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photo: Gerow

My first foray into Italian mountain biking came in the spring of 2013 when my partner and I entered an eight-day XC stage race in Liguria’s Apennine mountains. The course stretched from the “Bay of Poets” in La Spezia, west across the entire region of Liguria, and ended a few kilometers from the French border. The race included stages with ascent totals in excess of 10,000 ft, and more 2+ hour hike-a-bike sections than I care to recall.

On the flight over from the US, I was expecting a gravel road race against svelt roadies. What I found instead were challenging singletracks, beautifully layered stone and root lattice to pedal through, earth-curved views of the sea, and some legitimately skilled mountain bikers from as far away as South Africa.

Countless races and one stomach ulcer worth of moving logistics later, I now live in Turin, in the middle of some of the best mountain biking trails in all of Europe. The challenging singletrack we found in the race were not unique, as they backdrop nearly every small community across Northern Italy. Even the solitary flat strip of this country, situated around the Po river valley, hosts some legitimately fun dirt riding.

Given its trail wealth and variety, collecting five of the best tracks in Northern Italy is similar to listing the best trails in the vast Rocky Mountain Range. There are heaps of mountains and loads of ways to play in them. I will focus on five main trail centers in the Alps and Apennine peaks. Each of these locations is blanketed with trails that riders of nearly all stripes can enjoy.

Rollercoaster trail, Finale Ligure

Trek Factory Racing rider Katy Winton sending it in style on a practice run prior to the 2018 EWS race in Finale. Photo: Gerow

We have introduced the splendor of Finale Ligure in a number of articles, and kicking it to the top of the list of “must ride” locations in Italy is an easy choice. You can ride a different trail in Finale every day of the week, with many of them spilling out someplace near the sea.

Finale: You can call it “La Mecca” for mountain bikers. Long varied trails, dry natural dust, and grippy, lovely rocks. It is a winter destination for riders from all over Europe. [Rollercoaster is] flowy at the top section, then tricky and fun in the midsection, [and finally] technical in the end. -Daniela Ternelli

The top-rated trail in the greater Finale area is appreciably Rollercoaster, and for good reason. The trail offers some super fun flow, small jumps, fast forest weaving, and several well-planned compressions near the end. It is rated advanced in the Singletracks trail database, though once you ride the other tracks in Finale, Rollercoaster becomes a solid blue line. It’s a classically fun trail that anyone can enjoy on any mountain bike, with plenty of opportunities to get as rad as you wish.

The higher trails in Finale close occasionally, for repair or brief hunting restrictions. Call up the folks at Evolve Bikeshop to find out if your favorite track is open. They can also help you with rental bikes and shuttles.

Though I love Italian food, I recommend checkout out this Mexican café at least once while you are there.

417 & Trota trails, Lake Garda

Photo courtesy of Redbull.com. Photographer: Lukas Pilz

Formed by glaciers at the end of the most recent ice age, Lago di Garda is the largest body of water in Italy. It’s a popular spot for windsurfing, climbing, beach sleeping, and of course mountain biking. The foothills of the Dolomites meet the edge of the lake, leaving a natural backdrop for beautiful views and steep tracks.

Italy’s largest and longest running mountain bike festival, Riva Bike Festival, takes place every year in Riva del Garda, Trentino. The fest features a Sea-Otter-esque mismatch of parties, elite and amateur level races, and a bike expo. Now in its 25th year of partying, the three-day event is a great opportunity to check out the latest bike gear and some new trails in tandem.

Garda Lake […] has a lot to offer around Riva del Garda, Torbole, and also around Garda town. My favorite line is the 417 Trail and Trota Trail in which you literally ride into the lake. Another [trail], located in Garda town is called Monte Belpo. You’ll love that. A good line is also the Maso Naranch trail and the well know Valle del Diaol. The last two trails are kept in good condition. -Manuel Caiti.

The tracks around Lake Garda become closer together as you move north, with no shortage of steep, tricky lines to hoop and holler down, and burly climbs to burn your lungs. There is a bike park, multiple tour operators, and as many shuttle drivers to help you put together several days of exploring around the lake.

Most of the trails around Lake Garda are open and rideable year round, with some of the high tracks receiving snow for 2-3 months in mid-winter. The folks at Garda Bike Shuttle will be happy to help you find the best places to ride.

Colle della Croce/ Col Croce trail, La Thuile

Racer Megan Chinburg on stage 3 of the 2018 EWS race in La Thuile. Photo: Sven Martin

La Thuile was my entry point to the Italian Alps, which is like a surfer hitting Mavericks upon arrival in the US. I was recovering from a broken shoulder and went to heckle my partner who was racing the Superenduro. This event was the first time I had seen pro-level enduro racers spooked by the angle and technicality of the stages they had signed up to compete on. Fortunately, there are other, less Knievel trails to try.

The area offers up some of the steepest gravity tracks in all of Italy, with enough rocks and roots to make you wonder how anyone makes the full run without a rest stop. If spooky slides are not what you’re looking for, there is a mountain full of options for day-long loops or bikepacking treks.

La Thuile is both a feast for the mountain bike soul and a treat for the eyes as well. After my first time riding there, I was in love; the trees, the mountains, the fresh air, the trails, everything in La Thuile is breathtaking. After returning home to Florence [Italy] following the 2017 Superenduro in La Thuile, I immediately set plans in motions to move to Turin in order to be closer to the Alps. Every trail offers something different; from narrow, exposed rocky lines to twisty, root-crossed forest flow to shrub-lined tracks, but they all have one thing in common: a very steep angle of descent! Come prepared with a few sets of brake pads and a desire to yield to gravity-enhanced fun.

Choosing a favorite [trail] would be really difficult. I love the ride down from the top of the Chalet Express lift taking La Tour -> Touriasse with an option for finishing off with Le Volpi. But it’s hard to beat the views from the top of Punta della Croce, just to the west of La Thuile. It’s a long pedal up road SR39, then more double and singletrack climbing on Sentiero Colle della Croce, but it’s worth it. The nearly 1000m drop down from there takes you from above the treeline, down through alpine meadows and lush pine forest duff trails. -Megan Chinburg

Climbing in La Thuile is a mix of logging and ski access roads, and occasionally an XC trail to get you to a peak. From there you can roll into France and back again while traversing the high alpine ridge trails. If you prefer to take the ski lift up there are three lifts equipped to transport you and your bike to the top.

The best time to visit is roughly June 15th to September 30th, though the season depends greatly on snow levels and precipitation. Check the bike park website for details.

Holy Hansen Trail, Val Venosta

Photo: Daniela Ternelli

I wanted to include one location that a lot of folks may not have visited, and Val Venosta came highly recommended by every Italian I spoke with. Several veteran locals said it is their favorite place to ride in all of Italy, so clearly it had to make the list.

The valley’s shining features include some of the longest descents in the Alps, delicious South Tyrolean cuisine, annual apple festivals, and high alpine lakes for a post-ride rinse.

This is my friend Daniela Ternelli’s description of her favorite ride in Val Venosta.

You start from Solden up with the lift to the first Refuge. […] It’s one of the most spectacular high alpine rides, where you can find a small amount of pushing and an unforgivable 2000-meter downhill. It’s almost totally rideable. The view from the top is something you won’t forget easily, and the natural trail down among marmots will give you huge satisfaction! -Daniela Ternelli

And a second word on the area, from Manu Caiti:

Another great feature of the spot is that after March you can shred it even though it is an alpine area. The valley goes from east to west, and in the middle you have the Adige river. This means that the mountains that are at the north of the river face the south, leading to quick snow melt. There is a sort of special climate [in Val Venosta]. It is not strange to have 10-12 degrees [Celsius] in the valley in March or at the end of October. -Manu Caiti

In addition to Daniella’s ride suggestion above, the most popular track in the area, Holly Hansen, is legendary among local riders. You can climb the 800 meters to the start, but be warned that nearly everyone who rides this trail wants to ride it ten additional times immediately after. It is a purpose-built flow trail, with all the berms and kickers you could want. Many of the adjacent trails are built in a more classic and natural arrangement, making this flow track something special.

Trails in Val Venosta are open from mid-May through late September. Check with the local guides at Vinschgua Bike for trail conditions and guide services.

Electric Line trail, Canazei

Canazei, and the Val di Fassa region is one of my personal favorite riding areas in northern Italy. The mountains are massive, and the views are as beautiful as the trails. Unlike the ancient tracks around much of Italy, nearly all of the trails around Canazei are built by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers. The trail flavor is a little faster flow, with long descents that shift from uber technical to screaming speed and back again several times along their lengths.

From the 2018 Superenduro in Canazei. Photo: Gerow

The Dolomites are breathtakingly beautiful. Add in some long, killer, technical trails like Electric Line, with the mountain backdrop, and be prepared to keep picking your jaw up for as many days as you stay! -Tyrone Dines

Check out photos and video form the 2018 Superenduro to get an idea of what the tracks look like. The tracks in Val di Fassa offer a lot of turns in the trees and long, exposed sections. As Tyrone mentioned above, you will have to focus intently if you want to stay on the trail, as the views are stunningly distracting.

Gondolas on either side of the valley allow riders to experience distinct trail styles and viewpoints. For mountain biking photographers or videographers, this place is worth a few weeks of exploration. Similar to mountain resort schedules across the Alps, tracks in Canazei open in mid to late June and are typically snowed-covered in late September. Check the local lift schedule for exact hours and dates.

I’ll close with one last shot from the Dolomites, so you can truly ingest how photogenic this piece of earth is. Photo: Gerow

There are at least 10 places I had to shave from this list that are worth visiting. A few stellar spots I didn’t include are Sestri Levante, Diano Merina, Bardonecchia, Pila, PaganellaLivigno, Sanremo, Calestano, Priero, Portofino, Varazze, Genova, and Santa Caterina del Valfurva.

Ma ci sono tanti altri bei posti nell’Italia nord! (In English: There are many other beautiful places in the north of Italy!)

Where are your favorite tracks in Northern Italy, or Italy in general?

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