By bike in the north of the province of Mantua
A trip to the northernmost part of the Mantuan
Receding northward, the glaciers left between the plain and lake Garda masses of rocks, clay, stones, which, moulded by the action of time and man, formed the enchanting landscape of the morainal hills, which lie in the most northern part of the province of Mantua.
Going west from the fresh waters of the river Mincio, we meet intricately entwined roads and paths, and a landscape coloured by golden fields of maize, corn, sunflowers and green meadows, where vines and olive trees work their way into woods of hornbeams, alders, oaks, cypresses, and willows.
Here you can find numerous little villages and medieval boroughs, which testify to the important historical events which have marked this land. In this scenery bike lovers can invent for themselves innumerable itineraries.
Narrow roads with little traffic, or real cycle paths, allow you to easily reach landscapes of absolute beauty, charming medieval boroughs, important works of art and historical places of indisputable charm. In this enchanting context you can stop or even stay overnight, enjoying the hospitality offered by the numerous local "aziende agrituristiche" (farmhouse hotels and restaurants), from which you can also take home a taste from the area by buying, directly from the producers, Grana Padano Dop, DOC wines, East Garda DOP Oil and various other delicacies.
Each cyclist can choose the route which suits his physical ability, taking into consideration its length and difficulty. Once you have chosen your route, you can visit farms situated along a triangle, with Castiglione delle Stiviere to the north-west, Ponti sul Mincio to the north-east and, to the south, Volta Mantovana.
Castiglione delle Stiviere is an important little town in the vicinity of lake Garda, and is the birthplace of St. Luigi Gonzaga. In the sixteenth-century palazzo Aliprandi, ancient home of the Aliprandi family, and which in the past also housed the collegio delle Vergini di Gesù (Convent of the Virgins of Jesus), there is today the Museo storico aloisiano (Historical Museum of St. Luigi). It houses among other things, works of art inspired to the Saint and precious objects of religious art.
Among the numerous churches in Castiglione, we must mention the Basilica di San Luigi, built in 1608 on the Jesuit’s wishes, along with the adjoining college. In it there is the urn which contains the most precious relic of Saint Luigi: the skull.
The Museo internazionale della Croce Rossa (International Museum of the Red Cross), in Palazzo Longhi, brings together numerous pieces of evidence of the history of the Red Cross movement, founded by Henry Dunant after the Risorgimento battles of Solferino and San Martino.
On 14th May 1859, at San Martino, the Piedmonts, guided by king Vittorio Emanuele II, fough against the Austrians. On the same day, a little further south at Solferino, the bulk of the French army, commanded by Napoleone III, clashed with the Austro-Hungarian army, under the Emperor Francesco Giuseppe, in one of the most bloody battles of the Risorgimento.
The built-up area of Solferino is still dominated by the rocca (fortress), called "Spia d’Italia" (Spy of Italy). It is a square tower, 23 metres high, from the top of which the Austro-Hungarians checked the movements of the enemy troops. You can reach the fortress by crossing the large piazza Castello, where once there was a Gonzaga castle, and from where you can enjoy an extensive view over the surrounding plain.
Other places which recall the battle are the Museo storico (Historical Museum) and the nearby church Ossario di San Pietro in Vincoli (Ossuary church of St. Pietro in Vincoli), where the mortal remains of the fallen of all the armies who fought in this battle are kept.
few kilometres south-east of Solferino lies Cavriana, well-known for its charming Romanesque country parish church (eleventh-twelfth century), built on the top of a green hill, and a place of peace and reflection.
At Cavriana there is also the important "Museo archeologico dell’Alto Mantovano" (Upper Mantuan Archeological Museum), housed in the rooms of Villa Mirra-Siliprandi. This villa was built by the Habsburgs on the remains of a castle which had previously been built on the Bonacolsis’ wishes and which has been enlarged and embellished down through the centuries by the Gonzagas. The museum keeps major finds of the whole morainal area, from the prehistoric times up to the Renaissance.
Going further south-east, you enter the built-up area of Volta Mantovana, characterized by steep, narrow streets. You can’t miss the current town hall, Palazzo Cavriani, formerly villa Guerrieri-Gonzaga, a beautiful example of a Renaissance residence.
Continuing towards Pozzolo you enter the northern part of the Parco del Mincio (Mincio Park). At Pozzolo the river is flanked by two flat, narrow roads. The one on the right bank can be reached from Volta Mantovana by turning left two km before the village. It is a non-asphalted track and is used by few fishermen or tourists. The road on the left bank runs parallel to this track and begins from the bridge just outside Pozzolo and is asphalted and for cyclists only.
Following these tracks and going up the river, it is possible to reach lake Garda, going through Borghetto and by-passing Valeggio and Monzambano.
Monzambano, a medieval borough on the right bank of the Mincio, keeps its medieval castle almost unaltered inside its extensive walls.
In the borough of Monzambano, just a few kilometres west of the village, lies the enchanting village Castellaro Lagusello, the "pearl of the morainal hills".
In the middle of a natural oasis, near a charming, little lake, Castellaro Lagusello keeps intact its medieval appearance, forming a totally unique environment, which includes the castle from the thirteenth century, the church of St. Nicola (seventeenth century), and the Romanesque oratorio della Beata Vergine delle Grazie (Oratory of the Blessed Virgin of the Graces).
Ponti sul Mincio, a village only 4 km from lake Garda, is dominated by the remains of the medieval walls, within which, the built-up area developed over the centuries.
The Parrocchiale (Parish church), dedicated to St. Antonio, Abbot, is a building from the sixteenth century and contains interesting works of art.
(Pictures: Toni Lodigiani - APT archive)