This is a rather demanding trail, given the type of road surface, its length – it is over 40 km long – and the presence of steep, uphill stretches of road. Mountain bikes are strongly advised.
Both Lake Garda and the nearby hills are popular holiday destinations, and images of their picturesque towns can be found in every tourist magazine or postcard. In the countryside further inland however, there are some charming villages and hidden hamlets that most tourists have never even heard of.
These ancient towns were like small communities outside the walls of the more important towns. They were always founded near some sort of a resource, such as water springs, meadows or woods, and were usually only inhabited by a few dozen persons, all related to each other. They all had their little church, a fountain and a small square where everybody could meet. Most people never left the town, if not on very special occasions, usually to go to some nearby market.
Now these ancient villages are full of amazing country-houses. These once poor dwellings have been done up completely, and are now luxury homes that still manage to preserve some of their rural charm. This scenic route will lead you to the discovery of some of the most beautiful hamlets and villages in the plain of Caprino Veronese, inland from Lake Garda.
The starting point is in the town of Garda, at the bus stop near the La Perla Bike Hotel. The road leading towards the hamlet of San Bernardo passes near the ancient chapel of Saint Bernard before turning towards the Valley of the Mills. After winding through this natural park, the track reaches Castion Veronese, famous for its 18th-century Church of Saint Mary Magdalene and the splendid Villa Pellegrini Cipolla.
The route then heads towards Costermano, passing through the small, medieval hamlet of San Verolo. Its Chapel of St. Verulus used to be the parish Church of Castion. The following town is Pesina, and then, continuing along the road to Caprino Veronese, there is the village of Boi. This route does not lead into the centre of Caprino, but should you decide to visit it, interesting sites are its central square, where a weekly market has been held since time immemorial (in the past Caprino was famous for its cattle market), Palazzo Carlotti, now the local Town Hall, and the Parish Church of Saint Mary Major.
At the entrance of the town, the route turns left towards Lumini, and a rather gruesome road leads uphill towards the villages of Gaon, Rubiana, and Vilmezzano, known for the infamous Nazi roundup that took place on January 28, 1945 There are still some stone millraces, inside which flowed the water powering the gristmills built in this area. After passing in front of the chapel in Velmazzano, the trail continues with a breakneck descent leading to the Caprino-Spiazzi road.
On the opposite side of this road, another downhill stretch leads to the enchanting village of Pazzon. Worth mentioning is the 13th-century St. Martin’s Oratory, with its magnificent frescoes. Having crossed this tiny hamlet, the road continues towards the village of Porcino. When you reach its outskirts, you can park your bike and take the path leading into the woods, where there are some lovely waterfalls.
Porcino is also famous for its bricks and tiles factories. The lanes then lead up towards Gamberon and Rubiana, two villages that used to be renowned for their Verona Red Marble. After passing near a quarry, a long dirt track winding through fields and woods leads to Zuane first, and then Ceredello. A level, quiet road starts here, which passes through the centre of Gazzoli: this is where the cycle path starts that leads to Albaré.
A comfortable lane from its “ecocentro” then leads to the hamlet of Pertica. It is worth cycling up a short, steep stretch of uphill road to see the 12th-century Chapel of Saints Fermo and Rustico. A downhill road goes to Bardolino, on the edge of the lake; an easy, 3-km-long bike trail along the edge of the waters then leads back to the town of Garda.
The name Garda comes from the Lombard word warda, meaning lookout, an elevated place or structure affording a wide view for military observation. The name evidently alludes to a fortress built on the summit of Rocca di Garda, the cliff overlooking this town, at the time of the first barbarian invasions. Documents dating back to the Eight century refer to the nearby lake as Lake Garda instead of Benaco, its ancient name. Garda is a small village, but is extremely interesting from a natural, historical and artistic point of view. The old part of the town is characterised by its narrow streets, and a harbour where countless sailing and fishing boats are moored. In Garda, as well as the magnificent historical centre (Pictures 1-2), you can admire:
– The Clock Tower, which is the main entrance to the ancient part of the town;
– Palazzo Fregoso, built in the Sixteenth century by a warlord of the time, Cesare Fregoso;
– The Church of Saint Stephen, most certainly erected before 1687, the year chiselled on an external wall;
– The Queen Adelaide lakefront, the Captain’s Palace (Palazzo del Capitano) (Picture 3) and the Losa (marina) (Picture 4) of Palazzo Carlotti (16th century);
– Villa Albertini, set in an enviable position, at the centre of the Gulf of Garda (Picture 5);
– Villa Canossa, dating back to the Sixteenth century.
The origins of the chapel of St. Bernard in Garda are shrouded in mystery. According to the lore, the church was erected in honour of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), who reached Garda from Manerba, on the opposite shore of the lake. Historians suggest that the church was built around the 14th-15th century.
The Valley of the Mills is so called because in this area flows the Gusa-Tesina, a creek beside which there used to be numerous water mills. Nowadays only one remains, which dates back to the Seventeenth century. Interesting plant species grow in this valley, including the rare Gypsophila papillosa, a flower commonly known as “baby’s breath”.
Castion was already a parish in 1456, independent of Garda, but had no church, and its inhabitants had to attend mass in San Verolo. The current church, designed by Ignazio Pellegrini and built in 1752, is late Baroque, and the façade is adorned with two series of four lesenes, one on top of the other, a beautiful marble portal embellished with statues of angels surrounding Mary Magdalene, and on the top, statues of Saint Florian and Saint Verulus. The church was consecrated in 1812, and is dedicated to Mary Magdalene. It has a single nave, and its vaulted ceiling was frescoed by Domenico Paleus.
Villa Pellegrini Cipolla is a splendid Eighteenth-century mansion located in the charming village of Castion Veronese. A beautiful park and magnificent Italian gardens surround it. The aristocratic family of the Pellegrini has been living in Costermano, where it owns many estates, since the Sixteenth century. The building of Villa Pellegrini Cipolla started in 1760 under the supervision of Ignazio Pellegrini, a brother of the client. In recent years, after Giancarlo Pellegrini Cipolla restored the stables and barnyards, it has become the venue for meetings, wedding receptions, soirées, exhibitions and fashion shows.
The ancient church in Castion, built presumably in the Twelfth or Thirteenth century, became a Parish church in the Fifteenth century and was dedicated to Saint Verulus, martyred at Adrumentum in the Fifth or Sixth century. The building was erected on a pre-existing church of Romanesque epoch which had the apse facing southwards (the current one faces north), and was extended and restored in the 16th century and in 1905. In a niche in the wall on the right hand side, there is a fresco of a «Madonna and Child» dating back to the late Fourteenth century. In the churchyard there is a tombstone with a cross in relief and an indecipherable gothic inscription from the 14th century.
Boi is a hamlet located between Caprino Veronese and Pesina, at the foot of a small hill near Mount Baldo. Its name derives from that of an ancient Gallic tribe, the Boii, who occupied this area many centuries ago. Though small, this village has a bar, an inn and a minimarket.
The Seventeenth-century Villa Carlotti is the town hall. This patrician villa built in 1632, became a palace after 1682. It is known for its “Sala Grottesca” (Grotesque Hall), now more usually referred to as the “Hall of Dreams”, and its magnificently frescoed ceiling vaults. Since 1976 Villa Carlotti is also the seat of a museum containing a variety of historical documents and the splendid, 15th-century Lamentation of Christ, which used to adorn the local cemetery chapel.
The Parish Church of Caprino was designed by Adriano Rossi and built in 1769 on the remains of an older church dedicated to St. Mary Major. The façade was erected in 1803 and the bell-tower in 1870.
Gaon is a small village north of Caprino Veronese, lying on the verge of the woods and surrounded by a couple of hamlets: Cajar(south of Gaon), so-called because it was inhabited by cheese-makers (in Italian: cagliaro), and Mezzana (west), along the mule track leading to Rubiana. It has always been under the political and ecclesiastic rule of Caprino. Gaon is considered a national monument for the beauty of its landscapes, but the old houses in Caiar and the small square with St. Rocco’s oratory in the heart of Gaon are also worth mentioning.
On the night of January 28, 1945, three hundred Nazis descended on Gaon, Rubiana and Vilmezzano to capture some partisan fighters who were hiding there, having sought shelter for the night. To force the villagers to cooperate, they burnt down houses, abducted dozens of persons and killed various civilians. A plaque in the church of Vimezzano recalls that tragic night.
A stream called “Campion” flows down the valley of Caprino. Its source is the copious Bergola spring and in the past, its waters served both to irrigate a wide expanse of land and as a power source for 23 watermills, most of which were used to produce wheat flour.
These were mostly overshot wheel mills: the water of the stream was harnessed into stone flumes, and from there it rushed down, onto the blades of enormous wooden wheels. Their revolving movement rotated the axle driving the machinery of the factory, usually heavy millstone wheels that crushed the wheat. Most of these mills were in use until a few decades ago, but many still remain, together with their typical flumes. One of the best preserved can be admired in Valsecca, just north of Caprino, along the road leading to Pazzon.
The oldest document citing the Oratory of Pazzon dates back to 1228, but it is believed to have been built on the ruins of a much older church.
In the mid Sixteenth century, Porcino, a hamlet near Caprino, became the home of a flourishing ceramic industry. The abundant clay found in its subsoil was used to produce shingles, bricks and tiles that were not only popular locally, but also in Verona and neighbouring towns. Their unusual greyish-yellow colour made them unique, and for this reason are still very sought after. Left outdoors in large heaps to freeze during the winter months, the clay was then submerged in water, pressed by the feet to mix it well and make it more plastic, placed inside moulds, smoothed by hand and baked in kilns for up to six days, at a temperature of 800° C. These furnaces continued to be used until the early 1950s. There are still five kilns: a few are in a state of total ruin, others have been readapted for agricultural purposes, and one has been completely restored.
The processing of stone in Lessinia and in the hills north of Verona began about half a million years ago. During the Roman era, the beauty, resistance, and ductility of the marbles from Valpolicella began to be appreciated. Large slabs were transported along the Adige River to Verona, where the main streets and monuments were adorned with marble, pink nembro, and biancone, such as the Arena. Over a century ago, quarrying activity increased to build forts, defensive systems, bridges, and palaces. Thanks to their skill, the stonemasons of Lessinia are highly sought after. After World War II, stone became a protagonist again and was in great demand by markets all over the world. Dolcè, Volargne, and Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella are now among the most renowned centers internationally for marble processing and trade. Among the Veronese marbles, the most appreciated since ancient times is “Rosso Verona”, particularly suitable for interiors.
Ceredello is famous for its ancient Church dedicated to Saint Christina and built around the year 1000. On August 15, 1195 Emperor Henry IV granted Ceredello independence. It remained an independent commune until 1862, when Napoleon merged it with Caprino Veronese. According to two censuses carried out in 1430 and 1448, the number of inhabitants was 12 and 35, respectively. The population however increased steadily until 1630, when an outbreak of plague, which started in early July and ended in mid October, killed 152 of its 250 inhabitants. The Church was turned into a hospital, and the many victims of the epidemic were buried nearby. An epigraph inside the church commemorates those tragic times.
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.