Biking the Italian Dolomites

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The beginning of Summer and the end of Cathy’s Spring semester.  What to do?  How about a biking vacation in the Italian Dolomites, part of the Südtirol, or southern tyrollean mountain region which includes parts of Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy?  Intriguingly, while the biking was in Italy, the tyrol its largely a German language region, so we didn’t really start interfacing in Italian until our fifth lodging.  Each of the small towns where we stayed have both German and Italian names, and the routine language spoken in cafes, trains, and street corners was German.

United initiated new non-stop service from San Francisco to Munich about a week before our trip, an as yet undiscovered flight routing sparing us the usual “are we going to get on?” space available travel nail-biting.  There’s a train station right in the MUC terminal, where we acquired our tickets through to Innsbruck, Austria, and boarded a train for there within minutes of our on-time arrival.  We used Innsbruck (which means, loosely, the place where the bridge crosses the Inn river) as our jet-lag adjustment location, and it’s a worthy mountain-surrounded city destination in its own right.

The Inn river, and a pedestrian platz, above

The “Golden Roof,” seen from the City Tower

Innsbruck tower

We lodged at the Schwarzer Adler in the “Old Town” just a short walk from Innsbruck’s fine Tyrollean museum and several strolling platzes, and an equally short walk to the gondola ride up into the mountains for hiking on the west side of the city.

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A shaded trail leading to a mountain hut for food and drink, before proceeding above the tree line for spectacular vistas.

Innsbruck Nordkette view

There’s more than one way to get about and take in the sights.

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After two nights in Innsbruck we boarded a train for a four hour journey including two train changes to tiny Silandro (aka Schlanders) Italy where we would begin the biking phase of our trip, set up by the Pure Adventures outfitter we used two years ago in the Czech Republic.  Self-guided, using their rental bikes, detailed maps and written directions, with stays in very nice lodges and hotels, breakfast included, and luggage transfer provided, while we rode from town to town, generally between 50 and 60 km each day.


The view out the train window while nearing the Austrian/Italian border.


The Schlanders Bahnhof, or Silandro Stazione, if you prefer.  As small and delightful as the town.  One track, or gleis or binario.

We stayed two nights here, at the Hotel Golden Rose, beginning riding the next day, driven up to the Resia Pass at the border with Austria, for a 60 km downhill back to Schlanders.  The route generally followed the Adige river, which means more downhill than up, but nonetheless plenty of “up” in each day’s rolling.

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The scenery on Day One was none too shabby.

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Small towns through which we passed usually had their own take on fountains with potable water for refilling the bike water bottles.  It was in the upper 80s to mid 90s each day, so we were constantly needing to top off the H2O.  We stopped at tiny Canal (20 structures?) for water, then an off-the-charts lunch of fresh salad and vegetables, and the most delicate gorgonzola white sauce and broiled chicken pasta, partaken in the shade of overhanging grapevines.  Well in the running for best meal ever.

Our breakfasts throughout were continental, with an enormous variety of delectables—eggs, cereals, muesli, fruit, cheese, meats, yogurt, fresh and grilled vegetables, every sort of kickstart sweets, breads, rolls, juice, sparkling water, coffee, and even Proseco.  We waddled our way to the bikes and never needed to dine again until mid-afternoon, though timing the hunger and sustenance was required, as cafes closed from 2-6 PM.

Each afternoon I tried to capture a feel for what we experienced with that day’s journey, free-associating on my i-Pad, and will paste it whole, here:

Reflections on 11 June: Resia pass to Silandro.

Sounds–Eagles’ “Hotel California” from the speakers in the diesel 6-speed stick Ford Transit Van. Songbirds. Babbling streams crossed, and shushing Adige river alongside, wind swirls as we head downhill into a headwind.

Sights–Tyrolean crags, whitewater, maps/textual directions/bike paths & signage, tall church spires, walled castles, wildflowers, and pollinator collisions–okay, that’s feel, not sight. Mea culpa.

Tastes–pasta with a delicate Gorgonzola white sauce at Canal. Five stars.

June 12: Silandro to Merano.

Cycling through countless km of apple orchards, the trees pruned to near vertical stalks in close-quarter rows.  Apples, this early in the season, small green and reddish nubbins. Birdsong incessantly delighting, and joyously saluting the fine sunny day. Widely scattered small undeveloped cumulus, per Camelot meteorological statute, confined solely to the ridge lines either side of the descending valley.

Leapfrogging a family of four–two small children on their own bikes. We’d pass them, only to have the favor returned when we stopped for another Canon moment. Must have happened a half dozen times.

We beat our bags to the City Hotel, a complication for Cathy, who, used to our Czech trip, with bags awaiting, failed to stash walk-around attire in her panniers. For once I had the edge. Not to be repeated going forward.

Castle Trauttmansdorff gardens. Wow! By city bus, no less. At about 95 F. One portion of the extensive gardens featured its own river and waterfalls, a stretch slowing over pebbles along a sandy bank (where are the darting trout?) trees laced overhead, all of it a blessed relief from the late afternoon swelter. And, oh, those breezes coming up the slope at 18:30 with wasser kalt mit gas, were a godsend.

June 13: Merano to Caldaro.

It took some navigational work leaving Merano, where the directions were based on a lodge well out of town. A local map from the hotel, and a bit of intuition, and we were able to join the route after several km. The riding has been on mostly well-marked designated bike paths, with great smooth pavement, absent the broken glass of US roads. Biking is a way of life here with a diversity of riders from toddlers to oldsters, male, female, clubs, cruisers, you name it. Flip flops to SIDI and spandex. Some slower than us even in our dotage and 45 pound clunkers, but many young Italian and German men with high tech rides, wheels singing on their missions from God.

June 14: Caldaro to Trento

Our lodging in Caldaro was a small boutique hotel, Das Haus am Hang, situated well up a killer hill for heavy bikes at the very end of the riding day. But a worthy place with a commanding view of the lake and valley down yonder, a fine restaurant with al fresco dining, livened by a refreshing breeze. There’s a pool, and lounge chairs scattered under the overhead vines of this working winery.

Two problems, however. At bedtime the breeze quit, as did the AC! And the morning’s departure directions were not from Haus am Hang, but from a “you-can’t-get-there-from-here” starting point–down yonder. Eventually we found our way to down yonder, and a local, seeing our bewildered furrowed brows, took us under his wing with a half German/half English “follow me” to get us onto our route. Good to his word, in spite of a rat in the maze circumbobulation, it worked out sportingly. With another 10 km added to the day’s required kilometerage, of course. Do I sense a trend here?

A bit more about our riding days. Four or so hours including physiological and photo respites, steaming at just less than 20 km/hour. The trip follows the Adige river generally downhill but with a fair share of up amongst the down-rolling. Our riding has, without exception been into a headwind, so pedaling downhill, too. There’s a benefit to this, though–the headwind cooled us somewhat. Scattered along the route there are fountains and dedicated water sites, all with potable, often quite cold artesian water. Given the heat and exercise, I never could consume enough wasser or acqua. Invariably thirsty. Numerous bici bars and small cafes, where we’d stop for a full liter of wasser mit gas (carbonated mineral water, a staple of the region), refill the bike bottles, empty what little we could, given the extant sweat elimination process, swing a leg over the top tube and saddle up, the sitzbones and quads reminding us of their vote in the discussion.

June 15 & 16: Trento to and in Riva Del Garda

Leaving Trento was even more complicated than arriving. Our lodging was in town, but the directions were from a pension outside of town on the other side thereof. This resulted in an additional 10km to negotiate without explicit guidance, using a hotel-provided city map, and naturally a day 10 km longer than advertised. Ah, but what fun starting the journey through the Piazza Del Duomo, this morning, turned into a bustling farmer’s market, spilling into the first blocks of Giuseppe Verde Strasse. Yes, let’s laugh together at the incongruity of Italy’s iconic opera librettist having his street name in German. And while we’re indulging our funny bone, how about taking an enormous imaginative and temporal leap to join me in mirthfully transposing Cathy and I and our bikes as Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck slicing through the throngs on our Vespas, now an appropriate half century after our Roman Holiday! Okay, you had to be there, but memories are made of this stuff.

Not until well out of town did I realize I’d left my water bottle at the hotel. Nothing for it but to pull from the pannier the small bottle retained from our flight to Munich. This occasioned a delightful refill opportunity at a fountain in the center of a flower-bedecked traffic circle in a one horse town beside the Adige. Then there was the textual directions’ river crossing denied us with the bridge being closed. Backtrack to the preceding waypoint, and sure enough, dayglow chartreuse signs (in Italian, natch) pointing to the necessary detour to carry on towards Riva.

There were clues, if one was alert to more than their road-weary derrière and tired quads–let’s see, we have to exit the Adige valley at right angles and proceed to a pass, so as to drop into the mountain-locked Lago Garda, the largest lake in Italy. Does the term “climb” ring any bells? Earned, the right to make the roaring descent from San Giovanni Pass, an exhilarating punctuation mark, prelude to eine grosse bier und pizza, lakeside, just before the 14:00 cafes-closed bewitching hour. Consumed as emphatically deserved-certain as the divine right of kings.

Riva Del Garda is right out of central casting as your quaint waterside Italian town. We stumbled on a wonderful cafe up an oxcart-wide cobblestone passageway in keeping with a place a couple thousand years’ established. The following day We endured the obligatory tourist boat ride down lake, the high point of which may have been the sailboat regatta on the return.

June 17 – 19: Verona.

Verona is an ancient place. We reconnected with our Italian UCSD exchange student “son” of 9 years’ past beneath the Porta Borsari, which dates to the BC era. Marco squired us to favorite sites and sights, not to mention tastes and personal vignettes. The coliseum, here, predates Rome’s, and now is celebrating its 95th season as venue of al fresco summer opera–unfortunately beginning next week. Then there’s this evening’s sold out Tony Bennett concert in the Teatro Romano. Double “Rats!”

We’ve explored very vecchio (old) streets, churches, towers, and hills, collapsing, footsore into shaded trattorias, red and white checkered tablecloths supporting leant-on elbows and glasses of chilled Soave vino bianca. And if spirits sag, how better to rally to the next adventure than with a double gelato from that tiny dispensary of taste extravaganza Marco told us of on the corner of Via Cappelletta? Then right on cue, having just licked fingers clean of cicolatta drool, while strolling in afternoon shade on Pietra Vecchia, what should we encounter but an open garage? Within, a man and his ten (?) year-old son diligently conjuring the machinations they have set in motion on a hand-made wooden Foucault pendulum using a weighted pendulum with attached stylus to render colorful circles and ovals in never-ending arcs scribed on paper. Dad waves us in, and in conversant English we learn a bit about one another. No, he’s not an Engineer, but a forest ranger, who like me, delights in the tactile pleasure of wooden things, like his scribing device, and the hand-crafted wooden-frame kayak hanging from the ceiling. His wide-eyed son is clearly enjoying this unexpected drop-in event nearly as much as he exudes love and pride in his father. I share that in the U.S. this Sunday happens to be Father’s Day, and ask of dad if he’s familiar with the English term “serendipity?” The tongue twister is beyond his vocabulary, but he clearly grasps my definition and the none-too-subtle example our ice cream-engendered chance visit represents thereof. We part, four happy humans, none of us knowing the others’ names.

And tomorrow we secure train transport back to Munich for our Tuesday flight return to day-to-day reality, serendipitous and planned adventures drifting into memory lore.

Drink break on the way to Schlanders, and then the arrival thereto.

The biking was always on dedicated and well-signed bike paths, which combined with our maps and textual directions mean only modest navigational challenge, but when challenged it was always in the getting to and from the lodging within the community at each destination.

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Flower bedecked covered bridges.  The sign reads “You are pedaling in the areas dedicated to the cultivation of marzipan.” Except at this point we are pedaling amongst vineyards.  Ah, Italy.

En route navigation mostly amounted to how many kilometers to the next bench under a shade tree for a butt-break and a little back stretching.  Which is to say that there was plenty of time to look around and enjoy the view.

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Castles abound, why do you ask?

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But don’t forget to take in the small scenes close at hand.

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And, as ever, smell the flowers and refill the water bottle.

We arrived in Merano, pretty bushed and beaten down by the late afternoon heat.  But Cathy wanted to find a way by bus to the gardens at Trauttmansdorf Castle in the hills outside of town.  I went along to get along on this, only to discover that she had nailed it as a worthy venue.  The gardens cover several square km, and are lushly beautiful.  There were shady mini forests, vast numbers of blooming flowers and a cafe with a lovely fresh breeze overlooking the valley from the shaded al fresco watering hole.

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The view of Caldaro from Haus am Hang.

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Haus am Hang lounging, mit grosse bier after plunging into the pool.


I’ve mentioned bici bars and alongside the path cafes as R&R oases. The local riders routinely would consume a beer or two at these locations.

Cathy and I just tried to keep going and save the adult beverages for the end of the riding day, as in this interlude of beer, wine, bread, cheese, olives, and scenery at Scrigno del Duomo on the Piazza del Duomo in Trento.  And yes, that is a new apple from one of the orchards through which we rode.  A personal smile-inducing talisman.  The duomo (dome) itself is off my right shoulder.

Scrigno del Duomo and apple

The Italians are such friendly sorts, never mind the crumb-dusted beak.

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This afternoon, there was a community event in the piazza, urging people to rally against cyber bullying, with locals casually taking in the event and enjoying Neptune’s fountain.

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The next morning the piazza was a thriving farmer’s market with food, flowers, and hand made goods, the square chock full of people doing the day’s shopping.  We had to walk the bikes through and onto Giuseppe Verde Strasse.

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Our final biking destination was Riva del Garda at the north shore of Lago Garda.  There was that climb out of the Adige river valley, and then the roaring downhill to the lake.

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This northern end of Italy’s largest lake has regular afternoon winds to delight wind sailors and kite sailors, as well as those engaged in sailboat regattas which we enjoyed when taking a ferry ride down the lake on our second of two days there.

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The view from the harbor quay next to our lodging at Hotel Sole.

Lago del Garda

The quay is a gathering place from early morning to late at night.

Sole warf

Riva warf morning

Clocktower twilight

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And, of course, like all of Italy, the Garda area is a rich environment for a color and texture hungry photographer.

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Riva has plenty of trendy stores, and cafes with tablecloth al fresco dining on narrow cobblestone streets of a dimension and carefree abandon in keeping with having been laid out a couple of millennia ago when transportation was by oxcart.  On one evening we dined between two delightful Bavarian families, and learned that we were there at the end of a two week school holiday in southern Germany, thus accounting for the large number of German-speaking tourists in a highway accessible vacation mecca.

Having concluded the bicycling, we were driven to Verona, an ancient Italian city notarized by William Shakespeare, even though Romeo and Juliette never existed except in his fertile mind.  The Veronese nonetheless have capitalized on the lovers’ tragedy by establishing a home for both, Giulietta’s being just off Via Capello, close enough sounding to Capulet, and finishing the nod to tourism by adding a balcony that did not exist on the house when it was chosen in 1932.  Marketing 101.

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An important motivation for our visiting Verona before returning to Munich, apart from never having visited the lovely oh-so-Italian city, was the chance to reconnect with our Italian “son.” Marco Tebaldi hails from there and was hosted by us as an incoming UCSD exchange student nine years ago.  We’ve had wonderful host relationships over the years and have daughters from Spain and Taiwan, and other sons from France and Mexico.  Marco was in town during our time there, having returned from his most recent work posting in Melbourne, Australia.  We got a chance to be squired about with a local’s eye, and his boundless enthusiasm and bonhomie, and then meet and take dinner with his real parents.

Marco chose to meet us, just steps away from our Palazzo Victoria lodging at the Porta Borsari, a gate entrance to the old city dating from before the time of Christ.

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The old city is a labyrinth of twisting pathways, and something fascinating and colorful awaits around every bend or corner.

The view from the Clock Tower.

From Verona's clocktower

The Clock Tower itself.

Verona clocktower

Dynamic Duo just below the tower.

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Striding on the Ponte Pietra (stone bridge) crossing the Adige at the Castelvecchio (old castle).

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The bridge is both a wonderful viewpoint, as well as worthy view subject.

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Ponte Vittoria as seen from the Ponte Pietra.

Ponte Vittoria

Verona Adige

Last of the twilight.

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I’ve mentioned Verona’s multi-millennial age.  It has a coliseum, which predates the one in Rome, with whatever Caesar it was at the time, getting the idea for Rome’s version when seeing Verona’s on a visit. Dating from the first century it is more lately the venue of summer opera presentations, unfortunately beginning the week after we left.

A little set decoration outside the coliseum’s walls, awaiting installation within.

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Speaking of ancient, Dante Alighieri hailed from Verona.  I think one of his circles of hell might well include our country’s present governance circus.  That’s him, striking a pensive pose.

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Wherever one strolls, there are sights to delight.

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Verona wall #1

It was just around the corner after the picture above, that we had the serendipitous encounter with the man and his son in their garage with their handmade pendulum and kayak.  And just before this next serendipitous hello appearing on cue as we strolled by, and fully in keeping with the neighborhood colors.

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Well, trips end, as does this missive.  But first a glimpse from our sleeping berths on the return flight.  Somewhere northwest of Hudson Bay.

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Ciao, Tomaso