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Northern Italy Hiking in the Dolomites, Italy in 2020


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Hello! We just finished 3 weeks hiking in a small mountain town, Lenk, in the Berner Oberland region of Switzerland. We drove there from the UK where we live. We love Switzerland and travel there every year usually at this time. Read my trip report here.

We live in the UK and they have designated covid safe countries (travel corridor). If you are in an unsafe country up to 14 days before you go back to the UK you have to quarantine for 14 days since you left an unsafe country. When we left for Switzerland at the end of August it was safe. The UK declared it unsafe the day after we arrived, meaning we would have to quarantine when we got home.

To avoid or at least cut down on our quarantine time (you can’t even go for a walk, for 14 days!) we decided to go to Italy, a safe country. I’ve always wanted to hike in the Dolomites and have started planning trips here several times. I searched these forums and found two good threadabout the area.

I waited until less than a week before we would go to make sure Italy was still safe (they update the list every Thursday) then booked a place near Castelrotto (Kastelruth in German). Aura Chalets is four new apartments with beautiful views. I found them on AirBnB and then found their website and booked directly (for a better price). These are new units run by people who have a farmhouse and apartments next door. I liked the modern decor, the terrace and the view. Plus they are in the area recommended in those threads.

It was a 7 hour drive from Lenk to Castelrotto (took us 9 hours with stops to switch drivers). It takes over an hour to drive out of the mountains then we were one autoroute the rest of the way, until we went back into the mountains. Traffic was busy in the first half in Switzerland but light through Austria. The drive was boring through Switzerland but the route in Austria was beautiful going right through the mountains. The last 40 minutes off the autostrada was along steep mountains with sheer drop offs, up and down on narrow winding roads, and included going on a pedestrian street (I think) through Castelrotto. Waze directed us, I was driving. After Castelrotto the valley widened and we turned off the road to a beautiful location on a gentle hillside with a lovely view.

I was nervous about the borders - Austria and Italy. Austria closed its borders in March but they are open now. Italy has banned some countries and I read they are doing testing at some entry points. We drove through both borders without being stopped. There were border posts at Austria but they were not manned. At Italy we didn’t even see a border, just a welcome to Sud Tirol sign.

For Austria we bought a vignette for driving their autobahn. You don’t buy it at the border as we did going into Switzerland but from small shops on either side of the border (well signed). But we had to pay tolls for tunnels twice in Austria. Not included in the vignette I guess. Italy has toll roads, like France.

We are mostly unpacked and I made a simple dinner - pasta and a bottled sauce I brought from home. We still have a lot of food that we had brought to Switzerland (to avoid going into the shops so much). Odd to bring Italian pasta and pesto to Italy from the UK.

Our 14 day quarantine from Switzerland started at 17:20 Europe time (4:20pm British time). But we don’t have to stay home here! Covid travel times are strange indeed. To get home “safe” we will transit unsafe Austria (travel through without stopping), spend one or two nights in safe Germany as we make our way to the tunnel, then transit unsafe France and get through that tunnel. There are three points in German any that are under 5 hours drive from the tunnel - Saarbruchen, Perl (near Schengen in Luxembourg) and Aachen. This all assumes that the UK doesn’t change things before we get home.


View from apartment.


View from terrace.


Farmhouse on hillside above apartments.


Yes the bathtub is in the bedroom. A bath with a view.
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Looks Beautiful. Here is a place I've always wanted to see. It is probably the most famous vista so it might be crowded and it would be a drive. You'll probably want to stay closer but I'll still give you a link. St Magdalena and How to find it. There will be lots to choose from.
Saturday, September 19
Sunny and warm (69F)

There is a skylight over the bed so we were up earlier today. We drove into Castelrotto, parked in a large and empty underground car park, and exploded the town. It is charming! It all feels very Swiss or more Austrian I guess. I read that this area only became part of Italy after WWI. Wooden chalets with colourful flower boxes, two pedestrian shopping streets, a good selection of cafes and restaurants.

We went to the tourist office where we were helped by a young woman in traditional dress with a lot of cleavage showing (those traditionalists!). This was the best tourist office experience we’ve had in Italy! She told us all about the hiking, suggested which hikes to start with, explained the gondola pricing, gave us maps, and sold us a good hiking map and a book of local hikes in English. We are set for the week. She told us to get a visitors card from our host and that gives us free buses and gondola discounts (he gave them to us).

The first bakery we found had a small natural foods shop attached and had bio (organic) breads. We got bread, two pretzels (not as good as those in Lenk, but good) and a slice of apple strudel. Next we found a small but well organised fruit and vegetables shop. The produce was displayed behind a counter so you were not tempted to touch it. The woman running the shop picked all the products for you. She had a good selection of bio and local products.

Time for our first Italian coffee. We stopped at a cafe and had coffee and cornetto (Second breakfast). Very short espresso for Steve, I had a macchiato. So good! We had two rounds of coffee sitting outside on the terrace. Everything was €1.40 each. More expensive because we were at a table but 1/4 the price in Switzerland.

Next to what looked like a small Spar shop, but was quite large inside. They supply very little at the apartment (to be expected I guess) - one dishwasher tab, one roll of toilet paper, no kitchen roll, one garbage bag - so we had to get a few basics. In Lenk they supply all this, except the kitchen roll. This apartment does supply a high end shampoo (which I would never use because it has fragrance) which seems odd when they don’t even supply toilet roll, but I bet that is to tick off some box on AirBnB. Still, I have no complaints about this apartment. It is beautiful and comfortable and quiet. The owners are nearby and are helpful and friendly

In all the shops we wore masks and kept a distance from people. Everyone else did the same. I am using disposable masks this week because I don’t have access to a washing machine like I did in Lenk.

Everything this morning was much cheaper than in Switzerland. At least half the price. Switzerland is very expensive but everyone earns a good wage I think.

In the cafe, which also does pizza, we saw someone coming in with two rectangular boxes of apple strudel. We popped into a fresh pasta shop and they sold apple strudel by the slice, as did the bakery where we got ours.

Back to the apartment for a quick lunch and then we drove out to the next village, Siusi, to get the gondola up to the Alpe di Siusi. The gondola runs until 6pm (7pm in summer) which is an hour later than in Lenk so even though we took the gondola up at 2:30, we had time for a hike.

The gondola station is huge with shops and a restaurant and parking for hundreds of cars. Very different from Lenk with parking for 50 cars and one small outdoors shop. Each gondola holds 10 but we had one to ourselves going up.

There were a lot of people on the Alpe di Siusi. The gondola goes from 1000m up to 1800m in 15 minutes. The top station is in a village that has a lot of hotels. There is a road that goes up there but you can only drive it before 9am. You can drive down at any time. I assume you can drive it to the hotels or if you live or work up there. The restaurants were full with people sitting outside, soaking up the sun and drinking beer or finishing lunch.

There were a lot of people on the trail we took, but it is Saturday and we took the most popular trail walking out into the meadow near the road.

The walk was delightful. We walked for 2 hours, 4.5 miles, with a little ascent/descent but not much. The meadows are idyllic, the views of tall rock mountains in the distance spectacular.

We were going back down when it was busy so had to share the gondola with a young couple and a baby. Everyone wore masks.

I was driving today and instead of going straight home, I drove past to see the next village, San Michelle. Very small. We climbed up out of our valley and went down into the Val Gardena, probably the most popular part of the Dolomites. I turned around in the first village but we had a good view of the narrow valley with mountains rising up on each side. Rides from these villages also go up to the Alpe di Siusi. We will spend a day there this week.

Driving back we could see our wide valley with mountains rising up on one side to the Alpe di Siusi.

We had a last bit of light and warmth so sat on our terrace. Had a nice dinner at home.

I really like it here, and we will see how we feel at the end of the week, but so far it doesn’t replace Switzerland for me. But I am grateful for being “forced” to go here. It is fun being somewhere new.


Castelrotto. These “onion dome” style church spires are common here.


First coffee in Italy.


Walking on the Alpe di Siusi.


Horse drawn wagons to ferry the tourists about.


Restaurant along the trail.
Not sure what part of the Val Gardena you will hike, but the Alpi di Siusi gondola from Ortisei takes you gorgeous hiking. It is all beautiful though. I enjoyed hiking Castelrotto a few years ago. I do remember how very helpful the tourist office people were. I would have been in Italy now enjoying a cappuccino and cornetto. Glad you were able to travel for all of us ;).
Sunday, September 20
Sunny with some cloud, hot enough (70F)

We were going to go to the area @Marta recommended but reading online it seems to be very popular and because it is Sunday we thought it might be crowded. Instead we did a hike in our valley. The map I bought helped me figure out a good route right from the place we are staying. We walked 4.5 miles only, but climbed 500m (1700feet) which was about 300m more than I was expected. We were out for four hours. The hike was fantastic.

The weather forecast for today, and the week, was not good. It showed cloud with some sun and rain in late afternoon. The rain did not come and the day was sunny and hot. I hope the rest of the week is like this.

From the place we are staying we got on the trail, #9, across the road (started at 1200m). It started out quite steep and we spent 50 minutes climbing up through woods. We saw a couple of groups on this first part of the trail. When we got near the top we had a view through the trees to Castelrotto below us.

After an hour we reached a hutte (Schafstall) serving food and drinks (1500m). It was noon and there were people at the tables. We continued on the trail but now there was a stream of people heading towards us. We were heading for the top station of a chairlift and they must have taken it up from Castelrotto to do an easy 20 minute walk to the restaurant. Some may have been hiking up to Alpe di Siusi, a big climb.

We reached the chairlift and there was a large sunny meadow with benches and lounger chairs placed here and there. There were small goats and horses wandering around. And a restaurant. There were people eating, some getting the sun, others heading off on trails. We found a bench and got out our lunch. Immediately a small, and very cute, goat appeared at my feet. Then he was on the bench. Then he was butting against me and chewing my fingers. More small goats appeared. We put our sandwiches away and found a more remote bench.

We took the gondola down to Castelrotto (from 1500m down to 1000m). This was pretty freaky. It was inexpensive compared to Switzerland (€7 each) but the chairs were old and we were quickly in them and flinging out into the air while struggling to pull down the barrier that keeps you in. The ride down was very slow and took us right into the town center.

We walked around town looking for apple strudel. We found some in a cafe that also sold pastries and got two pieces to take home.

The next part of the hike was supposed to be flat and easy but I didn’t realise that it is a 200m climb from Castelrotto to where we are staying (#10 trail). It took us an hour and a half and was a gentle climb. The trail was beautiful going beside old farm houses, then into woods and out into fields. We saw a few people on this part.

When we got back to our place we had walked around this valley. It was a wonderful walk and we were back early enough to sit on the terrace and enjoy the sun.

I am starting to appreciate how good this area is for hiking. Mantrails, well signed, lots of options, buses and mountain rides, hiking resources in English, beautiful scenery. I am happy we finally came here.


Walking up and up through the woods.


View down to Castelrotto.


Schafstall Hutte.




Taking the gondola down to Castelrotto.


Walking on the #10 trail out of Castelrotto.


Many Christ on the crosses in this town.


Looking back at Castelrotto from the trail.


Looking at the place we are staying. Four chalet style apartments built into the hillside below a farmhouse and barn (center of photo). Behind them is hillside we climbed at the start of the hike.


The best apple strudel!
I am glad to hear that you like the area and the weather is good. I was a little bit worried about the Rifugios since some of them do close up mid-September. I haven't actually been to St Magdelena but I do think it is very popular so it was a good idea to not go on the weekend. I went with a group out of Portland - Mountain Hiking Holidays is the name of the company. Find them on the web and you'll see where they go in the Dolomites. Half of their trip is in the Eastern part but the second half is in Val Gardena which is closer to where you are staying. They stay in Santa Cristina. Might give you some ideas. Also check their FB page and look under the photos > albums on their page for their past trips.
Thanks, I found their website and a good description of a hike from Ortisei, with the gondola to Seceda. Weather now looks iffy for the next few days but Thursday looks good and we will do that then. Today back up the Alpe di Siusi.
Monday, September 21
Warm and overcast and rain!

Woke up to clouds and checked the webcams for the Alpe di Siusi. It was clear high up so we headed up. Gondola up, then another gondola higher up to Bullaccia (Puflatsch in German). There was cloud about but it was nice enough up there.

There were a lot of people on the trail. This is a popular walk. The first 45 minutes was gentle uphill to the edge of the Alpe where you looked down to the Val Gardena. There was cloud at the top of the mountains and some in the valley below. The walk continued around the edge with great views.

After an hour it started to drizzle. We had our sandwiches on a picnic table in the drizzle. Once we put on our rain coats the rain stopped, of course. Then it started again, more persistent. We were pretty wet when we completed the circle and returned to the gondola. 4.5 miles, 2.5 hours. The first part was boring I thought but once you reached the rim it was more beautiful. Still, not the most interesting hike and too many people on the trail.

We got back to Castelrotto around 3pm. As usual in Italy most shops were closed until 4pm. We went into the Coop, a large supermarket, but it was very busy so we left. We found a local foods shop open and got a lot of fun things - dried porcini, tomato sauce with porcini, Ligurian pesto, porcini in a jar, alp cheese, crackers. We stopped at the bakery when they opened to get apple strudel! She also sells it by the box. And a quick stop at the Frutta e Verdure for local blueberries.

It is always fun food shopping in Italy.

It was not raining in Castelrotto and the sun came out when we got home. The weather doesn’t look great this week. I think we will spend a day driving around and do another low level hike.

On the second gondola today people were getting in one group per gondola but this young mask-less guy jumped into our gondola. I asked if he had a mask. No. I asked if he wanted one. No. We hopped out at the last second and rode up with a couple who were wearing masks. This was unusual. Everyone has been wearing masks on the rides and in the shops.

I am following the Covid situation. Numbers are climbing in the UK. Their cases are now higher then Switzerland. When we return to the UK we have to quarantine because we’ve been in Switzerland. Doesn’t make sense to me. Italy is still safe so our time here is deducted from the 14 days (as long as we stay in safe countries). We thought we might stay longer here but things seem to be escalating at home and numbers rising in Europe so it feels like it is time to go home.

We plan to get home in two long driving days. From here to Saarbruchen in Germany (8hr drive), then the next day transit across France to the tunnel (4.5hours). After the tunnel it is 3.5 hours home. I would like to do it more leisurely but now is not the time. A few more days here. We leave on Friday.


On the gondola. No dogs on the seat. There are many dogs on the trail. We hardly saw any in Switzerland. (I don’t like dogs, especially when they run towards me.)


The first part of the Bullaccia circuit. The trail doesn’t look as busy as I remember.


View point.


Ortisei in the valley below.


Castelrotto below us. We could see the place where we are staying. Sunny down there.


Near the end of the hike.
(I don’t like dogs, especially when they run towards me.)
I love small dogs and am okay with medium sized ones. It is the big ones that I don’t want to be near, unless they are a St Bernard. Really I just dislike German Shepards and Pit Bulls. I love all cats. Now you know everything about me. As luck would have it, my neighbor at home has a German Shepard.
Tuesday, September 22
Overcast, rain, cooler (59F)

Our weather luck has changed. We had good weather in Switzerland except for the first 2 days when we were tired from the travel days and needed to get organised. We had good weather the first two days here, but yesterday we had rain when hiking in the early afternoon, then it turned nice when we were back home.

So today we hung about, organised bookings for our trip back home Friday and Saturday, then went out later in the afternoon. It was very overcast all day, then rained heavily in the afternoon. It stopped around 3pm so we went out for just a couple of hours.

We did the short drive, 15 minutes, to the Val Gardena, the next valley over. This valley is more narrow than ours, has three towns spread along the river (Ortisei, St Cristina, Salva), and has gondolas/chairlifts up both sides of the valley. The mountains were covered in cloud but some peaked through and they were beautiful rocky peaks. The rides on the south side go up to the Alpe di Siusi, to the area we hiked to from Siusi. The rides on the north side go up into high rocky mountains. There is a lot of hiking here but not as much on the valley floor because it is not as wide as the Castelrotto valley.

We stopped in Ortisei and walked around the pedestrian area. Very pretty but perhaps too pretty. Upscale, lots of people out. Many upscale hotels and shops. But a pleasant town. Larger than Castelrotto but not by much.

I got hiking info from the tourist office but I don’t think we will hike here because of the weather. I would like to take the gondola up to Seceda, on the north side of the valley. The ride goes up to 2500m - that is high up! There is a 3 hour circular walk that looks great.

We drove through the other towns without stopping just to see the whole valley. It was starting to rain again as we got home.

The roads are good here. Narrow and sometimes winding but easy to drive. Good road signs.

We talked to Klaus who runs the Aura Chalets where we are staying. They were built this year. He also has two apartments in the farmhouse behind us. He has a big barn but I think the only animals are chickens. He said I could separate out food waste and he feeds it to the chickens so I’ve taken great delight in looking over my food scraps to see what they might like. Carrot peelings? Yes. Coffee grounds? I don’t think so.

I asked Klaus if he was from here. No, he is from a few valleys over. They all speak German and Italian is their second language. He also speaks English. He said they get mostly Germans and Italians. He said not many Americans come to this area. I told him it was 2 Americans who recommended Castelrotto to us! He would like to see more Americans.

Klaus said it was very busy this summer and fall, but people are booking later. In August they had no September bookings, but suddenly they were booked solid. I booked a week before. So my theory about coming here now to avoid crowds was wrong. But the good news is that this is how crowded it gets. We’ve been thinking if it is this crowded now, what would it be like in a busy time? But this is a busy time.

It is too bad we are getting bad weather but at least we had two good days.

Everyone wears face masks in shops but when you are walking around town, the style is to wear it on your arm, around your elbow.


The pedestrian area in Ortisei.


The pedestrian area in Ortisei.
About languages: in Ortisei the leading native language is Ladino, so English Wikipedia lists the town under the Ladino name Urtijëi.
About languages: in Ortisei the leading native language is Ladino, so English Wikipedia lists the town under the Ladino name Urtijëi.

In the Val Gardena the road signs are in 3 languages: Ladino, German, Italian. The Ladino and German are somewhat similar but the Italian is very different. One valley over, in Castelrotto, you don’t see Ladino on the signs.

Is it the same Ladino as spoken by Sephardic Jews? Wikipedia
Wednesday, September 23
Overcast, rain in the morning

It was overcast with very low cloud this morning. No hiking on Alpe di Siusi because it is too high and will be in cloud. We put on our rain trousers, first time this trip, and headed out to walk in the rain and mud. After all, we hike in that in England.

We drove a few miles west, past Castelrotto, past Siusi where we got the gondola to the Alpe di Siusi, to a group of three small towns that sit under the towering Sciliar mountains that you see from Alpe di Siusi. The mountains were hidden by cloud but the towns were sunny. Wished we brought regular trousers to change into!

The main town is Fie and we parked there and did a walk around the town (small). It is perched above a steep valley. We weren’t up to a big hike, so did a really nice circular trail around the town. It went along the edge of the valley and then through farms on the other side. We walked for just under 2 hours (4 miles). We lost the trail at one point but found another trail that took us back to town.

We passed several apple orchards and even saw vineyards (seems too far north).

The weather tomorrow looks similar to today, cloud and some sun, so we would have to do a low level walk. We are both feeling worn out and not looking forward to Friday’s 8+ hour drive followed by a longer drive the next day. So we are going to leave tomorrow midday and drive just 2+ hours through Austria to Germany, to Garmisch Partenkirchen. That will make Friday’s drive easier. Friday’s weather is going to be bad in the mountains so we will be out of them in an hour or so.

Too bad we had bad weather but we got to see something of this lovely area, did a few hikes and cut down our quarantine time. I recommend the place we’ve been staying, Aura Chalets. The apartment is very comfortable, the bed really comfortable, and the views beautiful. We’ve enjoyed staying here.


Fie, a small historic center.


On the trail, a Christ with hanging corn.


Looking down to the autostrada at the bottom of the valley.


Views towards the apple orchards and mountains.


Along the trail.


Coming back to town.


Hiking signs in town.
Wikipedia uses the term Ladin for the language spoken in the Dolomites, different from the Ladino of the Sephardic Jews. It's Ladin and Italian that are somewhat similar.
Thursday, September 24
Overcast in the Dolomites, sunny in the Bavarian Alps

We spent the morning packing up and loading the car. It is amazing how much stuff you bring when driving. I brought a Brita filter jug on this trip so we could have filtered water. A bag of hiking shoes/boots. Another bag for various levels of jackets. We’ve used the all.

As we were getting ready Klaus and some other farmers brought their sheep down from the alpine fields because the weather is going to be bad this weekend. They were all in a pen near the house and were going to be moved out to the fields. They are a local breed of sheep with an odd nose. Very distinctive. I’ll post a photo.

It is a bit of a drive to get onto the Autostrada. Winding mountain roads for about 20 minutes. The drive went well. It was only a few hours. At the Austrian border we had to slow down and drive by custom officers, but we did not have to stop. There was nothing at the German border.

Now we are in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for the night, staying at the Mercure chain. This is a charming town. We got in around 4pm and it was sunny and warm. We walked around town, got some views of the mountains, had coffee and kuchen sitting at an outside table, bought some alp cheese. Now we are deciding whether to get takeout Thai food or eat the cold rice and vegetables that I made last night for us. If we get Thai food this will be our first dinner “out” for the trip!

Tomorrow is supposed to be heavy rain but we don’t have a long driving day and I think when we get out of the mountains the weather might be better.

Photos in the next post.
Friday, September 25
Rain and overcast

Heavy rain this morning as we left Garmisch-Partenkirchen. What a beautiful town! In some ways it reminded me of Boulder, Colorado where we lived 10 years ago before we moved to England. Tree lined streets, town right up against tall mountains, pretty houses, cute downtown pedestrian area. There is an American military base in the area.

One thing I noticed driving into the area yesterday and leaving this morning were large fields, meadows, with old wood barns, small ones, scattered around. It was very distinctive looking. I’ll have to google for photos because I didn’t get any.

I realised that this area is the Bavarian Alps. I don’t know much about Germany. We’ve twice visited friends who live in a small town south of Stuttgart. In 1988 we visited Munich on our “Grand Tour”. About 15 years ago we spent a weekend in Konstanz. That’s it. I would like to see Baden Baden and do some hiking in the Black Forest. I’ve always wanted to spend a week in Berlin. Maybe next year!

Today we drove all day, starting at 10am, reaching our hotel in Saarbruchen after 7pm. It poured heavy rain for the first hour. Our route took us across a corner of Austria. No border check into Austria, but coming back into Germany all cars were stopped. We were asked where we were going and he looked at the passports in my hand but did not take them, then waved us through.

The traffic was thick and slowed to a crawl several times, usually when 3 lanes merged to 2. The drive should have taken 5 hours, but took 9. We stopped several times but never for long. Two hours from the end, in thick, slow traffic, Waze rerouted us to go through a corner of France instead of the route I wanted through a Germany. We ended up very near Baden Baden and could have spent the night there. Instead we are in a yucky Mercure on the southern edge of Saarbruchen, on a highway interchange, a mile or so from the France border because we have to stay in Germany to keep our safe country status.

At least it is an hour shorter drive from here to the tunnel. Tomorrow we transit France without stopping, a 5 hour drive. France highways have tolls (Germany’s didn’t) but they are usually empty. They were tonight.

Back home tomorrow night. Then we quarantine for 6 days. It will take me that long to do laundry and clean the house. We spent a hour last night each filling out online our return to the UK form stating everywhere we have been in the 14 days before returning to the UK. They randomly select forms to follow up on and phone you to be sure you are quarantining if you need to.


Stuck in traffic. Our British car, a VW Golf, driving in its homeland. Photo taken by the passenger on what is the drivers side in all the other cars.

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