Cycling in the Dolomites

If you were to go on a cycling vacation in Italy, where would you go?  Italy is a nation devoted to cycling and has outstanding roads to ride, great food, and beautiful scenery.  Where is the best place in Italy to go bike touring?

Italy’s most popular cycling destinations are Tuscany and Dolomites.  Tuscany has charming old towns and rolling hills and is very well known these days for its image of relaxed country living.  If you want to shop for beautiful ceramics, go to Tuscany.  If you want challenging riding and incredible scenery, go to the Dolomites.  Having cycled in Tuscany, Dolomites, Italian Alps, and extensively all over Europe, I can confidently state that the Dolomites is one of Europe’s best cycling destinations.

So when Ajax Dempsey contacted me to see if I was up for a two-week trip to the Dolomites, my biggest question was “when?”.  Ajax owns and operates Alta Quota Adventures, an adventure travel company specializing in cycling (road and mountain).  He also adds skiing and hiking into the mix.  He focuses exclusively on Italy.

Having been to the Dolomites several times before, before I committed myself to the trip I wanted to make sure we would ride the most epic passes.

The Dolomites has several must-see mountains:

  • Passo Stelvio – Italy’s highest pass and most difficult climb with 6000’ of climbing and 48 switchbacks (for reference Alpe d’Huez is only 3500’ and 21 switchbacks)
  • Passo Gavia – a brutally steep, big, and high climb made famous by the blinding snowstorm that facilitated Andy Hampsten’s epic victory in the 1988 Giro d’Italia
  • Passo Mortirolo – one of the longest sustained knee breakers we know of, ‘nuf said
  • Passo Fedaia – another nasty kneebreaker, better known as the Marmolada for the glacier at the top
  • Tre Cime di Lavaredo – a dead-end climb to a beautiful set of three peaks and oh, I forgot, another kneebreaker
  • Gruppo Sella – a circuit of 4 passes (Sella, Pordoi, Gardena, name?) circumnavigating a beautiful mesa mountaintop

So I asked Ajax, “where are we going?”  He responded “Cortina d’Ampezzo and Bormio” – my two FAVORITE towns – and then he rattled off a list of passes that pretty much matched my must-do epic kneebreaker climb and scenic wonders list.  Ok, now we’re talking.  Then he started telling me the history of the Stelvio and about the hot springs in Bormio.  I never knew that.  Wow, this guy knows his stuff.  He knows more about Bormio and Cortina than anybody I’ve ever met.

OK, I’m in!  How do I sign up?

So, Ajax gives me this itinerary.  It goes something like this:

  • Ajax picks us up at the Munich airport.
  • We drive to Tegernsee, which turns out to be a Bavarian resort town.  (Did I mention that I LOVE German food?)
  • First day we ride to Lienz, Austria and hop in the car to drive to Cortina d’Ampezzo (site of the 1956 Olympics)
  • We spend several days in Cortina and should be able to ride all of the highlights of that area: Passo Sella, Passo Pordoi, Marmolada, Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Passo Giao, …
  • We then go to Bormio and stay for a few days so we can ride the Stelvio, Gavia, Mortirolo, and a few other gems.
  • Finally, we head back to Tegernsee, before we head home via Munich.

So here we are…  I’m on a bike trip in the beautiful Dolomites and I’m going to make the most of this wonderful opportunity.

While I’m here, I plan to photograph the trip.  I brought both my SLR and my point-and-shoot.  I’ll be photographing the mountains, the rides, the towns, the hotel, the people, the food… did I miss anything?  And I’ll send updates regularly (hopefully every day) through this blog so I can share this trip with you.

OK, so what’s happened so far.  Ajax picked us up in Munich.  We hopped in the car, drove a quick 45 minutes to Tegernsee, and assembled our bikes.

So, Tegernsee turns out to be a beautiful resort town in the Bavarian Alps.  We’re staying in a very nice hotel 200 meters above town and have a view of the lake, town, and surrounding mountains.  Wow!  The view from our hotel is incredible.

check out the view from our hotel!

Did I mention that I LOVE German food?

Next step is dinner.  We headed down to the Tegernsee Brauhaus and had some authentic German food and beer.  The Brauhaus was quite large and located in a beautiful location right by the lake.

Brauhaus Tegernsee

In all of Germany, beer service is serious business!

Noch ein Bier bitte!

Here’s Rudy and Ajax enjoying a brau.


For dinner, I had Schweinshaxen which is a pork leg and it came with potato salad with cucumbers.  It was delicious.

Schweinshaxen schmeckt lecker!

Did I mention that I LOVE German food?

In German you say “schmeckt lecker” which means “tastes delicious.”  Another good phrase to know is “Noch ein Bier vom Fass, bitte” which means “Another beer from the tap, please.”  Between pointing at stuff on the menu and those two phrases, you can do pretty well in Germany.  People are friendly here.

Rudy had some sausages with sour kraut.  He reports it was likewise delicious.

Wurst mit Sauerkraut

After dinner we had a short hike up to the hotel which is 200 meters above the town and the lake.  Here’s a look at the town.

Blick ven Tegernsee (view of Tegernsee)

Tomorrow we’re off to Cortina.  Ok, good night all!


About bikealps

avid cyclist and photographer
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