A Study in Contrasts: The Dolomites and Northern Italy

October 23, 2019

The Journey: The Dolomites
The Course: Via Venice, in consequence of Milan
The Reason: You’re really asking that question again (Mom)? Because we want to.

In Five Words or Less

Venice: Glass, tourists, water (some days sewer water)
Dolomites: Alpine perfection, German-meets-Italian
Milan: Shopping, fashion, pigeons, Duomo

We’ve been trying to get to the Dolomites for 12 years. It’s not a matter of not wanting to be there: We love the clean mountain air of the Alps and incredible chalets with views for days. We love the alpine flowers and the designer cows posing and munching everywhere.
But the Dolomites were elusive. We’ve had multiple bicycle trips booked that have been cancelled, and for various reasons, have always ended up somewhere else. As our travels expanded further around the globe, Northern Italy started to slip off our radar.

This time, we were making it happen by creating our own biking trip (with assistance from Butterfield and Robinson). Normal people hike (or ski) the Dolomites. We (the two of us, along with the infamous George and Niki) were determined to bike. Here’s a quick disclaimer on all of us: We don’t do any research, we never do enough pre-planning, we love challenges to a fault, and we’re basically idiots.

This trip was all about the Dolomites, with Venice and Milan (two places we’ve visited before) thrown in.

The Dolomites trace the northeastern border between Italy and Austria, (through the Italian provinces of Belluno, South Tyrol, and Trentino). There’s no good way to describe the orientation of the area—the Dolomites are basically one giant ski resort, the biggest in Europe, with 12 major distinct-but-connected ski resorts. There are 1,200 km of ski runs, connected by a labyrinth of gondolas, chair lifts, and other ski runs that become hiking paths.

For the directionally challenged (me), your basic nightmare.

It’s a mountain range that forms the Southern Limestone Alps, known for those dramatic photos where the limestone mountains appear to rise straight up from the ground in dramatic fashion (the highest at 11,000 feet). That’s the reason everybody/aka much smarter people hike.

From Venice, we drove through Verona and Bolzano to arrive in Alpe di Siusi. Our trip went from Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm to Val Gardena to Alta Badia. Translated: We started at the top of one major hill in the midst of very major mountains, then went down and up through a pass to get to a series of villages with views of the other major mountains.

To sum up why we’re idiots, biking is gnarly. We came to find out that unless you’re training for the Giro d’Italia and weigh 110 pounds of pure leg muscle, everyone’s on an e-bike. (We’d never tried e-bikes before, so naturally, all four of us set out to “beat the bike” and come back at the end of every day with full power. A brilliant, painful plan.)

The Dolomites are magnificent, with a dramatic beauty that cannot be captured in any picture.


  • Staying at the top of Seiser Alm at Alpina Dolomites. You can sit on your deck for hours watching the weather change by the minute over the mountains, including watching your sunny, 70-degree day turn to snowfall.
  • Bicycling the countryside in between Siusi and Castelrotto to Tagusa and Santa Caterina, and weaving between high-alpine lakes and those designer cows and Tyrolian horses.
  • Bicycling between the villages of San Cassiano, La Villa, Corvara, Alta Badia, and Colfosco, in the freshest mountain air you can find. Each village was complete with a beautiful small church and postcard-worthy charm.
  • Taking our bikes up the gondola to eat at Rifugio Col Alt where our general motto (“The better the view, the worse the food”) did not hold true. After a boozy lunch, riding the high meadow hiking paths to Pralongiá, up and down 20-30% grades among snow and alpine flowers.
  • Dinner at the surprisingly casual three-star Michelin Hubertus.
  • The cold, crisp mornings with brilliant blue sky and a sun that quickly heats up everything, including last night’s snow.
  • The views. There is literally not a bad view anywhere. Except if you get on the wrong side on the wrong day of one of those beautiful cows.

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