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Italian lakes and Dolomites: where to stay?

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Jul 13th, 2015, 10:17 AM
  #1
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Italian lakes and Dolomites: where to stay?

We're flying into Milan next May and have 3 days to spend in/around Lake Maggiore and Lake Como. My husband also wants to spend a few days in the Dolomites hiking. My question is this: if we arrive into Milan in the morning and rent a car, what location might be good for a base to explore the lakes? Varese? I've seen a few "must-see" posts already on the boards but additional thoughts are welcome!

Also, is it then feasible to spend a day driving over/up to the Dolomites? Route suggestions? We're debating staying a few days in either Bolzano or Ortisei. We like outdoor activity but also appreciate history, art and architecture.

Many thanks in advance for your suggestions! CleoB
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Jul 13th, 2015, 10:30 AM
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ekc
 
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Last year we spent 4 days based in Bolzano and loved it, after 2 nights on Lake Como. I liked basing in Bolzano, as it is a charming city itself, in addition to the day trips you can take.
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Jul 13th, 2015, 11:17 AM
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How late in May? You have to check what will be open in the Dolomites. For instance, I'd want to drive the Stelvio Pass from Lake Como to Val Gardena, but I'm not sure you can count on the pass being open much before June 1st.

Rather than Varese, I'd pick a town with ferry service right on the shoreline of either lake.

I'd rather stay in a smaller mountain town with hiking practically right outside the door, but depending on your dates you may find many/most hotels are closed for the in-between season. If you make it to Bolzano, I highly recommend the Ice Man Museum there.
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Jul 13th, 2015, 11:24 AM
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May is VERY early for hiking in the Dolomiti. Even if you don't have rain (or even snow), you will have muddy tracks and most of the infrastructure will be shut down, meaning cable cars for sure and many hotels. If I am not mistaken, bicycle races are run in the Dolomiti at that time, so the weather is not necessarily dreadful. But the only reason to go to the Dolomiti is to see the spectacular views -- whcih can be utterly obscured on rainy or even overcast days (the low cloud cover means the peaks disappear.)

You will not have the problem at the lakes, where flowers will be in bloom.

For history, art, architecture, one of the gems in the areas you are targeting is Trento. So something you might consider is arriving in Malpensa and taking trains to Trento, getting a night's sleep, and renting the car there. If it rainy in the mountains, then you can go sightseeing at the castle and in town. But if it is sunny then -- carpe diem! Go head up into the mountains for the scenery. On overcast days, there are beautiful valleys and lakes in the immediate area of Trento, and also many lakes (Molveno, Cles), gorgeous food, and you can daytrip to Lago di Garda, or the town of Rovereto for more art.

See Lago di Como on your way back home (assuming you are flying out of Milan). If your flight out is not killer-early, you can spend your last night on Lago di Como and drive yourself to the airport. If it is killer-early, spend your last night on Lago Maggiore (just under an hour's drive to Malpensa).
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Jul 13th, 2015, 01:58 PM
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After ski season ends most of the lifts in the Dolomites close down for maintenance and do not reopen until June. For example, here is the schedule for lifts in Val Gardena that you would use to get to many of the trailheads.
http://www.valgardena.it/en/hiking-b...rekking/lifts/

If you can go to the Dolomites during the hiking season I would recommend staying in Val Gardena in one of the three villages, Ortisei, S. Cristina, or Selva where you can be in the mountains and get direct access to the trails.
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Jul 13th, 2015, 02:19 PM
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Hi,

If you head to the Dolomites (Val Gardena) after about May 22, you'll have a few cable cars that will be open. If not, driving the Dolomite passes are nearly as good. If you based in the Val Gardena, the Gardena Pass (amazing drive), the Sella Pass, Pordoi Pass, Campolongo, Valporola and Giau Passes are all easy and close day trips. They are all excellent roads and open year round.

Paul
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Jul 13th, 2015, 05:19 PM
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Thank you, everyone! We will arrive May 20 into Milan and be in the Dolomites by May 23, so pja1, your recommendations for passes is perfect. Jean, I appreciate the remarks about rain/snow and closure of hotels and such. That explains why my hotel searches have revealed "no availability" for many properties! I'll look into Trento, sandralist, as that sounds like a great option. Brdcollie, I will definitely check into the link you provided. Thanks, too, for the small villages you suggest. Ekc, glad to hear Bolzano is a good option as well. This advice is exactly what I was hoping to receive! If I have more questions once I've explored more, I'll post again.
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Jul 13th, 2015, 06:25 PM
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I think the reason you're finding no availability is that it's too far in the future. We've traveled off season before, mid to late October, and never had a problem finding plenty of availabilities. That and we email the places directly, never using a booking website. Weve stayed twice in the Alta Badia and once in the Val Gardena.

Paul
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Jul 13th, 2015, 07:37 PM
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Thanks, pja1. Obviously no huge rush to book yet, so I'll keep checking later this year. BTW, my husband loved your suggestions for driving various mountain passes. It's one of his favorite parts of mountain trips!
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Jul 14th, 2015, 04:38 AM
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Mine too! You can easily do a 4 pass loop in a day. If starting in Val Gardena, you drive the Gardena Pass, then take the Campolongo Pass to the Pordoi Pass to the Sella Pass back to the Gardena Pass (the Sella Pass branches off the Gardena Pass) and back to Val Gardena. There are places to stop along the passes and a restaurant/cafe at the "top" of the Gardena, Sella and Pordoi.

We have our photos of trips to the Dolomites (10/03, 10/06, 9/09) at:

www.flickr.com/photos/pjbassplyr/sets

Paul
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Jul 14th, 2015, 04:39 AM
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Oh, and there will be a few lifts/cable cars open in the Val Gardena and Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm by the time of your visit.
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Jul 14th, 2015, 08:40 AM
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Everybody Loves Lake Como!!!
with 3 days in the lakes area and then heading east to Bolzano, you may want to consider the east shore of Lake Como... Varenna is an incredibly quaint & charming little mid-lake village about 1hour 45 min drive from Malpensa airport... Lake Como's big and can easily occupy your interest for 3 days, but if you really feel the need to go over to Lugano Switzerland or Lake Maggiorre, Varrena has a ferry stop... just drive the car on for 15 euro, cross the lake in about 10 minutes and Lake Lugano is just a 45 minute drive... and from there, Luino on Maggiorre is just another 40 minutes...

hiking in the Dolomites tells me you're adventurous, so the northern route out of Varenna to Bolzano is a scenic drive thru the mountains... approx a 5 hour drive... not for the faint of heart!!! have fun!!!

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