Euro Road Trip – Italian Dolomites

Not the Commonwealth Bank type! I wonder how many people reading this remember the Dollarmites? Amazingly, it’s still a thing…

Back onto topic, we left Lake Garda and took a rather steep pass to the northwest. There were plenty of cyclists with looks of pain on their face – I’d still rather being doing it on a bike than in our poor van, which would probably be grimacing with just as much suffering.

It took me a while to notice, but it wasn’t until Risa pointed out to me just how green it was here. It was stunningly green and luscious. It’s been a while since we’ve seen thick green grass like this in our travels – I actually can’t remember seeing any where as green as this, though I do have selective, and short term memory.

Brenta Dolomites

There weren’t many parking options for us where we wanted to go in Madonna di Campiglio. We found a small rest area on the side of the main pass into town, which had fantastic views of the mountain ranges we’d be hiking in tomorrow.

While Risa was cooking dinner, I was researching about the hike we wished to do tomorrow. Even though it was the second week of June, it was still considered off-peak, and as such, there are no busses running up to the start of the hike. We were originally thinking about staying on this pass, on the slope, but since our only option to get to the start of the hike was to drive – you know, other than walking/hitching/taxi – we decided to take our chances and drive up tonight and sleep in the car park.

The road is technically forbidden for motorhomes, but we figured since it was off-peak, it shouldn’t be too busy, and we shouldn’t be causing too much of a problem. It was a 3km single-lane road, with limited passing options. Fortunately, we didn’t see another car on the way up.

We arrived in the car park and found that there were two other motorhomes already there and set up for the night – it’s nice to have partners to share the crime with.

It was incredible to finally escape the heat that we’ve been suffering through the last fortnight. By the time we went to bed, my phone said that it was 15˚C, with a predicted minimum of 9˚C overnight! Perfect sleeping weather!

Day 77

I’d forgotten what it was like to have cold weather. I woke several times during the night, contemplating searching for that thin extra blanket that I have. The slight hill that we parked on, combined with the knowledge that I had an alarm set to get started early made for a restless night.

Today was the opening weekend, and by the time we opened the curtains at 8AM, the reasonably large car park was rapidly filling up. I was expecting the officials assisting people to park to have a word with us about being in here in our motorhomes, but they didn’t seem to care – we just moved to allow cars to park more efficiently, now that we weren’t sleeping and concerned about the slope. While we woke nice and early, and had grand plans of an early start, it as well after 9AM when we finally put boots on ground.

I’d originally wanted to try some of the via ferrata climbs in this area, but, I couldn’t find any that were single-day hikes – and we don’t have the stamina/equipment/motivation to do a multi-day hike. So, Plan B was to do a short circuit, which didn’t require any specialised equipment or skills, and only moderate fitness/stamina.

The local tourism board has a great website, with a link of different circuits in the area. It included a decent map, complete with step-by-step directions, and an elevation profile! They even generate a great little PDF of your hike. en-tour-of-the-brenta-dolomites-refuges

OK, the hike, it started from the Vallesinella Refuge, and started with a gentle climb inside a forest. It was a well-maintained trail, and it was easy going to begin with.

It opened up into a beautiful field, filled with wild flowers, green grass and glorious views of the mountains soaring above us. Risa was nearly satisfied to end the hike here – at least she was at the time.

The skies were incredibly clear again, with the haze of the last few days gone, and not a cloud in the sky – just a criss-crossing of the vapour trails from jet planes. We later noticed that every photo had a vapour trail in it, really highlighting just how busy the air space is here in Europe.

The climb wasn’t brutal, but it was constant. We eventually cleared the tree line, and the shade that was keeping temperatures down was gone. It was nearing mid-day and we were now being mercilessly blasted by the heat and UV of the nearly overhead sun. There was an eerie lack of wind up here, too, making it all the hotter.

It felt like hard work, but we were finally up at the 2,200m Tuckett Refuge, enjoying the packed lunch I’d carried up. It was sunshine and mountain views for miles, as well as a close up look at the crumbling peaks above us, complete with a sandy glacial valley, which apart from the snow, seemed like desert. We saw a couple of hikers disappearing further up this valley, though we know our limit, and that far exceeds it.

The hike then looped down, and around to the other side of these peaks, taking us through an enormous boulder field (Risa got extreme with some bouldering), and through fields of tiny pine trees. We weren’t looking up at the peaks of this park, but out across at the distant snow capped mountains, and it was some of my favourite views of the day.

The trail got a little more extreme from here, increasing in gradient, while decreasing in width – at one point, the trail was only a little over a metre wide, with sheers drops above and below you. It didn’t feel as extreme as it sounds, until we looked back and saw just how perilous it was.

We came across a small French bulldog that had had enough of the hard work, and vertigo, and got a ride back down on his owner’s shoulders – I swear I saw Risa thinking about trying the same with me.

After a further corner, we came to a small shrine, where the trail appeared to finish. Our eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness to see the small tunnel that we had to continue around a corner. The tunnel was nearly tall enough for me to stand and gave incredible relief from the heat and the sunshine – plus it acted like a window to some fantastic views.

The trail kicked up again, with a sudden increase in steepness that had our weak legs straining. Plus, we were bearing the full brunt of the sun’s intensity on this face of the climb. We passed a small patch of last winter’s snow, and scraped off a small amount to cool down. I stuffed my hat with ice, and ten-seconds later had a brain freeze and tooth ache – but I was feeling generally cooler, so it was worth the pain.

We were now in another valley, and walking in the presence of new giant peaks. In the distance, we could finally see the final mountain hut. This signified two things – water, and the end of the climbing!

As we walked closer to the refugio we started spotting climbers high up on the rocks surrounding us. I know in the grand-scheme of things it’s not that extreme, but for us it was incredible to think that a human could be hundreds of meters up what looked like a sheer rock face – and still have hundreds of meters left to climb.

I had wanted to take the drone on another quick flight, but the wind had whipped up to quite strong and gusty – far from ideal conditions. We sat at the refugio and enjoyed a coffee. While we were sat on the sunny terrace, dozens (and I seriously mean dozens) of hikers started arriving in independent groups. It was going to be busy in that (large) mountain hut tonight! It was getting a little rowdy, so we left them to their revelry.

Before starting the long descent back to the car park, we stopped at the small chapel. It was quite a sad sight, with very few of the name plaques inside for people over 50 years. There was even a large group of children’s names, which was quite depressing to see.

The climbs back down are never fun for me, and this was no different. We did have a different aspect to look at, but it wasn’t enough to make me forget about my straining knees. Time went quickly, but I felt I kept checking my watch to know when it was going to end. The final loop was along a different trail, providing some fresh scenery of beautiful pine forest. It always amazes me just how dark it can be underneath the canopy.

We quickly dipped our feet into the icy waters of the final river we had to cross, and once again, I was suffering from a brain freeze. I’d forgotten just how cold water can feel – it reminded me of the electric feeling I’d felt showering in the streams at Fuji Rock Festival.

It was only the first day, and I was absolutely loving the Italian Alps!

Day 78

This is the start of our 11th week… which is incredible. It’s hard to believe that we’re almost at the three-month mark. It feels like we’ve done a lot – but it feels like we’ve still got so much more ahead of us.

We’re not particularly fit, and these days we’re not doing great amounts of physical activity – and certainly not strenuous activity at that. So, we woke with stiff and sore muscles, feeling particularly tired and lethargic. The sun was shining, the skies were clear and blue, which meant that we couldn’t rest without feeling guilty.

Val di Sole

I had one more hike that I wanted to do, which meant quite a bit of driving to get there. Fortunately, the driving was through absolutely spectacular scenery. We passed by several of these beautiful villages underneath these giant granite monsters.

It was a little surprising to see how many orchards and vineyards were up here, but if today’s weather is any indication of the typical weather, then I imagine that fruit would love growing here.

The valley continued on and on, and so did the orchards. Eventually we joined the expressway, which meant an end to stopping to take opportunistic roadside photos.

Gunter was suffering today, with the high temperatures, and the incredible gradients. We spent much of the climbs in 2nd gear, but after 15km of continuous ascending, temperatures were starting to reach critical levels, forcing us to stop a few times to allow the motor to cool down a touch. Fortunately the roads weren’t too busy, reducing stress worrying about holding up people – though, I’m not as worried about that as I used to be.

I had hoped to do a quick hike near Siusi, but they were either a little too long, or the start of the hike was up some impossible road. A tad deflated, we stopped for lunch, and looked at alternate plans.

San Cipriano

By pure luck, we’d ended on a road that would take us right below some of the most spectacular peaks of the Sciliar-Catinaccio National Park. We were in awe at these spectacular peaks, surrounded by beautiful green fields, and small cute huts. There were several expensive looking hotels in the area. We parked in the public parking area, and admired the same views from the comfort of our van, making plans for tomorrow’s main hike, and further afield into Austria and Switzerland. It felt like a taste of luxury, without the luxurious price tag.

We tried to go a little further up the pass, to see if we could get an even better view, but the road was way too steep, with our car struggling even in 1st gear! I felt for the knees of the cyclists that we saw headed further up that advertised 22% climb.

Prösels Castle

Again, by pure luck, we drove past this stunning looking castle, with turreted towers, and solid and defensive looking walls. And, what a location! It was surrounded by more of these beautiful green farmland, with small villages and their medieval church towers, and giant white snow capped peaks in the distance. Not that we had much time to spare to stop and visit the castle anyway, but it was closed today, forcing our decision to stop and visit.

Passo Gardena

The views just continued to get better and better – inconveniently, the roads just continued to get higher and steeper, with no respite from the late afternoon heat.

That was until we’d reached the top of this pass, also known as Grödner Joch. The winds were frigid, chilling us in a most surprising, and not unrefreshing way. The roads were incredible, that is if you were in any other vehicle. At least we had plenty of time to look around and enjoy the views!

Cortina d’Ampezzo

The sun was rapidly setting, and temperatures were dramatically dropping. We still had a few more mountain passes to complete, thankfully not as torturous as Passo Gardena. We were now getting into a much more alpine region, with proper mountains on the horizon now. We considered stopping here on one of the 2200m passes, but after dinner, we drove a little further, to be closer to the start of tomorrow’s hike – since I’m paranoid about parking.

It was a true pleasure to watch they glow rose, and much later on, watch them fade into the soft pastel horizon.

Tre Cime di Lavaredo

Day 79

This was such an epic day, and probably one of the most beautiful hiking I’ve ever done (or likely to do), and will be in it’s own post here – Euro Road Trip Tre Cime di Lavaredo

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1 Comment

  1. Incredible photography and decent hiking skills as well.

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