The Italian Lakes area provides some stunning vistas. You can choose whether you want challenging road rides, mountain bike tracks or more sedate, well signposted cycle routes along the valleys and plains slightly further to the south. Either way you will find this ride from Lake Como all the way through to Trieste is one of the great rides of Italy.
After our ride across the Alps it was time for some sun and less strenuous riding. The Italian Lakes route starts in Como town at the southern end of Lake Como. The route skirts the lower Alps to Brescia and then heads slightly north up to Lake Garda, before heading south again onto the Northern Italian plains. Once there it passes through the historic towns of Momtichiaria, Verona, Vincenza as it winds its way to the venetian coast at Sottomarina. Hopping along the Venetian Lidos using the local ferries and then cycling around the coast line we arrive in the gateway city of Trieste with its wartime history, in preparation for our ride south.
Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As part of the description we also provide links to Wikiloc or Google maps and elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet. The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more beneficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over time.
The cycle route map of Switzerland showed a few routes around the Italian Lakes. As we hadn't found any other route information for Italy we decided to try to find the one from Como to Lecco. The beginning was a painful and steep climb out of Como on a minor road for about 4km.
Italian Lakes - Como to Lecco Ride Profile
Once at the top we continued through some attractive Italian Lakes villages with cafes selling wonderful coffee and delicious cakes which just had to be sampled. One of them also had it's own leaning church tower at Tavernerio. Descending from the hills we rode past the three small lakes Alspirio, Pusiano and Annone and ate lunch at the side of the last one.
There still wasn't any indication of a bike route and coming down into
Civate we suddenly found ourselves on the slip road of the motorway,
with no other road available except a narrow, rough lane up a hill with
at least a 20% slope. We pushed the bikes to the top then rode along
above the motorway before dropping down and at last locating the bike
route along the old road into Lecco.
Tourist Information in Lecco, although just as difficult to find, was more forthcoming with information and we got a slightly useful map and a wonderful book of mountain bike routes which was no use to us.
We continued south of Lecco along the shore of Lake Garlate to a camp site. It was very crowded, with mostly cabins and static caravans. The only space available was a small patch of grass next to the swimming pool where we put the tent. In contrast to the pristine clean waters of the Swiss lakes, this one was smelly with no-one risking swimming in it.
That night it was very noisy with children playing and riding bicycles until after midnight and adults partying till 1am so at a cost of 24E it was a very short night.
Italian Lakes - Lecco to Clusane Ride profile
Steve complained about the noise as we left and they gave us a 10E reduction in the price - we'll have to try this tactic again!
We planned to follow the Italian Lakes route south along the Adda valley to Canonica before turning east and traveling across the plain below Bergamo. We had been warned that the main road into Bergamo was very busy with lots of lorries and unpleasant to ride. It was a cool and shady ride along the river valley on a narrow, unsurfaced path. As it was Saturday there were lots of people on bikes and walking along the river. The water was teeming with fish and water fowl as well as huge dragonflies and butterflies.
After about 10km there was a small ferry crossing the river. The boat consisted of two hulls with a platform big enough to carry one car and some passengers. There was no engine, just a rudder so that it was propelled by the river's flow. As we stopped to watch it in action, another couple of cyclists arrived. Helene and Nick were from Belgium and on a ride from Basel to Venice. They showed us their Dutch cycle guide book with a route from this ferry, through Bergamo and past Lakes Iseo and Garda, using quiet back roads and cycle tracks. They had a second copy which they offered to give to us so we could also follow it.
We all went over the river on the little ferry together but as they were younger and more lightly loaded than us we let them set off first. To begin with it was difficult following the route as there were frequent turns and the instructions were all in (double?) dutch. It was fun riding along the quiet roads and through the small villages.
Approaching Bergamo there was a couple of hundred meters of climbing up a hairpin road to the top of the citadel. It started gently enough but towards the top the gradient increased. Coming over the top we expected to see the old city but that was still some distance away and in front of us were terraces of vines and scattered houses.
Eventually we reached the old city gates and enjoyed riding along the narrow streets lined with high buildings. There were a lot of tourists but not many of them had arrived on bikes. The area near the cathedral was being prepared for a concert that evening and as we rode up there was the famous duet from La Traviata playing. The music and beauty of the place made us tremble.
Unfortunately Bergamo has no campsites and the nearest ones were on the shores of Lake d'Iseo about 30km further. It was already 3pm so instead of trying to navigate the route in the book we just followed the shortest main road route to Sarnico and then along the lake shore to find a site. The first one was full but the one next door told us we could have their last pitch.
The site was typical Italian. Permanently sited caravans, pitched very close together with just narrow walkways between them. We had a small, dusty gravel pitch between two of them. Most of the people there were regulars and all knew each other. That evening there was a fancy dress competition for the children, followed by a disco and then a dance for the adults. Just as it was getting dark our friends from earlier, Helene and Nick, arrived and pitched their tent next to ours.
The heat was starting to get to us and so another day off was needed. After saying goodbye to Helene and Nick we washed a heap of clothes and spent the day relaxing. The other campers all took pity on us and kept offering us things. A table to eat at , pasta and pesto, wonderful cold fizzy red local wine and a light to read by once it got dark.
Italian Lakes - Clusane to Brescia Ride Profile
From here our Italian Lakes ride took us on a well signposted cycle route from Lake d'Iseo to Brescia
and not having to worry about map-reading made the ride more enjoyable.
Except for a few very short stretches on cycle lanes along main roads
it was all on narrow country lanes and cycle tracks. This area is
famous for it's white sparkling wines and the grape harvest was well
underway as we rode through the numerous vineyards.
Coming into Brescia we saw two young men on bikes loaded with bags and they shouted to us. They had met us at the Tourist Information at Lecco about four days earlier. They both lived in Brescia and were nearly home which was a good job because their bikes were practically falling to pieces after four days of carrying their loads. Their brakes had given up and one of the back wheels was on its last legs.
We decided to book a bed and breakfast and stayed in the top apartment of an historic building on one of the old city streets. That evening we wanted to experience some typical Brescian food. Unfortunately this week was a local holiday and almost all of the restaurants were closed. But we did manage to find one open, in the cathedral square, where we sampled several local specialities.
Italian Lakes - Brescia to Manerba del Garda Ride Profile
As usual it was difficult to find our way out of the city and we took several wrong turns. Once that was accomplished it was easy to follow. The Italian Lakes route went to Desenzano on Lake Garda and then turned south. We decided to take an alternative cycle track to Salo, further north, where there were more two star campsites which we hoped would be cheaper.
It was an enjoyable ride, following the Chiese river valley, gently climbing then continuing on an old railway track. We had lovely views over the lake before descending into Salo.
It was about 20km further south to Manerba del Garda, up and down the
hills on the lake shore. The first campsite we tried wanted 40 euros a
night which we refused. The next was better at 30 euros with a lovely
swimming pool and grass to pitch on. The three ladies in reception were
fascinated by the tale of our journey and gave us ice-creams.
We pitched next to a French couple in a caravan with their toddler grandson. Steve was besotted with him.
Hot sun, swimming pool, bar, cheap pizzas - who wants to go anywhere on a bike.
Italian Lakes - Manerba del Garda to Montechiari Ride Profile
Today we had arranged to meet some friends, Barry and Julia, who were
flying out for a couple of days from the UK. We suggested a lovely B and
B where we had stayed 10 years ago at Montechiari.
There was a cycle route from the road to the campsite which we followed, hoping to be able to avoid riding the busy main road towards Desenzano but after about 5km it went along a footpath and up a steep, stepped hill. Instead we had to climb up the hill on the tarmac road and onto the main road to Padanghe del Garda where we escaped onto a minor road towards Lonato.
Here we picked up the cycle route from Desanzo back to Brescia and followed this to Ponte St Martin where we turned south down the Chiese valley to Montechiari. We arrived at the B and B minutes before Barry and Julia.
That evening we enjoyed a really good meal at one of the local restaurants. On the way back there was a group of locals singing in the street with an appreciative audience. We stopped to listen but they then started doing poetry and we couldn't understand a word so went back to bed.
We went to Lake Garda and got the ferry from Desanzano to Sirmione, a small fortified town and castle on a small peninsular on Lake Garda. It was very hot and crowded but beautiful and relaxing. In the evening we sampled another of the local restaurants together with an American couple, Rory and Golden who were staying at the same accommodation.
Italian Lakes - Montichiari to Verona Ride Profile
This morning we bade goodbye to Barry and Julia and our b and b hosts Anna and Jaques and set off along minor roads through undulating farmland towards the Mincio valley. It was hot again and we were riding through fields of vines, heavy with grapes, kiwi vines, peaches, nectarines and plums.
Arriving at the bridge over the River Mincio we had one of those 'deja vu' moments, realising that we had been here before and taken photographs of this amazing ancient bridge and the village of Borghetto but had forgotten where it was.
We rode into the suburbs of Verona and found a campsite right next to
the busy main road but it was so hot we didn't feel like looking for
anywhere else. We paid the site fees and collapsed under an umbrella for
30 mins to drink a beer and recover our strength. The lady campsite
owner felt so sorry for us she gave us a second can of beer on the house
so we could muster enough energy to pitch the tent.
The traffic on the road was continuous for most of the night and a camper van arrived after midnight and pitched next to us with lots of chattering occupants and sliding of doors, not a good night.
Italian Lakes - Verona to Vicenza Ride Profile
Today was SCORCHIO 41C at 11am. We had a quick cycle round Verona before heading off. It is a lovely and extensive city which demands more than an hour to fully appreciate. The most impressive thing was the old Roman road and the city gate dating from 5BC.
We would have liked to head south from Verona, following the Adige river
but there were no campsites and few sizable towns. Instead we headed
for Vicenza. There were very few minor roads going east, most of them
running north to south and no way out of Verona except along the main
road for 5km.
As it was Sunday the road was very quiet and so rather than try to navigate a complicated side road route we just continued along the main road. If we kept moving we stayed cooler. There was no shade and the road passed through endless industrial estates and retail parks which were all like ghost towns on a Sunday.
Vicenza is another lovely city which needs a full, cool day to do it justice. We had a quick look and set off for the campsite about 8km out. There we met Brigette and Bernard, a French couple, about our age, who were just on their way home to Lyon having cycled the Danube, Turkey and Greece. We chatted together, exchanging maps and accommodation recommendations.
Italian Lakes - Vicenza to Sottomarina Ride Profile
Today was forecast to be even hotter and it was a long ride to the next
campsite, on the coast near to Chioggia. It was good to have the sat-nav
to find our way out of the suburbs of Vicenza and slightly west into
the Bacchiglione valley. We followed this south for most of the day,
first on the road at the side of the river and then along tracks beside
It was a hot, thirsty day with very little shade. There were hardly any other cyclists and not many towns big enough to even have a cafe. By the afternoon a stiff on-shore breeze slowed us down. At times the canal track was rough and unsurfaced but it was flat all the way.
Sottomarina was a bit like the Costa Del Sol. Streets lined with 1980's low rise concrete soul-less blocks, shops selling cheap beach necessities, tacky bars and cheap hotels. There was a whole row of campsites along the beach road so we chose one at random. We pitched the tent in the shade and jumped in the swimming pool to cool off. In just less than 7 weeks we had completed another 'coast to coast' - North Sea to Adriatic. That evening we celebrated with a meal in a restaurant overlooking the sea.
The morning was still and humid. We got an early start and breakfasted in Sottomarina before setting off to Chioggia to catch the ferry. Karen nearly didn't make it any further as a driver tried to wipe her out at the first roundabout.
Chioggia is a lovely old harbour city at the south end of the Venice Lagoon. With it's cobbled streets and many canals it is like Venice without the crowds. The ferry ticket office had a long queue and by the time Steve got to the window the 8.45 ferry was just leaving so we had to wait an hour for the next one. We needed to use three ferries to cross the two islands that lie between the lagoon and the sea. The lady selling the tickets didn't speak much English but gave us the idea that the third one, to Punta Sabbioni, was not running.
By 9.45 there was a throng of people to get on the ferry. A lot of them were Italian ladies from the islands who had been over to Chioggia to do their shopping. They all stood at the front of the boat with us, gossiping and laughing with us although we could only communicate with sign language. The other passengers were tourists either going over to the beaches or visiting Venice. There were four other touring cyclists as this is part of the European cycle route number 5.
The first port was Pallestrina and from here there was a cycle route all the way along the west coast, away from the main road. This island, in contrast to it's two neighbours, seemed little touched by tourism. It has a big fishing industry and quiet towns where the only traffic was bikes and the men sat in the shade mending their nets.
After another short car ferry journey and a few kilometers along the road, we arrived at Lido de Venezia which was heaving with tourists. We understood that we needed to get another car ferry from here to Alberoni and rode up to the departure point. The car ferry only runs on Mondays and Fridays and it was Tuesday!
Back at the passenger ferry terminal we
were relieved to find there is a hourly passenger ferry.
Due to spending so much time waiting for ferries, it was late in the afternoon by the time we got off the last ferry in Punta Sabbioni. We decided to stop at Cavellino, just south of Lido de Jesolo. The campsites here aren't small, they are all called 'villages' and most have bars, loud music and noisy entertainment every night. We searched for something quieter and found a smaller site with a private beach and a rule of no noise after 11pm.
We spent the day on the campsite catching up with the blog, washing and swimming in the sea. The beach was a whole mass of bodies, umbrellas, sunbeds and a liberal sprinkling of hawkers, mostly African, selling trinkets, baskets and kites and the sea was crowded with bathers.
As the crow flies it isn't far between these two resorts, both on the coast. But there is a lagoon which meant that we had to travel some way inland and across country before heading back to the coast.
We were away early, in the lovely cool of the morning. There was 17.5 km to cycle through Lido de Jesolo, the next resort. The whole day was on the flat but the morning breeze was in our faces to slow us down. We passed a disused swing bridge, a wonderful feat of engineering.
There were plenty of trees to shade us at first but their roots made the
sides of the road very uneven. By 3pm we arrived in Biblione and headed
to the west side, away from the featureless town. The campsite was
right on the beach and we pitched the tent quickly, rushed down to the
sea for a swim among the teeming millions of Italians.
After rushing back to get the camera to take photos of the impossibly crowded beach we ran back to the site to shower and change and get back to the beach bar in time for the happy hour offer of chips and a large beer for 4.5 euro. before 6pm. It's such hard work!!!!
Again today we had to cycle inland to get across several rivers and
drainage dykes, before heading back towards the coast. Biblione is a
very cycle friendly town with lots of cycle lanes on the main roads and
along the sea shore. But once out of the town we had to cycle along the
busy main road to get to the relatively new bridge over the river. It
was almost a half circle cross section with a steep incline to climb.
At the other side there was a sign for a cycle route along the river which we hoped would avoid the need to ride up the busy main road, but it was on a rough, unsurfaced track so the road was an easier option.
Lunch was an enormous pizza at a random roadside restaurant before continuing on. The final part of the route was on a cycle track on on old railway track to Aquilia.
At its peak, Aquilia was an important Roman river port, leading to the Meditterranean Sea. The town has significant ruins and the river port docks and moorings can still be seen although the river that used to be 42m wide is now only about 5 meters. There is also an ampitheatre and parts of the forum still visible.
Italian Lakes - Aquilea to Trieste Ride Profile
Rather than head straight to Trieste, we wanted to visit Gordo on the
coast. The cycle lane that we had followed yesterday continued,
following the old railway line. It was a rough surface and felt like we
were cycling over the original sleepers.
After about 5km the road goes over a thin neck of land between two lagoons. There was such a strong head wind that it slowed our progress to only 12km in the first hour. Coming into Gordo, we were desperate for coffee but couldn't find a single cafe open at 10.30am. We carried on through the town and then through a vast tourist area to the east with big campsites, hotels and apartment blocks.
The traffic was busy but it was all cars, mostly tourists and no lorries. We turned off on a longer but quieter back road along the side of a river, which brought us into Monfalcone and a much deserved cup of coffee.
Steve consulted the sat nav and found a route through an industrial estate and past the port before returning to the main road just outside the city. It was a very quiet road. No traffic at all but it still had a separate cycle lane. It took us exactly where we wanted to be EXCEPT..... there was a broad canal (not shown on the Garmin map) between us and the main road on the other side and no bridge to cross it. There was a nice area of grass and trees beside the canal where we ate our lunch, watching the boats plying up and down the busy waterway to the (relatively new) marina.
With energy restored we retraced our steps and found a way onto the Trieste road. For the first time in several weeks there were hills and mountains in the distance. There was plenty of traffic but most of the heavy lorries were on the motorway, to our left and higher up the hill.
The road hugged the coastline above the sea with amazing views back
towards Grado. Stopping to take a photo we were joined by Laurent, a
Swiss cyclist on his way to Athens with his gear on a trailer. We
swopped emails and were sure we would meet up again further south. Now
close to Trieste the rocky sea shore was packed with weekend swimmers
We booked into a small 2 star hotel for a couple of nights. We were glad
to be in accommodation when a thunder storm started soon after we
The next day was spent exploring Trieste, a cosmopolitan but slightly jaded and not very photogenic city.
We had thoroughly enjoyed this classic ride through the Italian Lakes.
From Trieste our trip takes us briefly through Slovenia and island hopping along the coast of Croatia.
Or you can link back to our Tours page from The Italian Lakes and Venetian Coastline to Trieste
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