By Eileen Ogintz
LAKE GARDA REGION, Italy (Day Eight) — We’re out for a Sunday morning bike ride.
It’s a beautiful day and we’re riding along side a river on a bike path, past vineyards and apple orchards. Families are out walking their dogs. Bike clubs race past.
We pass quaint villages, the Alps around us.
Yes the Alps. We’re out for our Sunday ride in Italy with my friend Ron van Dijk who directs European Operations for Austin Adventures and has been leading bike trips in Europe for more than 30 years — 70 different departures this summer. This winter, he tells me, he’ll be scouting for more family multi-sport trips in Europe.
We’re doing a leg of trip the company offers in the South Tyrol along the Austrian-Italian Border, ending at beautiful Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake — it’s more than 30 miles long and as much as 10 miles wide — and a popular vacation destination between Venice and Milan that has attracted tourists for centuries.
Van Dijk picked us up in Verona, where we stayed right in the center at the Hotel Accademia, ideally located whether we want to walk to the famous Roman Arena di Verona where the summer opera festival is held (Giovanni Zenatello, who owned the hotel and whose family still owns it, helped start the famous festival) and Juliet’s balcony. The hordes of tourists posing for pictures don’t care that it’s based on a work of fiction. We’re also in the heart of Verona’s shopping area and mingle with locals out to browse on a Saturday afternoon, stopping to visit with friends, kids insisting their parents visit the Disney store.
Van Dijk brought us to Trento to the bike path that runs along the Adige River. Electric or regular bikes he asks? Since the first 15 miles this morning are mostly flat, we opt for regular bikes as opposed to the ever more popular e-bikes that require you to pedal but give you a gentle “push” as you climb. He hands out turn-by-turn directions that we can conveniently post in a plastic pouch atop the handle bars and offers an extra cell-phone with his number on speed dial. (On a typical trip, he explains, one guide would always be with the group but in our case, he has to drive the van to the hotel.)
There are cycle trips for all kinds of travelers. Holland for families; Provence for foodies; Austria for nature lovers; Tuscany with all of the hills for the adrenaline junkies — and those in good shape!
Van Dijk says more families and groups of friends are opting to organize private trips — with eight people the cost is roughly the same as a group trip. Even better, you can tailor your itinerary and even the number of days.
The four of us don’t have much trouble finding our way (just one wrong turn easily remedied). Ron meets us halfway with some fruit and snacks — served Austin Adventures style, on a “silver” platter.
We stop for lunch in the town of Rovereto, the site of fierce fighting during World War I and the home of the Italian War Museum in the Castle of Rovereto dating back to the 16th Century. Major World War I battles between Italy and Austria, we learn, were fought right near here, leaving thousands dead and thousands of civilians as refugees.
We wander down narrow cobblestoned streets to the tiny garden of Vecchia Trattoria Birraria Scala Della Torre, which has been run by Alida Tovazzi for 35 years. She serves up her specialties of goulash, barley soup, freshly made dumplings called Strangolapreti made with spinach and ricotta cheese, Spaetzle (tiny Tyrolean dumplings) and the best apple strudel I’ve ever seen — just out of the oven. Good thing we’re getting back on our bikes for another 15 mile ride!
But because there are some hills this afternoon, van Dijk suggests trying the electric bikes. But even with the battery boost, I find some of the hills on the route from Rovereto to Riva del Garda, set on the northern tip of the lake where we are staying to be challenging—especially down a steep hill with impatient Sunday drivers heading up.
We arrive at the lovely Flora Park Hotel just as it is getting dark — the beautiful lake, bikers with lights and couples with strollers walking on the lakefront path. It is gorgeous with gardens and a pool outside. Our suite even has a sauna! But I’m more glad for the shower.
We adjourn for dinner in the pretty resort town at Giardino Verdi where I sample the local trout and others opt for pasta and toast to new adventures and getting out of your comfort zone.
We walk the half mile or so back to the hotel smiling and fall into bed—gratefully.