The Giro is inching towards its conclusion, but there is still plenty of action to come as they continue to race through some of the most beautiful landscapes that Italy has to offer….. the Dolomites.
The challenge of the mountains are always present and so are the rewards, with both presented to you in front of a backdrop that is just…. jaw dropping.
Given the Giro d’Italia incursion into another of our favourite regions where we run part of both our Giro d’Italia cycling tour and our Tour of Como, Stelvio & Dolomites, we thought we’d share with you some more of our favourites.
However, before we launch into our favourites, we wanted to share with you a beautiful story that we came across at the Messner Mountain Museum on Kronplatz where Nancy takes the non-riders on tour. Set on the edge of South Tyrol’s mountain plateau with the most spectacular views, this museum experience and the story discovered within its walls, exemplifies the experience of the mountains for us, and particularly the Dolomites – whether you’re riding up them or hiking across them, you really are such a small spec on the side of these majestic mountains.
“According to legend, the gods once argued about where they should hide the secret of life so as to hide it from human beings. One of the gods suggested “Let us bury it under a mountain; they will never discover it.” “No,” said another, “one day they will find a way of removing the mountains.” A third proposed sinking the great question in the sea. “It will be safe there?” “No,” replied the others, “one day human beings will also fathom the depths of the oceans and track down the last secret.” Finally, one of the gods had the idea of concealing the secret in the human beings themselves. “That is a place they will never look!” All the gods agreed. And that is why the secret of life lies within ourselves”.
Our Favourite Towns
Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of the gateways to the Dolomites and sits at the base of Passo Tre Croci, Passo Falzarego and Passo Giau. A prosperous town full of great little bars and beautiful places to eat, it is a ski town in the winter and hosted the Winter Olympics in 1965. Given its position in the Dolomites, it does frequently see the Giro and one of our favourite Giro cycling tour experiences is when we were perfectly positioned under the famous, picturesque bridge in Cortina, watching the race roll through. It was one of those magical days as a tifosi or roadside supporter at the Giro.
La Villa, a hamlet in Alta Badia that has you sandwiched in a very pretty valley between Passo Valparola, Passo delle Erbe and Passo Gardena is a more approachable town than its affluent neighbours, and with more rustic and authentic experiences that we believe connect you with the simple and traditional ways of mountain life. Home to the Maratona dles Dolomites, this town certainly punches above its weight on the cycling calendar each year and is perfectly placed for taking on one of our all time favourite rides, the Sella Ronda.
Our Favourite Rides
Sella Ronda is just a superb day out on the bike. With around 61km and 1800m of elevation it will see you ride a loop that takes in the four mountain passes of Passo Gardena, Passo Sella, Passo Pordoi and Passo Campolongo which combined has 65 hairpins that you will ascend if you take the anti-clockwise direction. This is a really beautiful day on the bike.
Passo Giau is the pinnacle for another loop that we do in the Dolomites, and possibly our favourite. You start the day’s adventure with Passo Campolongo, followed by a long cracking descent and then the climb of Colle Santa Lucia, a little more descending and then the 9.85km of the ascent to Passo Giau. The average gradient is 9.4% and it does hit a max of 14% which keeps you working the whole way. The barren, exposed peaks of the landscape opening up as you get closer to the top, is a very just reward. Another descent, climb, descent combination is added to the day’s tally and all up, you’ll have clocked up 83km and 2496m. All in all, a very good day out. If you’d like to read more about some of our other favourite Dolomiti climbs, click here.
Our Favourite Food
Speck, speck and more speck. We love speck and look forward to it with anticipation each time we arrive to this northern region of Italy. The beauty of speck is it does not just make an appearance for antipasto, you also find it at breakfast, as well as infused into dishes at lunch and dinner. What sets speck apart from prosciutto is that an integral part of the curing process is that it needs to be cold smoked. To adhere to the tradition, you need to cold smoke the meat for four hours a day, for up to twenty days, ideally using juniper, ash or beechwood. It’s a time consuming process, but truly worth the effort.
Mountain inspired cuisine, there are chefs pushing the local fare to very high levels and we enjoy a range of these on our northern Italian cycling tours, however we still also love the traditional alpine chalet style dining rooms with wood-panelling and dishes featured on more traditional menus. Often made with home grown and home cured products, dishes include Canederli, the delicious bread dumplings made with speck and meadow herbs, soaked in a broth or the Ladin specialties such as Casunziei or house-made half-moon ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta, and served with melted butter and Parmigiano cheese….that’s all often served before a slow cooked pork shoulder goulash and a home made apple strudel. Super filling and a little more Austrian influenced than Italian, but all the same delicious!
Our Favourite Bevande (drinks)
While we do enjoy a couple of wines in this region and in particular, the cool climate red Lagrein, there are a couple of other drinks we love in the Dolomites that we share here.
Grappa al Pino Mugo is a true, authentic taste of the mountains where Grappa is infused with green pine cones and needles. They do say that the inhabitants of the Dolomites region have for hundreds of years been using the evergreen conifer as they recognised that it had a relaxing and pain-relieving effect. We do agree, a little dose of this after a ride and dinner, and we are always very relaxed.
Birra Dolomiti Rosso, a local red ale that is the perfect solution for the post ride rehydration program. There is a thriving artisan beer scene in Italy and while this is from one of the larger brewers in the north, it used barley malt grown on the lower slopes of the dolomiti. This is always Damian’s go to Birra in the region
The Dolomites is a region of Italy that should not be missed. For more information and to see how you can immerse into the Dolomites with us, click the links for our Giro d’Italia Tour or our Como, Stelvio and Dolomites Tour. Both are just magical riding, food and wine experiences that we believe should be on every cyclist’s bucket list.