgono all’alto medioevo. Nel 1815, al Congresso di Vienna, passò al Regno Lombardo-Veneto. Entro così a far parte del poderoso sistema difensivo del Quadrilatero. Fu conquistata dai piemontesi il 30 maggio 1848, ma passò all'Italia solo nel 1866 con il trattato di Praga, dopo la III guerra d'indipendenza.
(2) 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.
(3) The “Quadrilatero” was, from 1815 to 1866, a defence system in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, which at the time was under the crown of the Austrian Empire. The system connected the fortresses of Peschiera, Mantua, Legnago and Verona. On a map, these towns appear to form the vertices of a quadrilateral, hence its name. The four fortresses were inside an area surrounded by the rivers Mincio, Po and Adige, and from the 1850s, also the Milan-Venice rail-track, which ensured provisions and reinforcements when needed. The presence of this defence structure hindered the movement of enemy troops in the Po plain. From 1866, Verona became pivotal, and was the control centre and main depot of the Quadrilatero.
(4) 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.
(5) Parts of the river Mincio are characterised by plant species of outstanding beauty and scientific interest. As regards the river fauna, 229 bird species have been observed in this area, both permanent resident and migratory, 113 of which nesting along the river. The most important are: storks, great egrets, grey herons, the purple heron, the little egret, night herons, the European penduline tit, the common kingfisher, the European bee-eater, coots, the great reed warbler, the peregrine falcon, the western marsh harrier, the great crested grebe and the black kite.
(6) 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.
(7) The Mincio thermal power station is surrounded by a natural area of remarkable beauty: the regional Park of the River Mincio. The power plant produces electricity by exploiting natural gases. It uses state-of-the-art, high-efficiency technology that minimizes NOx emissions, hence its impact on the environment is extremely low.
(8) 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.
(9) 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. It is generally considered an excellent white wine, ideal both as an aperitif and a complement of meals. It pairs extremely well with lake fish and seafood.
(10) Archaeologists have revealed that the territory of Castelnuovo has been inhabited since pre-historical times. The first settlement was known as “Beneventum”, but soon afterwards, it started to be referred to as “Quadrivium”. In the 12th century, Frederick I (Frederick Barbarossa) razed Quadrivium and the surviving population decided to build a new, fortified citadel, whose name, “Castrum novum”, in time became Castelnuovo. Throughout the centuries it passed into the hands of a variety of rulers – from the Scaliger family to the Viscontis, from the Republic of Venice to the Austrian Empire. On April 11 and 12, 1848, the town was the scene of the infamous battle of Castelnuovo, at the end of which it was sacked and raided by Radetzky’s troops, and many of its defenceless inhabitants were killed. Worthy of mention are the Castle overlooking the town, which was erected in 1387 by Giangaleazzo Visconti, and the Gran Torre (Great Tower) adorned with the Bissona, the coat of arms of the family, which depicts a snake eating a child. The battlements and clock were only added later, in the 1800s. Near the tower you can admire another interesting building: the Church of St. Mary, with its octagonal design, was rebuilt in the 1700s but still preserves its original, Romanesque bell-tower dating back to the 15th century. On the hill of San Lorenzo is the charming Chapel of the Madonna of the Angels, not far from St. Lawrence’s Church. Worth visiting are also the Neoclassic Church of Sts. Philip and James, and the Parish Church of St. Andrew, constructed on two previous buildings dating back to the early Middle Ages and the Romanesque period, respectively.