Italy – Dolomites

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It would be quite easy to visit Italy and not even think of visiting the northern part of the country. When most people think of Italy, they do not consider alpine villages and German culture. If I’m not mistaken, the current borders of Italy were set during or post Mussolini’s dictatorship. Some areas that had been Swiss, Austrian and French are a part of Italy. [please correct me if I’m wrong on any of this!] When the new borders were made, the German residence could choose whether to stay or move to Germany. Many chose to leave but didn’t actually leave.

Leaving Venice, at sea level, it wasn’t long before it was mountainous.

We were headed to Cortina d’Ampezzo, a town nestled in a valley surrounded by the Alps, and specifically the Dolomites.

We kept a keen eye on the buildings, wondering when they would change from the stucco/type, clay tile roofed houses to the Swiss Chalet look.

At one point we went through a long tunnel and the houses definitely had a different look. Lois and I had been to both Switzerland and Austria but the nieces hadn’t. I thought this was a good time to whet their appetite for more places to travel to in the future. 🙂 We so enjoyed our trip in 2002 that it wasn’t a hardship to include the gorgeous scenery into this trip.

Cortina hosted the winter Olympics in 1957. It was so neat to spot this ski jump in the distance!

Cortina d’Ampezzo was a great place to stop for lunch. We ended up eating in a restaurant that was a pay-per-item “buffet”. Located near the bus station, it was full of working men, usually a good testimony to good food. And good food it was! I don’t remember what all we ate but I know there were potatoes involved and I had a goulash of sorts and we all ate in blissful silence, the kind induced by enjoying your food too much to talk. 🙂

This city was also the beginning of the Grande Strada, along routes SS48 & SS241 that crossed through the mountains over towards Bolzano/Bozen. We are now in the area (South Tirol) that is more German than Italian by culture, and most towns have both a German and Italian name.

The Grande Strada was certainly worth the drive! It winds through the Dolomites, the region of the Alps with their rocky surfaces.

This small village created a flat place to put a football (aka soccer to us) field.


How would you like to ride this cable car?? I most definitely didn’t want to and by the time we figured out it was one of the few running, it was too far to go back for those who wanted to, mostly Ruth Anne.

I had seen some info on Lago di Carezza, or Karersee in German and known to us tourists also known as Rainbow Lake. We didn’t want to miss it and it wasn’t hard to find. The parking area is on one side of the highway and the beautiful lake behind a few trees on the other.

Of all the places in Italy that we were not at in prime lighting, this one was a gift! The sun was getting ready to set and the lighting was just beautiful!

There were a few other photographers around but it was far from crowded. It was at it’s lowest, typical for fall (6 meters typical). Spring can see it up to 22 meters deep.

By the time we arrived at our stay for the night, an inn in Fiè allo Sciliar, it was nearly dark. The roads are narrow coming off the main interstate-like road. The GPS had a hard time keeping up when the roads hugged the mountains.

We had had a hard time finding a place for one night. I really wanted to stay on a farm but it seemed like most required multiple nights. Given our later arrival and uncertainty of what all we were going to do the next morning, this really worked out fine. We had 2 apartments at our disposal. While I found our lodging, the others grabbed a few pastries at the bakery next door. A bit later, Lois and went to the grocery store just up the street, only to discover they closed at 6. After walking further into the village, we asked around and found out there was another one nearly ready to close. We dashed inside, begged their pardon and did some quick grocery shopping for supper and breakfast. Remember the cacio e pepe that we had in Venice which we had in abundance?? 🙂 We bought some turkey and chopped it up and added it the leftover pasta and had round 2. I told you we are economical travelers. LOL

We got our reservation through and didn’t have to pay a deposit. We were hoping it would all be okay and it was. We paid cash in person, no CC accepted.

Our host at the inn was very German. She spoke some English and we spoke a (very) little German. She was most helpful and answered what she could. She said that in this area, they are given the option to send their children to a German speaking school, or an Italian one. Her daughter goes to a German school.

She gave us info on going to Alpi di Siusi, the alpine meadow high in the mountains. We decided that was how we wanted to spend our morning. If you get to the gate before 9:00, you can drive to the meadow. Otherwise you have to have reservations at a motel to drive up any other time of day. There are cable cars and buses that go up regularly.

We hit the ground running in order to drive to the top.

What a lovely place!! It was quiet with few people, and all of them besides us, older folk, about the area. There is a bus that runs to the back of the meadow, the stop named Compatsch.

There are cowbells echoing across the meadow.

They had just had snow the previous week and I saw a small amount in the shade of the mountain. In the winter, it is an all out snow park.

You can rent bikes. There are many hiking paths.

Is this the cutest mailbox?

There are horse and carriage rides. This looks like Heidi’s grandfather. This is one of my favorite photos of the trip!

In case you want to see what construction looks like in this area:

All too soon it was time to leave. The nieces took a cable car down and Lois and I met them at the bottom with the van.

More churches to photograph:

Our plans were to be in Tirano by later afternoon. The plan was to take a train ride up into Switzerland through the Bernina Pass. We had an adventure getting to Tirano! It started out innocently enough. One van, 5 ladies, and one GPS that did not tell us just what all it had planned for us. Because the area is so mountainous, there are 2 routes from Bolzano to Tirano. GPS was set to take us on the quickest route. We drove along a valley for a long time, at a good pace. This are has more apple trees that grape vines, from what we could tell. We stopped at a roadside store and bought golden delicious apples. They were quite good, living up to their name.

By now were were climbing, and the route as getting more foresty. We came into this little town of Trafoi.

The scene was worthy of stopping for a bit to take pictures! It was breathtaking! Oh, and by the way, can you see the glaciers on the mountain on the upper right corner of the photo?

Here’s a reality check in case you’re thinking that everything is picture perfect in such a spectacular setting. 🙂

The road began to get more windy and suddenly we hit the hairpin curves, first left, then right, then left, then right. They were sharp enough that Lois couldn’t see if anyone was coming. So those in the back on the left and right gave a clear signal so she could swing out to make a turn.

It was about this time that we saw the road winding before us and we realized we were going up OVER the mountain. Now keep in mind, we had gone through dozens and dozens of tunnels. It never occurred to us that this Stelvio Pass that we had seen signs for, is what we were on. There was no turning back. Forty-eight hairpin curves to the top.

Remember the glaciers? We were now nearly on eye-level with them! We kept joking that we had accidentally ended up on the moon. But no, there was the moon, winking at us and letting us know we hadn’t quite made it there.

Ah! A restaurant! Surely with civilization like this we were not in a deserted moutaintop!

Switzerland comes to a peak and has a border crossing, at the top of this pass.

After a brief “break” we headed down the other side.

On this side we passed people out training on what looked like skies on rollers. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were training for the Olympics.

We had some other interesting things such as the brakes smelling hot. I’m sure there were silent prayers going up much of the way up the mountain and down! Praise the Lord, the brakes didn’t give us any more grief and we eventually made it to Tirano.

After we were settled in, we did some research on the Stelvio Pass. I was relieved to find out we were not a some ridiculous altitude like the 130,000 feet that it felt like. A mere 9,045 feet. It is the highest paved pass in the Eastern Alps and the 2nd highest in the Alps. It was designed  and built from 1820 to 1825. The last portion to be paved was in 2015! There were battles fought at the top in WWI, and care had to be taken not to shoot into Switzerland, which was neutral. In late August, the road is closed to vehicles for a day when bikers take to the pass. I can’t even imagine!!

Two weeks after we were there, during the big storm that affected all of Italy, there were travelers and motel/restaurant staff who were snowed in at the top. I can’t imagine that either!

If you like snow skiing, consider northern Italy. It would be a beautiful place to ski and there are ski areas everywhere, even at Stelvio Pass.


[EDITED TO ADD:] If you enjoyed the Alpe di Siusi, you can follow them on FB or their well-maintained website. Or…. see their live webcams. They’re 6 hours ahead of EST.


13 thoughts on “Italy – Dolomites

  1. Lovely photo tour! I am glad you are enjoying this trip. In 2013 we took a 12 day layover in Switzerland, coming in from Brussels on our way home from Southeast Asia. We only needed 4 days of our 5 day railpass for travel, so we swung into Tirano through the Bernina Pass, had lunch and then returned to Switzerland! It was also special since it was my wife’s 65th birthday! Thanks again for posting!

    1. Marylou Hershberger

      I’d love to see more of Switzerland again! I’ll have photos of the Tirano to St. Moritz train trip in the next post. And what a special way to celebrate a birthday! 🙂

  2. Tanya

    Wow! Beautiful! Several of the pictures of Northern Italy remind me of Colorado and makes me want to go there. =)

    1. Marylou Hershberger

      It’s hard to describe just how beautiful Northern Italy is! And yes, it looks much like Colorado!

    1. Marylou Hershberger

      I wonder that, too, and yet just recently I read another article of several beautiful, remote Italian villages that are paying people to move in and have children there because their population is dwindling so badly. I’m guessing every place has its challenges in living. One can’t quite live on beautiful views alone. 🙁

  3. Pingback: Italy and Switzerland~ the Dolomites | WrittenDownBig

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