Think Norway and images of expensive beer, amazing fjords and blue eyed blond Viking folk generally come to mind. Though not far from wrong, stereotyping Norway and Oslo in particular can lead to srprises.
Norway has long left it’s past as a predominantly agricultural and fishing nation and emerged over the last three decades as an oil producing economic power house, known for it’s socially progressive laws, marine engineering, high taxes and newly found status as one of the richest nations in the world. With an increasingly cosmopolitan population of less than six million, magnificently preserved forests and the second longest coastline on the globe (second only to Canada) one is easily led to believe that there must be countless opportunities for development in this Scandinavian nation. Oslo is the capital and a good place to start exploring.
Positioned at the deepest end of the narrow Oslofjorden bay that cuts into the mainland from the Skagerrak Strait, Oslo is home to around sixhundredthousand people and can be reached by ferry from Denmark or Germany or buy road and rail passing through Sweden. It goes without saying that a Scandinavian Airways flight is the easiest way tof reaching the Norwegian capital from anywhere in Europe and beyond. Gardermoen Airport has a welcoming, cosy appeal with wooden floors and cladding that comforts the visitor as soon as he or she steps off the plane. An efficient rail link then connects the airport with down town Oslo in less than a thirty minutes.
What made an impression on me on arrival though were the prices advertised at the airport’s eateries. A simple croissant sold for the better part of 5€, a cappuccino for over 4€. Sandwiches for 10€ and a slice of cold pizza for around 15€. Dare I mention beer for over 12€? A chilling welcome to Scandinavia and just a taste of things to come.
What to do in Oslo for a couple of days during the cold Winter months? What’s not to be missed? Where to stay and where to hang out? Here are some suggestions.
Where to stay
With limited time to explore Oslo it makes sense to find accommodation as close to the town centre as possible. Anywhere around Karl Johans Gate is a good choice for easy access to public transport, shops, bars and restarants. The harbour is a convenient five minute walk away and is the starting point for cruises and ferries to the Oslofjorden islands and beyond. Options for accommodation around Johannes Gate include pricy hotels, affordable Air B&Bs and cheaper “Pensjonat” guest houses. Unfortunately there are youth hostels available as of 2018.
I stayed at the mid tier Bondeheimen Hotel based mostly on the encouraging reviews I read about the breakfast buffet served here in the mornings. I was not disappointed. My room was clean, with underfloor heating, quiet and comfortable. The hotel’s location was great, the service friendly and of course breakfast totally to my satisfaction.
What not to miss
Gustav Vigeland is perhaps Norway’s most prominent artist of recent times. Known as an exceptionally prolific sculptor Vigeland is also responsible for the design of the Nobel peace prize medal which has remained unchanged since it was first minted in 1902.
Frogner Park is an open air display of some of Vigeland’s work. It’s free of charge, always open and well maintained and can be easily reached the town centre by metro or tram.
The granite and bronze figures exposed date back to the early years of the last century and have an appealing, essential, minimalist style to them which was typical of those years. The statues are all part of a common theme i.e. the transition we all go through during our lives; from infancy to adolescence and then from adulthood to old age. Our joys and struggles are masterfully and entertainingly represented in the artist’s full size human figures with their emotionally charged poses. It’s hard not recognise yourself in some of the shapes on show.
Centrepiece in the park is the granite monolith that towers perhaps some fifteen meters tall. The carvings on the rock once again tell the story of life’s cycle: birth, family, love, work, struggle, joy… it’s all in there.
Considered by most Oslovians as their back yard, Holmenkollen is really just a 340m high hill on the north western fringes of the Norwegian capital. Come the winter snow however, and the festive season too, Holmenkollen is a hotspot for winter sport enthusiasts from near and far. It’s easily reached from the town centre by metro ( line 1 ) and it’s not unusual during the colder months to find masses of Oslo folk commuting by rail to this place with skiing cloths and equipment in hand to enjoy the outdoors. It’s also tradition for the Norwegian Royal Family to spend Christmas at Holmenkollen at their Royal Villa and sometimes mingle with the crowds as well.
There’s over two thousand kilometres of cross country skiing tracks around Oslo, ninety kilometres of which are lit for late night skiing enthusiasts with cabins to cater for food and overnight stays. It goes without saying that cross country skiing is Norway’s national sport, a speciality in which the country excels and generally dominates Winter Olympics as well with over 120 gold medals to the Norwegian’s credit so far.
Due to the magnificent skiing infrastructure Holmenkollen is often the venue for international skiing events. However, the most prominent feature of this outdoor sports haven is the “Holmenkollbakken”, the massive ski jump that dominates the skyline towards the summit of the hill.
There has always been a Holmenkollbakken since 1892 with new designs (19 so far) successively replacing older ones throughout the years. The current version was completed in 2010, towers at 134m above the ground and has the capacity for over sixty thousand spectators. Ski jumpers who have braved the Holmenkollbakken have achieved leaps over 140m long.
But if skiing is not your thing then just the views from the Holmenkollen are worth the trip to the hill alone. Beautiful vistas of Oslo and the Oslofjorden at sunset can be admired while slowly sipping a mug of hot Glögg, the local mulled wine sold for no less than 10€ a serving.
-Olso City Hall
Definitely an odd looking building, the Oslo City Hall is of course the seat of city’s administration. However, it deserves a mention for it’s stunning inside decor and for also being the venue for the Nobel prize award ceremony that takes place every year. There’s plenty of marble to admire and the decorative paintings by artists Sørensen and Rolfsen in the huge Main Hall contains some interesting highlights of Norway’s twentieth century history.
-Oslo Opera House
Angularand deceptively small the opera house is a prize winning architectural marvel that can be found at eastern end of Oslo harbour no more than a twenty minute walk from the City Hall.
Beautifully clad in steel and Italian Carrara marble the building hosts the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet organisation. The interior of the building has plenty of wood on display on floors, walls and ceilings as well as some inspiring use of metal and plastic decor. It’s an interesting piece of architecture worth exploring.
-Viking Ship Museum
There are someextraordinary, beautifully restored viking vessels that date back to around 800 AD on display at the Oslo Ship Museum. The boats were recovered from old burial sights after being used as tombs for what are believed to have been people of rank within the viking communities. The precision with which the boats were crafted is exceptional and the work put into restoring them for public display is superb.
What to eat
Reindeer burger might not appeal to some but to the carnivores out there (including myself) it’s a definite must. Tasty, tender and nutritious one of these bad boys fills you up satisfying for several hours. Reindeer burgers are particularly popular around Christmas time and are easily found at the open air Christmas market. Be prepared to spend around 15€ for the privilege though (drink included).
Where to chill
An easy stroll heading east along Karl Johans Gate towards Oslo central rail station takes you through the town’s main shopping district with the usual display glitzy high end fashion boutiques. There are also at least a couple venues worth exploring here. The Scotsman Pub (link) is pleasant and buzzes in the evenings with a healthy mix of locals and tourists from all over the globe. There a shuffleboards (which seems to be a favourite amongst Norwegians), and a band or a DJ on some nights along with English speaking staff. Drinks as usual, are extortionately expensive. Anything with alcohol will set you back by at least 10€ if not more.
Just around the corner from the Scotsman’s there’s “The Club” the aptly named venue for those in the mood for a bit of a boogie. Queues here can be long but the music continues all night til 3am.
Another great spot worth checking out is Andy’s Pub ( Stortingsgata 8,) close to the Grand Hotel. Live music from a grand piano and capable pianist, some keen would be half drunken singers make this place ideal for a late night laugh. Drinks still way above 10€.
So, to sum it up:
If you can put the aside the steep prices for food and drink, Oslo makes a great city break. There’s an international environment and people are generally friendly and welcoming. The city is clean and public transport efficient.
December however, temperatures are constantly below freezing and the streets are caked with ice and snow. You need to be careful if you want to avoid slips and trips. Contrary to popular belief, there’s enough sun light during the day (five to six hours) to enjoy the outdoor sights. If you’re into skiing then you can also enjoy the Holmenkollen pistes after dark with plenty of like minded folk, too.
The Dolomites are surely one of the most beautiful and exciting areas of the Southern Alps. Set in north eastern Italy between the border with Austria (north), the Sugana valley (south), the river Adige (east) and the Piave valley (west), the Dolomites offer some of the most inspiring mountain vistas in Europe.There are jagged rocky peaks over three thousand metres high to admire, refreshing pine forests to explore, turquoise lakes to bathe in and some exhilarating switchback roads to ride that lead to stunning mountain passes. There’s a huge variety of outdoor activities available from rock climbing to parasailing to mushroom picking and the unique blend of germanic and latin culture produces some great cuisine as well. It’s no wonder the Dolomites have long been a favourite with bikers and holiday makers alike.
What are the hot spots not to be missed on a bike tour to the Dolomites? Here are five of the top attractions that should be on everyone’s list:
1. The Three Peaks of Lavaredo (Tre Cime di Lavaredo)
Placed at the northern most section of the Sexten Dolomite complex, just south of Val Pusteria, the Peaks of Lavaredo consist of a row of three stout craggy pinnacles, towering at three thousand meters and set in a stark, rocky landscape. The area is a haven for rock climbers and there are plenty of easy hiking trails in the area to explore as well.
The foot of western most Peak (Cima Ovest) can be reached by bus, car or motorbike via the “strada panoramica” (toll road), that leads to Rifugio Auronzo from Lake Misurina.The rifugio serves meals and drinks and there are rooms for overnight stays too. There’s always a healthy stream of hikers in the area especially during the warmer months of the year that come to admire the breathtaking views around the Lavaredo Peaks and the photo opportunities they offer, truly an astounding location.
2. Lake Braies
If you’ve browsed any length of time on Instagram looking at nature landscape pictures then lake Braies is probably an all too familiar sight. This idilic little lake is in fact one of the most popular tarns of the Alps and has been portrayed and focussed upon by hundreds of keen photography enthusiasts over the past few years. Its dreamy green coloured waters create a stunning contrast with the surrounding grey/white dolomite cliffs and the blue skies of a clear day.
Sunrise and sunset turn the cliffs to shades of yellow, pink and orange that producer a pleasant soft and warm atmosphere perfect for romance. Old style wooden rowing boats are available fo hire and the beautiful lake side walk, which takes the better part of two hours to complete, is a definite must.
3. The Gardena and Sella Passes
Extremely popular with bikers, cyclists and hikers the Sella and Gardena passes, each within a short ride of each are guaranteed to impress. Jaw dropping views and challenging twisty roads offer heaps of entertainment on the seat of a motorbike. Of course there’s always great food at the rifugios at the passes and plenty of hiking on offer for those equipped and fit for the task.
At the peak of the tourist season, between July and August, there are traffic restrictions to Passo Sella. Only a couple of hundred vehicles per hour are allowed to transit beyond the check points on the road that leads to the pass. However, the curb on traffic doesn’t apply onweekends and the restrictions are extremely unpopular with the locals who thrive on tourism all the year round. It remains to be seen for how long traffic limitations will hold. As of (2018), access to the pass involves an online booking here.
4. Passo Giau (Giau Pass)
Possibly the most inspiring of all the passes of the Dolomites, Passo Giau has it all. Once again there are awe inspiring views of mountain massifs and valleys near and far to admire from this iconic and much loved beauty spot. A stop at the local rifugio is usually a memorable experience as the parking area is generallypacked with motorcycles from all over Europe (especially at the week ends). Photographers are often perched on the hills around the pass at sunset working hard to capture the scenery with cameras and tripods. It’s not unusual to see the occasional drone as well.
5. Lake Levico
Lake Levico is on the southern most fringes of the Dolomites in Val Sugana, just a few kilometres from Trento. On a hot summer’s day the banks of the small lake offer highly sought after shade. There are well manicured lawns that provide perfect bedding for a beach towel and cool mountain scenery to behold all around.
The lakes’s water is fresh and just what’s needed under the glare of the Italian sun to ease off the drowsiness of a long day on the road. Camping is available for an overnight stay and of course eateries abound in the area with Levico Terme, the local village, at a twenty minute walk from the water’s edge.
Find more info about touring the Dolomites click here
The Italian Dolomites are often arguably described as the most scenic area of all the Alps. For sure the Dolomites offer some spectacular views, an interesting mix of Italo-Germanic culture and of course, some of the finest motorcycle rides one could hope for.
There are dozens of beautiful mountain passes, jaw dropping valley landscapes and lake side vistas to admire. There hikes, cliffs, and peaks to climb, enjoy and challenge yourself. There‘s an interesting mix of culture with Italian and Germana speaking folk . There are “rifugi” (mountain pass guest houses ) that serve excellent dishes of polenta, pasta, venison along with good italian wine, beer and coffee.
But where to start? Which route to take so as not to not to miss out on the world class scenery and attractions? Below is a motorcycle loop around the Dolomites that spans from the town of Trento close to lake Garda, east towards Belluno and then north to the border with Austria. It then continues back to Bolzano and the Adige Valley from where the Brenner Pass can be reached within a couple of hours heading north or lake Garda and Verona heading south.
The route reflects the track I followed over the course of a week and includesall of the better known beauty spots of the Dolomite range, or at least, the ones not to be missed. The routes on the maps reflect theweather conditions I encountered, the need for fuel stops and the search for camp sites and cheap accommodation I endeavoured in.
This circuit can take anything from 4 to 7 days or more depending on just how much of a leisurely rideyou choose to pace yourself with, or whether perhaps you want to treat yourself to a lengthy stay by one of the many beautiful mountain lake side camp sites available or a few days in a rifugio for a bit of hiking.Of course the weather can play it’s part in lengthening or shortening the ride as well. Showers and thunderstorms are a constant in the Dolomites and rainfall sometimes occurs with very little warning to dampen the spirits of even the most enthusiastic of bikers.
Any time between the months of May and October is ideal for a tour in the Dolomites although I personally recommend May and June as the best time of all. This is when the guest houses and camp sites offer better deals, the roads are less congested by holiday makers and the days are long, warm and drier. However, that’s not to say that the months from July to October should be avoided but come late September it’s not unheard of for the first snow to make an appearance threatening to close off some of the higher mountain passes.
Two possible scenarios to start off with. You’ve either spent a few days on the shores of Lake Garda or perhaps parked up in Verona after aride from elsewhere in Italy or you’ve just made it to Trento via the Brenner Pass from Austria.
Trento offers some interesting sights of it’s own such as the a medieval cathedral (Duomo del Buonconsiglio) and a modern interactive science museum (Muse) for those wit’s an interest in technology. However,for relaxing views and a first taste of alpine lakeside bliss it’s best to head straight to the laghi (lakes) of Caldonazzo and Levico placed at the mouth ofVal Sugana on Strada Statale (State Road) SS47.
The two lakes are juxtaposed side by side, separated by a mountainous spur know as the Colle Di Tenna. Both tarns are framed by well kept lawns, pine trees and peaceful (albeit pricey) campsites that offer level grass pitches at the water’s edge. Don’t expect to spend anything less than 30€ for the privilege though and bear in mind that wild camping is illegal anywhere in the area.
Levico is the quieter of the two lakes and possibly the most attractive as well. It doesn’t have a rail track running on it’s southern bank which is something that mildly disturbs the peace around Caldonazzo. A night spent snoozing on either of the lake’s grassy rims withdipin the fresh water is guaranteed to wash away any exhaustion from the hot Italian sun.
Lake Levico, perfect place to cool off.
Plenty of eateries in the area offer local cheeses and salami to try out. A cheaper option of course is always pizza. Cappuccino and croissants readily available for breakfast at any bar in the area.
If there is time to spare after arriving at Levico then a 30km ride north to the Piramidi di Segonzano (the Segonzano Pyramids) is worth the effort. Here you’ll find a set of towering pinnacles, each around ten metres high, similar to the “Fairy Chimnieys” of Cappadocia in Turkey. Anyone with an interest in geology or landscape photography will find the detour to Segonzano interesting if not inspiring(revues are mixed). The path to the pinnacles is open every day from 9:00 to 18:00 during the summer months up to the end of September.
After a morning spent cooling off at lake Levico (or Caldonazzo) some real motorcycle riding thrills await further east, deeper inside Val Sugana past the villages of Roncegno, Telve and into the Calamento Valley (Val di Calamento). This is where the first of many narrow mountain roads start to wind under the shade of pinewood forests and climb to the first of countless mountain passes. Rocky dolomite outcrops make an appearance at every switchback through the Calamento valley as the road makes its way towards Passo Manghen. It’s handy to know that this part of the southern Dolomites has a reputation for seeing rain (or snow), almost every day so appropriate riding gear should be kept at hand.
The views become more and more impressive as you ride closer to the 2047m high Manghen pass but on an overcast gray day it’s not uncommon for mist to obscure the landscape. Watch out for other bikers in the fog but most of all beware of cyclists that carry no lighting at all and can appear suddenly, unannounced like ghosts on the side of the road. Some will be riding their bikes, others, exhausted, pushing them up hill probably gasping for breath.
At every pass on the Dolomites there is at least one so called “rifugio” i.e. a restaurant/guest house with hot drinks, hot meals, beer, wine and a log fire as well if temperatures are low. There are also rooms for over night stays but accommodation is not always cheap. A hot chocolate, I find, is always a good excuse for a stop to check out a rifugio especially if you’ve been drenched by the rain.
Passo Manghen with it’s inviting rifugio.
After Passo Manghen, the twisties continue all the way down into Val Candinowhere the mountain road joins SS48 that eventually leads on to the town of Cavalese. The route then continues eastwards towards Predazzo, onto SS50 and finally to Passo Rolle.
Passo Rolle is one of the “great” well known passes of the Dolomites with spectacular views of the “Pale Di San Martino” massif. Huge, jagged dolomite cliff faces make the “Pale” an impressive sight to behold and best admired in the evening as the sun sinks low on the horizon. This is when cliff faces reflect the sun’s rays and turn to shades of pink, yellow and crimson. Great photo opportunities here for those with camera skills.
Passo Rolle and a glimpsed of the Pale di San Martino in the background.
Accommodation at Passo Rolle is costly and always in high demand. A cheaper alternative for the night is to head a little further north to Passo Valles where a warm clean room and shelterred parking for motorbikes is available for around 30€ at “Rifugio Capanna”. Staff are friendly, food is good, breakfast is included in the price and there’s a massive St. Bernard dog called Anton that quickly charms and befriends all visitors.
Rifugio Capanna for a good place to stay.
A hot breakfast at Rifugio Capanna(Passo Valles) and then we’re back on the road again Heading towards Falcade and Agordo on SS203.
Agordo offers an excellent excuse for a second breakfast or extra coffee stop. Piazza della Libertà is picturesque and a good place to indulge in a little people watching in the open, sitting outside with the locals at one of the bars in the square.
Just beyond the Agordo there are signposts pointing the way to Passo Duran along SS347. The route to the pass is a narrow and tight but well maintained and all around there are views of the Moiazza massif (3000m). Mount Civetta (3220m) is also visible on a clear day.
Passo Duran might appear a little underwhelming but rifugio Cesare Tome is a good place for lunch if you skipped the earlier stop in Agordo. The rifugio is a popular spot for bikers and it’s not unusual to find the parking area congested with machines from all over Europe.
Scenery on the road to Passo Duran
Further north east along SS347 comes Passo Cibiana. Passo Cibiana offers some interesting views of the Sassolungo massif, but the best part of having ridden along SS347 awaits after the pass. The final stretches of SS347, just before the intersection with SS51 and the Caldonazzo main road, are amazing. There are a set of switchbacks here on the final climb That are worth a stop to admire. The road coils and seems to almpost fall on top of itself as it climbs uphill. Switch back after switchback the the road seems to rest suspended on little more than a slither of a rocky perch. The setting is beautiful the engineering remarkable.
SS51 leads to lake Pieve di Cadore, an ineteresting artificial damn built in the 1950s. Camping Columbia on the far side of the water (opposite the main road)is clean, quiet and offers peaceful pitches for around 15€ per night.
Further north from Lake Cadore there’s the rather bland Passo S. Antonio that leads on to Passo di Monte Croce di Comelico. Here, the imposing cliff faces of the Croda Rossa offer a first glimpse what the “Sexten” Dolomite complex is all about i.e. size! Best viewed at dawn the cliff faces look to the east and are smothered in dim grey blue light in the later hours of the day. There’s plenty of camping space just beyond the Comelico pass at the aptly named “Camping Sexten” (open all the year round). They camp site offers a spa, tree houses, a swimming pool and a restaurant with local dishes to enjoy. There’s always space for a biker, even at the height of the season. Management allowed me to pitch my tent by the swimming pool for one night.
Best to get an early start from the Sexten camp site and return to the Comelico pass for the excellent coffee and croissants served at the local rifugio. Then, it’s back on the road along the SS52 to Val Pusteria and the busy E66 route to Brunico (Bruneck).After the town of Dobbiacco the route turns off to Lago di Braies (Lake Braies), one of the most beautiful and photographed lakes of the Dolomites.
Lake Bries is simply stunning. The waters are turquoise, calm and reflect the huge Dolomite cliffs of Croda di Becco towering in the background at just under 3000m. There are wooden rowing boats for hire for those who want to enjoy the the views from the water and there is an interesting two hour path that loops the lake entirely, well worth the effort in my opinion.
Beautiful lake Braies
August is the height of the tourist season and there can be crowds that flock to the area occasionally turning lake Braies into a bit of a tourist trap. The best way to avoided the masses is to get to the lake earlier in the day (perhaps 8am) before the tourist busses park their herds of holiday makers by the water’s edge. It’s also cooler earlier in the day which makes hiking the lakeside path a little less harsh.
Lake Braies needs at least two to three hours to be enjoyed. Swimming is allowed but the water is surprisingly cold and not many challenge their resilience beyond a knee deep wade. There’s history here too with the local rifugio usedbriefly as a POW detention centre for higher ranking opposers to Nazi occupation during WW2.
Once satisfied with lake Braies it’s back eastwards on the E55 towards the border with Austria. Just before Dobbiaco there’s a turn to the right onto SS51 and the Leandro valley that leads to Cortina d’Ampezzo.
SS51 is a busy route with trucks, busses and caravans to contend with. Don’t be tempted to stop at any of the road side eateries on this stretch of road as prices are extortionately high for anything more than Ceaser salad and a glass of water.Watch out for theturn off onto SS48b (for Lago di Misurina) which can be easily missed. Before reaching lake Misurina there are sign posts for the “Strada Panoramica”, the route that leads to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Peaks of Lavaredo). The road is open from the month of May until mid October and exerts a hefty toll for all vehicles, no less than 20€ (as of 2018) for motorbikes. The Strada Panoramica it’s roughly 7km long, it’s meticulously maintained and although the toll is steep I personally recommend paying the cash and enjoying the short ride all the way to the Cime. The views on the final stretch are like no other in all the Dolomites and will almost certainly be rememberesd as the main highlight of any tour of the Dolomites.
The car park at the end of the road sits at the foot of the imposing “Cima Ovest” (western peak) which hides the remaining Cima Piccola (Little Peak) and Cima Grande (Big Peak) from view.
Cima Ovest dominates the vista towards north entirely but the views away towards south on the Cadini and Marmarole Group heights are spectacular. Rifugio Auronzo next to the car park serves hot meals in a self service caffe style and the vistas from the rifugio terrace are some of the best available.
Rifugio Auronzo, starting point for the Cime di Lavaredo hike
If you fancy some hiking then Sentiero 101 (Path 101) aka “Giro delle Tre Cime”, is an easy stroll that from Rifugio Auronzo leads to Rifugio Lavaredo, Rifugio Locatelli and back again to Auronzo.It can take anything from three to five hours to complete on a good cloud free day but allows for some impressive photography of the Lavaredo peaks and some cool mountain air. The path can be crowded on any August day, however.
Back on the bike the bike along the Strada PanoramicaLake Misurina is next on the itinerary. Stunning views once more along the water’s edge with the Serapis massif imposing itself in the background. Lots of good road side stops here to enjoy the scenery and an ice cream.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is expensive and exclusive. Prices for a lodging soar to way beyond 100€ a night at the cheapest of guest houses and motels. It’s best to book well in advance for the better deals if you intend to stay here otherwise push on beyond.
East of Cortina lies one of the most acclaimed and better known passes of the Dolomites,Passo Giau an all time favourite with many a biker. To reach it head east away from Cortina along SS48 and then take the turning onto SS 638. No doubt there will be a steady procession of bikers heading for the well known pass at any time during the hours of daylight so simply tagging along with the posse is often all that needs to be done to reach Giau.
The road to the pass is amazing especially towards the evening as sunset approaches. There aretowering dolomite cliffs all around that include: Pale di San Martino, the Marmolada peaks, the Sella Group, theTofane massif, the Sexten Dolomites and the Cristallo Group elevations.
The pass itself is placed at the foot of well known rocky outcrops known as the Towers of Nuvolau (2.574 m) and Averau (2.647 m) and the parking areas in front of the local rifugio (Berghotel Passo Giau)is all ways crowded with motorbikes, especially at weekends.
Passo Giau with it’s Nuvolau and Averau peaks.
The Berghotel is an excellent bike stop be it for just coffee or a snack. At sun set photographers flock to the grassy meadows around the Nuvolau and Averau peaks to capture some of the landscapes magic. These days it’s not unusual to see the odd drone or two hovering around as well.
Accommodation in this area is tough to find and there are no camp sites to park up to either. Wild camping is strictly forbidden but asking for permission to pitch up a tent in sombody’s back yard/field/land, not too far from the pass, can yield pleasant surprises, weather and temperature permitting of course. Failing that, the nearest camp sites are a 30 minute ride south to Alleghe, or along the SS251 towards Forni di Zoldo.
From Passo Giau the the itinerary leads on to Passo Falzarego and Passo Valparola both set on road SS244. The track to Passo Falzarego is a typical alpine road with plenty of switchbacks to enjoy. Watch out for the locals on sports bikes who know the roads like the back of their hands, some of whom are well versed in sliding around corners to the ultimate limit of their Pirelli tyres.
Passo Falzarego emerges from the pine wooded road with a stunning rocky ridge as a backdrop known as theLagazuoi peak. There is a cable car here that takes visitors to the top of the craggy mountain and I noticed a hefty queue of hikers waiting for a lift to the top. The area around Lagazuoi is known for some particularly violent clashes that took place here during theFirst World War between Austrian and Italian forces. Between the Falzarego and Valparola passes there’s a restored Austrian fort (Forte Tre Sassi) that now hosts a very interesting museum displaying artefacts from the Great War recovered from the trenches dug and defended locally. It’s well worth a visit for the few Euros the ticket costs.
The descent to Passo Valparola is once more stunningly beautiful with a views of the Sella and Puez Group dolomite ranges all around. The route on SS243 leads on to the Gardena Pass, definitely my personalfavourite pass of the Dolomites.
Passo Gardena is acclaimed as much as Passo Giau and Rolle are, not so much for the the rifugio nor the switchbacks that lead to the pass but for the the majestic vistas on the Sella Group Massifs that appear after reaching the top of the climb. Also, heading further West into Gardena valley along SS243, the road is carved into the foot of a towering rocky escarpment. It’s another engineering marvel and a spectacle both to ride and to behold from a distance. Perhaps this stretch of the itinerary is the most worthy contender for “most awe inspiring road of the Dolomites.”
The road from Passo Gardena
Further on along the SS243, at the junction with SS242 the route makes turn left and south towards Passo Sella, Passo Pordoi and the Marmolada glacier.
Passo Sella is quaint and quiet. The three peaks that frame the rifugio and the pass are known as the Sassolungo (tallest), Cinque Dita (middle) and Punta Grohmann. A small biker bar with a dedicated bike park makes a perfect stop to sip on a cappuccino and admire the view from a deck chair.
In recent years (2017-2018) there’s been an attempt to limit traffic to the Sella Pass on week days. No more than 350 vehicles a day are allowed from Mondays to Fridays between the months of July and August. The rule is fiercely contested by local communities who thrive on tourism and it remains to be seen if attempts to limit traffic will continue in the future.I was allowed free access without any trouble.
Passo Pordoi seems a little bleak after riding through Giau and Gardena and indeed the Sella Pass as well but it does offer further views. Passo Campolongo is only a short ride after Pordoi and is equally enchanting.
Bike park at Passo Sella
Further south on to SS641 we head for the the heights of the Marmolada range and a glimpse of what little remains of the Marmolada glacier. The road has a few short tunnels, it’s tight and plagued by road works (as of 2018) all the way to Lake Fedaia. From the lake there are somemisty views of the Marmolada massif towering over head at 3342m. There is a little snow visible on the glacier smoothed slopes that lead to the lake but not much of the the great ice plough is left to admire at all. A testament to global warming some might say.
The road that leads up to Marmolada continues East towards Caprile and Passo Giau. However, our route at this stage leads back down from lake Fedaia on SS641 to Val di Fassa and then south to any of the many roads that lead back to the Adige valley via Bolzano. The highwayto Lake Garda or Verona is always a better choice than heading north to the Brenner Pass in my opinion.
Stunning Verona. Beautiful Roman town close to Lake Garda.
View of Lake Garda from Riva
It’s possible to spend less than 100€ day on a tour as described above. A full tank of fuel of around 16 litres costs anything between 20€ and 25€, cheap panini can replace a restaurant meal and camp sites can be found for less than 20€ per night.
Make sure to pack waterproof riding gear but equally bring along some sun block for when the sun is shining…..enjoy!