July 30, 2010

Dolomites, lake Garda and Bergamo

A road trip on narrow, steep roads; hiking in the Dolomites; boatrides on lake Garda and shopping in Bergamo.

This trip was for one week, at the end of June 2010.
We arrived in Malpensa airport (north-west of Milan). We rented a car, drove the highway, past Milan, and spent the first night north-west of Bergamo, in a village called Villa d'Alme - the hotel was cheap - but nothing else worth mentioning about Hotel Ventelosa

Day 2 - Long drive - amazing views
This day we drove from Bergamo to Castelrotto in the Dolomites (near Bolzano). This is a long drive, but not to be missed, for its drama and scenery. Very curvy and narrow roads up the mountain - reaching the pass - than the same thing down to the next valley. Amazing views.
We started off from Villa d'Alme through Zogno and Altre il Colle
 Right after Altre il Colle we stoped for coffee and breathtaking views at the village Zambla Alta. It was Sunday morning and the church bells were ringing from every village.

We drove on through Ponte Nossa, Rovetta to Castione della Prestolana and to Azzone.

We stopped for lunch at Cafe del Moro in Colere (near Azzone) where we all agreed we ate the best home made "tortelloni con ricotta and sage" ever! (On the restaurant wall was a picture of Norwegian skier Lasse Kjus photographed with the restaurant owner's son, along with photos of other ski and cycling stars).
We drove on, passed Paisco Loveno, than onto SS42. We followed this road through Malonno to Edolo to Ponte di Legno (we took a short break in this very touristy, but pittoresc little town) then drove through Ossana, Cavizzana and Cles.

Photos taken from the window while driving the extremely narrow road up to the pass at 1800 m (passo del Tonale?):
  From Cles we followed the signs to highway A22 towards the Brenner pass.
We drove A22 untill the Bolzano exit, from where we drove on to Castelrotto.

Day 3 - hiking the Dolomites
In Castelrotto we had booked (by e-mail) the Bed and Breakfast, Haus Silbernagl, after reading great reviews on Trip Advisor:
Haus Silbernagl

We stayed here for two nights, and enjoyed very nice rooms with balconies and amazing views of Alpi di Siussi. Haus Silbernagl is in the center of Castelrotto, it's inexpensive, and the service is great. They don't take credit cards, but there's an ATM close by.

Castelrotto is a small mountain village, although its in Italy, it feels very Austrian, and people mostly speak German. There's a few shops (with hiking gear) and restaurants (no one that I can recommend). When we were there it was kind of quiet but it's probably more lively during the winter and in August.

On the day of our big hike we woke up in bright sunshine. The lady who runs Haus Silbernagl adviced us on a great hiking route.

AK enjoying the Dolomites

From Castelrotto we took the bus a short ride to the next town, Siussi, from where we took two different lifts (a gondola and a chair lift, I think) before ending up at 1200 m. At this point, we realised it was already time for lunch and filled up on food and wine.

The view at lunch was "spectacolare".

The Dolomites are breathtakingly beatyful. Describing it would just be a load of cliches. I'll let the photos speak instead.


We passed cows, horses and goats.

"This is scarier than passing the horses," said AK, at the sight of the big crowd on our narrow path.

Day 4 and 5 - Lake Garda
We kick-started the morning by running, short of breath in the thin air, in the hills above Castelrotto, before breakfast in the small Tyrolean breakfast room at Haus Silbernagl.
On the road again. We took the highway, which goes fast, once you reach the entrance, and arrived for lunch at the piazza/harbour in Riva del Garda at the northern tip of lake Garda.
The Riva del Garda harbour and piazza. Hotel Europa is the light blue building to the left. The Bastione is in the hills above.   

Our hotel in Riva Best Western Hotel Europa was in the middle of everything, facing the grande harbour with its restaurants, bars and cafes.

Except for our room being plain and small, everything else about this hotel was great. There's a roof terrace with sunbeds and a small pool. A really sweet and service minded guy is in charge of the breakfast, in a nice dining room with a veranda, from where you can watch the lively piazza. (I booked the hotel through booking.com).

Riva del Garda piazza and harbour

We started the next morning with a run - through the piazza, then along the lake side and to the beaches (east bound).

Lake Garda is best seen from the water, and opposite the hotel was the ferry dock where boats depart for the different towns along lake Garda. We bought a round-trip ticket and spent the day going by boat to Malcesine, via Limone sul Garda, and on the way back via Torbole. The latter is full of windsurfers and kiters, and the ferry man's manouvre in between the sailers was impressive.


The lake towns are beautiful, as shown in the photos, with the steep mountains surrounding them. But crowded with tourists, which when we were there were mostly coupples at an avarage age of 50+.

Before dinner we worked up an apetite by climbing the path, starting at the back of our hotel, and ending up at the old tower, Bastione. Experiencing another stunning view.

The Bastione

Day 6 - driving along the eastern shore of lake Garda to Sirmione
This morning's run was a treat: Turning west from the hotel is the start of the former, stony road from Riva to Limone. It's carved into the mountain alongside the lake shore. Curvy and steep, never meant for cars. If we had more time, we would have spent the day cycling or walking all the way to Limone and back.

But we had other plans, so we packed up and drove south along lake Garda. We stopped for ice cream and window shopping in Torri, a relaxing and very nice seaside town.

We drove on to Punta where we stopped at the most famous luxurious hotel along lake Garda. It's in an old beautiful building, but we agreed that it wasn't really worth the detour (unless you're one of the rich and famous people staying there.)

For lunch, we stopped in the old walled town Lazise, and ate at Ristorante Marconi. The "gnocchi con Gorgonzola" was multo buono.

The south of lake Garda is plainer and flatter, and it seemed more commercial, as this is where you find the Gardaland and other amusement parks.

Our last stop was Sirmione. It is extremely busy with tourists - for a reason. The old town is on small peninsula pointing out from the southern shore of the lake. It has drawn famous tourists through centuries through its narrow street and 13th-century castle.

At the Sirmione entrance

Regrettably, we spent the next night in a hotel in the suburb of Bergamo. Next time we will stay in Bergamo centro.

Day 7 - Bergamo
Our last day we drove to Bergamo and spent the day shopping, and wandering around the old city. The town is split in two - a lower commercial center, and the historical hill town, Alta Citta, easiest reached by a funicular. The main shopping area has a good selection of shops, and the old city is a charming medieavel town with cobbled streets and nice restaurants.

We spent the night in Bergamo, staying at the Best Western Premier Cappello D'Oro, right by the shopping area. We can recommend this hotel, which had nice rooms, great service and a very good breakfast buffet.

The next day we drove to Milan airport and flew back home.

We have been driving around Italy on several occasions but this was our first trip with a GPS, it turned out to be of huge advantage and eliminated a lot of fights we've had in the past when trying to get around.