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Nov 26th, 2014, 08:03 PM
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tomarkat: I'm enjoying your detailed report very much. We have a short list of possible FF tickets for next year, and Munich looks like a possibility. I've been studying the Alps and your report is just perfect. I'll continue to read along.

tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Nov 27th, 2014, 03:42 PM
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Tuscanlifeedit, glad to know that you're following along with us. We're trying to keep our day by day report going.
tomarkot is offline  
Nov 28th, 2014, 06:47 PM
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Thursday, August 28, 2014 HALLSTATT; on to ZELL AM SEE

Up at 6:30; the church bell at 6 was a convenient alarm!

The village of Hallstatt is less than a two-hour drive from Salzburg, and many people enjoy it as a daytrip. However, in view of the inclement weather we experienced for the better part of yesterday, we were happy that we had planned an overnight. Better weather had been predicted, so we would have a good part of the day to enjoy Hallstatt.

We arrived for breakfast just a few minutes after the 8 AM opening, wanting to get an early start on the day. We were surprised to find that most of the tables were already occupied; no doubt by a couple of tour groups. But we were able to be seated and enjoyed the breakfast of many choices in the attractive restaurant with windows looking out to the lake.

After finishing breakfast, packing was easy, given that we carried only a minimum amount on the shuttle from P-1 to the Seehotel Gruner Baum. Johann, the desk clerk whom we liked, was working again this morning. We checked out (178 EUR) and were able to store our luggage off the hotel reception area, allowing us to go out and explore. It was a beautiful day: blue skies and sunny.

First off, we made the rather steep climb up rock steps to the dominant St. Michael Catholic Chapel, which dates back to 1181. Construction of this church high up on a rock with a steep drop-off was known to be quite a feat. The rocky ground of the parish church became the Hallstatt cemetery.

There was some outdoor construction work on the walkways hampering our ability to get around the perimeter of the church or explore the total two stories of the chapel. The bottom section contains the much-storied painted skulls; however, we weren’t disappointed that the construction prevented us from seeing them! We were thrilled to take in the outstanding view from their cemetery and a walkway along the edge of the hill. The water on the lake at this early hour looked like a large mirror reflecting the surrounding mountains.

Given the beautiful weather, we used our time to stroll around the village for a while longer, taking in some of the stores near the town square, purchasing a small bone china dish, and finally wending our way down to the dock in time for a 11 AM boat ride. The 50-minute ride cost 8.50 EUR each, collected as we boarded the boat. Our seat on the top deck placed us in a good position to enjoy the scenery and take many photos. Being up close to the lake, it still looked pristine and silky smooth.

Hallstatt is a one-of-a-kind village with its location nestled among the mountains of the Dachstein range and fronted with the Hallstatt Lake. It was first mentioned around 1700, and over the years has been visited by many famous people, among them Empress Sisi and Agatha Christie. It’s easy to see why it would have served as the backdrop to several movies.

Our SEEHOTEL GRUNER BAUM is the key building in the “centrum” of the town square. Our room facing the platz, with its nice balcony, was a great picture-taking spot. The stores and restaurants around the town square had balconies decorated with colorful flower boxes. Additionally, many flower pots were on the street level.

In between the boat ride and our shuttle ride back to the parking area, we ate at the hotel’s LAKESIDE TERRACE RESTAURANT. The delightful lunch overlooking the lake was a memorable last experience before we bid farewell to this charming village.

After retrieving our car, we drove to the other side of Hallstatt Lake. From that vantage point, we enjoyed another great view. The beauty of the lake, with the town in the background, is difficult to describe. We walked in the lakeside park, relaxed at a picnic table, and paused to take more pictures.

Although we would have liked to stay around Hallstatt for a while longer, we decided that our drive to Zell am See was too long to stall much longer. But, as we left, we thought that the view of Hallstatt will rank up there among the most beautiful sights we’ll enjoy. (But as we’re writing this TR “post factum”, we know that we have so much beauty yet to come!)

Along the drive to Zell Am See, we continued to experience the majestic mountains. A McDonald’s was the furthest thing from our minds! However, we were both feeling kind of lethargic. Coffee needed!!! As we came to an intersection to make a turn south, there it was! Big and inviting! A McD’s. (We would have preferred a Starbucks, but, hey, we’ll take it!) We both needed coffee, but the best perk of the
Mc D’s was an order of chicken nuggets for TK which energized him to continue the drive into Zell Am See. This was one time when Gilda, our GPS, was most helpful in guiding our turns and directions. At this point, we appreciated it.

Zell Am See, another impressive mountain location with a large beautiful lake, was easily negotiated with Gilda’s help. The hotel,DER SCHMITTENHOF, was quite a distance up a mountain road, right near the base of a chairlift; convenient if we were there in ski season. Due to the Ironman Triathlon being in town, hotel rooms were hard to come by. DER SCHMITTHOF was the only place we could find, so we didn’t expect too much. We were initially assigned a room in an “outbuilding”. When we asked if they might have a room in the main building, we were offered one which was an upgrade for 15 EUR (total was 163 EUR). So we took it. The room was pretty decent, with a view in the distance toward the town.

We planned Zell am See to be a one-night stopover because of its location close to the entrance to the Grossglockner-hochalpenstrasse, the high road over the Alps. We wanted to get an early start to drive this gorgeous road. We needed the evening to reorganize our suitcases a bit and do some laundry on-our-own, after finding out that the laundry down the street that we had looked up ahead of our visit was no longer self-service.

Dinner was at the KUPFERKESSEL (Copper Kettle) down on the main street of town, a good recommendation from the hotel desk clerk. We had a very large plate of pork schnitzel! Normally schnitzel is made from veal. Our double-helping with pomme frites cost only 12.90 EUR because, as the waitress explained, pork is less expensive. She said that it is now being used more often by Austrian families. Total with beer and wine was 23.80 EUR), one of our least expensive meals.

Back to hotel by 9:30. Looking forward to a beautiful day in the morning to enjoy the Grosseglocknerstrasse. Guten Nacht!
tomarkot is offline  
Nov 29th, 2014, 08:36 PM
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Thoroughly enjoying your trip report. Was the McD's near a roundabout (traffic circle) in Saalfelden on the way to Zell am See? If so, we've stopped at that one a number of times for capuccino's to go. Looking forward to the Grossglockner and Dolomites, as we did a very similar trip to this, so far, in October 2006.

pja1 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2014, 02:39 AM
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Thanks for sharing!
kleeblatt is offline  
Nov 30th, 2014, 11:01 AM
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Hi Paul, so glad to hear from you! Besides travel destinations, we seem to have shared that MC D's in Saalfelden!

We really appreciated your input when we were in the planning stages of this trip! Both the Grossglockner and Dolomites were highlights.

At this holiday time of year, we weren't sure how many of our Fodor friends might be following our travel ventures. Although it's a busy time, we're attempting to keep our TR rolling.

Glad you're "on board", Paul! Thanks!

And kleebat, thanks for following along!
tomarkot is offline  
Nov 30th, 2014, 02:47 PM
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Thanks for the kind words and looking forward to reading more. Glad the Dolomites were one of the highlights. Such a beautiful area.
pja1 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2014, 06:28 PM
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Up at 6:30; we reorganized last night and so are ready to load the car, which, fortunately, is nearby. Parking here was tight, but we made it. A driver must back up carefully in this terrain!!!

The breakfast buffet was typical, but with the additional offerings of hot eggs and bacon. It seems that each table is designated for a certain room, indicated by name cards on the tables. There was some mix-up with ours, possibly because our room had been changed. The language barrier presented a small challenge getting it resolved.

It was another picture-perfect day! Off to Grossglockner-Hochalpenstrasse, the highest paved mountain pass road in Austria (8215 ft. at summit). Entrance to the Grossglockner Highway has a toll of 34 EUR per car, in keeping with its original purpose as a scenic tourist excursion to raise funds for Austria. The country had suffered catastrophic economic affects following World War I. Over the years it has undergone stage-by-stage improvements.

The main high mountain highway is about 31 miles long with 36 switchbacks. At certain points, the road has the appearance of a giant serpent as it S’s back and forth. (MK notes that TK did a masterful job of negotiating the twists and turns, reminiscent of our many trips to the mountains in the west of the US and Canada.) Neither of us realized at this point that the switchbacks of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road are only a prelude to the passes we will encounter as our trip goes on.)

The scenery along the highway is nothing but stunning. . .high mountains, glaciers, unique rock formations, forests, mountain meadows; in fact, the road travels through all vegetation zones. As we enjoyed the twists and turns toward the summit, we stopped many times to take in the tremendous views.

The Grossglockner Mountain at 12,460 feet, is pyramid-shaped and the tallest in Austria. It is counted among the highest peaks in the Alps.

As we wound around to the top, we passed a couple of choices for lunch. We chose to drive to the very summit and had lunch on the outside terrace facing the expansive view of the snow-capped mountains with the Grossglockner in the center. We were in the company of quite a few others who were taking advantage of this warm day. At the summit overlook, on a clear day such as we were lucky enough to have, we just felt fortunate to have a crystal clear view of many peaks.

The highway crosses the Alpine divide through a tunnel. It then drops southward to another branch-off which leads to a panoramic view of the Pasterze Glacier and the Grossglockner Massif. We’re glad that we got an early enough start this morning so that we didn’t miss this arm of the Grossglockner.

The road is also full of twists and turns. The overlook is named Kaiser-Franz-Josef following a visit by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and his wife Elisabeth in 1856. The Pasterze Glacier, 5.2 miles long and 400 ft. thick, is the largest glacier in Austria. It lies directly beneath the Grossglockner Mountain. We spent so much time taking in the awesome scenery, that by the time we walked to the Visitors’ Centre, it had just closed.

Clouds started to descend, signaling that it was time to make our way back to the main artery of the Grossglockner Highway. Located on this twisty road to connect again with the main highway was another one of those delightful cafes, perfect for a cappuccino.

This side road to the Franz Joseph Overlook was an added treat toward the end of the drive. Wow, what a glacier! Also on the drive were many waterfalls. The beauty was so great; we had taken so many shots that TK replaced the full SD card with another one!

Along our travels over the main Grossglockner Highway, we stopped at several cafes for the WC and for cappuchinos and strudel. TK picked up another t-shirt. (With the dearth of self-service laundries, these memento t-shirts come in handy!)

This day driving the Grossglockner Highway was an outstanding experience and well-worth planning a whole day for the enjoyment. The road was in great condition; well-graded. The parking was free, there were many pull-offs, all was well-groomed, the overlooks were plentiful. The views of the Alps are awesome!

Now it was time to get serious about wending our way toward our stay for the night: Lienz, Austria. We had another 25 plus miles to drive on to Lienz. The views were terrific along the way as the Dolomites “showed up” and provided the interest and beauty for a wonderful day’s end.

En route to Lienz, we had another example of how Gilda gets confused, and if it were not for the fact that we had a general idea of where we were heading, and had studied maps, she would have led us on a wild goose chase. But finally, when we drove into Lienz, Gilda was again oriented, and we found our hotel.

We used our last evening in Austria to “tank up”, as their expression goes, with the less expensive gas, before heading to our hotel. The Haidenhof Hotel, our lodging for the night, is set back on higher road, parallel with the main road, which has an array of city buildings. A long green meadow fronted our hotel balcony. Given the view of the Dolomites, and the comfortable temperature, we decided to enjoy it with a rotwein and beer and on the balcony of our room, before a pizza dinner in the hotel restaurant.

It’s been another highlight day! We commented that we are glad we started this venture in Bavaria, Germany, followed by travel into the more dramatic mountainous Austria. But how does one compare beauty? Each area seems to have its own special appeal.

Every day seemed to be an adventure better than the previous. Tomorrow we will have the beauty of the Dolomites in Italy!
tomarkot is offline  
Dec 1st, 2014, 10:32 AM
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That's a drive I've always wanted to make (although it could be our last one the way I drive). Your report is moving Austria and Germany up in our travel queue. Great stuff so far.

maitaitom is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2014, 07:08 PM
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Maitaitom, more challenging than the switchbacks and never-ending curves were some of the nerve-wracking motorcycles buzzing past, or coming up quickly onto the slower bicyclists who were slogging along. But given all that, we wouldn't trade the beauty and the excitement we experienced! We'd highly recommend it! More to come.
tomarkot is offline  
Dec 5th, 2014, 10:52 AM
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Saturday, August 30, 2014 ONWARD TO THE DOLOMITES

7AM: rise ‘n shine! Rather likeable hotel in Lienz, with a great room view. The only negative was the lack of effective Wi-Fi that wouldn’t work even from the lobby. The reason given was that the walls of the building were too thick. So for today, no map look-up! But the Hotel Hartmann in Ortisei, our lodging in the Dolomites, had sent us a map with directions to their hotel. We were in good shape. . .so we thought!

Breakfast was served in the main dining room; a nice atmosphere. A positive at breakfast was meeting a couple from Jefferson City, MO, the first English-speaking folks we had encountered so far in our trip. Both were educators; he a district administrator and she a teacher. We exchanged some shared experiences with travel, and found that we had other similar values.

Today was our day to move to the incredible Dolomites, an area we’ve wanted to explore for a few years. Our enthusiasm was heightened through TR’s of several Fodorites, especially pja1, mr/ms_go and jamikins! Thanks to all of you.

Leaving Lienz, we knew that we had a good 2-3 hour drive ahead to reach Ortisei, Italy, a small town in the Val Gardena. We left Lienz about 10AM, and after driving a while, stopped for our morning cappuccinos at a café just inside the Italian line. We enjoyed the laid-back, friendly attitude of the Italian bartender. Not too long after our cappuccino stop, we began to encounter very heavy traffic.

After crawling for quite a stretch, we decided to stop for lunch at RESTAURANT HUBERTUS where we shared a tasty ravioli and mixed salad, really enjoying this switch to Italian dishes. In response to our question about the reason for the heavy traffic, the waiter said that it was from people returning home from their “holiday”. Today was August 30; the school year was starting in September. We guesstimated that we were about 8 miles from the Autostrada. The lunch stop turned out to be appreciated in view of the small directional frustration that would lie ahead.

We started out from lunch with the hotel directions in hand, feeling no need for a map. However, we soon discovered that a “missing link” from the directions was the exit from the Autostrada. We passed an exit “Chiusa/Klausen”which we thought might be the one we needed, but it was too late to take it. Then it seemed that we were driving for quite a stretch farther until we reached the next exit, “Bolzano Nord”. We knew at this point that we had probably driven too far.

We exited at “Bolzano Nord”, and by that time, had wondered if we could approach the Val Gardena by a back road going north, instead of re-tracing the distance on the Autostrada. The girl at the toll booth (3 EUR) where our sense of direction had told us that we needed to exit, described the highway north which would get us to Ortisei. The directions worked! Although it seemed long, the road led us up through a beautiful mountain valley, and we did find the town of Ortisei. We were immediately impressed with the beauty and charm of Ortisei, nestled into another gorgeous valley.

To reach our hotel, HOTEL HARTMANN, we drove one small block off the main highway and through the little town of Ortisei, and about a mile up the hill. Check in went smoothly. We discovered that our “room” was actually a bedroom with a balcony, as well as a living room, also with a balcony. Both had a view of lush, green mountains, but a very large fir tree partially blocked the view of the rocky Dolomite spires. However, overall, the room was very nice. And we felt happy to be settled.

Having traveled over the past two weeks to so many new and exciting places, we made use of the late afternoon and evening to re-group, re-charge and prepare for a wonderful day of Dolomite exploration in the morning. By this time, the skies were overcast. Finding no self-service laundry, we needed to do a little ‘catch up” in that department.

About 5:30 PM, we drove down to the town center. The town was alive; a band was playing; surprisingly, American music. We strolled around for quite a while, checking out the church, a few side streets, and many of the nice shops. We encountered a great little wine store, and purchased some “St.Magdalener” vino rosa for later enjoyment in our room.

TK luckily found us a parking space, and figured out how to play the game of feeding the pay machine for one hour at a time, maximum allowable. We were able to have dinner at a nearby place recommended by the girl at the desk of our hotel: RISTORANTE VEDL MULIN. After all the brats, goulash, and schnitzel (not all veal, but pork) in Bavaria and Austria, it was great to have spaghetti with meat sauce. We returned to our hotel by about 8:30, happy to be in this outstandingly beautiful location where we would be staying for three nights.

Sunday, August 31, 2014 EXPLORING THE DOLOMITES!

Up at 7:15. The breakfast buffet at Hotel Hartmann was one of nicest we have experienced so far. We took pics of the room for future memory’s sake. Elegant china! High-end silver! Table setting with roses! Beautiful spread! Waitress service with refills of delicious cappuccinos!

It’s a dreary, cloudy day; the forecast is poor. What to do? We think that mountain forecasts are often “ify”. So we decided to venture down the lush valley highway and visit the two other “sister” cities next to Ortisei, namely: Santa Cristina and Selva. These are separated by only a few kilometers with Ortisei being the largest.

As we began our drive from Ortisei to Santa Cristina, the reason for visiting the Dolomites became immediately apparent. The grandeur of the Dolomites opens up! Both towns are surrounded by the spires and peaks of the limestone mountains. After exploring these two little towns, we would let the weather be our guide as to the remainder of the day.

Although the Dolomites are part of Italy, we were surprised by the heavy German influence. In fact, there are three languages spoken in the area: German, Italian, and Ladin. We learned that the northern part of the Dolomites were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until the early 20th century, following World War I. Although the region became part of Italy, the majority of the area of remained primarily German-speaking. Italian, being the official national language of Italy, is spoken more in some areas of the Dolomites than in the Val Gardena area. And finally, Ladin, which is an ancient Romance language, was spoken by the first inhabitants of the Dolomites. It was later influenced by the Latin-speaking Romans. Today, Ladin is heavily spoken in Val Gardena and surrounding valleys and is taught in the schools.

So traveling through the area, one sees signs in three languages. For example: Ortisei/Sankt Ulrich/Urtijei. And one hears greetings “Guten Morgen” or “Buon Giorno”. An awareness of the differing languages is helpful in interacting with people and in getting around.

Our experience was that we mostly encountered German-speaking folks; secondarily, Italian. Most Ladin-speaking also spoke one of the other two languages. Our attempts to learn some basics of the language when we travel proved to be a challenge when trying to switch gears from German, of which we have only rudimentary knowledge, to Italian, with which we are more familiar, and toward the end of our trip, French, with which we are most comfortable. But we’re fluent in none. It’s difficult to gain comfort in any one language when having to constantly change.

In Santa Cristina, we drove up a couple of streets off the main road to a high point above the church and found parking. We stopped in Santa Cristina Church…the Sunday liturgy was just at the end of communion. It seems that it was the only service. We slipped inside for the conclusion of the Mass, and afterward walked around the interior of the church. As we exited the church, the piazza (or platz) outside the church was crowded with people. Apparently, this is a popular social gathering spot after Mass; a chance for the people who live in the mountains of the surrounding areas to get together. Santa Cristina is known to be a vibrant community which has many cultural festivals honoring ancient traditions and customs.

Although we’ve only been in the Val Gardena a short time, we know that woodcarving is a highly-developed art in the area. In Santa Cristina Church, we admired a beautifully carved, life-size statue of Mother Teresa. It merited a picture. And we learned that the largest hand wood-carved Nativity is in Santa Cristina.

The graveyards at the churches we’ve encountered in the South Tyrol were impressive with their fresh and healthy flowers in front of a metal crucifix or some metal stand, often with a picture of the deceased on it. As we traveled more in the Alps region, we would see many of these and learn a bit more about the origins of this custom.

As we dropped down the hill to the main road through town, we discovered that the streets are narrow and have huge turns that require skill and attention, especially with many people walking and milling about in the street.

We continued our drive to Selva/Waldstein, and the outstanding beauty of the Dolomites continued. Arriving in Selva, we parked in their garage, taking advantage of the one-hour free parking. What else but stop a for our favorite cappuccinos and a croissant to share? Mountains surround the town. What a setting!

It wasn’t raining; just overcast. So we decided to drive to Corvara for lunch, hoping that we’d see some sun. The lady in the café, plus a man in a shop across the street, both described the drive to Corvara as “straight down the main road”. Off we went! We had intended to enjoy lunch in Corvara and return, unsure of the weather. Both had neglected to mention that there was one critical 90 degree turn in the road.

So we began our scenic drive, encountering many switchbacks, and enjoying more of the humongous rock monoliths, many fronted by lush valleys, some dotted with grazing cows and purple wildflowers. Many stops to walk around, or just feast our eyes on the beauty.

Because it was about noon and we normally like to have lunch about 1:30 or so, we thought we’d arrive in Corvara at a good time. Guess what? Unknowingly, we missed that critical turn to Corvara!

We were mesmerized with the majestic peaks and lush meadows. Without realizing it, we had begun ascending the Passo de Sella, one of the favorite passes in the Dolomites. We had planned to travel the Passo de Sella; just not today! Continuing on, enjoying the hairpin turns, stopping often to soak in the beauty, we observed a sign indicating that we were headed to Canazei!

Not Corvara? Oh well! Fortunately, we had read about these towns in the Dolomites in preparation for our trip, so we knew we hadn’t gone astray. And, actually, landing in Canazei proved to be a real positive. We found a great little restaurant, LA CANTINETTA, sharing one of our fave meals: parpardelli bolognese, plus a salad, and ¼ liter of vina rosa. Excellent! (17 EUR) And we appreciated the interesting architecture against the stunning mountain backdrop. One hotel’s design was very reminiscent of Austro-Hungarian days.

Leaving Canazei, with the weather improving, we turned onto the Passo di Pordoi for the first few miles to connect back with the Passo di Sella to begin our return adventure to the Val Gardena. The dizzyingly high Sella Massif ahead gave the feeling that there must be a tunnel through the rock, when suddenly the road made a sharp turn and continued to twist and turn through a pine forest to the Sella Pass. We’ve been lucky to have had breaks in the clouds, with patches of blue sky and sun. But now thicker clouds were gathering.

We had passed gondolas and lifts that were closed. No phone booth lift for us!!! Not sure if it was the inclement weather, or if the end of August signified a “rest” at the end of the summer season for the employees.

On our return, we stopped at the top of Passo di Sella and purchased a 12 EUR Dolomite calendar. MK, who had begun to be anxious about our return route, especially in view of the late afternoon hour and the darkening clouds, felt better when the lady at the shop confirmed that we would come to a “Y” in the road, and would turn left toward Val Gardena. (We’ve had our share of experiences being caught on wet, even icy roads in the mountains, an experience we weren’t eager to repeat!)

We knew that the café at the summit had great cappuccino. We'd been here before! But it’s now cold at the top of the mountain pass, the wind is whipping, and they expect snow here in the evening. So we didn’t tarry for long. Dropping down the mountain, heading for home, several more beautiful granite dolomite peaks “showed off” for us as the soft sun lit up areas that the clouds did not hide. What a grand show! We took the correct turn at the “Y” and were headed into the Val Gardena.

When passing through the charming towns of Selva and Santa Cristina, we agreed that they, too, would have been good locations for a hotel. However, we were happy that we had chosen Ortisei, which is somewhat larger, and has more shops and restaurants.

After returning to Hotel Hartmann, we took advantage of the snacks in the bar/lounge, which has a great view of the valley and downtown Ortisei. We headed to our room 107 to savor some St. Magdalener Classico vino rosa.

As we were relaxing comfortably in our room, it began to rain. Within a short time, it was pouring down. By about 7PM we decided to brave the weather and drove off to eat. Again, following a suggestion from a hotel clerk, we headed to the main highway to the TUBLADEL (“Barn”) RESTAURANT. By now, the rain was intense, so we were happy to park right next to the restaurant entrance.

We seemed to begin the parade of guests, as no one was present when we arrived. By about 7:30, the place was filling quickly. We shared the house special of macaroni with angus/lamb topped with cheese and some vegetable we never heard of; beer, wine, large salad, bread (40 EUR). The meal was delicious, the service great, the ambiance pleasant, and the parking was free in the restaurant lot. The rain continued; home by 8:30.

As we prepared to turn in, the rain was still pounding. “Let it rain tonight”! We still had hopes for decent weather tomorrow to enjoy more of the impressive “Dolomiti”, as the Italians refer to the mountains! Considering the earlier unfavorable forecast for today, we felt fortunate to have had a wonderful introduction to the Dolomites.

Monday, September 1, 2014 SPECTACULAR "DOLOMITI" DAY!

Woke up spontaneously close to 7 AM; TK expressed as he looked out the window that it “looks promising”; and indeed the weather got better as the day advanced. Same morning routine, but off earlier than usual.

Today we were “armed” with our more detailed maps of the mountain passes. We set off to explore several passes as we made a circle that was recommended by other Fodorites and the locals who know the roads around this area.

We were aware of that missed turn from yesterday, and set out over the pass for Corvara, a charming little mountain town with many nice shops and restaurants. Traveling over the impressive terrain, stopping many times, it took us a while to reach Corvara. We found a nice little café for our standard cappuccinos, and stopped in the pharmacie where a small travel-size shaving cream was 6.90 EU! We passed on this one!

We had encountered regional buses which traveled over some of these mountain passes, with drivers masterfully handling the switchbacks. Later we learned that these buses do not run in the winter; that the only way to get from one town to the other is by skiing!

So onward over more switchbacks to Passo di Campolongo and down into Arraba, a small town right in the heart of the central Dolomites. We stopped for a lunch of lasagna bolognese, and you guessed it, “mixed salad” (15.20 E.). We’re really loving these Italian dishes! We had a nice chat with the Romanian waitress who has a brother who studied in Chicago, took a job there, and never returned home.

Onward to Pordoi Pass as the weather continued to get nicer and nicer. We knew that we were in for a lot of scenic switchbacks on this route.

We were hoping that the gondola was open. It was suggested to us by a hotel clerk as one of the more impactful lifts in the area. To our delight, the gondola left from this “most impressive” site every 10 minutes. We got our arsenal of layers from the trunk, paid our 32 EUR, and soon after were enjoying the scenic ride to the top. As was suggested, great views of the Dolomites! As we ascended, we had the sensation that we would crash right into a solid rock monolith ahead!

A stiff wind plus snow and ice curtailed our walking around the summit. After a few minutes outside, we gave in and continued to view the impressive scenery from inside where we appreciated a hot drink! We really needed our layers topped by our rain-proof jackets!

After the descent on the gondola, still enthralled with the magnificent spires and peaks, the sun felt warm and we could remove our layers. Then it was onward to enjoy again the impressive switchbacks of the Passa de Sella. At the summit, we re-visited that cafe which we had previously patronized. Today the weather was much more favorable! As the sun was getting lower in the sky, it appeared that a soft spotlight was cast on the mountains.

Leaving the summit, we traveled the same path of switchbacks home as yesterday, but it was even more beautiful today given the great weather. From the Passo di Sella to the Gardena Pass, again passing through Selva and Santa Cristina, we reached our hotel in Ortesei by about 5:30PM or so, in time to enjoy the snacks in the lounge area, and relax with some vino rosa.

MK had wanted a woodcarving as a memento, as this skill is really an art form of this area. Unfortunately, stores closed down at 5PM in this town. We found out that parking is free after 8PM. Making our way into town for dinner, we found a convenient spot near our favorite Italian restaurant RISTORANTE VEDL MULIN.

The town was very quiet this evening; the shops were all closed. But we did spend some time milling around and checking out the store windows. Time to head back to the restaurant! For our dinner, we split the “pastoral” meal of penne with some great tasting tomato and meat sauce, our typical mixed salad, and vina rosa (22 E.). We’re tired, but had a super day! Given the outstanding weather, we had the opportunity to experience the Dolomites in all their splendor.

So how to describe the specialness of the Dolomites? We read that a French architect described them as “the finest example of natural architecture in the world!” In comparison with the many other mountain areas we’ve visited, the Dolomites have a distinct appearance: bare, craggy vertical limestone peaks emerging from the forest below. And the color is distinctive: a distinct white cast caused by the composition of the rocks. Some refer to them as the “Pale Mountains”. Pinkish hues arise in the late afternoon as the sun is lower. And we have read that later in the evening, the colors go from pinkish to fiery red, referred to as the “Alpenglow”. Unfortunately, we did not witness this phenomena.

We’ll remember the "Dolomiti" as walls of beautifully sculpted rock, with high spires and pinnacles. fronted by lush meadows.

Driving the mountain passes, with their numerous tight and steep hairpin turns, requiring careful watching around switchbacks for oncoming traffic, including motorcycles, bikes, and occasionally buses is a challenge. But TK says there is an adrenaline rush that accompanies the experience! For the most part, the motorcyclists and bicycle riders were skilled and careful. And the flexibility of having a car enabled us to make many stops and take short walks in a lot of areas.

Overall, this area of the Dolomiti is definitely a place on our list for a repeat visit!

Tomorrow we look forward to a beautiful travel day wending an outstanding route to the Engadine area of Switzerland!
tomarkot is offline  
Dec 5th, 2014, 01:26 PM
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Wow, terrific writing! Thank you for taking us along. So glad you enjoyed your time in the Dolomites.
pja1 is offline  
Dec 6th, 2014, 02:55 AM
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Your report is getting me excited for the Dolomites! I have been wondering whether I should purchase some maps before I leave. Reading about your missing the turn to Corvara reinforces my concern, as I'm sure I would not be as lucky to have my day turn out so well. Was it easy to find good maps once you had arrived?
Digbydog is offline  
Dec 6th, 2014, 03:50 AM
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Thanks for your very good and detailed account - especially of the Dolomites (as I am currently planning a trip there for next summer). I will be interested to read about your experience in Switzerland. My most recent trip to Switzerland I told myself my next Alps trip would be to Italy where I would (hopefully) find the mountains just as good but the prices lower and the food better.
isabel is online now  
Dec 6th, 2014, 05:54 AM
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It sounds like a lovely trip.
Nonconformist is offline  
Dec 6th, 2014, 05:55 AM
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I hope tomarkot won't mind me butting in. Having been to the Swiss alps (Wengen, Zermatt, St. Moritz, etc.), the Austrian and Bavarian alps many times and the Dolomites a few times, I think you'll find the Dolomites completely different and yes, less expensive overall, than Switzerland. The scenery in the Dolomites is nothing like what you've seen in the Swiss alps (or the Austrian or Bavarian alpine regions). Truly awe inspiring. Towering limestone peaks, as vividly described in this trip report by tomarkot. As for food, a choice of excellent Austrian and Italian, so what's not to like? I have to say, we never had a bad, or even a mediocre dinner in the Dolomites.
pja1 is offline  
Dec 6th, 2014, 08:03 AM
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The pinkish hues of the Dolomiti are in part the result of the fact that they are actually enormous coral reefs, thrust upward from a long ago era when the area was actually under an ocean.

I think it is certainly possible to take a cheaper trip to the Dolomiti than the Swiss Alps but it needs to be planned with that focus. There is more than one part of the Dolomiti area that is very much a luxury or expensive stay when it comes to food and lodging, and many of the gondolas or other attractions of the Dolomiti don't fall under any kind of umbrella pass, plus public transportation is nowhere near as good as it is in Switzerland, making a good rental car pretty much a necessity unless you plan to stay for a week or more. All that said, it is not hard to plan and execute a trip that gives you the very best of the Dolomiti scenery and local food without a lot of compromises.
sandralist is offline  
Dec 6th, 2014, 10:36 AM
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Thanks to all for following along with us!

Pja1,thanks for jumping in regarding the Dolomites/Jungfrau. We haven't gotten to the Switzerland portion of our TR as yet; we're working on it! We enjoyed the beauty of all of these areas, but the Dolomites are distinctive. We share the observations you expressed. We appreciate all of your input, Paul.

Sandralist, glad you added the detail about the rock composition. The geologic history of the Dolomites is fascinating! When writing a TR, we always wonder how much detail to include.

Digbydog, regarding maps and preparation. Months before our trip, we purchased maps of each country. As we planned our itinerary, we printed maps from Michelin and Bing for all of our movement: Point A to Point B. We found, as you, that most tour books don't contain good maps of the Dolomite mountain passes. However, we found good info on line. Bikers sites are very helpful.

We did so much preparation that we practically had mental maps of many locations. The experience we described about Corvara was because we just followed what two locals had told us; that it was straight down the main road. But we pretty well knew the "quad" loop of passes and towns. Sometimes, it's nice to travel without having your head in a map.

When time permits, I'll send a link to a couple of sites we used.

Isabel and Nonconformist, glad to have you along!
tomarkot is offline  
Dec 6th, 2014, 11:36 AM
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An excellent "biker" website for alpine passes, including the Dolomites, is:

coffeequeen is offline  
Dec 6th, 2014, 12:27 PM
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Yes, that's one. Thanks, coffeequeen!
tomarkot is offline  

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