Valley of the Lakes Valle dei Laghi

Published on:  | Last updated: 10 September 2019

Cyclists on the Sarca cycleway near Arco

Cyclists on the Sarca cycleway near Arco

The Sarca cycleway (Ciclabile del Sarca) follows the Sarca river north from the Lago di Garda heading into the Valle dei Laghi (Valley of the Lakes). The immense rock walls of the valley carved by the Sarca river, as the Alps come to an end in the plains of northern Italy, make this one of Italy's most scenic cycleways and it deserves to be much better known than it is.

The Trentino region has plans to extend the main Sarca cycleway to connect it to two others in the area:

  • the Ciclabile dei Giudicarie a spectacular 4.3 kilometre-long cycleway that reuses the old road along the side of the Forra di Limarò, a deep, dramatic, river gorge carved by the Sarca river
  • the Ciclabile Valle dei Laghi (6.5 kilometres long). A shortish cycleway that takes you to the beautiful Lago di Terlago.

At a glance

Distance

24 kilometres (main cycleway)

Difficulty/​terrain

Easy, generally a very gentle uphill gradient, but there's a short relat­ively steep climb at around 18 kilometres.

Traffic

Traffic-free except for a section through a village

Surfaces

Entirely on paved cycleways or roads.

Signposting

Well signposted

Also known as …

Ciclabile Valle del Sarca

Notes

Distance: this guide isn't divided into daily stages, as people differ in how fast and how far they want to travel each day.

'Traffic-free': many cycle routes include sections with roads with restricted access for residents or people working on the adjoining land. You may, very occasionally, encounter an agricul­tural vehicle like a tractor pulling a trailer of hay, but most of the time there is no motorised traffic. They are often indis­tin­guishable from the cycleways that are legally set aside for the exclusive use of cyclists and pedes­trians.


Cyclists on the Valle del Sarca cycleway near Arco

Cyclists on the Valle del Sarca cycleway near Arco

Getting there and getting back

The Ciclabile del Sarca starts at the Lido di Arco, between Riva del Garda and Torbole, where the river flows into the Lago di Garda.

There's no train station on this part of the Lago di Garda. The nearest train station is at Mori, and from there you can ride to the lake on the Mori-Torbole cycleway (see: italy-cycling-guide.info: Mori-Torbole cycleway). Alternatively, you could take the train to the station at Peschiera del Garda and take a boat (see transport and services below) — although, while it's a great way to see the lake, it isn't fast.

At Sarche, the simplest option is probably to return the way you came, but you could continue back to the Riva del Garda via the Lago di Tenno.

There's also a bicibus that runs between Torbole and the Terme di Comano.

Please note that bikes are banned from long sections of the main road between Trento and Sarche (the SS45Bis). There is a road altern­ative that you can take, but it involves a big climb (1400 metres of altitude gain).

Cyclist on the Valle del Sarca cycleway near Arco

Cyclist on the Valle del Sarca cycleway near Arco

Distances (main cycleway)
Lido di Arco to Arco 6 kms
Arco to Dro 5 kms
Dro to Pietramurata 9 kms
Pietramurata to Sarche 4 kms
Other distances
Sarche to start of Giudicarie cycleway 2 kms
Sarche to Vezzano (start of Valle dei Laghi cycleway) 7 kms
Sarche to Castel Toblino 2 kms
Sarche to Santa Massenza 4 kms

About this table

The table doesn't neces­sarily show the distances from one city centre to the centre of the next town — if a route skirts around a town the distances are measured to the nearest point on the route from the centre.


Grapes in a vineyard beside the Sarca cycleway

Grapes in a vineyard beside the Sarca cycleway

In more detail

The Lago di Garda to Arco

The cycleway starts right beside the Arco Lido campsite, although you don't need to follow it from the very beginning. Lined with rhodo­dendron bushes, the cycleway runs for most of the 6 kilometres to Arco on the river embankment (levee), with a brief detour to go round a hydro-electric plant.

Cyclists on the Sarca cycleway near the Lago di Garda

Cyclists on the Sarca cycleway near the Lago di Garda

Look out for a castle (the Castello di Arco) on a spike of rock to your left as the cycleway takes you past the stainless steel tanks of the Aquafil plant. You should be able to see it clearly as you approach the five-kilometre mark. This must be one of the most dramatic locations for a castle anywhere in Italy. Albrecht Dürer painted a water­colour of the castle during his journey south in 1495 showing the castle in its glory days.

View of the Castello di Arco in 1495 by Albrecht Dürer.

View of the Castello di Arco in 1495 by Albrecht Dürer. Via "Wikimedia Commons

This valley was a crucial North-South commu­nic­ation link, and both the castle and the bridge have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The castle was finally perman­ently captured by the Habsburgs in 1579, and from then it went into a long decline before it was purchased and by the comune.

You can visit the castle, and there's a viewpoint. gardatrentino.it: Castle of Arco

Cyclist on the Sarca cycleway with the Castello di Arco in the distance

Cyclist on the Sarca cycleway with the Castello di Arco in the distance

The rock walls above the Sarca river have made the area a popular destin­ation for rock and sport climbing.

Coming into Arco, one branch of the cycleway goes left and then continues on the right bank of the river (looking in the direction the river flows) before turning to cross over the river 1.3 kilometres further on. The other branch goes right and crosses over the river, before crossing back again at the next bridge. The second altern­ative offers a great view of the castle.

Arco to Dro

Just after the seven-kilometre marker, the cycleway across back over the river again and continues on the left bank. A little further on there is a picnic/​play area with an inform­ation panel that records the floods of 1882 which engulfed all of the river valleys around the Lago di Garda resulting in a total of 400 deaths. The floods led to a change in the government's policy and the building of the flood defences along the major Italian rivers. Many of Italy's major cycleways make use of flood defence embank­ments.

The cycleway continues, through vineyards and olive groves. The particular micro-climate of the Garda area means that olives, which you usually would only find southern and central Italy, grow here.

Just after the 10-kilometre marker as the cycleway approaches Ceniga, it comes to a junction with a road where you turn left, and continue on the road as it takes you through Ceniga and on to the neigh­bouring village of Dro. The very quiet road takes you into the centre, passing the Bar Centrale.

Dro to Sarche

The route out of Dro is a little bit fiddly, but it is well signposted, so just keep following the cycle route signs.

After the Bar Centrale, turn right onto the Via Mazzini, and then, when you come to a round­about about hundred metres further on, turn left. Don't go over the bridge over the main road. At the junction with the Via Molino, turn left. Keep following the Via Mulino turning left at a little round­about, and then, at the next junction, turn right (still on the Via Molino) and then turn left onto the Via Michelotti which leads you out of town.

The dedicated cycleway resumes a bit under half a kilometre further on. It comes out by the main road and continues beside it for a couple of hundred metres before descending to an underpass. As you come out of the underpass look out for another castle high on the hills on the valley side: the Castel Drena.

According to my map, there should be a wine bar (Bike and Wine) on the right-hand side — but I didn't notice it as I passed by.

As it continues north to Dro, the cycleway skirts round the Marocche di Dro nature reserve (gardatrentino.it: Marocche). The nature reserve is the result of a massive rockfall that has left a unique landscape (although it's not really visible from the cycleway).

You come to a point where there's a big rock in the middle of the cycleway. There's then a small picnic area with a spring, but there's a warning sign saying that the water does not come from the public water supply — so you drink at your own risk.

Over the first 10 kilometres, or so from the Lago di Garda, the cycleway climbs very gently — with less than 40 metres of altitude gain. After the 10-kilometre point, things start to climb a bit more steeply — although it's still mainly very gentle.

Cyclists on the Sarca cycleway between Dro and Pietramurata

Cyclists on the Sarca cycleway between Dro and Pietramurata

'This is not a castle'

At the 16-kilometre point, the cycleway passes the Centrale Idroelettrica di Fies, a hydro­electric plant built around the beginning of the 20th century, and, as often happens, it was made to look like a castle. For the benefit of the easily confused, there are large banners on the building which say 'this is not a castle'. The castle, sorry centrale, is now redundant and has been converted into a performance space. When I passed by I was told that the artists were working on the turbines so I couldn't have a look around, but if you want to take a peek inside, it might be worth asking. There was a bar in a marquee in the gardens, and of course, toilets. This looks like a good place to stop, for a break, or a place to come for a late afternoon or evening ride (or on your way back from wherever).

From here, the signs are for Pietramurata. Just after the centrale, there's a short and very sharp climb — it is signed as 20%, but I am a little sceptical: if I could climb it (admit­tedly arriving breathless and sweaty) then it can't have been 20%. The scenery continues to be amazing

Cyclists on the Sarca cycleway  between Pietramurata and the Lago di Toblino. In the distance is the Piccolo Dain mountain

Cyclists on the Sarca cycleway between Pietramurata and the Lago di Toblino. In the distance is the Piccolo Dain mountain

Pietramurata

The ciclabile continues, following the river and the sheer rock walls on the other side of the river. Around Pietramurata, the valley broadens out into a flat plain surrounded by mountains, and you can see the church tower in the distance over the tops of an expanse of apple trees. Before you reach Pietramurata, there's the option of making a side-trip or detour to the Lago di Cavedine, about 1.4 kilometres from here.

From Pietramurata the cycleway continues with the river to the left, and vineyards stretching away to the right. As you head towards Sarche, in front of you, you have a huge pyramid of rock – the Piccolo Dain (967m). There are also some shady picnic areas along this stretch. The cycleway comes to an end at the 24-kilometre marker, beside the bridge over the Sarca.

Options at Sarche

Sarche itself is to the right, a couple of hundred metres away. At Sarche you have several options if you want to continue on. In one direction there's the Forra di Limarò, and in the other, there's the Lago di Toblino and Castel di Toblino, and the Lago di Santa Massenza a little further on. You could carry on to Vezzano, seven kilometres from Sarche, and then pick up the Valle dei Laghi cycleway.

If you've made it to Sarche, then it would be a real pity to miss the Giudicarie cycleway which takes you through the Forra di Limarò gorge, but it may not be for everyone, because, at the moment, getting to it involves a two-kilometre climb on the SS237.

You could simply ride the Giudicarie cycleway and then ride back to Sarche. The other option would be to return to Riva del Garda by following the SS237 and SS241 via Ponte Arche, the Terme di Comano and the Lago di Tenno.

In the other direction is another don't miss option: the Lago di Toblino and Castel Toblino. Built on a small lake in the Lago di Toblino, the pictur­esque Castel Toblino is the area's symbol.

The boardwalk beside the Lago di Toblino

The boardwalk beside the Lago di Toblino

Sarche

In Sarche itself there's a bar, and a small hotel(the Hotel Ideal, although the main reason why you might want to make a stop there is the Cantina Toblino (it only) is a massive winery in Sarche that produces a wide range of wines from the surrounding vineyards. It produces the Trentino's Vino Santo which gets its name from the fact that the grapes are left to dry over the winter and are pressed in Holy Week (Easter).

The cantina offers wine tours (it/​de/​en/​es) three times a week (see website for times). You are asked to reserve 24 hours in advance. There's also an osteria where you can have a glass of wine, or a meal.

The Giudicarie cycleway on its way into the Forra del Limarò

The Giudicarie cycleway on its way into the Forra del Limarò

The Forra di Limarò and the Giudicarie cycleway

There are plans to connect the Sarca cycleway with the Giudicarie cycleway through the Forra di Limarò, but for the moment (2019) it starts a couple of kilometres from Sarche. There's a climb of a little over 130 metres in altitude gain, but the gradients on the cycleway itself are very gentle.

As you cross the bridge over the Sarca, and you get your first view of the gorge itself. The ciclabile starts on the right-hand side on the fifth (counting up from the bottom) tornante turning. The sign is for the 2º tornante.

The cycleway reuses the old road through the gorge that was made redundant by two tunnels, the start of the cycleway is just before the entrance to the first of the tunnels. This section of the road is off-limits to bikes.

For much of the way trees screen the gorge, but there are a couple of viewpoints from where you can enjoy the dramatic views as the Sarca flows between the rock faces over a hundred metres below.

Part way up, the cycleway comes out beside the main road, before the road disap­pears into the second tunnel. On the other side of the road, there's a picnic and parking area. You don't need to cross the road as, a little way further on, there's a branch of the cycleway that links to them. This is also a stopping point for the bike-bus service.

From here you keep following the cycleway as it leads around the second tunnel and comes out beside the SS237. It continues beside it for a short distance, before you have to either rejoin the road or turn round and head back to Sarche.

Cyclists on the Giudicarie cycleway in the Forra del Limarò

Cyclists on the Giudicarie cycleway in the Forra del Limarò


Sarche to the Lago di Terlago

The Lago di Toblino

The Castel di Toblino is two kilometres from Sarche. Unfortunately, the SS45 Bis that leads around the western edge of the lake is narrow and busy. There is a boardwalk that runs for about 1700 metres on the lakeside and means you can avoid the road. It's narrow, so you need to ride with care and consid­er­ation. Note: this isn't an official cycle route, and, just before the lake, there are signs, telling you to dismount (biciclette a mano). These are the only signs, so I think they only apply to the short, unsur­faced, descent to the boardwalk.

There's also cycleway (or at least a sort of cycleway) beside the road that you can take for a few hundred metres from Sarche to the lake.

From the boardwalk on the lake shore, you get the classic view Castel Toblino, on a small island. There was once a Roman temple on the island, which was replaced by a castle in the Middle Ages. The present-day castle was rebuilt in the 16th century. It is home to a restaurant (casteltoblino.com). As well as the restaurant there's a bar (barcasteltoblino.com) with a terrace overlooking the lake.

On the other side of the castle, there's another section of boardwalk, and it's well worth carrying on to its end. When the boardwalk comes to an end, you can either turn round and retrace your steps to Sarche or push on to the Lago di Santa Massenza and the village of Santa Massenza, a short distance further on.

Santa Massenza

As you ride the lakeside road to Santa Massenza, you'll see olive trees beside the road: due to the micro­climate, the village is the most northerly place in the world where olives are grown.

Santa Massenza is a tiny village with about 100 inhab­itants. The village is home to five grappa distil­leries (at the height of grappa production in the 1960s there were 13). Grappa has been produced here since at least the 1500s —the Prince-Bishop of Trento once had the monopoly on distilling grappa and the Bishop's distillery was here.

All of the distil­leries are run by people with the same name: Poli. The Poli dynasty of grappa distillers goes back at least five gener­a­tions: .

In summer there's not much to see as everything happens after the grapes are harvested and pressed (grappa is made by distilling the grape skins and other leftovers from winemaking). In early December, the village has a Notte degli Alambicchi Accesi when the stills are fired up, and the distilling process begins.

As the village gets closer, you'll notice the electricity trans­mission cables and what looks like an electricity substation. Hidden below the surface, there's one of Italy's biggest hydro­electric power stations, with huge under­ground turbine halls built in the 1950s. Thousands of workers from all over Italy were employed in the construction work.

The 15 turbines are powered by water from the Lago di Molveno in the mountains above. Water is also pumped back up to the lake at times when the demand for power is low. For inform­ation about guided tours visit: hydrotourdolomiti.it.

The Valle dei Laghi cycleway

The other cycleway in the area is the Valle dei Laghi cycleway (Ciclabile Valle dei Laghi) which runs for 6.5 kilometres from Vezzano to the beautiful Lago di Terlago. Scenically, it suffers in comparison with the two other cycleways in the area, but the lake is worth the ride if you have the energy.

If you are feeling up for a challenge, you could continue from Terlago to the Laghi di Lamar, a little over 6 kilometres from Terlago. The altitude gain is about 275 metres, but there is a 1.5-kilometre section where the gradient is about 10 per cent.

The Lago di Terlago with the Monte Paganella in the distance

The Lago di Terlago with the Monte Paganella in the distance

Vezzano is about seven kilometres from Sarche. The most straight­forward option is to take the SS45 Bis in the gap between the two lakes, and then, just under 300 metres further on, turn right onto the relat­ively quiet SS84 which takes you through Padergnone, and on to Vezzano.

When you get to Vezzano, take the Via Roma, the old main road through town, this brings you to a round­about that is, literally, above the SS45. The cycleway starts on the other side of the round­about —look to your left, and you should see the pedes­trian crossing that leads to a gap in the crash barriers. There are cycle route signs that point, optim­ist­ically, to Trento.

Note: for much of the way from here the SS45 bikes are banned from the SS45, so taking the cycleway is your only option.

The cycleway runs for 300 metres beside the road before making a sharp turn and heading uphill. It's easy to miss the turn and continue straight on — this would take you to an underpass that leads back under the road and back into Vezzano.

There are two branches of the cycleway: one heads for the lake itself, and the other to the village of Terlago, and on to the Light di Lamar.

Returning to Sarche, you retrace your steps to Vezzano (or you could take the SP18 Dir). If you want to avoid the busy road around the Lago di Toblino, instead of turning off for Padergnone, stay on the SP84 until Calavino and then take the back road from Calavino to Ponte Oliveti, and from there into Sarche.

Fishing in the early morning on the Lago di Terlago

Fishing in the early morning on the Lago di Terlago

More information

Places to stay

Tourist information websites with accommodation search facilities

The discovertrento.it tourist inform­ation site has an accom­mod­ation search facility: discovertrento.it: Accommodation. There's also the main regional tourist inform­ation website visittrentino.info.

Find and book places to stay with Booking.com

Booking.com pages for places on this section of the route:

About these links

If you use these links to book accom­mod­ation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.

I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirm­ation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accom­mod­ation.

I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the oppor­tunity to let me know if there’s a problem.

Many properties offer free cancel­lation but it’s a good idea to check the condi­tions as these vary from property to property.

Hostels

There's a hostel at Riva del Garda: the Ostello Benacus.

Campsites

There are loads of campsites on the shore of the Lago di Garda, but they get very busy in summer. There are a couple of campsites at Arco, about five kilometres from the lake.

If you fancy something different you could try the agricampeggio at the Agriturismo Maso Lizzone. Near Dro, about halfway between the Lago di Garda and the Lago di Toblino.

There a campsite (the Camping Lido Lillà) at the Lago di Terlago. There's also another one at the Laghi di Lamar (Camping Laghi di Lamar), although bear in mind that the climb to get to it.

Transport and services

Bicibus services

Between mid-June and the middle of September, there's a network of five bicibus services in the north-western part of the region (the area between the Lago di Garda and the Brenta Dolomites). In general, the services run four times a day in each direction; three of the lines run every day, while the other two run five days a week.

The five lines are:

  • Line 1: Carisolo-Madonna di Campiglio-Dimaro. Links the Val di Sole and Val Rendena cycleways
  • Line 2: Comano Terme-Tione-Carisolo. Supports the central section of the Val Rendena cycleway
  • Line 3: Sarche-Comano Terme-Molveno-Fai della Paganella
  • Line 4: Torbole-Riva del Garda-Comano Terme. Buses on lines 3 and 4 connect to provide a return option at the end of the Sarca cycleway
  • Line 5: Ampola-Lago di Ledro-Riva del Garda. The service links the Val di Ledro cycleway with Riva del Garda.

Fares depend on the distance travelled, with a flat 2€ per bike, but you can travel for free with the Trentino Guest Card or one of the other local guest cards. You can buy the tickets on the bus.

The buses (or at least all the ones I've seen) have trailers that can carry 28 bikes.

According to the leaflet: you have to book before 18:00 for buses the following morning, and by midday for services in the afternoon. The Italian text of the leaflets says booking is advised; it's probably a good idea to book, but even if you don't have a booking it may be worth turning up anyway.

Boats on the Lago di Garda

During summer the towns on the Lago di Garda are served by frequent boat services. You could use these to connect with the mainline train network at Peschiera del Garda. The most bike-friendly option are the two old car ferries, which have a huge amount of space for bikes. These sail a couple of times a day in either direction, giving four sailings in total. The smaller boats (batelli) have only limited space for bikes, and bikes aren't allowed on the fast hydrofoil services.

Bike shops

Bike rental

If you're looking to rent a bike then you couldn't have come to a better place: Riva del Garda and neigh­bouring Torbole have more bike hire places than anywhere else I've seen in Italy. The bike hire is mainly geared to mountain­biking, but other bikes are available.

Places to eat and drink

  • Arco (8 kms): the Chiosco per Matteo, a little way after Arco, is on the riverside and right beside the cycleway
  • Dro (12 kms): there are several bars, and a gelateria
  • Centrale di Fies (16 kms): there's a nice bar in the gardens of the former power station
  • Sarche (24 kms): there are a couple of cafes, and a ristorante-pizzeria as well as the Hosteria Toblino. A little further on, at the Castel Toblino there are the Bar Castel Toblino and the Castel Toblino restaurant. If you're on a budget, or just want a snack, the bar is the better bet. There are more places at the end of the lake
  • Vezzano: Bar Terra Mare (Vezzano)
  • Lago di Terlago: the Bar Lido Lillà and the Ristorante-Pizzeria Lillà

Bikes in the Bar Castel Toblino

Bikes in the Bar Castel Toblino

Guest Cards

If you're spending time in the region, it's worth checking out the Trentino Guest Card. The major benefits for cyclists are free use of the train and bicibus services, as well as free entry to many museums and other attrac­tions.

The card is available from parti­cip­ating accom­mod­ation providers (including hostels and campsites). For a list see: visittrentino.info: Guest Card: parti­cip­ating accom­mod­ation providers . You need to be staying for a minimum of two nights — but the website also suggests that you ask about the card even if you are only staying for a single night, as you can buy it for a very special price. If you're planning on doing a lot of sight­seeing, you can also buy the card for 40€ for a week.

There's a pdf map/​brochure if you want to find out more. There's also an app for Android/​iOS.

Most of the holiday areas in the region have a local Guest Card that offers similar benefits.

Resources

General tourist information

Cycling information

The visittrentino.info website has a very compre­hensive summer sports section visittrentino.info: summer sports with lots of inform­ation about cycling, including:

There are also a couple of very useful brochures one for mountain­biking and one for roadbiking. You can get these from the tourist offices in Rival del Garda and Torbole, or order them from the Brochures page: gardatrentino.it: brochures as well as download the pdf versions.

Transport information

For ferryboat timetables, go to the Lago di Garda section of navigazionelaghi.it. Note that many services only operate in summer, so the winter timetables aren't much help for travel planning.You can also download the timetable as a pdf navigazionelaghi.it: Lago di Garda timetable Summer 2019 .

The visittrentino.info regional tourist inform­ation website has a useful page on taking your bike on public transport in the region: visittrentino.info: cycling-and-public-transport. For inform­ation on taking your bike on Trentino Trasporti trains see: Trentino Trasporti: Transporting Bikes

Articles in this series

Rollerblader on the Sarca cycleway heading towards the Lago di Garda

Rollerblader on the Sarca cycleway heading towards the Lago di Garda


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