What's Cool In Road Cycling

Travel: Meet Garda Bike Hotel

While many of us in North America are familiar with the famous climbs and locations of the Giro and other Italian races, the beauty of Lake Garda is not so well known as a cycling destination. But it should be. And Garda Bike Hotels offer two perfect bases for a cycling holiday.

Lago di Garda is the biggest of the Italian lakes and sits as one of the main gateways for anyone heading to the Dolomites. It’s location 20 km from Verona, and about 90 minutes drive from Milano and Venice make it easily accessible for international travelers. To the south are the plains of the vast Po River that flows from somewhere near Torino all the way to the Adriatic Sea south of Venice. To the east, west, and north are the glorious hills & mountains that make a fantastic playground full of amazing rides. Of course the best part is that all of this is in Italy – where the culture, food, wine, people make it impossible to not enjoy yourself – whether you’re a cyclist or not.

Tapping into Garda’s fantastic cycling has been pretty easy thanks to Garda Bike Hotel’s property at the brand new Enjoy Garda Hotel, in nearby Peschiera, coming in May 2013. The name may sound a tad earnest, perhaps too obvious – but having stayed with them before, I’m willing to venture this is one business that’s going to fulfill its promise.

The Enjoy Garda Hotel opens in May and boasts a complete renovation.

My first visit to Lake Garda was in 2007 for the Giro d’Italia’s penultimate 43km time trial stage from Bardolino on the shores of Lake Garda to Verona. Although it rained much of the two days I was here, the beauty of the region was easy to see, and one that I’ve wanted to visit again.

Rooms and amenities at the Enjoy Garda Hotel will be modern and confortable – perfect for a cycling stay.

While unheard of in North America, bike hotels are all the rage in Italy, where the national bike hotel association has over 45 member hotels throughout Italy – all catering to the specific needs of cyclists. And while you’ll still see a few bikes loaded with panniers, the majority of guests seem to be racing enthusiasts who arrive by car or train for a week or two, and want to take in the local rides and lifestyles riding their ‘fast’ bikes.

The riding around Lake Garda is typically Italian – ie: spectacular.

The Garda Bike Hotels are set apart from other places to stay by a few key differences.

First – you’ll find owners, managers, and staff who are often cyclists themselves, so they understand the special needs of cyclists. As cycling for sport and recreation has increased in the past years, they’ve developed places that make it easy to base yourself and enjoy all the riding and culture area has to offer, without the inconveniences of a traditional hotel.

The hotels are very nice – the Enjoy Garda Hotel is just completing a 3 million euros renovation – everything is new from top to bottom boasts amenities including gym, bike room, a swimming pool, sauna, spa with facilities for massage.

Another key difference is the dedicated bike storage room – the Garda Bike Hotels boast almost 800 square feet of organized bike storage at each property, complete with individual racked ‘parking stalls’, and electronic keyed entry. They also have dedicated cleaning areas, bike stands, tools, and either a mechanic, or staff who can help with most repairs, or if really needed – a relationship with the local bike shop for major repairs.

But it doesn’t stop there – daily laundry service is also available, because nobody likes riding in yesterday’s dirty kit… This is a big deal, as anyone who’s tried to get laundry done overnight at hotel can attest.

Food is another major part of enjoying any cycling holiday, and a true benefit of travelling in a country that considers their food a national treasure. Garda Bike Hotel offers a better selection of high energy foods before and after riding, so fuelling up for a 2-3 – or even 7 hours ride is easy to do. Breakfasts are served buffet style, and include whole grain cereals, mueslis, yogurt, cakes and pastries, cold sliced meats and cheeses plus a selection of hot dishes like eggs, sausages and bacon. The best part is that it’s all prepared in house by the hotel’s chef and kitchen staff – and since this is Italy – it tastes better that anything you could find back home.

A mid afternoon hot buffet is available for guests returning famished from morning rides, and dinners are classically Italian with multiple courses of antipasti, pastas, risotti, and meat, poultry and fish dishes available. Of course the seafood caught in Lake Garda is a local specialty.

Taking your bike on any flight these days has become a prohibitive pain, but not to worry since they offer bike rentals of both Pinarello and Merckx high end models, across a variety of sizes. In fact, Eddy Merckx himself will be hosting a special international launch for dealers and press at Garda Bike Hotels in June 2012, signaling the start of a joint venture that will allow guests to test ride Merckx bikes on some serious rides in the area.

Top end bike rentals are available too.

Riding in the area is also typically Italian – and by that I mean fantastic. Options are virtually endless, and guests have the choice of joining guided and supported groups rides or exploring the many roads and towns of the lake on their own. Because the staff are geared to serving cyclists, they also know the best roads, and can answer the kinds of questions cyclists might ask.

Never mind Nicola’s ‘civilian’ clothing – you’re more likely to see him riding with guests.

Nicola Verdolin is the president of Italy’s bike hotels association, and also is the manager at Garda Bike Hotels, and in fact started their hospitality program for cyclists back in 2004, when the hotel hosted the German Telekom team, including Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel. We asked him a bit more about what his hotels have to offer.

How did you get into this and how did the bike hotel come about?
It was a suggestion of our consultant. He was the founder of Italy Bike Hotels. He suggested to us, as we were already a sport hotel with a lot of soccer teams, and mentioned that we already had the capabilities and the infrastructure to have a bike hotel. He said: “why don’t you start as a bike hotel?” We thought: “why not?” Ulrich was here, Zabel.

How did Garda Bike Hotels get started?
We started in 2004. The first cycling guests arrived in 2006, before we had only professional teams. We were not oriented with cycling tourists. We started slowly with the first group. Some people from America, England. Now a good part of our business is based on cycling holidays.

What does a bike hotel mean?
Starting with hotel service. You need to have a good recovery from your ride. We have a bike room. If you are a good bike hotel, you need to have rental bikes. In our case, we rent De Rosa bicycles with Campagnolo components. We have a laundry service where you can have your bike clothes cleaned. We have a good breakfast, and some food to take away during the excursion. When the riders come back, there is a buffet in the afternoon. Dinner. The most important thing is that all the staff knows what cyclists need. If you go to the desk and ask for a tube because you punctured or if you have problems with your crank set, they know what you’re talking about. They know that in the morning you need to have clean and dry laundry. It is not difficult, but for a normal hotel it’s difficult to understand. Normally when hotels see you have a bike, you have to put the bicycle in your room. Our bike hotel is oriented to the mind of cyclists. Normal tourists, you need something more. We have good guides and good land. The excursion is the most important part of the day.

There’s so much great riding in the area, the toughest part must be deciding where to go each day. How does it work with your guides?
We have staff guides, and we have a fixed guide. Your readers might know of Eros Poli – Mr. Mt. Ventoux – he is one of our guides. Our fixed guide is sixty-seven years old. He doesn’t speak German, he doesn’t speak English. He rides 25,000 km a year and he knows and understands what people need. We have other guides. One is a teacher, another is working for the newspaper. He is working at night, rides bikes in the morning, and sleeps in the afternoon. Another is a banker and a good cyclist. To be a good guide, you don’t need to be a great cyclist, you need to understand what people want and be able to deliver it to them.

In addition to holidays based out of your two Lake Garda hotels, you also offer special trips…
We organize trips to France or a week with the Giro d’Italia, there are also wine tasting packages and the chance to ride in one of several gran fondos.

How big is a normal group?
We provide a guide for every eight to ten people. A group is not bigger than thirty people. We start all together, and on the way we split. We decide that one guide will go faster, and the other will stay behind with the slower group. We are preparing a new package for 2012: La Dolce Vita. This is for people that like to ride between forty and sixty kilometers a day, stopping for lunch, stopping for winery, gelato. It’s more relaxed.

What are the rates? What do you get.
The packages are more expensive because we put in clothes and include excursions, but it is all inclusive with full board. The price is about ninety euros per day.

What type of rider are the trips geared for?
First we put everyone together — people coming from American, Israel, Australia, Canada, everyone, all together. After a couple of days, they make a big table and all have dinner together. Some people like to ride more. We have different levels. Sometimes, with ten people we have to have two or three guides. When we ride a climb, we always have the guides at the back, and ask the people to wait until everyone is together again. If there is a big difference, we try to work it out so everyone feels comfortable.

What are the possibilities for someone who comes here and doesn’t ride a bike?
There are many things to do. Go visit the lake by boat or by car, go visit Verona. Every day there is a market on the lake. Many people like to go to Milano. They take a train to Milano and come back in the evening. If there are children, there is a museum and a park. We have a shuttle that takes you where you want to go.

We have a package that has excursions to the Dolomiti & Florence. It’s important for many groups. Like me, my wife is not a cyclist. When we go one holiday, she always tells me “No bicycle.” Many cyclists ask what their wife can do, but most of the people we receive, the ladies are cyclists too.

We also have a fantastic collaboration in Bormio with our partner Hotel Funivia, that includes 3 days riding the big climbs of the Stelvio, Mortirolo, and Gavia, and 4 days here on Lake Garda. (See the PEZ Story here).

Garda Bike Hotels offers several packages to suit a variety of cycling tastes, including:
• Three basic packages, i.e. EASY BIKE, ALL INCLUSIVE and PLATINUM and a more exclusive LA DOLCE VITA.

• Granfondo Packages
1. Lake Garda and Grandondo Pinarello
2. Lake Garda, France and Granfondo Eddy Merckx
3. Lake Garda and Granfondo Eroica, or Granfondo Roma, or Granfondo Prosecco, or
Granfondo Cinque Terre, or Stelvio Bike day or Sella Ronda bike day.

• Combine Stelvio & Lake Garda – split the week between Bormio & Lake Garda.


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