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Visiting the Dolomites in Northern Italy:  2005 - 2012 Experiences

When to Go
    "July" is the short answer to that question, with the exact dates depending upon the year.

    The Dolomites recreational area is first and foremost a ski resort area, with the summer sport's season being short. Many services do not re-open from their post-ski-season closures until mid-June or even July. Two to 4 weeks in August is the high summer season in the Dolomites, with the number of weeks depending on the valley and the exact dates varying with the year. (In 2007, high season for Cortina and Val d'Gardena was August plus a few days in July; in Corvara, high season was only 2 weeks long in early August.) And hotels and B&B's begin hibernating again in waves throughout September until the ski season begins in early December. Some hotels drop their prices to rock-bottom by the end of the first week in September. A few stay open until October or are open year-round, but not many. Bus and cable car services ebb and flow on the same general schedule as the lodging establishments.
    We've visited the Dolomites for 2-4 weeks at a time beginning in June, July, and September and July seems like the best window the Alps in northern Italy. Early June has worked out well for us with our bikes but the buses to the high passes and hiking areas aren't running and not all of the lifts are open. As we have lingered to do more hiking in the Dolomites, we've shifted our stay to mid-July to take advantage of the better range of hiking-related services.
    The extensive bus service gets going in mid-June, though there are a few buses and cable cars that don't operate until mid-July. The cable car opening dates are important as they deliver tremendous access to stunning hiking trails. Most (but not all) of the cable cars and lifts run from about mid-June until mid-September.
    In 2008 we arrived in Selva Gardena on August 30 for a 3 week stay in the Dolomites and it rapidly felt like we were there too late. The next day was the last day of service for 1 or 2 of the chair lifts in the valley and others trimmed their hours. The Sella Ronda bus service looping in both directions between the major peaks terminated for the season on September 5, as did some of the other local bus lines. On September 9 additional bus lines cut their service, with some lines to passes only operating once a day in each direction.
    Next we noticed the grocery stores in Selva dropping their Sunday morning hours on September 14 and some lodging establishments began closing as did some of the mountain huts. We were told all of the huts would be closed by the end of September--we don't use their services but they are a marker for service level. We managed to do most of what we'd planned to do but we felt like we were on a sinking ship and also had to be meticulous in verifying service schedules before heading out on a hike. There were fewer people in area in September than July but we'll switch back to being pre-season rather than being post-season visitors.
    After leaving Selva, we went to Corvara for 3 nights where the lifts and our familiar B&B were closing on the weekend of September 20-21. The buses were already on an aggravatingly reduced schedule. Then we went to Cortina where the lifts closed even earlier than at Corvara though the buses dropped back about the same time, on September 10.

    Especially if you don't have your own transportation, it's important to understand that the Dolomites, like the rest of Italy, are very "valley" oriented. Bus service between the villages within a valley may be every half hour, whereas the bus service a few miles over to the next valley may only be a few times a day. That's important if you are planning hiking loops and expecting to take a bus at the beginning or end of your route. And some valleys are very difficult to bus to, like going from the valley that Cortina is in to the valley Selva is in.
    The "valley" effect spills over into information too. When we inquired about the discount EuroSpin store locations when in Corvara and LaVilla, the info folks only knew of the 1 far away in the biggest city associated with their valley. We knew of 2 that were much closer, but they were in 2 different valleys.
    Tourist information and seasonal changes on lodging prices are also organized by valley, so you can't infer that what you've learned about the details in 1 valley directly apply in the next.
    So, if you are planning on parking yourself in 1 place for a week or 2 vs changing locations every couple of days, it is wise to carefully shop for the valley that best meets your needs. For us, the best package is Val d'Gardena. As of 2007, we think its got the best range of hiking opportunities with the best support from buses and cable cars. There is a discount food store in this valley, which is also important to us.

    Ladin is the local language in Val d'Gardena that no one expects you to know. German is the next language of choice of the locals, with Italian coming in third. English is spoken by most in the main tourist places. In the pharmacies, ("farmacia") there is likely at least 1 clerk who speaks English.
    Trail signs in Val d'Gardena are usually in Ladin, German, and Italian, though not always. It pays to learn the German and Italian for the towns, huts, and passes if you are hiking or taking a bus. We had a tricky hiking situation on time when the trail signs were only in Italian and our map had only the German names on it.

A Glitch
    One of the things we love about staying in the Dolomites, aside from it being absolutely stunning, is that it is so tourist friendly. As visitors, we generally feel very well supported and catered to, making the stay easy. The worst glitch we've seen is with the buses, which we use some days to get to hiking venues.
    Printed bus schedules are usually available at the tourist info offices and the routes are noted on the schedules by number and name of route. But at least in the Selva area, the SAD buses do not display either the route name or number but only the major stops they make, usually in German and Italian. So you need to know the major stops on the route of the bus you want so you get on the correct bus. Asking the driver is a back-up plan but their weariness from being asked shows in their sometimes vague responses. Also, the driver may not speak English.
    The shorter hop bus rides are usually in the 2€ per person range and it's better for everyone if you have your change in hand as you board the often crowded buses.

Favorite Towns & Places to Stay
    Bolzano/Bozen: in 2010 we gave up on our usual choices of high-end budget places, that run around 80€ and feel like very poor values, and instead stayed at the Sheraton on an internet special of 100€ for 2 per night. That included a lovely buffet breakfast (no breakfast on the special in July 2011 or 2012); a large, comfortable room; air conditioning; English on the TV; a frig; a huge bathtub; and free use of the lovely indoor swimming pool and small fitness center. At the Adria, Koplinghaus, and Feichter we never felt very welcome, comfortable, or accommodated. We stayed at  Hotel Feichter  most often, but the lack of air conditioning in a city that can turn smoking hot in a day, was a looser. There we watched our chocolate bars to syrup. The Sheraton is about 4-5 km south of the old city center whereas the other 3 are in the center but we'll happily bike the extra few miles any time we can get an internet special at the Four Points by Sheraton: via Bruno Buozzi Str 35; Tel: +39 0471 1950 000; www.fourpointsbolzano.it. If you've been cycling, try to arrive early enough at the Sheraton for a dip in the pool. At 92 degrees, it's too warm for a robust swimming workout but it's delightful for working out the tightness in the neck and shoulders. The hot tub and 2 pool water features operated by  underwater control buttons add to the pleasure. The standard room is a "Classic" is cramped compared to the spacious "Deluxe" room which we've enjoyed twice. Ask at check-in if a Deluxe is available for the same price. Always book online, in advance for the best price. Bikes can be stored in their luggage room or a locked bike room in the garage (which we haven't seen). By bike, take the bike paths along the river southwest from the tourist info/old town area. The street names will transition from Via Galileo to Via Pacinotti toVia Buozzi. The Sheraton will be on your left just before the huge Interspar supermarket on the right. By car, you can travel on the same series of streets on the south side of the river. Get a free map from tourist info to plot you route. There is a train station a block away from the hotel, the "Fiera" station though the hotel clerk referred to it as Bolzano South (Sud). Bus 10B goes from the main train station to the hotel; take 10A for the quickest trip from the hotel to the main train station. Both buses do circle routes, but in opposite directions, so either one will do if you are anxious to sit down. The Lidl is in the same end of town, but over on Via Claudia Augusta. The EuroSpin is in the old town, essentially under the Funivia del Renon, east of the main train station. Bothdiscount grocers are closed on Sundays. 
    Brunico/Bruneck: Tends to be very expensive and St Lorenezo downstream on the Rienz River is also challenging for lodging. Next time we'll try the lodging at Mitterolang (near Olang) upstream/uphill from Brunico by about 12 km. We haven't stayed there, but hope it will be a better value. There is a supermarket in the central shopping intersection.

    Brunico/Bruneck: Hotel Corso in 2010. 80€ for 2 without breakfast except July/August. Charming owner(?) speaks excellent English. Small, nicely decorated rooms though half must have their single window facing a dark alley; insufficient heat on a freezing night in October in 2010; bikes in a locked room across the alley on the back side of the hotel. BBC on the TV, free internet connection in the lobby only. This was by far the cheapest option close-in. Minutes on foot from Tourist Info adjacent to old town, across the street from the upper entrance to the EuroSpar supermarket.  We stayed again for 1 night in early July of 2011 and got the same 80€ rate though on the website they indicated that there was a 3 night minimum--always worth asking in Italy. At Graben 16 Bastioni; Tel: +0474 55 44 34. www.hotelcorso.com. The Lidl is 'downstream' in the newer part of town near the train station. The EuroSpin is farther yet downhill on the right.
Selva and Ortisei (St Ulrich) in Val d' Gardena, Canazei in the Val di Fassa, and Corvara in Alta Badia have become our new favorite towns in the Italian Dolomites. Selva has a great central location with good bus service and a huge number of places to stay over a large price range. With a bit of nudging, we discovered that the tourist info office has a lot of useful free information, including lift and mountain hut details. Many of the 15 lifts in this area opened for the summer season in 2005 between June 18-25, with a couple opening earlier and a couple not opening until mid-July.  A weekly pass for unlimited use of all the lifts in the valley runs around $65.
    Lovely Ortisei is only 6 miles down the hill from Selva and the prices can be startling lower. The same brands in the same store chain were as much as 50% more in Selva than in Ortisei on things like bottled water and orange juice. A ubiquitous brand of pasta was 20% more in Selva. And our bright, spacious and modern room in Ortisei for 44€ put our 60€ room in Selva to shame. Were we staying in the area for an extended holiday, we'd definitely stay in Ortisei and take the bus to Selva for activities based there.
    But that opinion was in 2005, and in 2007, as well as 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 we did stay in Selva as the deal on our 3-star apartment was better than what we could arrange in Ortisei for the same time period: Residence Soel; Family Susy Giorgi;  www.residencesoel.com; info@soel.com;  Str. Cir 12, 39048 Selva Gardena; Tel: +39 0471 794147. (We request a south balcony apartment with linen rental, #246 or #247.) Free wifi; free access to a washing machine; free use of the associated hotel's swimming pool. In 2008 a friend of ours was very happy with the 3-star Garni-Hotel Mezdě, Str. Cri 10, Selva, Tel: 0471 795265, www.mezdi.com. He stayed in a very pleasant B&B room but they also have a couple of older apartments available across the street. In 2009 we spent 1 night at the Hotel Mezdi--very fresh and pleasant but too cramped for all of our stuff. Like the Soel, the Mezdě is uphill from the church in a quiet neighborhood with the possibility of stunning mountain views. In 2010 we also spent a week in the Residence Zirmei in Selva on Col da Lech 60 www.zirmei.com.  It is almost straight above the supermarket at the low end of town. Newer and fresher than the Residence Soel, but the rooms are quite a bit smaller as are the balconies. We enjoy the bathtub at the Soel and being away from the free entertainment noise in the shopping area that occurs on some nights and can be heard at the Zirmei. The kitchen is larger and more pleasant at the Zirmei; the Zirmei also has stunning mountain views. Low season prices are the same at the Soel and Zirmei; our first pick continues to be the Soel but it opens later in the summer season. If you need extra support from the staff, Soel would be a better choice.
    So, first Cortina was our favorite place to be, then Ortisei, and now it is Selva that we call home when in the Dolomites. The groceries are more expensive in Selva but we learned that taking the buses from Ortisei to Selva for hiking can be wildly more difficult than makes sense, so now we stay in Selva. Groceries are substantially cheaper at the lower Despar in Selva by the Zirmei than the upper one by the Soel; the prices and produce are better yet at the Despar in St Christina.
   We've never parked ourselves in Canazei for a week or more though have lingered a few nights for hiking. Lodging in Canazei tends to be more expensive than Selva and Ortisei. We've stayed at 2 places in Canazei. The 1-star Ciamorc on the corner of Streda de Pareda and Streda de Dolavia is a solid budget pick that runs around 50-60€. The hostess is cheerless and told us several times that cooking in the room was not an option (Tel: 0462 602426). The 2 star Canazei hotel almost across the street from the Ciamorc is 55-70€, newly remodeled and more comfortable than the Ciamorc. The host is also quite serious and felt compelled to confirm several times that we were married (Tel: 0462 601598; www.albergocanazei.it).
    In Canazei, ask the tourist info folks for their free "Hiking Map" in English and about the trio of lifts that you can take from there to Passo Pordoi and up to the top at about 10,000'. They also have a guide to Low Level Walks in the Fassa Valley.
    Cortina d'Ampezzo was our favorite town. We were quite taken with its dramatic mountain setting and loved the one-stop-shopping at La Cooperativa. The department store with a grocery store is a treat where we can count on a good selection of food and it's well stocked book, map, clothing, and camping departments.
    But it is hard to get the information about the lodging at the low end in Cortina--we think because it doesn't exist. One of the guide book recommendations was a hotel that always closes for the month of June, which is when we are (were) usually in town. We did get to stay at the recommended and centrally located 2-star Hotel Montana (www.cortina-hotel.com or within Italy: 0436 862126) one time around and understood why it gets its strong reviews.  But after a second disappointing room at the Montana in the 3rd of 3 visits, we moved over to the nearby Hotel Meuble Olimpia. Both are centrally located, so are close to the bus station and supermarkets. Both hotels were gracious about storing our bikes indoors and had English news on the TV. Like our first stay at the Montana, we had a nice room for our first stay at the Olimpia. The Olimpia has more rooms and we are guessing that the comfort level isn't as variable between the rooms as at the Montana. In the off-season, they both run about 80€/night for 2. In the shoulder season the Olimpia bumps up to 96€ whereas the Montana stays around 80€. We may pay the premium next time at the Olimpia in shoulder season for the greater comfort. Once again, Cortina is an expensive place to stay and we usually make our stopovers there brief because of it. www.hotelolimpiacortina.com, Tel +39 (0) 436 3256.
    At either the Montana or Olimpia, ask for a room with a balcony for a better room. At the Montana, also ask for 1 that faces the main street; at the Olimpia, ask for a room on the south side if 1 with a balcony isn't available (the balconies are only on the upper floor of the south side.) We looked at a room at the nearby 2-star Hotel Astoria which was cramped and there was no English on the TV. It was 70€ when the other 2 were 80€. We've also stayed at the 2-star Oasi in the same general area as the others for similar prices. Its rooms are bright and freshly remodeled but challengingly small like the Astoria--"file a flight plan" if there are 2 of you moving about at the same time in the room.
    Corvara in Alta Badia valley is winning us over too. It is near Cortina, but the lodging prices are much lower than Cortina and pesky high season is only 2 weeks instead of 4 weeks long. And high season prices at some places only go up by a few dollars over shoulder season, instead of doubling as some do in Cortina. Like the other ski resort villages, the food prices in the market are ridiculously high, but it has a stunning setting and good hiking options (though not as good as Selva).  We wouldn't likely base at Corvara for our primary stay but enjoy it for part of a week as a way to add variety to an extended stay in the Dolomites. We will stay at our "Garni" (bed & breakfast) Granval again: nice owners; the daughter speaks English; quiet location near the cable car, market, and bus stop; balconies with good views; in the 65€ per night for 2 at the end of July 2007 & 2009; nice bathtub in some rooms; CNN on the tube (not in 2010)--now if they only had wifi and a refrigerator..... In 2009 we declined to stay there when we discovered we'd be in a 3rd floor room with no balcony and tiny windows. We both need that bright natural light and prefer not to stay where there is no alternate exit route in case of fire. (Tel: 0471 836064; fax: 0471 836724; info@granval.it; www.granval.it.  For the valley: www.altabadia.org.
    In 2009 we found the 2 star La Palsa apartment at the last minute that was 50€/night for 2 in late July. It had the separate bedroom that we like, a dishwasher, and CNN and BBC on the tube. The owner will reluctantly allow guests to use his washing machine, though guests don't have free access to it. Bikes used to stay in the ski room but as of 2011 he wants you to keep them in your apartment. It's about 20€/night cheaper than our favorite apartment in Selva though the quality doesn't drop that much. The floor coverings aren't as pleasing and the furnishings not quite as nice, but the bathroom and kitchen are new and we'd stay here again. Our smaller apartment A (was #1 in 2009) had no balcony but is on the better view side of the building with the north and west views of the mountain; B (was #3) is up 1 floor, has an identical floor plan; the same great view, and a large balcony. Both of these apartments have bathtubs whereas at least some of the other units have showers. It's 2 doors down from the Granval at Str. Col Alt 60; Tel: +39 0471 836053; www.residencelapalsa.it. The pleasant owner speaks English unusually well. The prices were unchanged in 2011 though the host did ask for a deposit. In 2012 it was still 50€/night for 2 in late July and he didn't ask for a deposit.  We made the 2011 deposit at a branch of his bank in Austria for a 3€ fee. In 2011 he wanted our expensive bikes kept in our apt, which was fine with us and we did not press him for the use of his washing machine. He did turn the heat on in the building on the unseasonably cold nights in 2011 but not in 2012.
    We continued our search for a back-up apartment in Corvara in 2010 and selected Ciasa Morin for its great views. It's a cross the river, so is farther from the main market and lift than our other choices but is only about a 3 minute walk from the smaller, more expensive market on the main road. We only looked out it from the outside and checked their website but didn't actually see the apartments. Their website requires a bank transfer deposit, which is next to impossible for us to arrange and we don't know if that is negotiable. Tel: +39 0471 836450, www.morin.it. It's 52-66€/night for 2 people through the end of the 3rd week in July when the prices jump to high season of 72-90€. No washing machine.
    Moena, Hotel Post in the center of town near tourist info. Cozy mountain-styled rooms with frig's and with friendly hosts. The bikes are locked in a ski room around back. www.posthotelmoena.it. 74
without breakfast in early July 2009.
   Arabba, 2 star Garni Monica was 66
with breakfast for 2 in late July 2009 and was up to 70 in 2011 was satisfactory and a good value for the area. The rooms are a bit too homey for our taste, as well as being dark and small. But most if not all rooms have a balcony and it is far enough from the main road to be spared from the motorcycle traffic noise, which is considerable in this village. In 2011 we had CNN on the TV and free wifi in the common room and in our room #3. www.garnimonica.it; Tel: 0039436/79325. Arabba doesn't count as a a favorite place but we usually spent the night there before tackling Passo Pordoi. It's on the low side of town, behind the Carabinieri compound near the main intersection by tourist info. Very limited and expensive grocery shopping and only the very marginal bakery/mini-market is open Sunday morning.
    Vigo di Fassa, 2009, we stayed at Hotel Garni Enroasdira on Strada Neva 28; Tel: 0462 764602. At 80
for 2 it seemed a bit high. It was newly remodeled but the room was small and we struggled to find places to put things, like in the bathroom. Ask for a second floor room on the west side with a balcony. We had one of 3 rooms with a terrace and felt like we were in a fish bowl.  Bikes were kept in the garage which the owner wasn't inclined to lock.
    Misurina, the launching point for the bus up to Drei Zinnen/Tre Cime that is about 15 km from Cortina and 20 km from Dobbiaco, was all but shut when we were there in late September of 2008. The folks operating Quinz weren't very friendly but we loved their fresh, tastefully decorated rooms facing the little lake. It was 70€ for 2 without breakfast. Look for the white building with "Pizzeria" on the end on Via Col St. Angelo, 2. It's opposite the Grand Hotel which is sort of on the corner where the main road takes a bend. www.quinz.net, Tel: +39 04 35 39 22 20. The supermarket was still operating and in 2008 the hikers bus was running until October 5. They may have a 3 night minimum in high season.
    Dobbiaco, or Toblach, on the border with Austria is a town we often ride through as we exit the Dolomites. A great place to stay in low season that is near the train station and bike route is Apparthotel Germania; Dolomitenstr 44 Via Dolomiti; www.apparthotel-germania.com; Tel 0039 0474 972 160. B&B for 2 in late July of 2010 was 90€; an apartment for 2 was 67€ with 1 week minimum. Best to call for prices as they seem to be very responsive to demand. (Also consider Sillian at the beginning of this segment for a zimmer at half the price.)

Buying Food
        For us, the high price and limited selection of groceries in the Dolomites is an irritation, so finding and remembering the better stores is important.  Most will close for lunch between about 12-12:30 and 3-3:30 and be open until 7pm or so. Depending on the phase of  summer season, there is a good chance they'll be open on Sunday mornings too. Here are the ones we try to remember:
Val Gardena
    Unfortunately the EuroSpin discount market in Ortisei--a favorite of ours--was gone as of 2010. The nearest EuroSpin is now north of Chiusa/Klausen, which is on the main road between Bolzano and the Brenner Pass a little past Ponte Gardena, the turn-off for Val Gardena. Chiusa is also on the bike path that parallels the main road. EuroSpin has killer prices on frozen broccoli and their German-made Karina brand chocolate bars were the best deal in the mountains. Their prices on everything are substantially lower than their main competition, as is Lidl.
    St. Cristiana's Conad store on the main street at the intersection with the road to the lift, Col Raiser, is handy if you are there, but not worth a special trip. Don't bother tracking down the Despar up the hill--it's an emergency market at best though the new Despar at the low end of St. Christina has better prices and better hours than the 2 Despars in Selva.
   Selva's markets are more expensive than Ortisei, with the Despar up the hill across from the church and grade school being noticeably more expensive for most items than the Despar on the lower end of the main road in the heart of the commercial area.
    The La Cooperativa in the heart of the pedestrian mall has a great department store and groceries. It's expensive but usually our life line while there.
    The Kanguro is another big market at the lower end of the pedestrian mall, adjacent to the river, and across the road from the La Victoria Hotel. It is easily seen from the road and hard to spot when coming from the mall. If on foot from the mall, turn uphill onto the through road and look for it on the lower level on your left after crossing the river. Its selection and prices aren't significantly different than the La Cooperativa except for the produce. All of the Cooperativa's produce is either prepackaged or selected for you whereas at the Kanguro you select your own. And a novelty in the region, the Kanguro occasionally has bargains on several produce items--discounted by as much as 50-75%.
    There is  an EuroSpin about an hour's walk southeast of Cortina below the old Olympic ski jump, in the lower level of the Pian da Lago industrial park. If on foot, take the gravel road around the mainroad-side of the sports field at the base of the jump. Then look for the lower of 2 gravel roads by the trees and take the 1 that goes downhill to arrive at the high side of the village. Take the first available footpath to your left and down into the parking areas and you'll be close to the store. The walk is quite a bit longer if you follow the main road into the village.
    We haven't stayed in LaVilla but stopped into the Sport Tony which has a respectable food shop in the basement. It's on the main street and it was there that we found the 71% cocoa Ritter bars that weren't available in Corvara in 2007 but were in 2009. The Sport Tony is also a well-stocked sporting goods store with a heavy emphasis on clothing.
S. Cassianno
    S. Cassianno is 4km up hill from LaVilla and 27km from Cortina. A big lodging community, it has just enough in the way of food markets to sustain us for a stay. If you are coming from Corvara or LaVilla, take the left off of the first traffic circle into the center on the hotel route to find the food. If you are coming from Cortina, take a right to Str. Plan instead of doing the steeper downhill on the overpass near the ski lift to find the center, which can be spotted by the steeple on the small church. There is a bakery in the center for bread and a small but well stocked A&O "alimentari" with an assortment of fresh produce, pasta, pesto sauces, and low-pershiability bread--all things we look for. This market is well hidden: look for the brown and yellow "Supermercato" sign, take the steep driveway downhill, enter the indoor mall door to your right, and wind your way towards the back and to the left looking for the A&O sign. This alimentari plus several other small specialty markets have meats and cheeses. There is also an ATM, a tourist info office, and a museum on the Ladin culture to round out the tourist experience. The tourist office considers the Sport Tony market in LaVilla their real market. The bakery and A&O are open 7 days a week in the summer. This detour through town is definitely the way to go if you are heading towards Cortina even if you don't need to shop because it has less traffic, less steep grades, and places to catch your breath on the way.
    The Sport Kostner is your main choice for supermarket food shopping in Corvara, which is at the top of the shopping district by the main bus stop. It's similar to Cortina's and LaVilla's main markets, with good selection of food at high prices.
    Araba finally has a decent market "Anny Market" in the basement across from tourist info and the nearby Papaya fruit market.
    The larger grocery store Canazei is hard to find. Locate the tourist info office uphill of one of the main intersections, near the larger bus stop on the main road through town, Streda de Pareda. The Famiglia Cooperativa is uphill on the same side of the street as the tourist info. Go all the way uphill to the next cross street to find the store entrance on your left. In 2008 market was painted light blue and was open 7 days a week but closed Sunday afternoons.
    As you approach Moena from the lower valley (heading towards Canazei) there is an EuroSpin and another large supermarket almost side by side on your left before you enter the village proper. There is also a hard-to-spot, more expensive market in the center of town near the tourist info office. Moena is where we buy our 13€ Marsupio brand backpacks each year. We buy them at a shoe shop that has backpacks on display around their front door. If you are facing upstream with tourist info at your back, cross the stream on your right and the next parallel road, then look for the shop on the right side of the street before it curves uphill to the left.  
Bolzano (Bozen) Area (2009, 2010, 2011)
    There is a large Despar in the basement of a modern building at the lower end of the old town near tourist info--it closes for lunch.
    A EuroSpin finally opened on the ground floor near the Funivia del Renon/Rittner Seilbahn on the rail track side, which is a short walk east of the Bolzano main train station.  By the way, loaded bikes are welcome on the funivia which takes you up almost 1000 meters above the valley floor to Soprabolzano and gives your stunning views of the Dolomites along the way. www.bolzano-bozen.it.
    About 6km east of Bolzano on the Bolzano-Brixen bike route that parallels the A22 and E45 heading north and the Isarco river, there is a Europspin at Prato all 'Isarco/Blumau. It's on the east side of the main road at a difficult intersection/hill/curve and where the new bike path jogs into town and on the sidewalk for a very short distance before retreating back closer to the river. The only entrance to the store is through the parking lot. Eurospins generally close for lunch and usually are closed on Sundays.
    There is a Lidl just outside the city limits at the south end of Bolzano "Bolzano Sud", about a 15 minute walk from the Sheraton. By bike, follow the directions above under "Favorite Towns & Places to Stay Bolzano" to the Sheraton. Continue south on the Via Buozzi to Via Einstein and turn left onto Einstein. Take the bike path/sidewalk to the left of the tunnel under the train tracks and turn left again on Via Masso della Pieve/Pfarrhofstr. It's a short distance north on Pieve and the Lidl will be on your left. There is bike path the entire way from the center. There is also bus service on Pieve.

    You'll have to tell us as we are exclusively "self-catering", both for waist-line and budget priorities.

If You Know To Ask.....
    St Christina: there is a free shuttle bus to haul hikers up the very steep slope from the main intersection in the center of town to the cable car station, Col Raiser. In the summer of 2008 the shuttle ran from 9am til noon and was ready to give you a ride downhill for a fee in the afternoons. Also pick-up the "Cartina Escursionistica Parco Naturale Puez-Odle at the Col Raiser cashier's window at the bottom or at the gift shop at the top of the lift for an excellent free map of the valley hiking trails and refugio's or huts. This great map helps one orient and plan outings.
    Selva: In 2008 I was told "No" when I asked for a free hiking map of the area. Instead, ask for the town map that has no special title that is kept behind the counter. One side is a drawing of the main streets and local trails; the flip side is an exceptionally useful Google-earth type map with the local roads and trails drawn in. I found this much more useful than a standard topographic map for planning and orienting on my 2-3 hour walks along the valley and up the faces of Selva.
    Taxi Service: there is at least 1serving Val d'Gardena, though we haven't used it, Tel: Autosella 0471-790033. In 2008 the price for a ride from Selva to Ortisei, about 6 miles, was about 19€, which took my breath away. A ride from Selva to Passo Pordoi was 26€. At those prices we decided that we'd make the limited fall bus schedule work for us.
    Val Gardena Mobile Guide is a multilingual booklet with the summer schedules for the buses and cable cars.

Rosengarten Area

    The road from Costalunga (Karer in German) Pass and to Ortisei (St Ulrich in German) via Castelrotto (Kastelruth in German) should only be done beginning at Costalunga (as in coming from Vigo) because of the very steep grades around Tires (Tiers in German). It was posted as 20% immediately above Tiers but it was quite steep well before the sign and below Tires also and these steep stretches were not short but protracted. It would be a miserable route up from Bolzano--don't do it loaded. The young buff cyclists with backpacks that we saw doing it looked like dead meat about 5pm above Tires.

Rooms at the 3-star Hotel Vajolet could be spare.

   For hiking, the best bet is to stay at Tires/Tiers as there isn't much in the way of food markets higher up--just isolated hotels around the lifts between the 2 passes. We stayed at the 3 star Hotel Vajolet for 72€ for 2 with a hearty German breakfast. Balconies add 10€ more to the daily rate and high season adds a bit more. The rooms were a bit tired but quite serviceable and the size of the rooms varies a lot. A good German breakfast without the German good cheer from the staff. Bikes spend the night in a locked garage. www.hotel-vajolet.it; Tel: 0471 642 139.
    Next time through Tiers we'll stay at the 2 star Gasthof/Albergo Rose; its summer rates for 2 ranging between 52-66€. Near the Hotel Vajolet and on the same side of the road, it's below the supermarket whereas the Vajolet is uphill from the market. The Vajolet has more extras that we didn't use, like a tiny swimming pool occupied with children, a foosball machine, and spa facilities that come with an extra fee. But the room we saw at the Rose was larger and almost as nice as those as the Vajolet for 20€ less in high season. All the rooms at the Rose have balconies, though ask for one on the sunny side. They also have a drying room "stenditoio per viandanti e biker" Via S. Giorgio, 130; Tel: +39 0471 640045; www.gasthof-rose.it .
    Check-out www.tiers.it for the local tourist info for other lodging options. Unless you have a car, be meticulous when making reservations so that you know where your pick is located as the Tiers directory covers abodes spread out for miles. The directory prices are usually listed 'per person/double occupancy' so double the price for the rate for 2. Tiers has a very well stocked Despar supermarket with adjacent sporting goods store, both of which are closed on Sundays.  There are 2 mini-markets and a bakery as well. www.market-pircher.it for the Despar. 
    The SAD bus #185 makes 3 trips in the morning up to Costalunga from Bolzano and 2 trips down in the afternoon for hiking. (The first bus leaves Bolzano at 7:30 am and arrives in Tiers about 8:09am in 2009). The schedules are posted on most of the roadside stops and the Tiers tourist info has the schedule too. The summer schedule runs from June 20 until September 16 in 2009. We thought the lift just above Pass Niger at Laurin Gondellift www.carezzaski.it would be the best bet for hiking. For more info about the area try www.rosengarten-latemar.com.

Road Closures & Bike Events
    The first Sunday in July is the date for the annual Dolomites bike race, the Maratona dles Dolomites, that starts west of Cortina and closes many roads in the area for hours. You can find out either how to avoid it or join it at www.maratona.it. The advance-registered, fee-paying, 8,000 riders choose between 3 different courses, with the longest being 91 miles an accumulating over 14,000' in elevation gain (the amount of gain we might do in a week).
    Sunday, July 16, 2006 was the first "Sella Ronda Bike Day" (July 8, 2007; July12, 2009, June 27, 2010, July 3, 2011), which was a free, free-for-all of cyclists riding all or part of the 34 miles (55km) around the very grand Sella Group mountain. Bill estimated that the full course, which included 4 passes (Passo Sella, Passo Gardena, Passo Campolongo & Passo Pordoi), would involve about 6500' in elevation gain. In 2007, the roads were closed to motor traffic from 10am until 3 pm (in 2009 it was 8:30-3:30 & in 2010, 8:30-3:30), though many cyclists were on the roads much earlier and much later. It provided a delightful opportunity for anyone who showed up to ride some beautiful roads without the deafening roar of motorcycles or vying for asphalt space on the tight curves with cars and buses. I talked to one man who came from Berlin for the event and noticed a number of team jerseys from Germany and Switzerland on the road.  www.sellarondabikeday.com or www.infodolomiti.it. You could also email tourist info in Arabba at arabba@infodolomiti.it to ask more about it.
    From 2006 to 2009 we happily rode over only 2 of the 4 passes though in 2009 there were so many riders that riding up and then down a pass rather than continuing on to the next was dangerous. We attempted our 'out & back' strategy again in 2010 and bailed on #2 'cause it was too dangerous going 'up stream.' We later learned that in 2006 there were 1,000 riders; in 2010 it had grown to 18,000 riders. Instead of riding the second pass, we spent hours back in our Selva apartment strategizing as to how we could ride clockwise as prescribed in 2011without doing all 4 passes which was too much gain for us. We finally learned that there are unadvertised 'sweep' buses that take off from each of the major points on the route as soon as the road opens at 3:30. Apparently standing at any signed bus stop, restaurant, hut, or major junction and flagging the bus will get you a ride back to your chosen point on the loop. We'll clarify this in 2011 the Saturday before the event but it looks like the only option as none of the regular buses operate in the passes that day and taxi's here are $$$. We rode all 4 passes in 2011 though only planned to ride 3. Mysteriously the sweep buses didn't operate from Corvara to Selva, so we dragged ourselves over Passo Gardena on our bikes--ugh. I emailed the event organizers and they promised to do better in 2012. Contrary to what the tourist info folks tell you, you can only pick-up the sweep buses from 3 or 4 villages.
    Also note that when you are looking at the transportation schedules "feriale" is workdays and is generally Monday through Saturday in Italy and it also noted by the symbol of 2 crossed hammers.  "Giorni festivi" is usually Sundays and holidays and is symbolized with a "+" on transportation schedules.
    A mid-September version of the Sella Ronda became available, I believe in 2011. Be forewarned that the weather can be unpredictable in the mountains and so be prepared for cold weather. We've been snowed on in the Dolomites in each of the summer months.

Rifugio/Hütte/Mountain Hut Stays (2009)

  In 2009 we finally had a chance to spend 2 nights in a mountain hut for hikers, the Rifugio Firenze or Regensburgerhütte, depending upon whether you prefer the Italian or German name. It's a short walk from the Col Reiser cable car above St. Christina in Val Gardena or a 1-2 hour walk from Selva. Hardly deep in the mountains, its proximity to the peaks does give one that extra time needed for doing the Sass Rigais Via Ferrata or to connect the dots on a week-long hike.

One of the 11-person dorm rooms.

    Staying in the hut turned out to be very expensive. We requested one of the few private rooms, not so much for the privacy but more for the personal space.  The dorms were sardine-like, with little hope of even hanging your socks out to air or doing your morning stretches.
    The dorms on our floor lodged 11 or 18 people. The private room was thin-walled, very spare, and ran 60€ or $85 a night for 2. Hotel and apartment prices with youth hostel quality. The private room had no private bath and the 2 toilets and 1 shower on our floor were shared by about 30 people.

     By the time you added in the cold buffet breakfast and the fixed menu dinner, it was about $150 per night for the 2 of us. Staying in the dorm would have the price for 2 just over $100.  We usually prepare our own meals and often keep our daily food and lodging expenses under $100 with very comfortable accommodations and a private bath. But this was about location, not comfort. One of our lessons learned was that rifugio stays may be meager but they aren't for the budget-tourist.

    That being said, Rifugio Firenze is probably a top-end hut. There were small electric heaters available in the rooms for summer use (it was snowing the day we arrived--in July) and a central heating system that is presumably used in the winter. There were hot water showers and hot water at the sinks. The all-you-can-eat breakfast was ample. The fixed dinner was tasty and filling.

    We spoke with a British couple on Day 7 of their 12 day hut-to-hut vacation and they'd had showers available 4 nights. Their eyes bugged out at the simple salad with Iceberg lettuce and small slices of beets and tomatoes with dinner--we guessed that it was their first vegetables in a week. They also commented that breakfast at some huts was 1 roll and a small wedge of cheese. They said all of the huts had had heating but since it was sometimes from a wood stove, it may not have extended to the sleeping rooms.

    Many hut guests carry a sleeping bag but bringing your own sheet-sleeping bag as used in hostels is a good compromise as I believe all of the huts provide or rent blankets. Also bring your own towel, lunches, and snacks. Anticipating the rifugio menu would be short on produce, we brought a cabbage to split  between the 2 nights as raw finger-food, carrots, and apples--and were glad we did.

Restored WWI bunker at Lagazuoi.

History Buff Opportunity
A new open air 'museum' of WWI trenches and tunnels is available at Lagazuoi, which is above Passo Falzarego, and Cinque Torri. They are accessible by ski lifts for which a combined and discounted ticket for 16€ is available. We made it an all day affair leaving Cortina d'Ampezzo by public bus at 8:40 am, hopping off at Cinque Torri for a couple of hours, then picking up the bus that left Cortina around noon to cover the 3.5km up to Passo Falzarego. We took the 5:05pm bus back to Cortina from the Pass.
    The required though not enforced helmets, flashlights and boots are good advise for Lagazuoi, which we complied with. Helmets with or without headlamps and flashlights can be rented in any combination for 3€ to 10€ before you board the cable car for Lagazuoi. (We used our bike helmets and lights.) The maps for the tunnels on Lagazuoi were terrible and most of the time we didn't have clue where we were. But we, like everyone else, somehow managed to find our way around. The tunnel route was quite strenuous with around 1000' of elevation drop done, mostly inside unlit, damp, steep tunnels. The steps were highly irregular and our legs got quite a pounding with the uneven and often giant-sized steps required of us. We considered it a good workout and not the "easy" walk it is rated to be. www.grandeguerra.dolomiti.org, www.lagazuoi5torri.dolomiti.org.

Bike Shops
(2012) PARIGI MARCO MOUNTAIN BIKE SPORT SERVICE, VIA PEDETLIVA 36 - ORTISEI - BZ, Tel: 0471796443 - Fax: 0471796443. We hope to use this bike shop the next time we need service instead of a shop in Bolzano.
    (2012) Revelo, Via Renon 45, Bolzano I-39100, Italy, +39 340 8916561.  Alex the mechanic speaks excellent English.  We had Barb's bike rebuilt here in 2012 and were satisfied with the job.

If you are considering a trip to this region, here are some websites and key words for online research of the details:
-Trentino Trasporti running buses from June 19 -September 10, 2005 in the Canazei area.
-www.dolomitibus.it operating buses from June 23 -September 11, 2005 in the Cortinia & Passo Falzarego, Passo Giau and Tre Cime area. I noticed one special route between  Cortina and 5 local passes and back to Cortina only operating from July 6 to September 7, 2005. It was labeled "Cortina-Cinque Passi-Cortina" and would make a spectacular 8 hour day with a 2 hour layover at the magnificent Passo Pordoi (enough time to ride the cable car up higher) and shorter stops at the other passes.
-www.sii.bz.it is Sistema Trasporto Integrato's bus schedules that link Bolzano, Innsbruck, Cortina and Dobbiaco with each other and for Alto Adige in general.
-www.atesina.it is another major transportation company in the area.
-www.trentino.to is the site for the regional tourist board for Trentino with local info, including about the mountain huts.
-I also saw a bus on the road providing airport shuttle service between Venice and the Dolomites. There was no website on the bus signage but I believe its name was "Dolomite Stars". In 2008 I found nothing when I looked for more information about this service.
-In 2008 there was a bus that ran on Saturdays from Munich to Val Gardena and back: or in German: München-Grödnertal. It's about a 4 hour journey and was about 40€ 1 way or 80€ roundtrip. I didn't see a website but instead a phone number in Hamburg, Germany for the travel agent: Reisebüro Roth, Tel: 040/72 16 063. Outside of Germany add the country code 0049 and probably drop the '0' before '40'. From the US it would probably be: 011 49 40/72 16 063.
General Websites:  
www.infodolomiti.it and www.valgardena.it. This Val Gardena site is excellent. It has information about flying into the regional airports, local weather forecasts, and very friendly lodging information section.
www.altabadia.org is the next valley over from Val Gardena via Passo Gardena and includes Corvara.
www.fassa.com is the site for Val di Fassa, including Canazei and Moena, both places we've stayed.

www.visitfiemme.it  covers Val di Fiemme on the approach to the Dolomites; Cavalese is one of the major towns.
www.tourism.verona.it, www.laprovinciadascoprire.it, www.provincia.verona.it may be useful if you are approaching the Dolomites from the direction of Verona or along Lago di Garda (Lake Garda).

For the Belluno Province area that includes Cortina: www.dolomiti.org, www.infodolomiti.it, www.belledolomiti.it.
www.3bmeteo.com is an excellent weather website we discovered in 2011. In Italian only, but you can bungle along and get what you need. Note the "ora per ora" option on the upper left, which gives you the hour by hour forecast. It is very specific, including millimeters of rain during each hour period.

Via Ferrata
    We did our first 2 Via Ferrata experiences in the Dolomites in small groups with a guide in 2006. Our first was a sterling success and we'd highly recommend our guide: Manfred Stuffer, manfred.stuffer@dnet.it; Scuola di Alpinismo Catores in Ortisei/St Ulrich, www.catores.com.
    Our second experience in Cortina d'Ampezzo couldn't have been more different. Should we use the alpine school guides there again, we will avoid Paolo and Marco Da Pozzo. Paolo speaks a little English and was our guide, though Marco was in ear shot for part of our outing with a group of Italian and German speakers. Their people and group management skills were poor and Marco's haranguing of a slow group of independent hikers seemed unforgivable and certainly diminished our experience. They may be talented climbers but failed to demonstrate the skill set needed for guiding beginners through a rewarding early experience. www.guidecortina.com.
    Guides out of Corvara also offer similar outings: guide.valbadia@rolmail.net as do ones in San Cassiano: www.scuolalpinismo.it
    We strongly recommend going out with a guide for your first Via Ferrata unless you are an experienced climber and also read-up on the use of the special equipment. The guide ties you in so that if you blunder while getting your technique down you won't be risking your life. A guide will also explain how to use the equipment, teach you the local etiquette, and drive you to the starting point.
    In order to get the group discount vs a private outing, plan on spending 3-4 days in a town with a guide office. Most offices are open from about 5:30-7pm. Show-up at the office one evening, tell them your level of experience and your level of fitness and that you want a Via Ferrata training outing. They'll show you their upcoming schedule of suitable trips and what they'd recommend for you. You leave your hotel or cell phone number or check back each day about 5:30 so see if they are getting enough people for a group.
    Once you've received the training, you can go out on your own. K2 Sport Cortina SRL rents Via Ferrata kits (helmet, harness, carabineer set) for 13€ per day (2006). It's best to reserve your kit 1 or more days in advance. They can be found at Via Cesare Battisti 2, a block down hill from Cortina d'Ampezzo's main pedestrian street. k2sport@k2sport.com; www.k2sport.com; Tel: 0039 0436 863706.
    In Corvara you can rent a via ferrata set for 10€/day at Sport Kostner upstairs from the grocery store at the main bus stop at the top of the village's commercial corner. They are also ready to make repairs to telescoping walking sticks.
    In 2011 we noticed that Sport Sumondo in Arabba also rents Via Ferrata sets. They are on Via Boe #26: uphill on the right side of the main street but still in the center.
    If you haven't already, a little experience on a rock climbing wall at home would be excellent preparation for doing Via Ferrata.
    For self-guided tours Bill has been very happy with the in-English Via Ferratas of the Italian Dolomites: Vol. 1, a Cicerone Guide by John Smith and Graham Fletcher, 2004. He bought it in Cortina in the Dolomites. www.cicerone.co.uk.
     We highly recommend using gloves on the Via Ferrata's to protect your hands from the wire and the rocks. We bought soft leather work gloves without finger tips for about $3.50 at a worker's safety supply (Portland, Oregon: Sanderson's Safety in the SE Industrial District) and love them. The previous year we cut the tips off of other leather work gloves and couldn't keep the threads from unraveling. Bike gloves are too short in the fingers, as are some Via Ferrata gloves. When curling your fingers the leather should still protect all of the finger joints with just the finger tips exposed.

Tips for Hiking in the Dolomites
    99% of the hikers wear sturdy boots whereas Bill and a few others wear "approach shoes" or sturdy, low-cut outdoor shoes. My long list of foot problems make any shoe or boot painful to wear so I happily trod about in my Chaco sandals, even on the Via Ferratas. So, wear what you think is proper and you'll be convinced that it is. Just be aware that heavy, stiff boots can limit your ankle flexibility which can be fatiguing and will slow you down on the often very steep slopes.
Trekking Poles
    We consider trekking poles a "must" in the Dolomites as we didn't grow-up scrambling on the loose rock. They aren't necessary going uphill but feel like a life-saver over and over again on the many very steep descents. We share a pair and only use a single pole each. Rarely do we wish we each had a pair and very often we are glad we only have 1 pole. Often on the steep grades it's better to have the pole planted out in front to stabilize your position as you use the other free hand on a nearby rock. Buy Leki's because they last and you can buy replacement parts in the US and in Europe. Buy telescoping poles to make the 1-2' length adjustments needed for going uphill vs downhill and for stowing on your pack (or bike).
    We use cheap and compact packs with no frills and do fine. We do add some extras to them, like bungee to hold our poles when not in use and chest straps to hold them in place, both of which are big helps on Via Ferratas. We toss our Dromedary bags with drink tubes (like Camelbacks) in the bottoms of the packs and run the tubes out through the zipper.
    We've discovered that having flat soled footwear like my Chaco sandals are superior for going up the steepest grades as they maximize the contact area. We've both learned to do a strong foot-plant with a flat sole rather than the tempting dig-in with the ball of the foot. Using a strong flexion of the ankle to make that full sole contact gives one amazing gripping power.
    I have a tendency to shift too much weight onto my heels when walking and this habit is disastrous on steep descents. I'm still repatterning my stance but at least I now know what works. If you are slipping and sliding on your heels like me, tip far forward at the hip joint like you are going to do a face plant, stick out your rear end, arch your low back, lift your breast bone, draw your chin in and back, keep your shoulders down and back, widen your feet, and shift into controlled falling as you quickly trot down the path with your pole in front of you. I find that a staccato-like tempo with my feet is best. Like on the uphill, fully plant a flat foot firmly on the slope to maximize the contact area. It takes some practice, but it works for me.
    Speed is important in the Dolomites if you are going to get back to the cable car or bus before they stop running for the night. We discovered that our hiking speed was way-too slow and it's taken 3 years in the mountains to rev up enough to complete the routes in the predicted times. So, before going out on a long outing, do some shorter ones to see if your tempo agrees with that in your book or on the sign post. Because of the variable footing and grades, routes are usually rated by time, not distance.
    The steepness of the slopes to the best Dolomite viewpoints means using different muscles than in ordinary walking. If you tend to have tight calf muscles, start stretching them out weeks before you arrive. Consider training on stairs to get your CV conditioning ready for the additional challenges of the altitude. And, with caution and the help of a hand rail, experiment with doing stairs 2-at-a-time, both up and down. The  2-at-a-time up will strengthen your legs in the broader range of motion that you'll need and the 2-at-a-time down will both get your body accustomed to the pounding it will experience and toughen up the tissues supporting the knee joint. Start out very gradually with the 2-at-a-time down so as not to injury your knees.
Other Gear
    We always carry on raingear and warm clothes on hikes in the Dolomites because of the risk of big temperature drops with afternoon thunderstorms. We also benefit from carrying our altimeter on the hikes. It's a big help in planning the next outing to know how much 'up' and how much 'down' you can do without getting pooped. I find that if I haven't been hiking that 400+ meters up and down is enough to make me stiff and uncomfortable. After reconditioning to hiking, I'm easily good for 1000m+. (As cyclotourists that do steep grades on the bikes to get to the Dolomites, we find that we are in good condition for hiking uphill but not for the descents.)

"ExtremeWaves" for Non-Biking Adventures
    We had a wonderful experience with Extreme Waves, a sports adventure company in the small Val di Sole town of Mestriago along the Torrente Noce (river) east of Passo Tonale. Water sports are their forte, with rafting, hydrospeeding, canyoning and other imaginative activities being available. We however were interested in the non-water sports as prep work for dabbling in "Via Ferrata" trails, which are Alpine hiking routes with steels wires that you clamp onto with carabineers. Bill was a bit skittish about heights, so their aerial rope course seemed like an incremental way to diminish that fear.

Walter, our guide, lowering Bill down the ravine.

    We did 3 of their non-water activities in 24 hours. The afternoon we arrived back in Mestriago, we took a tour of the 4m high course. The next morning we did the10-11m course. Neither of us were bothered by the additional height, but the obstacles were significantly more challenging and by the time we completed it our arms were exhausted from the strength work required. The modest charges for these activities and use of the safety equipment were 10€ and 15€ respectively. On the second afternoon we went on their "Tarzaning" course with an alpine guide, which was 52€ each. It is an applied version of the rope course down a narrow dolomite river canyon though overall it was much less demanding of skills and strength than the high rope course.
    Discounts are sometimes available for the Tarzaning, but not for us because there were only 2 of us. We were content to miss the discount for the opportunity to have the guide all to ourselves. Walter, from Argentina, spoke great English and gave us his undivided attention. On the hike up to the starting point, he filled the time with information about the geology and forests in the area. And on the way down the canyon, he made facing the challenges of the course fun and exciting.
    We happily would have paid for a Via Ferrata experience with Extreme Waves, though the usual 65€ price per person would have skyrocketed to a total of 300€ because of our group-of-2 size. We bid adieu at that point to Extremes Waves (and their pet goose), fully satisfied with the skill and confidence building from our 3 activities. (www.extremewaves.it).
    There are many, many rafting companies in Val di Sole and adjacent valleys and we cannot speak to how Extreme Waves compares for water sports, but we found them to be superb for the land activities we did through them. We liked their professionalism, their customer service orientation, and the completeness of their programs. Many of their staff spoke English. We were able to borrow boots from them for the Tarzaning and they even found us inexpensive lodging. We didn't want breakfast or any other meals included, so they recommended a rooms-only place that was a 10 minute walk away for an amazing 15€ per person per night. The room was small, but the bed was great and we had a private bath. Three star amenities like a phone, TV (Italian only) and hair dryer were included. Our balcony with chairs and geraniums had a terrific view of the valley. (Ospitalitŕ, village of Almazzago minutes from Mestriago, Tel. within Italy: 0463-974296.) We have frequently paid double the price and gotten less for it. We left as extremely satisfied customers.

Entry/Exit Routes
   We've entered and exited the Dolomites from a number of directions, with going through Dobbiaco on the way to Austria being one of our favorites because of the wonderful bike paths and scenery. Nice lodging can be found on the Austrian bike routes for about half the price in the Dolomites.
   Coming up from Trento via Modena and Canazei is one of the best entry routes from the west. Bike paths are under development as soon as you enter Trentino.  Active work on the route is going on below Modena too.   
    Each time we ride in or out of Bolzano (a bike-friendly city) more of the Bolzano-Brixen bike route is done. In 2009 I picked up a free route map at the Bolzano tourist office called "Ciclabile culturale lungo l'Isarco" (Isarco is the Italian name of the river the path follows.) www.eisacktal.info was on the front of the brochure/map with "Eisack" being the German name for the river.
    If you are heading into or out of the mountains via Misurina and Cortina and will go through Auronzo, there is an old road that bypasses the long Comélico tunnel. We've never passed through tunnel and no one recommends it for bikes but we've taken the closed, old road twice.
    If you need to ask for the tunnel bypass, try "strada vecchia" (straw'-dah vek key'-ah) for "old road." It's closed and in disrepair but is a good 5 km bypass for bikes--at least for a few more years. Don't take this road in the dark as there are several wide, bottomless holes; be cautious in a downpour as the falling rock hazard is no longer being controlled.

The tunnel bypass road is on the left at the Santo Stéfano end.

    Finding the bypass road is easy coming from Santo Stéfano as the road is adjacent to the tunnel entrance on the left. Unfortunately we didn't think to photo the access road on the Auronzo side, which is harder to find. Very roughly, about 5 km out of the center of long, skinny Auronzo you will come to the city limits sign for Cima Gogna. Stop at the new restaurant/wine bar on your right, shortly after the city limits sign. Look back over your left shoulder to the intersecting road on the left that goes slightly uphill--that's your road. You should soon come to a barricade that you can walk your bike around on the right. You'll immediately know you are on a "strada vecchia" and in a couple of minutes you'll be enjoying lovely gorge views--do watch out for the massive holes however.
    This route through St Stéfano is better as an exit route than entry route as there is a long stretch of posted 15% grades as you approach Sappada from the east. It is however a beautiful ride from St Stéfano heading east to Tolmezzo towards Slovenia.
    Unexpectedly, Tolmezzo has a fantastic tourist info office for the region. Almost impossible to see, it is tucked away on the Plaza XX Septembre, next to the bar with a large sidewalk cafe area. They have separate booklets for hotels and B&B's; city maps and info brochures for Udine, Trieste, and other cities; and some biking info--much of it in English.
    We stayed in the 1 or 3 star, depending on what you read, Hotel La Rosa and don't recommend it. It is easy to find when tourist info is closed as it was when we arrived. Someone on the street said "1 km out of town on the road to Austria by the Despar Supermarket" and indeed we went right to it. We were grateful for that but the too cheap mattress and dimly lit room don't make us want to go back. Tolmezzo's tourist info later recommended Al Benvenuto on Via Grialba, #9, Tel: 0433 2990 or 338 5087690. From tourist info, take via Roma to Plaza Mazzini, continue on to Plaza Domenico da Tolmezzo, straight on to via G. Marchi, which becomes via Grialba.
    Next time through Tolmezzo, we may try the B&B Il Cardo, which is near the La Rosa and Despar supermarket on Via Somma, #5 off of Paluzza; Tel: 0433 43902 or 347 3912175. It's listed as an apartment that can sleep up to 5 or 6.

Val di Cembra on the way to Valli di Fiemme.
Cembra makes a good over night stop along the way. Hotel al Caminetto a block off the main road on the river side of town was 70€ for 2 in June 2009 with a typically Spartan Italian breakfast. No English on the TV, no frig, but the water's hot and the bed is good. Via Cesare Battisti, 7; Tel: 0461 68 30 07 or 0461 68 08 71; www.hotel-alcaminetto.it.  The bikes spend the night in the basement garage which isn't locked but it doesn't seem to matter. The Conad supermarket is about 2 blocks from the hotel a block lower towards the river. It's very well stocked but closes Monday and Wednesday afternoons, Sundays, and other days for lunch. If you are heading towards Moena the next morning, there are other markets on the road.


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