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At the end of the motorcycle season, heavenly peace returns on the mountain pass roads.
In autumn by motorcycle in the Dolomites
Season finale in autumn
Whoever comes last can be happy: At the end of the motorcycle season, paradisiacal tranquility returns on the pass roads around the Dolomite peaks.
The last rays of sunshine climb over the ice sheets of the Marmolada in the south, in the north the jagged contours of the Sassolungo emerge from the dusk, a few hundred meters to the Gardena Pass, no: Passo Sella. Or Pordoi Pass? Or Passo di Campolongo? Does not matter. The views are beautiful to frame, the curves are brilliant, and apart from the BMW and me, hardly anyone is on the mountain pass road quartet around the Sella Group. A hiking group appears at 2240 meters; a Porsche driver looks at glowing red rock faces through the windshield; At the end of the day a souvenir dealer clears his displays from the roadside: rain capes, snow chains, ice ax. Things that you can use well in the case of bad weather in autumn.
But the weather fairy from Sudtirol Online seems to keep what she promised: golden autumn days and mild temperatures into the evening hours. A sign with the inscription »Joëf de Sella« flies past in the corner of your eye, then you go between steep rock faces and scree fields down to Plan de Gralba, where a trilingual signpost »Joëf de Frea / passo di Gardena / Grodnerjoch« indicates the next combo of hairpin bends . In summer, an almost uninterrupted snake of motorcycles winds around the Sella massif. Now in autumn the Sella Ronda is free, and despite the growing tiredness I can’t stop driving and looking until the last glowing red cloud rises from the Dolomite peaks into the evening sky.
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Deep down in the Val Gardena, the lights of the houses are already lined up like strings of pearls. Then it’s down to Selva in a never-ending slalom. Before every visit, I imagine a daring rock nest from the Lord of the Rings trilogy at the sound of that name. And every time I am disappointed that the ultra-modern holiday conglomerate Val Gardena is behind the town sign: 94 restaurants and pizzerias, 32 bars and cafes, 81 mountain lifts, 16,500 guest beds for around two million overnight stays per year.
But today the almost 9800 inhabitants of the Val Gardena seem to be among themselves. On the Strada Mëisules it is as quiet as it was before the Roman general Drusus, who conquered the Dolomite valleys in 15 BC, except for a screeching Vespa scooter. I am the only overnight guest at Hotel La Tambra, and the owner Oskar Mussner dedicates his free time to the art of wood carving in Val Gardena in the family’s own sculpture workshop.
When I step in, he puts a chainsaw, carving knife and mallet aside, greets me with a warm “bona sëira”, but sends me a “Buona sera” and a “Good evening” just in case. Language diversity in Val Gardena. In addition to Italian and German, around 90 percent of the population speak Ladin, an independent Rhaeto-Romanic language that has survived in some of the Dolomite valleys since the times of Drusus and Co..
The top of the pass is called »Joëf«, curves »Raidës«, bend: »Raida strënta«. A Ladin expression for spark plug? Mr. Mussner has to fit (“it didn’t exist 2000 years ago”) and switches to Italian (“candela d’accensione”). All around are masterpieces of wood carving from Val Gardena: dogs, cats, owls, roosters, deer. The image of the South Tyrolean freedom hero Andreas Hofer stands on a pedestal, flanked by Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the Pope. Religion plays a major role in the Ladin valleys, explains Mussner, and then looks at his watch in horror. Tomorrow morning at five a pilgrimage is announced – from Selva Val Gardena over the Gardena Pass to Pedratsches in the Gardertal.
Stella in top form.
It is still dark when the church tower bells roar over the roofs of the village the next day and a short time later a 200-person procession pulls through the village. Your way leads you past chairlifts, tennis courts and après-ski bars up into the mountains, in front of you two priests equipped with trekking shoes and rucksacks. I follow with the BMW a little later, burn up to the Gardena Pass, take a glimpse of the Sassolungo, Sella and Tschierschspitzen, plunge over beautiful bends down into the Gardertal and to Pedratsches, but there is already no trace of the pilgrims in Selva.
Cars and motorcycles cannot be seen on the passage through Gardertal either. All alone I hum across Badia to St. Martin in Thurn, where I swing onto a non-slip asphalt strip that leads in perfect left-right-left combinations up to the Wurzjoch. At the top of the pass, two Gold Wing drivers picnic in peace and quiet, behind which the Peitlerkofel rises under a steel-blue sky. All around, autumnal brown and golden yellow colored grasses contrast with the lush green of the willows, in the distance a couple of cowbells ring melodically – it is nice to cry.
The road, soon only a lane wide, meanders through light forests with a view of other massive rock colossi, grazes pasture meadows and flower meadows, swings in wonderful narrow and wide arcs past Monte Telegrafo and plunges down into a grandiose serpentine finale at St. Andra Eisack Valley. A short pit stop with cappuccino at Bressanone’s Domplatz is a must, then I dash again via St. Andra to Wurzjochstrasse and from there feel my way down a little car-wide connecting road into the Villnobtal. The Geisler peaks with the 3025 meter high Sass Rigais appear, jagged like the blade of Oskar Mussner’s chainsaw. Reinhold Messner, who was born here in Villnob, climbed the highest Geislerzacken when he was five years old. Today his picture is emblazoned in the Troi grocery store, where Moser bacon is advertised with the most famous son of the valley (“as unmistakable as my mountains”).
Since you can obviously conquer all eight-thousanders in the world with Speck Alto Adige, I load a lot of it into my tank bag and hit the mountains again at Gufidaun. Curve high above the Eisack valley to Val Gardena, turn south near Ortisei onto the Castelrotto and Seis route, look at the Schlern near Vols, the Rosengarten near Tiers, the Latemar group near Welschnofen – and you can understand Reinhold Messner. When you look at these coral-like blocks of lime growing out of the earth, you just want to be a mountaineer. However, if you concentrate on the pass roads in between, you just want to be a motorcyclist.
Main attractions for bikers: bizarre mountain ranges and the paths through them.
From the Niger Pass I jet over the Karer Pass and Passo di San Pellegrino to Falcade, with a heavy heart I leave Passo di Valles and Passo di Rolle on the right, rush down to Cencenighe, look at the nearby Cerada and Duran passes on the map, decide on the last moment for the route via Alleghe, on which another decision has to be made after a few winding kilometers: Passo di Falzarego, Passo di Giau, Passo di Pordoi or Passo di Fedaia?
Completely overwhelmed by the almost inexhaustible selection of fantastic motorcycle routes, I direct the BMW via Rocca Pietore to Malga Ciapela, follow the sign »Gelato« and look through the shop window at the Pineta ice cream parlor: Limone, Fragola, Tiramisù, Cioccolata … Yes the gelato buckets are empty, the doors locked, tables and chairs stacked in a corner. At this time of the year, ice can only be seen again on the 2057 meter high Fedaia Pass when looking at the glaciated summit region of the Marmolada. So much so that during the First World War an entire place was driven into the ice layers over 3000 meters high, consisting of weapon depots, positions, storage rooms and kilometers of connecting tunnels deep down in the rock.
Shivering, I start the winding descent to Canazei, where I come across the Great Dolomite Road, which carries the BMW and me over the Pordoi and Falzarego passes to Cortina d’Ampezzo. Another dangling around Monte Cristallo with a view of the Three Peaks of Lake Misurina, then exhausted and hungry, I feel my way to the Hotel Miramonti. Brigitte Bardot and Clark Gable are said to have stayed here, Ingrid Bergman and the Spanish ex-King Alfonso VIII. Today there is not even a liveried porter to be seen in Cortina’s most famous luxury inn. Only the Christmas decorations consisting of garlands of lights indicate the return of high society in the coming ski season.
What the hell. At least 400 euros saved for the overnight stay, which can also be invested elsewhere in Cortina. For example in a cashmere sweater from Cristiano Fissore, a silk costume from Paolo Tonali or a little coat with mink trimmings from Ghedina Zuccaro. In search of a restaurant, I direct the BMW past the autumn displays of the luxury boutiques on Corso d’Italia, which have been reduced from unaffordable to sinfully expensive; take a look at the Gelateria Rubens, where there are geranium decorations and summer seating under the large parasol, but no guests; roam the Ristorante Birreria Hacker Pschorr, which, across from Bulgari, is hoping for the arrival of the Munich crowd with “sausage con crauti” dishes. The only real atmosphere is actually in the pizzeria 5 Torri in Via Largo Poste. At the beginning of October, people wear Gore-Tex and fleece instead of cashmere and mink, gather around the rustic heating stoves on the terrace and eat pizza for five euros.
The next morning we go over the Giau and Staulanza passes to Forno di Zoldo, where the Passo Cibiana, probably the most beautiful mountain road on the Cadore, begins. According to the travel guide, the area is so lonely that you don’t even come across a single vehicle, even in high season. Today, after just a few hundred meters, a Ducati pack is rumbling towards me, the post office is quickly following in the white and yellow four-wheel panda. At the top of the pass I meet Walter, who is transporting visitors to the Messner Mountain Museum in his Land Rover Defender over the old military track, which is closed to private vehicles, to the 2181 meter high summit of Monte Rite. In good weather, Walter enthuses, you can see almost all of the Dolomite peaks from up there. For days like today, he continues with a look at the sky, there is a corresponding picture gallery: “Sella monumentale”, “Alpe di Siusi – deserted”, “Langkofel with Dolomite Road”, “Marmolada – Modern Times” … The approaching rain front Gradually realizing, I say goodbye to Walter, drive down the Cibiana Pass as if chased by the devil, swing at Dont di Zoldo to the Passo Duran and start the last stage until the planned end of the tour in Sterzing: Passo di Cereda, Passo di Brocon, Passo di Manghen, Passo di Lavaze, Bozen, Renon, Penser Joch. It doesn’t matter that it starts to drizzle halfway to the 1601-meter-high Duran Pass. It only becomes questionable when the subsequent downpour turns into sleet beyond the tree line. Shivering and dripping with moisture, I feel my way over the last slippery curves to the top of the pass. Snow flurries, squalls, icy Dolomite peaks all around. In between the smoking chimney and the brightly lit windows of the Rifugio San Sebastiano, which, thank God, is still open at this time of the year. When I step in, the host Beniamino pushes a room key into one hand, a self-distilled grappa from his house collection of 25 varieties in the other. The mountaineers and motorcyclists gathered around the crackling fireplace move together, guitar strumming mingles with the sizzling noises from the kitchen – the atmosphere is so good that I want to stay two nights. “Three nights,” corrects Beniamino. That’s how long it took last year for the snow plow to come.
Map: Mairdumont, Maucher
Duration of the trip: three days; Distance covered: approx. 750 kilometers.
Main route (red)
Approach from Sterzing in the broad Eisack valley to Waidbruck – there left into the Val Gardena – via Ortisei and Selva to the Gardena Pass – in Corvara left over the Abbey to St. Martin in Thurn – there left to the Wurzjoch – 5 km after the top of the pass right over St. Andra on a great little road detour to Brixen – the same way back and on to Villnob – Gufidaun – from there via the small hillside road to Laien (highly recommended) – in Val Gardena again to Ortisei – there turn right to Castelrotto – Seis – Fiè allo Sciliar – 7 km after Fiè left to Tiers / Nigerpass – Karerpass to Vigo / Pozza – right to Moena – there left up to Passo di San Pellegrino – via Falcalde further east to Cencenighe – there left (north) to Alleghe – Rocca Pietore – Fedaia pass past Marmolada – Canazei – via Pordoi pass to Arabba – Falzarego – detour Sperrfort Tre Sassi / Valparola pass – Cortina d’Ampezzo – Misurina lake – bypass Cristallo massif – Cortina – Passo di Giau – Selva di Cadore – Zoldo Alto – Detour Forno / Passo Cibiana / Monte Rite – Passo Duran – Agordo – Tonadico – Imer – Canal San Bovo – Passo di Brocon – Castello Tesino – Strigno – Passo di Manghen – Cavalese – Passo di Lavaze – Deutschnofen – Montan – Tramin – Kaltern – Bozen – Nice exit via Sarnthein and Penser Joch back to Sterzing.
Variants to the main route (green):
Alternatively, the Schlenker to the north via Corvara and the Valparola Pass can be built between Pordoi Pass and Falzarego. A very nice round can also be added in Agordo. Over the Canale di Agordo to the south and from Sospirolo past the Lago di Mis on a tiny road through the Canale del Mis and the Forcella Franche back to Agordo (or shorten the main route via Gosaldo). From Tonadico, the route described can be shortened via the Passo di Rolle and Predazzo to Cavalese and you can see some of the most bizarre peaks in the Dolomites at the top of the pass with the Pale di San Martino. There is a connection to Trentino and the direction of Lake Garda from Strigno via Val Sugana to Trento. North of the busy SS 47, a small road leads over Roncegno – Levico. Trento is also very easy to get to from Cavalese. A less traveled alternative to the direct route is on the northern edge of the Torrente Avisio valley above Lavis. If you want to go further into Friuli, you can drive from Forno di Zoldo to Pieve or from Cortina to Auronzo.
The Dolomites ?? a world class motorcycle area. Where else is there such a density of passes and such a jagged mountain backdrop! A labyrinth of top-class ascent and descent, which can be surfed almost without repetitions with our tour proposal.
Warm up: Refugio San Sebastiano at Passo Duran.
Via A 8 and A 93 (Munich – Kufstein) to Austria and there via the toll Inntal (A 12) and Brenner motorways to Brixen or Bozen. Toll-free (but in Austria often handicapped by speed cameras and traffic) you can continue to Bozen on the old Brennerstrabe and the Italian SS 12.
After the summer overcrowding of the Dolomite roads, autumn and spring offer significantly more tempting services. However, many hotels in the Dolomites close from mid / late September until the beginning of the ski season. So inform and book in good time or move a base to the Eisack or Etschtal valleys.
Reinhold Messner’s “Museum in the Clouds” on the summit plateau of the 2181 meter high Monte Rite can be reached from Passo di Cibiana with the shuttle service. Open from June 1st to the first snow in October, information at www.museonellenuvole.it. or www.reinhold-messner.de. In the open-air museum on the Lagazuoi you can explore the former positions of the First World War, which were carved into the rock. It can be reached on foot in two hours or by cable car from Passo Falzarego. Also worth seeing is the Museo della Grande Guerra in the former Tre Sassi fortress on the Valparola Pass. Entry four euros. Information on telephone 0039/0436/867301, Internet: www.dolomiti.org/lagazuoi and www.grandeguerra.dolomiti.org.
Bolzano is worth a stop with the medieval flair of its old town, the arcades under magnificent town houses and many museums. In the nature museum in the former office of Emperor Maximilian I, you can touch, experiment and admire the formation of the Dolomites. Bindergasse 1, phone 0039/0471/412964, Internet: www.naturmuseum.it. The frozen Stone Age man Otzi and all kinds of objects from his time can be seen in the South Tyrolean Archaeological Museum. Museumsstrasse 43, phone 0039/0471/982098, Internet: www.iceman.it. The old bishopric of Brixen has narrow streets, a defiant Hofburg and numerous important sacred buildings. Tip: The cafes on the Domplatz and the shops under the arcades of the medieval shopping street. Cortina d’Ampezzo has not only underlined its role as a glamorous ski resort with the hosting of the Olympic Winter Games in 1956, but has long been important as a health resort. For tourers it is the ideal turning point for the eastern Dolomite passes. Not far away are the famous Drei Zinnen (expensive toll road). Tramin and Kaltern, as centers of South Tyrolean wine culture, are worthwhile stops not only because of »Gewurztraminer« and »Kalterer See«, but also because of their closed ensembles of historical architecture. Unfortunately overcrowded in summer. Tip: Delicious South Tyrolean snacks with bacon, aniseed farmer’s bread, Schuttelbrot, chimney sausages, donuts or strudel are available in the historic Torgglhaus in Kaltern, Maria-von Buol-Platz 5 (www.torgglkeller.com).
You are well equipped with the 256-page volume “Dolomiten” from Michael Muller Verlag for 15.90 euros and the DuMont travel paperback “Sudtirol” for twelve euros. Further motorcycle tours between Lake Maggiore and Friuli are available from the authors in “Italian Alps” from the Unterwegs edition published by Motorbuch Verlag for 16 euros. Map: General map of Italy, sheet 4 in 1: 200 000.
All prices refer to one person in a double room including breakfast. Ideal starting point for the Sella Ronda: Garni La Tambra, Str.Mëisules 309, I-39048 Selva, phone 0039/0471/795041, fax 794575, Internet: www.la-tambra.com. From 35 euros. Boss rides a motorcycle. In the beautiful old town location you can stay at the Hotel Montana, Corso Italia 94, I-32043 Cortina d’Ampezzo, phone 0039/0436/860498, fax 868211, Internet: www.cortina-hotel.com. From 34 euros. The Rifugio San Sebastiano on the Passo Duran (I-32010 Dont di Zoldo) offers rustic cosiness and good Italian cuisine. From 19 euros in a shared room, 25 in a double room. Telephone and fax 0039/0437/62360, Internet: www.passoduran.it.
Information is available from the Italian Tourist Office in Munich, phone 089/531317, Internet: www.enit.de. Further offices in Frankfurt and Berlin.
If you don’t want to travel alone to the Dolos next year, the MOTORRAD action team will find three five-day appointments between June and September. Price: 570 euros. Information and catalog by phone 0711 / 182-1977, Internet: wwww. actionteam.de.
More surf tips
Mountain huts, camping, events, weather information, current information: www.dolomiti.it. Webcams, weather, accommodation, events (motorcycle meetings) for Val Gardena: www.valgardena.it. Official website of the South Tyrolean Castle Institute with information on most of the castles in the region and further links: www.burgeninstitut.com. Motorcycle events and hotels, tour tips: www.dolomiten-bike.com. Information about the Dolomite War and locations: www.grandeguerra.dolomiti.org. Panorama pictures, webcams, literature: www.dolomiten.net. General information about South Tyrol: www.hallo.com or www.suedtirol.info. Literature tips, news, art, culture, weather, webcams: www.stol.it. Nature, history, webcams around Cortina d’Ampezzo: www.dolomiti.org.
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