What are we talking about?
The “Dolomiti” are a group of massifs and peaks that are part of the Italian Eastern Alps. What gives them their name is the typical color given by their stone they are made of, the dolomite: a pale, uniform gray which grants them a unique, elegant look. If you google it, you’ll come across a quatity of pictures that will explain it better than a thousand words.
The list of mountains that make up the Dolomites region is quite long, no need make a list here. Enough to say that there’s a core of mountains and valleys, across the italian regions of Trentino and Veneto that are considered a paradise for motorcyclists from all over Europe.
An easy approach: mountain passes
Maybe you also noticed how often you meet swarms of motorcyclists eating, resting and enjoying the view by a cafes, bars, restaurants up on mountain passes. It surely feels like some kind of point of arrival to a lot of people. So, if you don’t know how to develop your itinerary, an easy way to do it is to follow mountain passes. You won’t have trouble realizing how many of these are scattered across the map and most of them are highly scenographic places with amazing roads climbing up. I have reported most of those you can find in the central area of the Dolomiti on the map below.
Among the passes that connect the Val di Fiemme in Trentino to the valleys of Veneto, the Fedaia pass is one of the most savage. It leads right under the highest mountain in the Eastern Alps, the Marmolada and at the highest point the road runs alongside the splendid Fedaia lake whose green waters are just a mirror for the sky.
The other beautiful pass that connects Moena to Falcade, with a splendid view of the the Pale di San Martino block and of the Marmolada (from the opposite side) is the San Pellegrino pass.
A couple of twin passes connect the “Agordino” area with the splendid Cortina d’Ampezzo basin: the Giau and the Falzarego. Both are stages of the Giro d’Italia and the Giau is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful passes in the Dolomites: much appreciated by cyclists and motorcyclists who enjoy going through its many hairpin bends to reach the top, that’s also the starting point for interesting excursions.
Another highly spectacular pass, with a magnificent view of the Pale di San Martino block, is the Rolle pass.
However, probably the most famous and visited mountain passes are the four that surround the Sella group: the Pordoi, Gardena, Sella and the Campolongo pass. Let’s talk about them in a minute.
Best valleys to motorcycle around
Considering how vast the region is, choosing an itinerary through its many valleys is spoiled for choice! There are areas I wouldn’t miss including in my holiday around the Dolomiti.
No doubt, one of the most fascinating and rewarding places, also considering the fact that it’s a circular itinerary, is the group of valleys and mountain passes that surrounds the Sella Group, know as the Sella Ronda (Sella Round). This magnificient mountain block is literally surrounded by world-famous ski resorts, tourism-focused villages and interconnected ski slopes. Even in summer it’s extremely popular among hikers, cyclists, bikers and mountain enthusiasts in general.
Each of the four passes that surround the Sella, the Pordoi, Gardena, Sella and the Campolongo, offer breathtaking views. In particular, the road that leads to the Pordoi pass offers a series of hairpin bends that seem to never end and climb steeply up to more than 2200m.
Don’t forget to pay a visit to the lovely Val di Fiemme. The Val di Fiemme is probably not as high and wild as the heart of the Dolomites but it is one of the most beautiful and elegant valleys ever. Its green meadows and perfectly manicured villages are a pleasure for the eyes and are definitely worth a visit.
The Val Badia is probably one of the most famous and characteristic valleys, perhaps it represents the archetype of all Alpine valleys. As well as the elegant Cortina d’Ampezzo and its wide valley surrounded by one of the most beautiful landscapes of the Dolomites.
A suggested itinerary
As mentioned above, there are countless places that are worth a visit, even outside the region I have described, especially north of it, getting close to the border with Austria and in the Trentino region to the west. The combinations are many, but I can recommend two itineraries that I liked a lot. Probably each of them needs two or three days to be able to fully enjoy the trip and its places.
Great things to do off the bike
Let’s just avoid mentioning trekking routes… there are literally thousands of hiking trails, it would be impossible to touch the subject. Nonetheless, I would like to suggest one.. why? Because I’ve been on it last time and it was amazing! I’m talking about the popular Val Venegia hiking trail. A trekking route that crosses the valley of a high altitude natural park with jagged peaks, wide meadows, pastures and streams, right in front of the Pale di San Martino massif.
What about climbing on top of one of these great mountains and see what it feels like to look at the world around from a 3000m high mountain? I have a suggestion for you. There’s a cable car at the Pordoi mountain pass that will take you up the Sella massif. The Sella is a massive mountain block that looks like a horse shoe: its top is flat, except for a few peaks (the Piz Boè is probably the most impressive) and can be walked around through a breathtaking hiking trail that will make you feel like you are walking on the surface of another planet!
Another similar and similarly amazing experience is climbing on top fo the Lagazuoi mountain. This peak on the outskirts of the Cortina valley has been the theater of one of the many fights (called the “mine war”) between the Austrian and the Italian army during the Great war. During that time, the two armies were literally digging galleries through the rock and blowing part of the mountain under each other’s feet. Galleries, rat holes, entrenchments are still visible and visitable nowadays, as well as great trekking paths climbing from the valley to the very top of the mountain.
More to the south, in the area of Lake Mis, the Cadini del Brenton are one of the unmissable attractions. They are undoubtedly one of the most evocative places in the Belluno Dolomites National Park: the Cadini del Brenton, as the name suggests are natural pools arranged in succession along the rocky shelves of the main mountain and connected by small waterfalls generated by the Brenton stream that dug them over the course of the centuries.
Located at the foot of the UNESCO Queen of the Dolomites, the Marmolada, a narrow canyon is carved into the rock by the slow workings of the Pettorina stream: the Serrai di Sottoguda. A place in some ways wild but which manages to enclose the magic of nature and a feeling of complete harmony. The canyon stretches for about two km and winds through rock walls hundreds of meters high, from which suggestive waterfalls descend that, in winter, turn into ice.