Ever considered taking a road trip through the Italian Dolomite Region? If you have, well by all means continue reading for some ideas, if not, well then sit up and pay some serious attention. This neck of the woods offers some of the most breathtaking scenery you are ever going to see, set amongst some of the world’s most rugged and wild terrain.
For the ultimate scenic drive across Italy’s Dolomite region I hired the Jeep Wrangler, a fantastic, full burst, 4WD that is as beautifully robust and reliable as the car is legendary for providing top class adventures. For the 110km long route, I made plans to go with a good friend who loves to get into the great wide open as much as I do, we packed a few essentials, some supplies and hit the road starting at Bozen.
Bozen, known more locally in the Italian Bolzano, it is a small city in the South Tyrol province that is beautifully situated in a valley amid hilly vineyards. The SS241 road turns towards the Eggental Valley that while nicely paved is exceptionally steep and requires full concentration as you descend along its curvy strip. We took our time driving around the mountain’s edge and stopped to hike around the Sella group, an extensive massif positioned at the heart of the Dolomites. Nearby we discovered the Lago Di Carezza or the Carezza lake, where the white rock of the Dolomite glistened against the waters below.
For several kilometers of steep curves and switch back turns in the road we continued along the steep gorge of the Eggental until we arrived at Welschnofen, where there were spectacular views of the Rosengarten. Meaning the “rose garden” it is one of the most famous mountain regions, because whilst it appears barren, if not desolate by day with its rocky peaks and rugged wasteland, by dusk, the sun shines an astonishing warm red glow across the immense landscape. Eventually you begin to understand the inspiration behind the mountain’s monicker. With the immensity of the inspiration it offers, there are many myths and legends that have been kindled amongst the local cultural folklore.
We continued our way along to Lake Karersee, which was said to be a favourite haunt of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth. Indeed, you can easily understand why as a walk around the lake offers a magnificent mountain panorama of the Latemar. Over the summer time, this lake becomes quite crowded as the crowds come in to squeeze out a slice of nature from their otherwise suburban lives. So, if you can manage it, try to come late spring or early autumn to really make the most of your experience here.
As our drive in the Jeep continued along over the Karerpass we finally reached the Fassa Valley in Trentino. Better known perhaps as the “Sporting Valley” of the Dolomites for the wealth of sports activities that the region offers. Sports junkies will be delighted to discover the extreme sports opportunities that range from skiing, cross-country skiing, ice hockey, winter hiking and dog sledding that are popular in winter, while hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, golfing and paragliding filled our itinerary whilst we were there in the late part of the summer.
On arriving in Vigo di Fassa we took a left turn onto the SS48, where we drove along the resorts that line the way to the beautiful idyllic town of Canazei. Sport enthusiasts will continue to enjoy the great variety of hiking, cycling and mountain climbing opportunities available. We took a moment out of our travels to enjoy a meal of traditional Dolomite cuisine in a restaurant housed in one of the old stone houses of Canazei. The Dolomite cuisine may not be as well known as that from other regions of Italy, but trust me on this one, when I tell you it doesn’t leave the taste buds wanting. One of the dishes that I enjoyed the most was the Canederli, where you get a serving of these big, round dumplings of bread that are stuffed with Speck (a local dry-smoked ham) and herbs, the dish came served in a delicious broth. For my friend, I think he’s favourite was the Casunzei which is a small folded pasta that is vaguely reminiscent of ravioli, only it is filled with either the ‘white’ of potatoes and herbs or the ‘red’ of beetroot mixture. The cansunzei is then served sprinkled with melted butter and poppy seeds. I’ve got to say between the two of them it was a tough call as to which one I preferred!
We made a bitter sweet adieu with Canazei and continued driving on a steep road that led us up to Pordoi Joch, known in the Italian as the (Passo Pordoi). As it is situated on the border with Vaneto, the journey offered spectacular views over the Marmolada, the Rosengarten and the Sassolungo. We kept on track along the SR48 that took us further into Vaneto through Arabba and Buchenstein. The region is home to the town of Fodom, for which there is a great folklore that tells the story of Caterina Lanz. The heroic young maiden of this story went out to battle, pitchfork in hand, against the invading French, successfully defending her village from defeat. While I wonder if these warring soldiers were just plain stunned, Caterina remains to be a central figure in the minds of the local Ladin and Tyrolese. A statue of her stands today, in the square of the central church.
Following the road out of Arabba and Buchenstein, the Jeep takes on the steep mountain pass that leads up to the Passo di Falzarego. the pass took on military significance during World War Two when it became a hard-fought position between the Austrians and the Italians. Today, there is an open-air museum that lies testament to this terrible time in the location’s history. Detailing the outer fort "Forte Tre Sass", the tunnels and the trenches along with numerous galleries, all relays the many stories of battles won and lost.
At last we finally arrive at our concluding destination in a drive down the valley to Cortina d’Ampezzo, perhaps the most famous valley of the Dolomites as it is so well known for its sports resorts, predominantly skiing come the blanket of snow that settles in the winter time.
Our time in the Dolomites was an absolute hit, as it is most definitely a destination that I would recommend to anyone. Offering so much, with its astonishingly beautiful outdoor scenery, excellent outdoor sport opportunities and quality top class Italian food. Let me tell you, from one sports junky to the next, what more could you honestly ask for?