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The Italian Job

There's no need to rob a bank to get a few days of red hot riding in the Alps; mbr set off to Trentino for a steal of a weekend.

The Italian Job

Some things in life just defy logic. No we’re not talking about how aeroplanes manage to stay in the air or the funding of the Millennium Dome. This is altogether much bigger than that. We’re talking about the fact that for most of us living in the south, it actually costs less to fly to the Alps than it does to drive to Scotland or, if you get a real good deal, even to the Lakes. In fact, a quick check on the web at the time of writing revealed a return flight to Italy for the same money as a couple of bottles of Becks in a good number of London nightclubs.

Now don’t get us wrong at this stage, we love the Lakes with a passion (even more when it’s not raining) and Scotland will always be the true mountainous kingdom of the British Isles. But, when you start to compare prices and what you actually get for your hard-earned, it has to be said that the hazy sunshine of the Trentino Alps in early autumn has a lot more appeal to it than the relentless Friday evening grid-locks, we have to fight our way through, just to get to our favourite homespun high ground.

“So what do you get for your money and exactly how much are you talking about?” Well, how about two nights full-board in a decent hotel, two days of excellent riding, local guides, return flights from London and transfers at the other end, all for less than £250? Compare that to your credit card bill for your last weekend away in Britain and you’ll be hitting your dial-up connection button before your virus checker’s finished it boot up routine.

The place in question is called Folgaria. It’s a small winter ski resort on the three-tiered mountain plateaux of the Trentino Alps. It’s modest in size when compared to other famous alpine giants such as France’s Morzine-Les Gets or Chamonix but let’s face it we don’t exactly need 4,810m of snow covered granite to have a good time do we? In fact, at a mere 1,100 metres above sea level, Folgaria’s fresh mountain air contains sufficient oxygen to prevent you from having to waste any of your precious saddle time acclimatising.

It is however, equipped with lifts, endless trails of almost every variety imaginable and some of the most stunning mountain views that you’ll ever have the privilege of pedalling amongst. If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, there’s a fairly major, 100km, mtb specific trail, the Dei Fonti, which links Folgaria with the neighbouring towns of Luserna and Lavarone. And then there’s the local guides: meet JP and Enrico.

MUCHO RAPIDO

Is it just us or are all Italiano’s crazy? Friday night, sipping on an ice cold beer, in the fading sunshine, outside the Club Alpino Hotel, Enrico seemed like a quiet and unassuming kind of fellow and whilst JP (short for Jean-Piero) had a mischievous glint in his eyes, he also appeared relaxed and pretty easy going. The next morning however, after we’d taken the easy route (read chair lift) up to the awesome viewpoint of Costila, our two hosts quickly demonstrated that they weren’t as relaxed about their riding as they were about their eating and drinking. It was only a short pull from the top station to the summit but we were definitely breathing quite heavily by the time we stopped to gaze across at the snow-covered peaks of the Brenta Dolomites – these guys didn’t even appear to be warmed up.

 

Unfortunately, that was only the thin end of the wedge. We dropped down into a forest to start our descent and although the surface was loose and rocky and there were more than enough switchbacks to navigate, JP vanished in a flash of shiny metal and brightly coloured baggy riding gear leaving Enrico to bring up the rear. It was easy to see that he too was champing at the bit.

It could have been something in the air or maybe even the previous evening’s pasta but it didn’t take us too long to get into the groove and we soon found ourselves riding a lot faster than we would normally in the same kind of conditions. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not exactly slouches, it’s just that these guys were totally up for it.

Casualty number one was never going to be far way and sure enough, by half-way, our female contingent was seen sprawled out across the stones in the middle of the track, sampling gravel Bolognese. Her bike had disappeared completely in the trees.

We dropped into Ristorante Maso Spilzi, ran by Enrico’s partner Marianne. She may have looked Italian but, after only a few words, it became obvious that she was as English as we were. We drank a quick cappuccino, dressed a few battle scars and made an appointment to return for lunch. That’s another thing I’ve noticed about Italians – boy can they eat!

NO PROBLEMO

We then persuaded Enrico’s brother to help us make the next climb even easier than the first – this time by mini-bus. Before we go any further, it’s worth saying to all you purists out there who are raising your bushy, sweat covered eyebrows at the thought of all these uplifts, that we are as ethical as the next man and the use of the lifts served only to allow us to travel further and see more in the same amount of time. We were still going to be riding our legs off all day long and, believe me, we were still going to feel absolutely shattered by the end of it. The difference is, with a bit of mechanical aid, it’s possible to travel 3 or 4 times the distance and, when you’ve only got a couple of days to play with, that seems like a good idea.

 

Our first day finished with a hair-raising sprint back into the village and then the ceremonial sipping of a few Peronis before the energetic partaking of a typical multi-course meal in one of the local restaurants. This was rounded off nicely with the discovery of something even better than a round the world single-track bike trail: a huge block of Parmesan cheese and some quite delicious red wine. It was a wonder we could even move in the morning.

OUCHO!

More van transport kick-started day two and we set off on some wonderful open tracks that crossed high summer pastures between imposing limestone outcrops. We were accompanied by the relentless ringing of countless cowbells but no, we weren’t racing and being cheered on by an over-enthusiastic crowd – these cowbells all had pretty big cattle attached to them.

 

The riding was awesome – not overly technical but demanding enough – and the scenery was certainly picture book stuff. It could have come straight from The Sound of Music but we were in the wrong country for that kind of yodelling!

Tired legs made hard work of the road pull up to the 1600m Passo Coe but they found another lease of life as we joined a section of the Dei Fonti trail and enjoyed some easy single-track blasting interspersed with some fairly technical rock hopping that saw JP study the local geology from close quarters. We passed some historic WWII shelters and Enrico explained that a lot of the trails we were riding on were actually built to further the war effort. We wondered if they were all using hard tails at the time.

The trail continued through the forest, rising and dropping as it went. We passed through a delightful mountain village where we stopped to top up our water and took cinqu, sitting on the edge of the fountain, looking out over the stunning mountain scenery.

The last few kilometres were downhill all the way and the grin-ometer needle finally nudged itself way off the scale. We did our damnedest to keep up with the now injured, but still crazy, JP so the trails flew by in an absolute blur of trees and stones and roots.

FINITO!

Eventually, we stopped on a bridge above a fast flowing river and awaited our lift home. We’d had two brilliant days riding, which included over 2,000m of descent alone. We may not have been responsible for most of the height gained but we were still absolutely cream-crackered (or should that be gresini’d?) The office seemed a lifetime away as we waited patiently in the soothing sunshine but we knew that by this time tomorrow, we’d once again be back behind our desks. Still, at least we didn’t have Spaghetti Junction to contend with!

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