Verona Garda Bike

The river Mincio and the Verona plain

Distance 56 km
Ground 90% paved – 10% dirt tracks
City bike - Trekking bike - Mountain bike

This route, mostly paved and on level land, can only be considered moderately difficult because of its length, i.e. 56 km.
The ideal starting point is the football field in Via campo sportivo, Peschiera del Garda (1). A short, downhill lane leads you to one of the three defensive channels of the citadel, from where you can admire the ancient defence walls (2). Here you can take the Peschiera-Mantua bike path along the river Mincio (3), which crosses a protected natural area where one can admire the riverside flora and fauna (4). Approximately 7 km later, you must cross over the weir bridge of Salionze (5) to reach the left side of the river. You soon arrive to the village of Borghetto (6), famous for its Ponte Visconteo (7) bridge. Borghetto is considered one of the most beautiful hamlets in Italy and many are the sightseers and tourists who come here. From Borghetto there is a 500-m-long uphill road leading to Valeggio sul Mincio (8), which used to be an important stronghold of the Della Scala family. Its illustrious past is obvious from the impressive Scaliger Castle (9). Worthy of mention is also the magnificent Parco Giardino Sigurtà (10), one of the most beautiful botanic gardens in the whole of Europe. Moreover, the town is famous for its pasta, the renowned Valeggio tortellini (11).
Having left the centre of Valeggio, you will find a level road leading to Villafranca. You will only have to cycle for about 1 km on the main road, then you will be on country roads surrounded by vineyards and orchards full of kiwifruit (12) and peaches (13). Villafranca di Verona<(a> (14) is the next stop, a very old town where you can admire the castle known as Rocca Scaligera (15). The Nicolis Museum (16) also deserves a visit.
The route then takes you to Povegliano Veronese (17). This town is on the border of the production area of Vialone Nano rice (18). You then head north, across the countryside, to reach Sommacampagna (19) and then the town of Salionze (20). From there, a short lane leads you back to the bike path along the river Mincio. You will soon encounter the weir bridge, which must be crossed over again to return along the opposite bank to Peschiera, near the town’s football field.

(1) 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.

(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 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.

(4) 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.

(5) 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.

(6) Borghetto is a small village founded in the 1400s around a group of watermills built along the river Mincio, which were used to grind wheat and husk rice. These watermills were built in a small vale, surrounded by the moraine hills and dominated by the castle of Valeggio sul Mincio: this area was always an important passageway, since it formed a natural border between Veneto and the kingdom of Lombardy. A few ancient watermills can still be admired in the heart of the town. Borghetto is listed among the most beautiful towns in Italy.

(7) The Visconti Bridge (Ponte Visconteo), build in 1393 at the request of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, has been defined as an “ancient check point”. The bridge is 650 m long and 25 m wide. It was completed in 1395 and was connected to the nearby Scaliger Castle by two tall castellated curtain-walls, and integrated in a fortified complex that extended for approximately 16 km.

(8) Inhabited since prehistoric times (many artifacts dating back to the Iron Age have been discovered here, together with the remains of ancient stilt houses), Valeggio and Borghetto were on the border between Veneto and the Kingdom of Lombardy. (9) The Scaliger Castle stands on the summit of a hill, overlooking the entire valley of the Mincio. The building of this complex was started in the 13th century by a member of the Della Scala family, and although in the following centuries it was restored a variety of times, it never lost its medieval character. The castle stands at a strategic place, since in the valley below there is one of the safest spots to cross the Mincio. In those days, this river marked the border between the Holy Roman Empire and the March of Tuscany. The Scaliger dynasty reinforced the structure in the following decades, and created a fortified passage connecting it to Borghetto, the village below.

(10) Valeggio Tortellini are a type of stuffed pasta typical of this area, that are said to date back to the Fourteenth century. Every year, in honour of this dish, the “Festa del Nodo d'Amore” (Love-knot fête) is celebrated on the Visconti Bridge in Valeggio sul Mincio, during which one can enjoy a dish of this speciality seated at one of the two 600-m-long tables, in the company of about four thousand fellow diners.

(11) The park was created in 1617, and in 1859 Napoleon III and Franz Joseph I of Austria established their headquarters here, after the battle of Solferino. The park continued to flourish in the hands of Carlo Sigurtà who purchased it in 1941. Because he was granted the right to use the water of the river Mincio, he succeeded in getting luxuriant vegetation to grow in an area that would have otherwise been quite dry. The work was continued by his nephew Enzo Sigurtà, who opened it to the public in March 1978. Parco Giardino Sigurtà offers many attractions all the year round: in the months of March and April visitors can admire millions of tulips, in what is considered the biggest display of this kind in southern Europe. From May to September, along the so-called Rose Path, over 30,000 roses are in full bloom. There is also an amazing yew tree Maze (inaugurated in 2011), that covers a surface of 2500 sq.m, 18 ponds full of magnificent water-lilies in June-July, and the Grande Tappeto Erboso, an immense lawn in the middle of which are the Laghetti Fioriti, the Blossoming Ponds.

(12) 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.

(13) 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.

(14) Its position along the ancient Via Postumia and the structure of its roads, set at right angles, would suggest that this town was originally an ancient Roman settlement. On March 9, 1185, it was proclaimed a frontier town free of tax obligations, hence its original name, Burgus liber, which soon became Villa libera and subsequently, Villa franca. The town castle, built by the Scaliger family, was completed in 1202. On November 14, 1796, during the Italian campaigns, Napoleon established his headquarters in Villafranca and sojourned in the Comini palace (the present-day Caffé Fantoni). Villafranca played a key role during the battles for the reunification of Italy, due to its position close both to the river Mincio and the road connecting Mantua to Verona (two of the four cities forming the famous Quadrilatero).

(15) Its erection started in 1199, after the battle of Ponti dei Molini (Mantua), and was completed three years later, in 1202. In the 14th century, the castle was integrated into the fortified complex known as Serraglio, build by the Scala dynasty. Facing the southern walls (towards Mantua), over the river Tione, was a massive fortified door (known as "Porton"), leading to the countryside extending beyond the city walls. In the following years, a series of wars caused the destruction of most of the castle, which was however rebuilt under the reign of the Republic of Venice. In 1882 the keep and dungeons were purchased by the Municipality of Villafranca and were used as the district attorney’s headquarters and prison.

(16) An atypical museum established by Mr. Luciano Nicolis in Villafranca di Verona. This museum illustrates how means of transportations have evolved throughout these last two centuries, and visitors can admire hundreds of cars, motorbikes and bicycles. On display are also countless cameras, typewriters, musical instruments and a variety of curios and rarities.

(17) In prehistoric times Povegliano Veronese was a swampland, as witnessed by the numerous remains of stilt houses discovered by archaeologists in this area. Land reclamation started in the 15th century, when the underground springs were dug up and their water channelled away. The work was carried out at the request of Veronese and Venetian aristocrats, who wished to have meadows and cultivate rice in this area, known as “the lowlands”. The early 16th century was therefore characterised by the so-called “water rush”, and the landowners attempted to excavate as many ditches and canals as possible. Povegliano Veronese is renowned for the many artifacts discovered there, from the Neolithic (2500 b.C. – 1800 b.C.) to the Bronze Age (1800 b.C. – 900 b.C.).

(18) Veronese Vialone Nano (PGI) is a variety of Italian rice cultivated in the Verona Lowlands that was granted Protected Geographical Indication in 1996. It can only be grown in flatlands irrigated with spring water, hence its production area coincides with the upper drainage basin of the river Tartaro. It is ideal for the preparation of risotto.

(19) 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.

(20) 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.

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