Italy”s Pale Mountains

The Dolomites (Italy, with bits of Switzerland and Austria)
Ed biking in the Dolomites
On this page, you will find...

Everyone loves Italy, even if we sometimes wish that, er, well, the trains would run on time.  So, welcome to an Italy where the metaphorical trains run on time (the real ones do pretty well, too)! 

Our Dolomite route explores Italy’s most ethereal mountain scapes.  Legend has it that dwarves sewed nets of moon rays to color the mountains so that the princess of the moon, in love with a local prince, might feel at home.  At sunset the off-white turns to bright red in a better-n’-TV nature show:  one of the high peaks even carries the name “Rose Garden” in German (Rosengarten). 

This is also one of Italy’s most culturally unusual corners, combining latin flavors and sensitivities, with neighboring Austria’s efficiency and environmental care.  The result is one of Europe’s most attractive and prosperous corners.  Special self-governance statutes even insulate the region from some of the fiscal and political craziness further south.

Before the word “mountain,” combined with the notion of “bicycle,” puts you off:  our base routes follow a remarkable cycle path network that traces the valleys cut by the Adige, the Drava, the Rienza, the Eisack...  Required hills are gentle, hard ones are avoidable, and the scenery all around you is spectacular!  The Alto Adige / Südtirol is our home for the most part, with forays into the neighboring Italian province of Trentino, and into border countries Switzerland and Austria. 

The cuisine is all you’d expect:  mountain specialties of wild game, rare mushrooms and cured hams; fruit from the orchards that cover the valleys, wines from the vineyards on the lower slopes.  The village of Tramin, which gives its name to the vast range of traminer grapes, lies on our route.  But even good fresh fish can be had:  delightful Venetian specialties are considered “local,” and can be found on every menu.

Too much to enjoy in a scenically spectacular, dramatic yet comfortable, gastronomic paradise!

This trip lends itself well to a post-ride city visit:  Munich, Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome are all within 4 - 5 hours by train.  Or combine this trip with our Italian Lakes ride.

Dolomites mountains

The following trips visit the Dolomites:
Dolomites café
Giro d’Italia (3 weeks)
Visits two other Italian regions:  Tuscany, Umbria, and / or the Italian Lake District, in addition to the Dolomites
— not offered in 2017.

Alpine Italy (2 weeks)
Visits the Dolomites, and the Italian Lake District
— not offered in 2017.

Kaiser Kapers (2 weeks)
Visits the Danube Valley, spends two nights in Vienna, and continues to the Dolomites

France & Italy (2 weeks)
Combines the Dolomites with Brittany in 2017.

Italy’s Pale Mountains
follows this itinerary exclusively
Departure dates and prices are in the “Facts & Figures” table, below.

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Day-by-Day Itinerary:   the Dolomites

The itinerary for the July 2 “Family-Friendly” departure differs slightly.   Details are here.
Day of the Week
Typical distances, in km
Our trip meets at the top of the Brenner pass, the main north-south pass across the Alps between eastern Italy and Germany, at midday.  See our Access Package for hints on getting there.

A glorious warm-up ride brings us down from the top of the pass, and to a side valley that leads towards the Austrian border, and was part of an ancient Venetian trade route.   Stop in Sterzing, where you can also visit Reifenstein Castle, one of the region’s best preserved.  Admire your dramatic surroundings, fiddle with your unfamiliar gears, try (and fail) to capture Franzensfeste fortress (a ridiculously elaborate fortification that never saw battle), settle for a drink on the lovely terrace of the station caffè. 

Nightfall finds us in Brunico (Bruneck in the locally-favored German), in the heart of the Val Pusteira, is our home for two days of exploration.  It’s the biggest town in the valley, and a worthy base:  though the 14th century walls are still intact, and a few houses date from that period, the beauty of the town lies in its unusually harmonious ensemble, built after a fire in the early 1700’s. 

Half Baggage
40 - 50 k

We slip over the border for a ride along the Drava River to Lienz.   Our route is usually distant from the main road (and never on it), so peace and quiet are yours, the better to enjoy the lush meadows and spruce forests of Austria’s most isolated corner. 

Even before you cross the border, stroll the pedestrian streets around San Candido’s lovely market square.  Then, throughout the valley, admire the onion- domed churches, reminders of the Ottoman influence in this part of the world.   Sillian’s town square features a pillory that specialized in adulterous women.  We have yet to understand why that was such a particular issue in Sillian, but we are researching the issue.

Lienz is today “just another Tyrolian market town” (the words already vehicle a certain quotient of charm).   But it was once an imperial seat, and still is dominated by a dramatic castle to prove it.   Back to Italy on a train which often carries almost as many cycles as people.

Half Baggage

40 - 50 k

We now turn the other direction, and pedal down the valley to the west.  Pretty villages, quiet lakes, high mountains.   The bike path is idyllic, wandering in and out of the towns, through forests and along the banks of the river.  Visit an active cheese dairy, Italy's northernmost winery, or make a short detour to Europe’s most important wool museum (we only assume that our superlative is accurate, we have not actually studied this).

Night finds us back in the Eisack valley, which we started down on our first day.  The regional center of Brixen (whose Italian name, Brissanone, is objectively prettier, if a bit less racy) is our home, and one of the dinner options is in a monastery courtyard (not racy at all).

40 - 50 k
We continue west, and now south, to change regions, and come to the upper Adige valley.  A choice of routes brings you there:  go over the mountains (climbing), around them (distance), or skip the whole business (choo-choo).

Our destination is the spa town of Merano, one of Italy’s most famous, and our home for two nights.  Following the Eisack and Adige river valleys takes you through a land of vineyards, fortified villages and fruit orchards.  The mountain route offers trans-Alpine vistas, conifer forests and a lack of oxygen.

Evening finds us lounging by the river on the town’s lovely pedestrian promenade, violently orange cocktail in hand.

Half Baggage
70 - 100 k
Today we journey to the very sources of the Adige River, at the point where Switzerland, Austria and Italy meet:  up by train, home by bicycle.  You are returning to Merano tonight, so you need go no farther than you wish, but the most ambitious will start their rides deep in Switzerland, in the most isolated of Swiss valleys, the Val Müstair.

Back to Merano via the Adige Valley bike path.  Detour into the medieval walled town of Glorenza (Glurns, in German), whose imposing 14th century fortifications are entirely intact.  Giro d’Italia fans can climb the Stelvio pass, to say they did.  Giro d'Iazlia fans are like that.

But what of Merano? Spa fans may wish to take a day off of their aluminum horses to trade muscle groups.   This could be today, or tomorrow.  The Merano spa offers 15 swimming pools, indoor and outdoor, as well as a host of spa-things:  massages, steam treatements, mud (we have that on our bikes if it rains)...  all in a spectacular decor.  One of our regular riders, a well-known architect, described it as the most remarkable spa ensemble he had ever seen, and that certainly tallies with our experience.

Half Baggage
60 - 80 k
An easy day, designed to be compatible with a visit to the spa.  Bolzano, our destination, and home for the last two nights of the trip, is the only real Dolomite city.   It is also the self-proclaimed Città delle Biciclette (city of bicycles).   Having spent some time here, we reserve judgement on that, but the intent is clear, and laudable.   And the city is full of charm.

On your way out of Merano, you can visit the Kränzel Labyrinth Maze, which (according to the brochure) “weaves together the themes of mazes, gardens, wine and art.”   This sounds a bit “Hotel California,” so we have never dared go in.  But we are screwing up our courage....

Or keep it simple:   the Trautmannsdorf Castle gardens were a favorite of the last Austro-Hungarian empress, Maria-Theresa.  (Sissi to her friends, a group that appears to have included every Austro-Hungarian.)  They offer botanical splendor without the other siren calls, increasing your chances of escape.   Especially once you learn that the castle itself is now a “Museum of Tourism.”   Pander alert!
30 k
STRADA del VINO / WEINSTRAßE (the Wine Road)
A fittingly spectacular final ride closes a week of spectacular rides.  This one is about wine.  Vineyards, wine towns, taverns, and the occasional lovely lake.

A loop out from Bolzano takes us past the high points, literally and figuratively, of the Alto Adige’s best growing region.  Visit Caldaro and her eponimous lake.  Stop in Tramin, who loaned her prestigious name to a vast family of Mitteleuropa grapes (gewurtztraminer is the most famous), and whose signature winery is an archtectural gem.  The tasting room is fun, too.  Then down to the valley floor for a fast, flat ride back to the metropolis, in time for a dinner designed to show off the wines made in the vineyards through which you just cycled.  Longer and shorter versions of the loop are on offer.

Half Baggage

45 - 70 k
If your trip ends here, the “Access Package” includes train tickets to a local airport city:  Munich, Milan, Venice, Rome....  See the page on leaving your trip from Bolzano for details

Italy’s Pale Mountains — Facts & Figures
2018 Dates

Baggage Services Offered
Difficulty of the Ride
Schedule Pending
Follow this link to help choose the trip dates

$2,250 US
$2,795 C
1,695 €
Half, Daily

You are surrounded by mountains, and may go up them if you wish, but our “base” routes follow the valleys.  This is our most bike-friendly Italian route:  we spend well over 50% of the ride on dedicated bike paths, and most of the rest on tiny lanes.

* Prices in $ and € do not include precisely the same things.  Click here for details.

Prices of Optional Extras (links lead to explanations)
$ prices include
the bike.
See here for information on bringing your own.
* At least 4 riders must subscribe to a given baggage service for it to operate.  The services listed are those currently offered on the departure in question.  Services which appear in bold already have at least 3 subscribers (so, one more would ensure their operation).

Reaching & Leaving Your Trip:  General Information on Access Packages
Specific information on reaching your trip’s start in... Brenner / Brennero
Specific information on departing from your trip’s end... Bolzano / Bozen