Explore: My Verona

With natural beauty and history, Verona is a top destination for those who love cycling in breathtaking locations. Rouleur meets the company who are turning the city into a mecca for cyclists who want great rides, but also a deep dive into local culture

This article was produced in association with Rolling Dreamers

Memory is selective. We remember better the things that affect us emotionally, the things we like. Our mind focuses on the moments it considers most important. And often, those moments become a source of inspiration we carry with us throughout our lives.

One of my most significant memories dates back to 1984 and is linked to the last stage of the Giro d’Italia, which finished in Verona that year. It was an epiphany, and I started to cultivate a dream: to explore the world’s many spectacular places by bike.

Of those moments spent in front of the television, I remember the euphoria of the crowds, cheering as if they were at a stadium. I remember the camera, shooting from a helicopter, following Francesco Moser as he passed through the old city walls, just before entering Verona’s Arena. I also remember the footage of him after the finish, watching and waiting as Laurent Fignon, in the pink jersey, rode the last of the 42-kilometre time trial. It was the first time I had seen a time trial, an exhilarating and exhausting event that has held a great fascination for me ever since. The result is known: Moser won the time trial with a clear advantage over Fignon, and won the Giro, displacing the Frenchman from first place in the general classification. I remember cheering them both on, admiring their determination and making a promise to myself: I would go cycling, as soon as possible (I was very young at the time), on those roads.

This has happened, fortunately, several times. Every time I explored Verona and its environs by bicycle, I filled my memory album with unforgettable moments and wonderful views. But above all I felt the emotion of being in a place where cycling history is imprinted in the landscape, where the passion for cycling is palpable.

Cycling is a sport that has inspired books, films and songs. It’s also one that has always had a very strong connection with the places it visits. In Verona, cycling culture has deep roots, but there are fresh shoots, too. “I moved to live in Verona because I saw its potential as a new cycling destination in Italy. In my opinion, it has a lot going for it,” Matteo Venzi, CEO and founder of Rolling Dreamers, tells me.

“Rolling Dreamers was born in Tuscany in 2016, for bike tours. We focused on cycling travel and experiences. And since 2023 we’ve expanded to Verona for a series of projects, but the operational base is still in Florence,” adds Venzi, who explains to me that he took over the entire company in 2022. “In northern Italy, the world of cycling is very lively, but I realise that it is not globally known yet. Most of our customers are foreign, and speaking with some of them, I understood that they’d never considered Verona as a cycling destination before. But it’s a place with a very active cycling culture.”

Having established that the bike offers a totally different perspective on a landscape, our chat turns to other northern Italian destinations like Vicenza, Bassano del Grappa, Verona and Bergamo, which are all seeing a cycling boom. “Those areas are growing a lot from a cycling point of view as a community. My goal is to open various businesses in Verona. I want to bring a highly regarded Italian frame maker here, who currently lives in Girona, to create a tailor-made steel frame atelier.

“And we are working to open a bike cafe that takes inspiration from Girona, because in my opinion that city’s bubble as a cycling mecca is about to explode across Europe, and I would like to start referring more and more people to Verona. The local community here is already very strong and is ready to welcome certain projects.”

In recent years, the Spanish city has become one of the most popular destinations for cyclists from all over the world, thanks to its strong cycling culture and the presence of many professional riders. “It’s very ambitious, but I would like to put Verona on the cycling map, because in terms of routes and landscape, it’s every bit as good as other more famous destina- tions,” says Venzi. “And there are more aspects to consider: companies in the cycling world from this area, an active local community, places that have a pronounced historical and artistic background...

“I’m also thinking of the ‘Made in Italy’ part of the cycling sector, most of which is based no more than 30 to 40 kilometres from here. There’s a cultural aspect which is amazing. I always make the comparison with Girona, which might be number one in the world, but in my opinion, this area has more to offer. The Spanish town has a very nice historic centre, but here we are talking about a city on another level.”

Verona is certainly rich in charm, culture and beauty. I’m watching the Adige river, flowing sinuously through its historic centre, almost resembling a silver ribbon. It could be a postcard. And then there is Castelvecchio, with its battlements and towers standing out imposingly between the Scaligero Bridge and the Arco dei Gavi. And, of course, there’s the Arena, that temple of opera. It’s one of the best preserved Roman monuments in the world, both ancient and dynamic at the same time, because it hosts internationally renowned concerts, theatre and dance performances. It’s an extraordinary architectural gem that unites the past and the present like few other places.

Arriving on two wheels in front of this two thousand-year-old amphitheatre, the largest open-air opera venue in the world, and perhaps stopping for a coffee in a bar in the iconic Piazza Bra, is like finding the missing piece of a puzzle. It’s an indescribable sensation, like you’re in the only possible place where it might be possible to fully grasp the beauty of this city.

“Certain locations can be the ideal place to train, but here there’s a real socio-cultural fabric. It’s a place to spend a holiday and go on a bike tour. For us, the important thing is what we offer in terms of the travel experience. If I go to a training camp, it’s just to ride, so in the morning I set off on my bike, then I eat something, then I sleep, and the next day I start again. That would be such a shame to do in Verona, because there’s a lot to see,” says Venzi.

There’s no question that Verona is one of the most extraordinary cities in the world, and there’s no better way to see the surrounding countryside than by bike. Personally, I love its two hills which offer breathtaking views: the Colle San Pietro, with its stunning panoramic terrace, and Torricelle, which takes its name from the fortification towers built during Austrian rule, and which has many exciting cycling stories to tell.

I think back to the 1999 World Championships, when Óscar Freire, at 23 years old and in his second year as a professional, shocked everyone by winning on the Torricelle circuit. The Spaniard’s success represents another epochal moment for me, because from the following year, I began to follow professional cycling as a journalist, and right here in Verona, with my notebook in hand, I saw Freire win the rainbow jersey again in 2004.

Cycling in these parts is a unique experience. You immerse yourself in the history of the sport and relive some of its most exciting moments. I also like the fact that around every bend, there’s a beautiful piece of nature, or a hidden work of art. “Verona is the ideal focal point for organising bike tours and exploring a variety of interesting places. We have selected diversified routes that allow you to really get to know the region. We dedicated a day to Monte Baldo, a very long climb from which you can then see Lake Garda. Another at Lake Garda. And yet another in Valpolicella,” says Venzi.

The message is clear: discover what Verona has to offer by choosing routes based on your interests, from a selection of itineraries that all allow you to see very different things. “For now, we have deliberately only done road routes around Verona. In the future we’ll design a gravel version, because we also do a lot of bikepacking and gravel,” says Venzi. “It all depends on the experience you’re looking for. It depends on whether you want to pedal a little or a lot, whether you prefer to explore cultural sites or indulge in the food and wine.

“We also organise guided tours. We have standard packages, but we do tailor-made as well. If someone comes to us and says, ‘I want to do something wild, bikepacking,’ we’ll make it happen. We do a lot of custom trips like that. We have clients who commission us to design a trip for a destination they’ve chosen. For example, they’ll tell us: ‘Next year, I want to go to Japan,’ and so we prepare everything. The important first step is to understand their expectations. Then, as soon as they land with us, we take care of everything.”

The three Rolling Dreamers road routes start downtown and wind through rows of vineyards, up steep climbs into the fresh mountain air, and along the shores of a lake that is famous the world over for its extraordinary beauty and in locations with a rich cultural heritage. The landscape here is like an incredible outdoor museum.

“Verona’s potential is unbeatable,” says Venzi. “The important thing is that you can stay here and see many things. To get to Lake Garda, for example, you ride on a really long cycle path When you get to Bardolino, you stay on the lakeside, pass through Garda and reach Torre del Benaco. And from there you go up towards Albisano.”

Local legend has it that one night the father of the gods, annoyed by the boasts of two wise men who attributed the beauties of their land to the work of man, took the last pearls that he kept in a chest and placed them far from the sea, at the foot of the mountains, creating Lake Garda. Every place you come across in these parts is like a handle that magically opens a door to new emotions, new unforgettable memories. Bardolino is an old fishing village with a picturesque promenade. Garda is bordered to the north by Monte Luppia, which descends into the lake forming the stunning Punta San Vigilio, while to the south, the Colle della Rocca creates an unforgettable panorama. And Torri del Benaco has its iconic Scaligero Castle, built to defend the port.

The Monte Baldo area is a true paradise for nature lovers. In fact, the variety of plants that grow here – some of which are found nowhere else – is so impressive that it could almost be compared to a botanical garden. And then there’s Valpolicella, re- nowned for its fine wines, among which Recioto and Amarone stand out. Fine wines to be paired with the many local delicacies. And in the valley, there are around 100 historic villas, while near Fumane, there are prehistoric caves which are among the most important archaeological sites in Europe.

A bike tour in this part of Italy is a sensory journey, a constant surprise and a way to discover a territory with many different faces, where history is intertwined with the magnificence of nature and art, an unparalleled combination of tradition and innovation. 

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