When we were planning out driving trip through Northern Italy, we had a ton of people tell us we needed to see the Dolomites. We didn't exactly understand why - I mean, we were already driving through the Alps to get to Italy, what's the big deal? It's just more mountains. Well, as it turns out, they are beautiful. Think South Dakota Badlands mixed with Austrian Alps. Kind of weird to think about, but that's honestly the best way to describe them.
Our road trip started off with us driving from Mannheim to Innsbruck, Austria where we spent our first night. We stayed in a little village just outside that's probably bustling with skiers in the winter, and hikers in the summer. The views were amazing and there was a pretty fantastic storm that night. We were treated to views of the Alps lit up by lightening (and it made me glad we were not on top of a mountain that night, but rather in a valley). We've seen our fair share of storms, but watching lightening crack across the sky and strike the mountain tops is unlike any storm we have ever seen before. I dare say it was magical. And now for photographic evidence.
The next day we continued on to the Dolomites. These mountains are located on the Italian side of the South Tyrol region. Doesn't that sound like a place straight out of Game of Thrones? No? Just me? Anyway, there is a stretch of road running between Bolzano to the east and Cortina d’Ampezzo to the west, called the Great Dolomite Road. I made sure to work this in to our itinerary as it promised the best views in the Dolomites. Spoiler: it does. Reaching elevations up to 3000 meters (9800 feet) with hundreds of switchbacks and hair pin turns, the drive itself is an adventure. But with every turn there is a new and stunning view. We stopped for lunch at a small cafe and Gasthaus.
South Tyrol is a very interesting region. It's nestled in the mountains and straddles the border between Austria and Italy. The people who live here speak both Italian and German, and a strange mix of the two. The food ranges from Austrian specialties (spaetzle, wienerschnitzel) in the northern parts, to pasta and red wine in the southern parts. In the middle is a unique fusion of the two cuisines (think schnitzel served with a side of polenta).
That night, we rented a room in a small B&B. I wanted something in the middle of no where and I succeeded in finding it. This place was about an hour out of the way, but it was totally worth the drive. Our room had a small balcony that opened up to a view of the mountains. The air was clean and smelled of pine needles. We were kilometers away from the next closest main town and it was awesome. The B&B had a restaurant (thank God or else we couldn't have eaten dinner) that served up Italian classics. We sat on the patio enjoying a glass (or two) of the house wine before dinner. I must say, for house wine, it was pretty darn good. Why can't house wine in the US be that delicious?!
That night, the darkness, cool mountain air, and the silence ensured we all slept like babies.
Where we stayed: Baita Deona in Cibiana. If you're looking for secluded with good access to hiking and skiing, or if you're just looking for a relaxing atmosphere, this is the place!