Coral beds on the ocean floor seem an unlikely precursor to some of the most spectacular alpine cycling venues in Europe; but the dramatic limestone cliffs of the Dolomites were just that eons ago.
Forming a stunning backdrop for a cycling vacation, our chosen routes have yielded ‘out-of-category’ fabulous riding experiences. From the Veneto region to the soaring peak of the Marmolada, we’ll experience the breadth and height of this region not only blessed with spectacular scenery, but rich in culture. By day we’ll explore intact walled cities of centuries ago, along with pristine alpine hideaways; and at the end of each day we’ll savor hearty meals, robust wines, and share tales of our adventures riding tiny roads over mountain passes made famous by our cycling heroes on many a Giro d’Italia.
Beginning in Castelfranco, in the highly-praised-for-cycling region of the Veneto, we’ll explore the myriad of tiny switchbacks in the Alto Settecommuni, then looping around the mountainous Gruppo di Brenta, and finally reaching the famous passes of the Dolomites: Sella, Pordoi, Gardena, and Falzárego. Experiencing the Dolomites in their full beauty will be a never-ending visual and emotional treat. Riding the twisting roads where every turn brings more breathtaking views of forests, high meadows and towering rock peaks above, will continue to inspire and lure us on.
As they say in Italy, . . . There are mountains, and then there are the Dolomites . . .’the most beautiful construction in the world’. . .
JULY 2 - CASTELFRANCO VENETO
We’ll meet you at the Venice airport and transport you to our hotel in nearby Castelfranco. You’ll have the rest of the day to assemble bikes (plenty of help provided!), explore the town, or take a nap. We’ll get acquainted at dinner tonight at our hotel, then enjoy an overview of the tour along with dessert.
JULY 3 - ASIAGO 50MI, 3200FT OR 61MI, 3300FT
Following in the footsteps of the inhabitants of Vicenza, we’ll head north to the cool green mountain plateau of Asiago (3258ft elevation). The fertile Veneto region has nurtured the creative soul of Italian culture from the early 800’s to modern times. We’ll cycle through Asolo, one of the most enchanting regions in Italy. Bassano del Grappa, famous for its ceramics and distilled liquor, is another fascinating town, inviting exploration and a mid-day lunch at one of many small restaurants. From here we leave the flat plains behind and begin in earnest our climbing adventure of the Dolomites. Climbing up to the Altopiano (high plateau) of Asiago we’ll enjoy the lush green meadows where great forests once stood before being harvested by Venetians for her galleys. The villages of the Altopiano were almost entirely destroyed during the First World War, but today thrive with an abundance of ski resorts and refugios all served by the rich beauty of the mountains.
JULY 4 - ASIAGO 41MI, 3000FT OR 61MI, 5000FT
Today’s ride is one of those rides where you will ask yourself, “Can bike riding get any better? Why isn’t this route famous?” We leave Asiago climbing gradually towards the mountains to the north; the lush greenery gives the landscape a surreal appearance. Just after cresting a small pass, we begin a long twisting descent, with a new and superb view at every corner; not of big mountains but of ridges, valleys, meadows, and the little nooks and crannies of this wonderful area. Finally reaching the Astico valley, we take a very small road that eventually starts climbing up the side of the ridge via tiny little switchbacks piled one on top of the other. We traverse high above the deep and steep Val d’Assa,
eventually ending back in Asiago. This route is true bicycle heaven. Before reaching the top of the ridge, the long route takes another tiny road down a dizzying descent of even more switchbacks layered like confetti at a party. The final climb back to Asiago continues with more switchbacks and more views. Back at the hotel there will be many beers shared over the telling and retelling of the day’s adventure, before sitting down to our delicious evening meal.
JULY 5 - LEVICO TERME 25MI, 1350FT OR 50MI, 5000FT OR85MI, 8000FT
Much of today’s ride is similar to yesterday’s, lots of switchbacks, lots of great views, the same dramatic scenery. The early morning riding will be mostly thrilling descents, down the steep ridgeline of the Val d’Assa, then down the amazing layered switchbacks. Finally our first major pedal strokes come as we start a climb of one of the many small beautiful roads in this area. From the Passo di Vena, the route winds across a series of ridges, staying at altitude until the final descent to Caldenazzo, and finally Levico Terme. The long route takes us south from Asiago to Schio. It is easy to see why the 50 kilometers from here to Roverto is a favorite training ride of the local pro cyclists: a long gradual climb followed by a similar, but high speed, descent through vineyards and meadows, past farm houses and small villages –all in all, a very exhilarating stretch of road. Levico Terme is a beautiful historic town and well worth exploring on foot, including the ancient Rhaetian walled village above town.
JULY 6 - CLES 68MI, 2300FT OR 80MI, 6400FT
This morning we start with a gentle climb along the lakeshore to Pergine, with a short side trip to the castle ruins above town; here we’ll enjoy superb views of the entire upper valley. As we head north up to the Plateau de Pine, the small roads have almost no traffic, as the wealth of this region is from mining, not tourism. Still the landscape is beautiful. We pass two glacier-fed lakes which, in winter turn into skating rinks. In fact, it was here in 1995 where the world speed skating championships were held. Near Segonzano, we pass through a striking region of rocks eroded into spiky towers crowned with large boulders, like natural umbrellas. A long gradual descent brings us to the Adige River; here both sides of the valley are covered with neatly trimmed vineyards, as far as the eye can see.Segonzano, we pass through a striking region of rocks eroded into spiky towers crowned with large boulders, like natural umbrellas. A long gradual descent brings us to the Adige River; here both sides of the valley are covered with neatly trimmed vineyards, as far as the eye can see. As we climb to Cles, the vineyards are replaced by apple orchards, and the mountains of the Brenta group loom overhead. In Cles, be sure to visit the bike shop of Maurizio Fondriest.
Gelato tasting is a must, with dazzling selection of gelaterias in this town.
JULY 7 - CLES VARIOUS LOOP RIDES
Today’s ride is compliments of one of Italy’s most famous cyclists, Maurizoi Fondriest. Cles is Maurizio’s home town and he and other pro cyclists have been training in these mountains for their entire lives. Maurizio has given us his favorite routes, but we will ride easy, for fun and not at the training pace that Fondriest can still maintain. After the ride and perhaps a stop at the Fondriest bike shop, we return to the hotel for well-deserved relaxing, beer drinking, gelato tasting, and basking in the glow of a ride well done. For those with tired legs today, there is a wonderful 10-mile ride up to Lago di Tovel. A one-hour hike around the lake is an option, with two tiny snack bars for food and drink along the way.
JULY 8 - SIUSI ALLO SCILIAR 45MI, 5500FT OR 68MI, 7800FT OR 90MI, 11,300FT
We start with a beautiful climb through the apple orchards, which give way to mountain meadows, on our way to Passo di Mendola. As we descend to Appiano sulla Strada di Vino (Appiano on the wine road) we once again see vine covered hills stretching on into the distance. Historical riches from the wine business have left Appiano with more than 40 castles and manor houses. A short side trip to St. Michele d’Appiano is worth the time spent to see the Bronze Age citadel, the castle, and the many renaissance houses. Bolzano, with its high, narrow gabled houses, beer cellars and arcaded streets, is excellent for exploring and lunching at any small restaurant, but it is also quite busy with tourists. The long route climbs into the mountains high above Bolzano, missing the city entirely. The ride after lunch is one of the best of the tour. A very small, forested road, with absolutely no traffic, leads steeply at times, into the hills, circling around Monte Renon, passing the Longostagno Pyramids (worth the short hike). Approaching our hotel, we see looming above us, the sheer red and white rock face of the Sciliar, one of the most beautiful mountains of all the Dolomites.
JULY 9 - PASSO PORDOI 30MI, 6000FT OR 49MI, 8400FT
Today we hit the big time, the grande Dolomites, awe inspiring rock monoliths, green meadows beneath vertical cliffs, snow capped peaks, some of the most impressive landscape in the world. The roads that lie like fallen ribbon connecting one pass with another are the most famous cycling roads in Italy. Here is where the champion of the Tour of Italy emerges from the peleton. The Grand Strada della Dolomiti, a road built between 1895 and 1909, is our route for the day. Starting near Bolzano we cycle up the Val d’Ega, a breathtaking, narrow, deep, red-colored gorge, “Mother Nature’s sore throat.” At the Passo di Costalunga we pass between two magnificent mountains, the craggy peaks of the Latemar group loom up to the right, while the rosy pinnacles of Rosengarten soar up to the left. Descending, we pass beneath the even more spectacular eastern face of the Rosengarten, on our way to Canazei. After lunch, or a gelato snack, we tackle the Passo Pordoi, one of Europe’s most beautiful climbs, and matched only by the other passes in the Gruppo di Sella. The views from our hotel at the pass are magnificent, truly an amazing place to spend two nights.
JULY 10 - PASSO PORDOI 34MI, 5900FT OR 52MI, 7800FT
Another day, another cycling “tour de force”; we continue cycling the Grand Strada della Dolomiti. The list of passes on today’s ride reads like a Giro de Italia stage, Passo di Sella, Passo di Gardena, Passo di Falzarego, Passo di Campolongo, and Passo Pordoi. All of these passes (except the Falzarego) will be in this year’s Giro d’Italia. Circling the Gruppo di Sella, some of the Dolomite’s most impressive mountains, our route is a famous alpine traverse for cyclists. Expect to see more cyclists than cars. Although short in mileage, it is huge in grandeur, steeped in history and culture, and challenging in the climbs. It will be a day of everlasting memories.
JULY 11 - CORTINA D'AMPEZZO 51MI, 5600FT
Today we finish the Grand Strada della Dolomiti at Cortina, but first we start the day with a visit to the Marmolada, the mightiest mountain in the Dolomites. From the Pordoi we descend to Canazei (coffee anyone?) and begin the steep climb up to the Marmolada and Passo di Fedaia. This is an imposing mountain, with huge views in all directions. With huge views in all directions. Any extra film in your camera will be gone long before you leave this pass. It may seem like a short day, but any extra time you may have can be well spent in Cortina. Located at the intersection of two valleys, and surrounded by a ring of extraordinary mountains, Cortina enjoys the best location of the Dolomites. There is a exciting array of shops, biergartens, restaurants and gelaterias, not to mention the nightlife, to keep one pleasantly occupied in town.
JULY 12 - CORTINA D'AMPEZZO 25MI, 2700FT
More beautiful alpine scenery lies ahead on today’s ride. Starting with a climb up the Passo Tre Croci, we soon come to the shimmering deep blue Lago di Misurina, surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Cristallo group. From here, a must is the short should climb 7 km up to the base of the remarkable triple-spired mountain, Tre Cime di Lavaredo. From here, it is mostly down hill back to Cortina, where the afternoon should be spent exploring this beautiful ski resort village. Not only is the village wonderful, where you might expect to see David Niven and Audrey Hepburn sitting at a café, drinking a cappuccino, in turtlenecks and sunglasses, but Cortina enjoys the best location in the Dolomites: a lofty, sunny, cross shaped meadow at the junction of two valleys in the center of a ring of extraordinary mountains.
JULY 13 - CORTINA D'AMPEZZO LOOP RIDE - 72MI, 7200FT
Today’s loop is a must ride. Retracing a little of yesterday’s ride, a gradual climb brings us to a long downhill through a deep valley, past a number of alpine lakes, this brings us to the beautifully situated city of Dobbiaco. Another beautiful climb, up the Val di Sesto brings us to another spectacular mountain valley.. The Val Fiscalina is one of the most dramatic valleys in the Dolomites, and the short up and back climb is well worth the extra effort (6 mi, 500 ft extra). The rest of the day continues on small mountain roads, through yet more breathtaking alpine scenery.
JULY 14 - BELLUNO 59MI, 4600FT OR 63MI, 8000FT
Our last day in the mountains yields once again a tremendous ride, as we head south all the way back to the Veneto lowlands. Leaving Cortina, we climb one of the lesser traveled passes in the Dolomites, the Passo di Giau, which is the 3rd highest pass of our tour. After a quick descent, we climb up into the Valle di Zoldo, passing between two of the tallest mountains in the Dolomites, the imposing Monte Civetta, and Monte Pelmo. A very important note, the Zoldo valley is Italy’s gelato center, nearly all the deity of Europe’s home-made ice cream producers are natives from here, and every year returning in November for the annual International Ice Cream Fair to compare notes, techniques and sample new flavors. Staying at high altitude in this beautiful alpine valley, we take an even smaller road over Passo Duran, and then our last big descent is thru Agordo, all the way to our hotel in Belluno. Our hotel is near the historic center of town. There are pedestrian walkways with shops, bars, cafes, and restaurants, and of course plenty of locals strolling in the late afternoon. Find a nice restaurant as we will be eating out on our own this evening.
JULY 15 - CASTELFRANCO 61MI, 3800FT
Our last day of cycling is a leisurely one, a chance to savor our last tastes of this great country. The early morning route takes us over the final set of hills before the Veneto plains. At the Passo di San Boldo, we’ll stop for a memorable view of the Dolomite mountain range to the north, our home for the last two weeks. We traverse along the base of the hills, through the vineyards, from village to village. After packing up our bikes, ordering beers, and reminiscing on our most glorious two weeks of cycling, we will enjoy our farewell dinner in the town.
JULY 16 - DEPARTURE
We’ll take you to the Venice airport for your flight home or onward.