Wheels, vineyards and Italy – IOL Travel

Rome – Wine and cycling are two of my favourite things. However, put them together, add cycling on the “wrong” side of the road, and it could be a recipe for disaster.

I was in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, Lago di Garda to be exact, Italy’s largest lake.

Lake Garda is an adventurer’s playground, great for swimming, sailing and cycling in summer and skiing in winter. Its shores are studded with picturesque villages, with old castles and Roman ruins.

Most of the villages’ cobbled streets are out of bounds to vehicles. Bicycles rule, with children on tricycles, parents trailing buggy bicycles and women cycling in heels. Bells and baskets replace helmets and gloves. They weave their way between pedestrians, dogs and wheelchairs, blending with lycra-clad cyclists on mountain bikes.

My plan was to cycle 158km around the lake but I gave up the idea because of the narrow roads and endless tunnels. Getting around is easy with regular buses, although traffic is common, especially on market days, as I’d found in Lazise on the eastern shore.

Negotiating crowds, I passed under a medieval gateway, down an alley and into a courtyard. The tower at the south-east corner of this ancient wall is part of the ZF4 estate, on the lake shore.

Pouring Bianco Veronese, Laura Zanoni says her grandfather made his fortune from silkworms, investing the profits in land overlooking Lake Garda. He passed on his love of the earth and wine to the four Zanoni siblings – after whom the estate is named: Z for Zanoni, F for fratelli (brothers) and their father Franco, and 4 for the four Zanoni brothers and sisters.

But it’s a challenge owning a 30ha wine farm. Laura continues to practice law, Marco is an engineer, Silvia is a pharmacist and Giovanni has died.

Laura says they also produce olives and their latest project is to restore one of the four farmhouses and make it into a bed and breakfast.

I took a ferry north to Malcesine and caught cablecars up Monte Baldo. At 1 518m, it’s the highest peak in the area. The flat top is busy, with restaurants, children’s play areas, paragliders, cows and even alpacas. There’s a network of sign-posted trails and ski runs. They allow bicycles on the cablecars at certain times.

In the south, Sirmione is flat and ideal for vineyards. I made use of the free bicycles on loan from the Riva del Garda’s information office.

I joined pedestrians and cyclists on the lakeside promenade, stopping in Torbole at a gelataria.

Back on track, I went inland and found Madonna delle Vittorie, named after a 16th century chapel, built to celebrate a victory by the counts of Arco. They produce red, white and sparkling wines and olive oil.

As I sipped wine made from nosiola grapes, only found in the Trentino area, locals arrived on bicycles to fill plastic containers. It costs about R19 a litre, great value for good wine .

Located in Trentino-south Tyrol, wine produced in upper Lake Garda is different from the rest of the Trentino region. With suitable soils, mild micro-climate and daily winds Ora and Pelér, it’s ideal for development of grapes’ aromas.

In foothills, luscious merlot grapes are grown in heavy, rich clay soil, with lots of sun exposure and breezes off the lake. Terraced vineyards are warm and sunny during the day but cooled at night by air from the Dolomite Mountains, ideal for more aromatic grape varieties, such as the elegant Müller Thurgau.

I tasted a few but still had a long way to go. I cycled along the tracks above the Brescia River, surrounded by verdant vineyards, far from roads and past picnic areas. I rang my bell for the hell of it. Life was good.

In the medieval town of Arco, I locked the bicycle and climbed the hill to explore the fortress. It’s a 100m climb on many steep steps following a winding path beneath olive trees to reach the remains. The views across the valley, with rock climbers on nearby cliffs and the shimmering lake beyond, made it worthwhile.

Back on the cycle track, I sought out Agraria Riva del Garda.

Established in 1926, they sell – apart from a huge wine range – meat, cheese, preserved fruit and jams, honey and the most amazing variety of pasta, including black ribbon noodles made with squid ink.

Maybe the sommelier knew that I needed to cycle “home” because I tasted a drop in the ocean of their wines……..

Wheels, vineyards and Italy – IOL Travel Europe | IOL.co.za http://ow.ly/iZjee

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