Dolomite Mountains to Venice

From the age of four until I finally got a drivers license and regular access to a car some 13 years later, bicycles were a huge part of my life. The demands of teenage/twenty-something living put the bicycle out of my mind for the most part for many years. As an adult I picked up riding bicycles again. I fell head over heels for riding as transportation, hobby, and at times obsession.

Doug, Al, Steve, and Gwen at the top of the longest and steepest hill we had to go UP on the tour.

About two years ago I began the process of planning a bike tour with my brother Steve, sister Gwen and her husband Al. We quickly settled on Italy for a ride that would be a real destination adventure for all of us. As newcomers to multi-day bicycle touring we were happy to go with a company that organized the route, and logistics of luggage between hotels each night so that we could concentrate on the joy of the ride.

Photo: Bike path through the trees in the Dolomites.

Our tour started in the Italian Dolomite Mountains near the border with Austria, and ended down by the sea in Venice. The trip was 6 days of riding with landscapes starting in the high alpine mountains, and ending at pancake flat sea level as we approached Venice.

Much of the ride was done on car-free bike paths. The rest was on very lightly traveled roads punctuated by only a very few cars. When we did interact with cars, we found that they were very good about carefully passing with plenty of distance and a reduction in speed.

Photos: Differing architecture from the beginning of the ride to the end

At the start of the trip I was in total awe of the rocky Dolomite mountains. The towns on the first 2 days felt as though they could have come out of German or Austrian folk tales, the architecture very alpine. For those first few days the there was a lot of availability of German/Austrian food.

As we pedaled further to the south we began to slowly see the mountains get smaller, the trees and vegetation shift from tall alpine conifers to dense deciduous forests. Also we very clearly saw the architecture change to what was a more obviously an Italian style.

Photos: Sights along the ride. Old rail buildings, vehicles and structures as vestiges of another time

The paths and roads largely followed a flowing river valley. We climbed hundreds of feet and descended that same number 5-fold in a single day. The path was likely flatter than the surrounding mountains because of the river, and it looked like many sections were old rail lines converted to trails. On the roads we had steep descents down through cinematic switchbacks hugging precipitous drop offs. We rode fast when we could, and slow when we had to.

Photos: A stop along the route. A cafe, a bell tower through the porthole of a stone fortification, and old timber ceiling and roof support.

It would have been wonderful to have done more research on the towns were were passing through along the route so that I could have had a better sense of the various historical and cultural contexts. However even without having done much, it was amazing to ride through this historically rich region and pick up bits of the story of the past, and to consider the millennia of empire, upheaval, peace, and impact made by the people in this part of the world.

Photos: Bicycle event in Trevino. We couldn’t have planned to roll into town on bikes into this if we had wanted.

Our final nights on the tour were in Trevino and in Venice. Trevino was a spectacular city that happened to be hosting a classic bicycle event on evening we were in town. Throughout the old quarters of the city there were vintage bicycles and plenty of riders decked out in classic cycling attire, quarter-zip wool jerseys and cycling caps with brims flipped up.

Photos: Changed environments as we approached Venice. A boat withers away in the water, spectacular daylight through the trees, and a fortified building surrounded by water.

On the last day of cycling we rode into the outskirts of Venice, after passing though areas with canals and other low lying water. We crossed bridges through wetlands where we saw the dilapidated remains of boats well past any wish of ever sailing again. The cycling was fairly easy for this last day, and we checked into our hotel at probably the earliest hour of the trip, giving us some time that evening to go out and explore Venice in preparation for a full day of sightseeing the following day.

Photos: An evening in Venice. Canals and boats and plenty of reflections.

Venice is a majestic and singular city. Canals, bridges, statues, art, architecture — it is an unmistakable city. And though a million photos have been taken of every possible piece of the city, its buildings and its inhabitants, it is a city that I was compelled to photograph myself.

Wandering the labyrinth of narrow alleyways, the small and grand canals it would have been easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of visitors to the city. It was thick. And somehow even with the sightseers starting and stopping along the walkways to gaze at yet another sight, the city felt to me as though it was holding on tightly to it’s authentic core.

We walked for several hours the first night, then went back to our hotel to rest. After a breakfast of croissants, espresso and fruit, we returned to walk some more. Mostly for this trip we had not paid entrance fees to any historical sites. In Venice, however, we booked a guided tour of the Doges Palace. The tour guide was knowledgable and entertaining, giving a good background on the development of Venice as a power in the Mediterranean, through the height of its power. I expected to enjoy the tour, and it met my expectations.

Photos: Signage in Venice, a sticker covered pay phone, and light rail.

6 days of riding accounted for nearly 300 kilometers of distance. Some days the distances were in the mid 30 kilometers. and one day we rode well over 80 kilometers before we finally stumbled into our hotel. This trip took a lot of planning, and no small expense. It was, however, an adventure to remember and hopefully the start of more regular bicycle touring trips.

Photos: A final day in Venice. Cats and dogs in Venetian costumes, Masks, Gondoliers, women in matching dresses along the pier, gondolas at rest, and a delicious lemon soda.