Arco, Italy

In the UK, there are a handful of towns and villages which are outdoor climbing hubs: places to go and get your kit, have a climb and meet other people doing likewise. They are the ones you go to, the ones with all the activity and the cafes and bars you can go to get beta. I’ve not particularly noticed this pattern in Europe as much as in the UK but the biggest exception that i’ve come across in my bouldering travels has got to be Arco in Northern Italy. It is a hive of all things climbing – shops aplenty, cafes and bars and most importantly of all, world class cliffs within a few hundred metres of the town itself.

As such, people flock here from all around. Arco almost borders three countries and often hosts international climbing competitions on the immense artificial wall, sat in the shadow of some of the most famous sport climbing in Europe. What’s more is you can rack up (well, clip a dozen quickdraws on your harness…) by your tent on the campsite, nestled neatly on the outskirts of town and walk straight in to the climbing. If you like ropes and bolts, you have to go, it’s as simple as that.

But what if you like boulders? I was nearby in Val Daone and ended up in this beautiful village as we were chased from our valley by rain and i have to be honest, i was not impressed, and i’m not alone. If we’d gone there for the boulders, i may well have purchased a rope and harness and changed disciplines! I have to be honest here and say that i am not a limestone fan but even so, this is certainly not a destination i would suggest for a dedicated bouldering trip. There is not much there, it’s sharp and the quality was really not to my liking, which is a huge shame because it really is a phenomenal place to be.

So if you end up there for one reason or another, much like I did in 2010, is it worth taking your pad? Probably, and looking at the guide, it may just be me. There are 39 boulders listed in Alpen en Bloc 1, mostly easy lines with a few 7s, and another guide available from one of the many outdoor shops in town. It kept us entertained while the rain slowly left the mountain valleys nearby so is worth a shout for a few days and the roads around there are truly spectacular, not to mention the scenery at the nearby Lago di Garda and the town of Riva del Garda. Watch out as it will get very busy in the tourist season.

The Areas

The only one we visited was just up from the campsite, and is covered in Alpen en Bloc 1. According to the link to UKBouldering above, there are a couple of others but there really isn’t much here. Chances are if you’ve ended up here, it’s for sport climbing so follow your nose and check out the first boulders you come to. There’s nothing amazing that you’d be missing out on, to the best of my knowledge.

Local Amenities

This is hugely relevant, as Arco serves quite a large area around. As i’ve already mentioned, there’s enough here to keep you plenty entertained and well stocked and far more than i could document in a few paragraphs; almost enough indeed, to make up for the distinct lack in quality of the bouldering… but not quite. What follows is a small selection of places i found in my time there and while i only include them because they come recommended, i do suggest you go and explore this fascinating town.

  • Guides. There are two: a dedicated bouldering guide to the area, which is quite small, and the aforementioned Alpen En Bloc. Either will suffice but the latter will give other nearby and significantly better options.
  • Food. Erm, i can’t really help with this one, as we were staying over an hour away from here and bought our food quite far away in a nearby town. However, head south to Riva del Garda and you’ll find plenty.
  • Climbing Shops. This is where Arco stands above almost any other town in the world. Off the top of my head, i can remember at least three that we went in: one near the bridge on the way in from the North (very good) another just inside the town (very friendly) and a further one as you walk along the main street (very elitist).
  • Accommodation – Campsites. As i mentioned, we were staying about an hour away but we did come across one just out of town (easy walking distance). If i’m honest, it’s been five years at time of writing but i’m pretty sure it’s this one. While we didn’t stay, we did frequent the bar and watch a football game or two as the World Cup was on and it seemed pretty cool and popular with climbers.
  • Cafes and Bars. I am a big fan of pizza. I eat it quite a lot, being easy and convenient and always a nice treat when you’re camping as you can’t really cook it on a camping stove. So, when i say i had the best pizza of my life in Arco, you can trust that the restaurant is worth a look at least (on the bridge, on the left on the way in from the North). Failing that, there’s plenty of other stuff in town that we never really got to.
  • Other handy places. In abundance, either in Arco proper or further South in Riva del Garda. The latter is a large town so you’ll more than likely pick up whatever you need.

Relevant blog posts here (if you’re that psyched or bored).

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