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Two days in Oslo

Two days in Oslo

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 this way 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, its vast territory and coastline, its wealth in minerals (titanium, copper) and magnificently preserved forests, one can be easily led to believe that this is a land of countless opportunities. Oslo is the capital of Norway and a good place to start exploring. 

Positioned at the furthest end of the narrow Oslofjorden bay that feeds from the Skagerrak Strait, Oslo is home to around six hundred thousand people and can be reached by ferry from Denmark and Germany or buy road and rail passing through Sweden. Flying of course, is the easiest way to reach the Norwegian capital and a Scandinavian Airways flight will get you there from any major city in European and from beyond.

Gardermoen Airport is welcoming, cosy and pleasant with wooden floors and paneling that are typical reflection of local decor. It’s a an interesting place to hang in and there’s an efficient rail link to down town Oslo (less than thirty minutes).

Gardermoen Airport, Oslo
Gardermoen Airport, Oslo

What makes an immediate impression on arrival though are the prices advertised at the airport’s eateries. A simple croissant is 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 for sure and just a taste of things to come. 

What to do if you’re stuck 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 restaurants. It’s also at a convenient five minute walk from the harbour which is the starting point of cruises and ferries rides 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 I found no youth hostels available as of 2018. 

I chose to stay 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

-Frogner Park

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, always open, well maintained and can be reached easily by metro or tram from the town centre.

Gustav Vigeland Crying Baby
Vegeland’s Crying Baby

The granite and bronze figures exposed in the Park date back to the early years of the last century and have an essential, minimalist style to them which I found quite appealing. 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 our struggles are masterfully and entertainingly told by the artist’s full size human figures and their emotionally charged poses. It’s hard not recognise yourself in some of the statues on show. 

The Pinnacle in Frogner Park, Oslo
The Pinnacle in Frogner Park, Oslo

Centrepiece in the park is Vigeland’s granite monolith that towers around 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. 

Vigeland statues in Frogner Park
Art is supposed to question morals. What’s going on here?

-Holmenkollen

Considered by most Oslovians as their back yard, Holmenkollen is just a small hill (340m) on the north western fringes of the Norwegian capital. Come the winter snow however, and the festive season too, Holmenkollen transforms into a hotspot for winter sport enthusiasts from near and far.

There are over two thousand kilometres of cross country skiing tracks around Oslo, ninety kilometres of which are lit for late night skiing with cabins to cater for food and overnight stays. Some of these make Holmenkollen part of their route and easy starting point. Cross country skiing is Norway’s national sport, a speciality in which the country excels at and generally dominates the Winter Olympics with over 120 gold medals to the nation’s credit.

Norwegians go skiing
Off to Holmenkollen

Holmenkollen is easily reached from Oslo 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 suits and skis in hand ready 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.

The Holmenkollbakken
The mighty Holmenkollbakken

However, the most prominent feature to be found at Holmenkollen is the “Holmenkollbakken”, a massive ski jump that dominates the skyline at the summit of the hill. 

Holmenkollen Ski Jump
Holmenkollen Ski Jump

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 ground and has enough space for over sixty thousand spectators. Ski jumpers come here to train from all over Europe and beyond and some have achieved leaps over 140m in length. 

But if skiing is not your thing then just the views from Holmenkollen are worth the trip to the hill alone. Beautiful vistas of  Oslo and the Oslofjorden at sunset can be admired from here while slowly sipping a mug of hot Glögg, the local mulled wine sold for no less than 10€ a cup.

-Olso City Hall

Oslo Town Hall
Oslo Town 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 its stunning inside decor and also for being the venue of the Nobel prize award ceremony that takes place here every year. There’s plenty of marble to admire and the decorative paintings by artists Sørensen and Rolfsen in the huge Main Hall, contain some interesting highlights of Norway’s twentieth century history.  

-Oslo Opera House

Angular and deceptively small looking 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. 

The Oslo Opera House
The Oslo Opera House

Beautifully clad in steel and Italian Carrara marble the building hosts the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet organisation. The interior of the structure 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

Viking Ship Museum
Viking Ship Museum

There are some extraordinary, 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 old viking communities. The precision with which the boats were crafted is extraordinary and the work put into restoring them for public display is superb.

What to eat 

Reindeer Burgers
Reindeer Burgers at the Christmas market

Reindeer burger might not appeal to everyone but to the carnivores out there (including myself) it’s a definite must. Tasty, tender and nutritious one of these bad boys in a bun fills you up with satisfaction for hours. Reindeer burgers are particularly popular around Christmas time and are easily found at the open air Christmas Market just in front of the Grand Hotel along Karl Johans Gate. 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 of glitzy high end fashion boutiques. There are also at least a couple venues worth exploring here. The Scotsman Pub has character and buzzes in the evenings with a healthy mix of locals and tourists. There a shuffleboards (which seem 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. 

Andy's Piano Bar
Andy’s Piano Bar

Another great spot worth checking out is Andy’s Pub ( Stortingsgata 8,) close to the Grand Hotel. Live music from a grand piano and singing pianist, some keen wannabe vocalists make this place ideal for a late night laugh. Drinks still way above 10€. 

So, to sum it up:

If you can put the steep prices for food and alcohol aside, Oslo makes a great city break. There’s an international feel and people are generally friendly and welcoming. The city is clean and public transport efficient.

In 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 even after dark with plenty of like minded folk, too.

Travellingstranger 2019 ©. All rights reserved.



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Five Sites not to miss in the Dolomites

Five Sites not to miss in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are without doubt one of the most picturesque and exciting mountain ranges in Europe. They belong to the Italian Alps, and are set in north east corner of “the boot” just south of the border with Austria.

The entire area offers inspiring vistas and heaps of outdoor fun. Above all, there are rocky peaks to climb, endless trails to hike and beautiful lakes to relax by. The Dolomites also offer extraordinary switchback roads to ride on a motorbike with countless mountain passes to reach and enjoy.

This part of Italy, with its Sud Tirolese culture, also offers interesting cuisine, beer and wine. As a result, with all the above, it’s no wonder the Dolomites are a favorite destination holiday makers from all over Europe.

What are the most iconic sites of the Dolomites? Here are five that should be on everyone’s list:

1. The Three Peaks of Lavaredo (Tre Cime di Lavaredo)

Placed at the northern most part of the Sexten Dolomite complex, just south of Val Pusteria, the Peaks of Lavaredo consist three craggy pinnacles that tower, each at over three thousand meters in elevation. They offer some great climbing thrills and are also a haven for hikers as well.

On route to the Cimone di LAvaredo
On the way to the Tre Cime

The foot of the western most peak (Cima Ovest) can be reached from lake Misurina along the “strada panoramica” (toll road). Rifugio Auronzo next to the car park at the end of the road serves hot meals and provides lodging for overnight stays. The big rifugio is also the starting point for hikers that come to explore the trails around the peaks. It can get crowded here, especially during the warmer months of the year.

The views around the Lavaredo peaks are amazing and the photo opportunities are not to be missed.

2. Lake Braies 

If you’ve browsed Instagram in search of mountain landscape scenery then Lake Braies is probably a familiar site. This idyllic little lake is one of the best known tarns of the Dolomites and hundreds of keen photographers go there to capture the lake’s magic. Braies’s green water creates a stunning contrast with the surrounding dolomite outcrops especially at dawn and dusk.

Lake Braies
Placid and green waters of Lake Braies

At dusk especially is when the crimson sunlight bounces soft colors of pink and yellow on the dolomite outcrops by the water’s edge.

There are old style wooden rowing boats available for hire on the lake and there’s also a lovely lake side walk, a loop by the water’s edge that takes the better part of two hours to finish. Lake Braies is a definite must.

3. The Gardena and Sella Passes

The Sella and Gardena passes are within a short ride of each other and are extremely popular with bikers and cyclists alike. Jaw dropping views, steep inclines and challenging twisty roads offer heaps of motorcycle entertainment. Of course there are great food stops at the rifugios on the way. Plenty of hiking on offer for those fit for the task, too.  

Stunning Dolomite Scenery
Scenery around the Gardena Pass

At the peak of the tourist season, between July and August, there are traffic restrictions to Passo Sella. On some week days only a couple of hundred vehicles per hour are allowed beyond the road side check points. However, the curb on traffic isn’t enforced on weekends and the restrictions are unpopular with locals who thrive on tourism. It’s unclear for how long traffic limitations will hold. As of 2018, access to the pass involves buying a permit online here.

4. Passo Giau (Giau Pass)

Passo Giau
Passo Giau is definitely a favourite with bikers and day trippers alike. Occasionally hard to find a space to park a bike.

Possibly the most inspiring of all Dolomite passes, Passo Giau has it all. At the top of there pass there are awesome views of mountain massifs and valleys near and far to admire. Time spent at the local rifugio is usually a memorable experience as well. The food is good and there are bikers from all over Europe to befriend.

Perched on the hills around the pass it’s not unusual to see photographers with cameras and tripods. Likewise these days, there are drones humming and hovering, as well. 

5. Lake Levico 

Lake Levico is on the southern most fringes of the Dolomites in Val Sugana, just a few kilometers from Trento. On a hot summer’s day the banks of the small lake offer highly sought after shade. Well manicured lawns provide perfect bedding for a beach towel and the mountain scenery around the water offers plenty to admire.

Lake Levico
Lake Levico

The lake’s water is fresh all the year round and ideal to cool off from the harsh Italian sun. Camping is available for an overnight stay and of course restaurants are abundant in the area with Levico Terme, the local village, at a twenty minute walk from the water’s edge.

More info on touring the Dolomites here.

Travellingstrangetr 2018 ©️. All rights reserved

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Route around the Dolomites

Route around the Dolomites

The Dolomites in Italy are definitely one of the most scenic areas of the Alps. They offer spectacular views, heaps of outdoor adventure, an interesting mix of Italo-Germanic culture and of course, some of the finest motorcycle rides one could hope for.

But where to start? Where to go so as to not miss out on the world class scenery and attractions? Below is a motorcycle tour of 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 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, south.  

The route reflects the loop I followed over the course of a week and includes the better known beauty spots of the Dolomite range, or at least, the ones not to be missed. There are suggestions for camp sites, cheap accommodation and where to snack without spending a fortune.

The loop can take anything from four to seven days or even longer depending on just how much of a leisurely pace you choose. It’s tempting to stay longer than a day at any of the lake side camp sites available or perhaps even try some hiking over a weekend.  The weather can play it’s part in lengthening or shortening the tour as well. Showers and thunderstorms are a constant in the Dolomites and next to sudden rain fall will dampen the spirits of even the keenest of bikers without wet weather gear.

Any time between May to October is ideal for a tour in the Dolomites although I personally recommend the months of May and June as the best time of all. This is when the guest houses and camp sites offer the better deals, the roads are less congested by holiday makers and the days are long, warm and dry enough. However, that’s not to say that the months between July and October should be avoided but come early autumn it’s not unheard of for early snow to make an appearance with the closure of some of the higher mountain passes.

Day One 

Two of the most likely scenarios at the start of the tour are that you’ve either spent some time on Lake Garda or you’ve just made it to Trento via the Brenner Pass from Austria. In either case Trento is starting point of the itinerary.

Trento offers some interesting sites such as the a medieval cathedral (Duomo del Buonconsiglio) and a modern interactive science museum known as Muse for those with 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 found just beyond the entrance to Val Sugana (Sugana valley) along 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 manicured lawns, pine trees and peaceful (albeit pricey) campsites that offer level grass pitches by the water’s edge. Don’t expect to spend anything less than 30€ for the privilege though and keep 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 its southern rim which is something that mildly disturbs the peace around Caldonazzo. A night spent snoozing on either of the lake’s grassy banks plus a dip in the fresh water is guaranteed to wash away all exhaustion from the hot Italian  sun.

Lake Levico
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. Cappuccinos and croissants are readily available for breakfast at any bar by the water.

If there’s 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 about ten metres or so high, similar to the “Fairy Chimnieys” of Cappadocia in Turkey. Anyone with an interest in geology or landscape photography will find Segonzano interesting if not inspiring, revues however, are mixed.

Day Two

After a morning spent cooling off at lake Levico (or Caldonazzo) some real motorcycle riding thrills await further east along the SS47 past the villages of Roncegno, Telve and into the Calamento Valley (Val di Calamento). Here, a narrow mountain road winds uphill under the shade of pinewood forests towards Passo Manghen (2047m), the first mountain pass of our tour. Rocky dolomite outcrops appear at every switchback on the road, wildlife (deer) can be spotted if you’re lucky in the woods. It’s handy bear in mind that this part of the southern Dolomites has a reputation for being particularly wet with lots of rain (or snow), so appropriate riding gear should be kept handy.

The views become more and more impressive as you ride closer to the Manghen pass but on an overcast, grey 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 bicycles, others, exhausted, will more likely be pushing them and 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 if temperatures are low. There are usually rooms for over night stays as well but accommodation is not always cheap. A hot chocolate, I find, is a good excuse for a stop to check out a rifugio especially if you’ve been drenched by the rain.

Passo Manghen
Passo Manghen with it’s inviting rifugio.

After Passo Manghen, the twisties continue all the way down into Val Candino where the mountain road joins SS48 towards the towns of Cavalese and Predazzo. Further on, SS50 leads 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 into astonishing shades of pink, yellow and crimson. Great photo opportunities here for those with camera skills. 

Passo Rolle
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 charms and befriends all guests.

Rifugio Capanna
Rifugio Capanna, a good place to stay.

Day Three

A hot breakfast at Rifugio Capanna (Passo Valles) and then 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 while sitting outside with the locals at one of the bars in the square. 

Just beyond Agordo there are signposts for Passo Duran along SS347. The route to the pass is narrow but well maintained and there are persistent views en route of the Moiazza massif (3000m) and Mount Civetta (3220m). 

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 biker stop and it’s not unusual to find the parking area congested with machines with Austrian and German plates.

The road to Passo Duran
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 SS347 awaits after the pass. The final stretches of this road, just before the intersection with SS51 and the Caldonazzo main road, are amazing. There are a set of  switchbacks here on the final climb to the mentioned intersection that are worth a stop to admire.  The road coils and seems to almost fall on top of itself as it spirals uphill. Switch back after switchback the the road rests 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 of the “Sexten” Dolomite complex. 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). The 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 next to the swimming pool for a night.

Day 4 

Best to get an early start from the Sexten camp site and return to the Comelico pass for excellent coffee and croissants served at the local rifugio. Then, it’s back along the SS52 to Val Pusteria and the busy E66 route to Brunico (Bruneck).  After 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 indulge in some exercise and there’s an interesting two hour path that loops the lake, well worth the effort in my opinion.

Lago di Braies
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 being used  briefly 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 the turn 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 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 remembered as the main highlight of the tour.

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 self service style and the vistas from the rifugio terrace are some of the best available.  

Rifugio Auronzo
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 that 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, be warned. 

Back on the bike along the Strada Panoramica, Lake Misurina is next on the itinerary.  Stunning views once more along lake’s water edge with the Serapis massif imposing itself in the background. Lots of road side stops here to enjoy the scenery and a snack.

Lake Misurina
Lake Misurina

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 Passo Giau, one of the most acclaimed and better known passes of the Dolomites and an all time favourite within the biking community. To reach it head east away from Cortina along SS48 and then take the turning onto SS638. No doubt there will be a steady procession of motorcyclists 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 the pass. 

The road to the Giau is amazing especially towards the evening as sunset approaches. There are  towering dolomite cliffs to admire all around that include: Pale di San Martino, the Marmolada peaks, the Sella Group, the  Tofane massif, the Sexten Dolomites and the Cristallo Group elevations.

The pass itself is placed at the foot of some rocky outcrops known as the Towers of Nuvolau (2.574 m) and Averau (2.647 m) that are pretty impressive on their own. There’s plenty of parking space in front of the Berghotel but occasionally at weekends it’s becomes so crowded with machines from all over Europe (and beyond) that finding a space to park a bike can be challenging. 

Passo Giau
Passo Giau with it’s Nuvolau and Averau peaks.

The Berghotel is an excellent stop for a 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 as well.

Accommodation in this area is tough to find and there are no camp sites in the area 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. Failing that, the nearest camp sites are a 30 minute ride south to Alleghe, or along the SS251 towards Forni di Zoldo.

Day 5

From Passo Giau our itinerary leads on to Passo Falzarego and Passo Valparola both on 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 the Lagazuoi 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 the  First 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 recovered from the trenches dug and defended locally during the Great War.  It’s definately 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 to the Gardena Pass, definitely my favourite pass of the Dolomites.

Passo Gardena is renowned as much as Passo Giau and Rolle not so much for the rifugio nor the switchbacks that lead to the pass but for the the majestic vistas of the Sella Group Massifs that can be admired. Also, heading West into Gardena valley along  SS243, the carves into the foot of a towering rocky escarpment, an 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 the title of “most awe inspiring road” of the Dolomites. 

The road from Passo Gardena
The road from Passo Gardena

Further on along the SS243, at the junction with SS242 the route makes turn 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 or grab a meal and admire the views from a table. 

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 per day are allowed from Mondays to Fridays between the months of July and August. The rule is fiercely contested by the locals who thrive on tourism and it remains to be seen if attempts to limit traffic will continue in the future. 

Passo Pordoi seems a little bleak after riding through Giau, Gardena and indeed the Sella Passes but should not be overlooked for the interesting views it still offers. Passo Campolongo is only a short ride after Pordoi and is equally enchanting.

Bike park at Passo Sella
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 and plagued by road works (as of 2018). From the Lake Fedaia there are some misty views of the Marmolada massif (3342m) to be admired but not much of the the great ice plough can be seen 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 to the Adige valley via Bolzano. The highway to Lake Garda or Verona is always a better choice than heading north to the Brenner Pass.

Verona, Italy
Stunning Verona. Beautiful Roman town close to Lake Garda.

 

View of 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!

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