Hidden beneath Italian tourist traps like Lake Como, Milan, and Venice lies the Italian Alps’ greatest treasure. . . Arco: a climber’s paradise. Past Lake Garda, in between a gorgeous intersection of the Alps, is a gem that holds adventure, beauty, and fun. With more than a thousand routes in the area, great campgrounds within walking distance of the center of town, and delicious food that will leave you craving more, Arco, I believe, is truly the best climbing destination in the world.
We’re all holding our breaths as we drive along a perfect example of the Italian countryside. Lago del Garda streams by in intervals as we pass through one the many mountain-supporting tunnels. Cars fly past us on the narrow, windy roads that continue in and out of underpasses. The road barely fits two cars, yet crazy Italians continue to try and pass, even as cars in the oncoming lane are less than 800 meters away.
To the right, the vast blue lake that’s filled with nearly a thousand windsurfers extends further than the eye can see. White mountains tower around the lake from all sides. We must be getting close, I think. As soon as we get beyond the lake, we arrived in Arco, which we sound found to be one of the best climbing destination in the world.
We planned on staying here for only two nights. We’d heard it had some good climbing according to Rock Climbing in Europe by Falcon Guides. Shocker— we ended up staying longer.
Anyone who’s been to Europe can understand why the feeling of walking on cobblestone streets under quaint and colorful buildings, which are occupied by Europeans who work on the bottom and live on the top, browsing shops, and eating European delicacies, is incredibly desirable.
For the climbers who are reading this, now it gets interesting. Arco has all of this . . . plus enough climbing to last you for weeks. That’s what makes it the best climbing destination. The unique location of Arco is how it sits between a large intersection of mountains. Arco is the center and as you travel out, you will find many different crags, both large and small.
The town of Arco is small, even for a European town, being about a half mile long strip of buildings along a cobblestone street. The craziest thing about Arco is the climbing culture that’s clearly ingrained there based on the sixteen different climbing stores — yes, you read correct, sixteen- that line the cute cobblestone alleyways.
When we visited, we happened to be there during the IFSC World Cup for rock climbing. We didn’t have time to go watch, but it was super cool to be in the town while a bunch of cool events and expos were going on.
For most climbers, camping is always the way to go, and the Camping Zoo, a half mile from town, will fill your needs. Walk across the street to a perfect bouldering and short single-pitch climbing area, take an evening walk into Arco for some delicious pizza and gelato, or rent some Via Ferrata gear (unless you’ve brought some) and head over to the starting point of a unique European experience: Via Ferrata. If you don’t know what a Via Ferrata is, it’s a mix of climbing and hiking. Wearing a harness, you will use two different stretchy lanyards that you will clip to the metal bars that parallel with the Via Ferrata route you will follow.
Climbing culture is so big here, there are maps with a list of all the climbs right at the start of many of the walls.
We particularly liked the “approach” to some of these climbing areas because it took you past wineries, through tiny villages with even more narrow roads, and in between rows and rows of olive trees to reach the destination.
Even if none of this sounds appealing to you. . . read it again because I don’t know how cobblestone streets filled with Italian food, beautiful views of the Italian countryside, and adventures beyond your imagination could not compel you to pack up your gear and get on the next flight to Italy.
If your priority is climbing, I suggest you buy an Arco specific climbing book (this is the Europe climbing book we used). With fun bouldering, Via Ferrata routes, great multi-pitch and single pitch crags, Trad, and Sport climbing, there truly is climbing for everyone here!