From the Early Middle Ages to the feudal age, from the communal age to the age of the "signorie", the territories of the upper Mincio were contended both for their economic significance and for their strategic role within the military policy. These are pages of history written by many families - such as Canossa, Scaligeri, Visconti and Gonzaga - who built towers, fortresses, castles and fortified enclosures: works that marked the division of the lands of Venetia from those of Mantua, and that represented strong defensive points for the territory. Such works also were part of a system organized for the processing and the safekeeping of the products and for the control of duties and special tolls. They were real centers for the defense of the territory and the administrative, legal and economic life of the fief and of the whole community, they were organization elements that over the centuries witnessed many changes depending on the events, the political facts, and the defensive needs established by the different governments.
Points of interest
This naturalistic-historic itinerary includes many of the castles and fortified villages along the upper Mincio. The point of departure is Monzambano, a village crowned by its medieval castle, which was one of the main strongholds against Mantua at the time of the Della Scala (Scaligeri) family, and which is one of today's most complete and best preserved examples of castle architecture in the territory of Mantua. The following destination is Ponti sul Mincio: its castle rises up in strategic position on top of the hill, and was very important within the Scaligeri defence system: it was the outer stronghold along the Mincio line and towards Pozzolengo, whose Medieval castle suffered many invasions, sieges and occupations as recently as during Italian Unification. In Solferino the remains of the most ancient fortress can be visited. Due to its strategic position, the fortress was known as “The spy of Italy” during Italian Unification. At the castle of Orazio Gonzaga, Marquis of Solferino, the entrance door and the tower can be visited as well. The castle was built in the mid-16th century as a stronghold and dwelling for the Marquis. Cavriana was one of Gonzaga family's most appreciated leisure destinations. Visitors can admire the remains of the fortress, which engineer Giovanni da Padova transformed in the mid-15th century into one of the most important residential-architectural places of the Gonzaga state. The itinerary continues to the fortified village of Castellaro Lagusello, one of Italy's most beautiful villages. It is entirely built on high ground and overlooks a small morainic lake, which is protected by the Castellaro Lagusello Moraine Complex Nature Reserve. The area preserves the remains of a 12th/13th-century castle belonging to the Scaligeri family. Volta Mantovana is renowned for its environment and landscapes, and is characterized by the remains of the medieval castle, rising up on the village's highest point. The Ponte Visconteo (Visconti bridge) near Valeggio sul Mincio completed the fortified belt between the Mincio River and the Serraglio scaligero, a fortification system commissioned by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, duke of Milan, and built by the Florentine military engineer Domenico dei Benintendi at the end of the 14th century. The village of Borghetto lies along the right bank of the Mincio River, and preserves its ancient houses as well as the remains of fortified walls; the Scaligeri castle, which was for a long time an important frontier stronghold between the territories of Mantua and Verona, stands out against the sky on top of Mount Ogheri.
Medium-length itinerary winding through the hills of Mantua's upper territory, partly within the borders of Mincio Regional Park; it runs on local roads and bike trails.
The itinerary is 51 km long and presents a number of low-gradient slopes, but no particular difficulty. The road is mostly paved, with some stretches on dirt roads. The itinerary is sufficiently shaded. Some crossings and trafficked road stretches require particular attention. Visitors can drive along part of the itinerary.
Leave the village of Monzambano and go north towards Peschiera del Garda, along the boulevard passing in front of the cemetery (strada Cimitero, strada Monzambano). Keep left until the intersection with Provincial Route 19 (SP 19). There, turn right and reach Ponti sul Mincio. In the town centre turn on the SP 20, which later becomes SP 106, until Pozzolengo. Continue on via Italia Libera, SP 13 (which later becomes SP 8) until Solferino. Leave the town following via Ripa Bianca (SP 8) until San Cassiano, then take the SP13 until Cavriana. From Cavriana go towards Castellaro Lagusello, first on the SP15, then on Via Monte Pagano, via SS. Martiri, strada Colli until Campagnolo (cycle route 6). Beyond Campagnolo, turn on via Sant'Anna and reach the intersection with the SP18. Turn left, then cross the SP15, and go straight on until a crossing where, by turning left, you reach Forni. Keep right and reach Castellaro Lagusello. From Castellaro Lagusello you can continue on cycle route 6 to return to Monzambano, or you can take via Castellaro in Italia to go back on the SP18 (via Primavera), cross the SP15 and turn towards Bezzetti at the following crossing. Then go straight on until joining the SP 19, which leads to Volta Mantovana. From there, take the SP21 towards Pozzolo until Molini della Volta (Volta mills). Pass them, and then turn left on the bike trail bordering the Mincio River. Turn left at the intersection with via Buonarroti, and then turn right on the SP55. By turning right at the intersection, you cross the Ponte Visconteo (Visconti bridge) and reach Borghetto and Valeggio sul Mincio; by turning left, follow the SP3 for a stretch, turn on the second dirt road on the right, and then take strada Tononi until Monzambano.