Dolomites Delights

1909_IT_Dolomiti-1715 copy

The Dolomites have been on my to do list for a while and once the summer crush was over, I managed to convince a friend from Germany to join me for a week of walking. We planned for a flexible itinerary and a good thing we did, as the weather forecast turned increasingly bad for the first day we would be there. So we revised our initial plan and dodged the rain – and as it turned out snow! – by alternating sitting in the steam room of the hotel with testing bars nearby for the best aperol spritz.

1909_IT_Dolomiti-1632 copy

For our first day of walking the day cleared to a beautiful blue sky, but it was cold and the snow line had moved significantly lower on the surrounding mountains, making for some spectacular scenery. The planned walk was the Sassolungo circuit, which involved first making our way up by cable car to the Rifugio Demetz. That cable car was an experience in itself, but it did make for some neat photos (the photo above was taken from inside the cable car). Having arrived up high we stepped out in howling winds that were whipping up the powdery snow that had fallen overnight. We added an additional layer before tentatively exploring the path downhill. Fortunately someone had already broken trail and so each armed with a walking pole we descended carefully, occasionally sliding in the fresh snow which reached up to our mid-calves at times.

1909_IT_Dolomiti-1668

The scenery was out of this world: sheer rock faces dusted by snow, luscious green hills beyond and the faint outline of the actual snow-capped Alps. Magical. After an hour we reached Rifugio Vicenza and treated ourselves to a hot chocolate. From there we were snow-free and walked the path towards Rifugio Comici where we had an excellent late lunch, before finishing up at our starting point on Passo Sella. Our aperitivo waited for us in Canazei after the obligatory steam room.

1909_IT_Dolomiti-1756

The next day the snow line had retreated a little and we made our way to Campitello to take the cable car to Col Rodella. From there we walked the well-frequented Sentiero Federico Augusto to Rifugio Sassopiatto and then returning through the Val Duron to Campitello. A far more popular route, we found ourselves with many more walkers on the trail and enjoyed seeing the Sassolungo from a different angle. The descent was hard on the knees and when we thought the worst was behind us, there was a very long walk on road surface (and at one point very steep) to get back to Campitello.

1909_IT_Dolomiti-1785-Pano

For our third day of walking we had chosen the Viel del Pan, described as an easy walk. When the bus we were supposed to take didn’t arrive, we opted to take the car to drive to Alba and take the cable car to Col dei Rossi to start our walk. Another blue bird day meant spectacular views all around (the photo above is a composite panorama of Sassolungo on the left and Sella Group on the right) and the walking was easy (and again quite busy). After an hour and a half we got to the point where we would commence our descent to Passo Fedaia, another descent requiring hard work from our knees.

1909_IT_Dolomiti-1819 copy

1909_IT_Dolomiti-1837

Once we got to Fedaia Lake we walked across the dam to the other side to see if the lift to the Pian dei Fiacconi was working. Well, if we thought that Monday’s cable car was interesting, we had something else waiting for us: metal baskets for two people at the time, with the door bolted shut after you and up you went, standing for 20 minutes or so in the open air as we ascended. Great views of course, but not sure about the WHS aspects of this contraption! At the top we met some people who had walked up, which had taken them three hours of tough walking, particular as conditions high up were challenging in the slippery snow on steep terrain.

1909_IT_Dolomiti-1847

Although there are many more walks to do in the Val di Fassa area, we decided to move to Cortina d’Ampezzo to explore another area. An early start the next day was well rewarded when we didn’t have to queue for too long to get access to the parking area at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (at a steep 30 euro for the privilege). This is another very popular walk and an early start is really worth it to avoid the crowds.

1909_IT_Dolomiti-1883

Even so, we walked in between large groups of people, but once we moved off the main path to continue on our circuit, we were almost by ourselves, enjoying the views, which almost make you feel you’re on a different planet. By the time we finished our circuit the first drops of rain started to fall, further confirming our excellent timing that day. In Cortina the sun was shining and we enjoyed a nice aperitivo on a terrace in the sun.

1909_IT_Dolomiti-1932

On our last day we made our way to Ortisei, a beautiful village, specialised in woodcarving and did some sightseeing before checking into our luxury accommodation of the trip in Hotel Jakoberhof, just outside of Ortisei itself. More spa and aperitivo time, and an outstanding dinner to finish up a great week in the Dolomites. The problem now is that I want to go back for more walking, but winter is here…

 

 

Lago D’Orta

1907_IT_LagoOrta-9809-2

At the end of July I took my father, who was staying with me, on a short weekend escape from the sweltering temperatures in Milan. I didn’t want to join the crowds on Lago di Como or Lago Maggiore, but was looking for something a bit quieter. On the advice of others I opted to go to Lago D’Orta instead and was very glad I followed that advice.

Lago D’Orta is an approximately 1.5 hour drive from Milan and very easily accessible. I had booked into a small hotel on the lake itself, but outside of the village of Orta San Giulio itself. We arrived in good time and were able to go for a dip in the lake, which was particularly welcome after the seriously high temperatures in Milan. Dinner was on the lake itself with a spectacular view to the mountains surrounding us. One of the features that stood out was the Santuario della Madonna del Sasso, a sparkling white church built on an a high outcrop of rock across the lake (indeed it is that white building on the rock in the picture below).

1907_IT_LagoOrta-1498-2

The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we set out by car to reach the Madonna del Sasso, which involved some interesting hairpin bends, narrow streets through villages and really elevated my driving skills to the next level. Big kudos to my father who stoically sat through the drive, although I’m sure his eyes occasionally nearly popped out of his head! But we got there and the drive was absolutely worth it. And I was grateful I wasn’t one of the cyclists who laboured their way up the hill.

1907_IT_LagoOrta-1488-2

The promontory allowed for beautiful views over the lake and the surrounding mountains. There is always something special about going higher up for a different perspective on your environment. After we descended again to the village of Pella, we continued our drive around the lake until we were back to our starting point.

The next day, after we checked out, we drove to Orta San Giulio itself and went to have a look at the very picturesque little village. Having negotiated the steep descent into the village and the cobblestone streets, we arrived in the main piazza from where boats run to take people across to the Isola San Giulio. Legend has it that once upon a time the island was infested by dragons and mad snakes terrifying the local fishermen. St Giulio used his cloak as a boat to reach the island and with few words and no violence he convinced the monsters to leave. Therefore sadly no dragons to see here, so we skipped the visit to the island, but had a coffee in the piazza instead, before driving back to Milan, with a little detour along the lakes of Lago Maggiore.

1907_IT_LagoOrta-9812-2

As mentioned earlier, Lago di Como, Lago Maggiore and Lago di Garda are the tourist (both foreign and local) magnets. In summer Bellagio is overrun with visitors and the at times narrow roads around the lake become clogged with cars. It is similar with Lago Maggiore, but to a lesser degree; roads around Lago di Garda also become very congested. For those in search of serenity, Lago D’Orta is a much better choice. It’s very pretty, an easy drive to get to, nice and affordable hotels and not as hectic as elsewhere. There are also lots of walking trails in the surroundings, so those who like to be a bit more active, will enjoy this too.

 

Barcelona and the Sagrada Familia

1905_SP_Barcelona-1276

May was a busy month, but I did manage to catch the final day of the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition in Barcelona, where one of my photographs was on display. The timing was tight, but between arriving on Saturday morning and checking into my accommodation, I managed to see the full exhibition, have lunch and wrap up my picture and take it with me. The business part taken care off, I could now enjoy revisiting the city I had first seen in 1998. I walked around older parts of Barcelona in the late afternoon, did some shopping and picked up some food, before retiring to my hotel.

1905_SP_Barcelona-1255

The next morning I got up early and walked in the direction of Casa Battlo, a key example of Antonio Gaudi’s architecture. Already from the outside it is an interesting facade, but as the line for entry wasn’t very long yet, I got myself a ticket and followed the headset tour of the house. Inside the house was even more extraordinary than outside and in its shapes and forms it at times reminded me of the remarkable Hundertwasser house in Vienna. There were no sharp corners here, all soft flowing forms inspired by nature and beautiful colours.

1905_SP_Barcelona-1286

I walked for miles that day, eventually walking back through the Rambla, then to the Port where I had a leisurely lunch by the water, followed by a walk along the Barceloneta beach back to the hotel. I managed to get there just in time to avoid a big rain storm coming through. I had a nice siesta while it bucketed with rain and once it had dried up, I headed out again to walk to the famous Sagrada Familia church for my allocated entry time. I highly recommend buying your ticket beforehand, as it will be impossible to get a ticket on the spot. I had also booked the headset to guide me walking around the church.

1905_SP_Barcelona-1395

In 1998 I had only seen the church from the outside. Going in was a mind-blowing experience; the structure, shapes, lights and colours are completely unique and give an atmosphere of great lightness and joy, something I have never experienced or seen in a church (and may well account for why I’m not a big fan of churches!).

It was a treat to walk around and see the light falling through the coloured windows, shading the ceilings blue and green, or red and orange. Every detail is beautifully crafted and it will be amazing to see it in 2026 when it is finally finished. Sadly, due to the rainstorm in the afternoon, it was not possible to visit the tower for safety reasons, which I had booked. That was the only negative, but it was such an incredible experience that in the end it didn’t matter much.