Ponale Trail is a road, but not a standard one. Building and travelling along it has always been a venture. Nowadays it is a cycle-pedestrian trail and it is so attractive to count more than 400,000 visitors per year. People leave from Riva by foot or by bike and go up along the narrow curves towards Biacesa, until the end of the tunnel of the road opened in 1992. While walking up far from the surface of the lake, surrounded by very high sheer rock faces, you don’t even realize cars could travel along that alley.
Due to a strong economic pressure of Ledro community, represented by Giacomo Cis, a charismatic and influential figure, they inaugurated the road open to vehicles in 1851. In those years, this access to the lake was a key factor to favour otherwise complicated trading and communication activities. Those people, living in a restricted valley, were used to reach Riva and the eastern areas by uncomfortable tractors, but the nineteenth century’s industrial revolution encouraged the use of faster solutions. Thanks to Ponale, the merchants of Val di Ledro could broaden their horizons and make use of this second access.
When they opened the road, cars and even buses and trucks could travel along. Actually, to drive a truck on the Ponale meant to be pretty gutsy. It was a matter of centimetres, someone deflated the tires to make the back rails low enough not to crash against the rocks. Most drivers travelled by night as there was no alternate one-way system and they may risk to get blocked if they travelled in the daytime.
There were just a couple of lay-byes where they could move a little bit. Sometimes, unaware foreign drivers were in trouble and needed to be rescued. Rescuers used a crane directly from the lake – it was totally impossible to use a crane on the Ponale. They also registered hundreds of car accidents but no one was lethal, to my knowledge, because drivers paid a lot of attention while driving.
If a lorry driver was looking for a job said he had some experiences on the Ponale, his chances to find it were much higher! After all, either you could drive or you got stuck there. And it wasn’t only a matter of driving skills – your nerves were important likewise. Many of the people going from Riva to Ledro by bus were frightened to death because in some stretches the bus wheels lightly touched the kerb, directly facing the lake.
Prior to the First World War the Austrians suspected that, in case of conflict with the Italian army, they could take advantage of the Ponale road to reach Riva from Val di Ledro. As defensive countermeasure, the military engineering built one of the most intrepid works of military architecture of the resistance line, the Tagliata del Ponale, a complex system of underground tunnels and defensive walls in correspondence with the last tunnels of the road before going down to Riva.
Inside the rocky walls over the lake, the Kaiser soldiers created gun emplacements, shelters and lookout posts to impede enemy infiltrations. If you walk there, you can still notice some relics, but it is not easy to see the sentry boxes and their narrow windows because cypresses and oleanders cover them. Nature is slowly taking back what man laboriously has built.
The old Ponale trail is one of the symbols of Garda Trentino, one of the trekkers and bikers’ most favourite courses. Every year, thousands of people walk or ride along this cliff-side and thrilling road over the lake.
Garda Trek does not pass here, but the course of Ponale trail can be easily found on Rocchetta side, while drawing near by boat in Top Loop final stage. Here, in North Lake Garda Trentino, when a course comes to the end there is always a new and unexplored one ready to be discovered.