Rainy Day Drive to Val Gardena

Rainy Afternoon Drive to Ortisei, S. Cristina and Selva di Val  Gardena

July 24th, 2014

I have finally understood the concepts of mountain passes and valleys. We tried to go for a walk in the morning – the clouds were circling around but we took the chance anyway. It started to pour rain so we aborted the walk and headed out to the Passo Val Gardena and the Val Gardena.

My opportunity to drive on a real mountain road with expert guidance. The road from Corvara at 1568 m to Colfosco at 1645 m to the Passo Gardena at 2121 m is my initiation to mountain driving.  Keeping in mind that it is raining and the roads are slippery I start out tentatively and manage to put the car into second gear. I say manage because I really should not have geared down to first at the stop sign. A stop sign is merely the time to look around and see that no one is coming towards you and then to just keep going.   To keep going in second you have to give the car some “gas” or else you stall. The same idea applies to the hairpin curves. I gear down from third to second but too soon before the start of the curve. I am going too slowly into the curve and trying to gear down to first but realize that the road is too steep and I cannot make any forward progress. I am told to give some “gas” and that I should be in second gear. The car almost stalls and then grinds around the curve. Luckily there is no one behind me.  I am focused on the down gear error and am not finding how to follow the road.

Now there is a bus moving very slowly ahead of us and I am told – ok now is the time – pass the bus. I pull out but see only the curve ahead and pull back in. Being so used to long stretches of empty highway before passing a car, my conditioning on Canadian highways would not allow me to pass the bus. Major mistake. The bus needs to negotiate the next hairpin curve and pulls out slowly over the centre of the road. We are headed uphill all this time to the Passo. I gear down to second to match the speed of the bus but do not give the car enough gas and it does not want to go into second. Same thing next curve. I am told to try to follow the road. I am staying into the curve too long because I am basically holding on too tight to the steering wheel. I try again. There are too many things to remember to do and I can see the precipices and the fear factor takes over.

As we drive through Colfosco I see a delivery truck parked alongside and really on the road ahead. There is a car headed my way. I ask, can I get by that truck? The answer – of course, lots of room – but I am sure as we pass that I am only centimeters away from the side mirrors of the truck and the oncoming car. I am asked if I was more afraid at Lagazuoi or driving now. I am thinking that both experiences are equally frightening!

There are now two cars ahead of me and behind the bus. Strangely enough I am now mimicking the path of the car ahead of me and am actually coming out of the curves where I am supposed to. The cars get further ahead of me and I am not able to follow how they take the curves.   I am told once again to try to follow the road.  But this is not coming naturally to me.  I see the parking lot of the Rifugio at the Passo Gardena ahead, pull into the parking lot and get back into the passenger seat. No sense of accomplishment at all and I am thinking that I need to try driving some curves again but maybe not in the Dolomiti!

We head down into the Val Gardena. It is a much steeper valley than Val Badia. Steeper and with far more hairpin curves to get down. It is still pouring rain. I watch to try to understand when to gear down to second and how to come out of a curve. But the scenery is too beautiful and I sit back and enjoy the drive. As always the drive is made even more enjoyable because the different mountains, the rifugi, the passes and lifts are all pointed out to me. It amazes me that you can actually ski from one side of the pass to the other using  different lifts and knowing the ski runs. But I cannot just sit back. I have to try to remember as much as I can as there is always a test of my memory afterwards!

The mountain formations of the Dolomites I would describe as individual columns with almost wedgelike triangular shapes. Today low dark clouds are in constant motion, swirling around the summits.

The Val Gardena is the sight of a World Cup Downhill Race and as we pass through Selva di Val Gardena I see a large stainless steel representation of a down hill skier surrounded by flag poles flying the flags of different countries including the red maple leaf. Selva di Val Gardena seems a bit more commercially developed than Corvara. A lot of hotels, picturesque and more of them than Corvara or Colfosco.   This area is known for its wood sculptures and there are lots of shops with carved wood figures of bears, deer, people displayed  outside.

We pass through Santa Christina also very picturesque and busier than Corvara. We park the car in Ortisei and now the rain has thankfully slowed so we can walk around.

Of the three towns all are very typical of the Sud Tyrol and pretty but  Ortisei is probably more artsy. A small river runs through the town and the bridges all have colorful baskets of flowers lining each side.

The rain has stopped and we can enjoy the architecture of the buildings of the Sud Tyrol – very Austrian feeling. We enter the pedestrian area all cobble stone streets and pale pastel houses and whatever direction you look, you see green meadows and mountains above.

There are modern art sculptures on display alongside the traditional sculptures and water fountains. And everywhere planters of brightly colored flowers.

Lots of shops selling hiking gear and traditional foods such as speck, smoked meats, sausages, local cheeses, fresh mushrooms. There are also any number of shops selling carved wooden figurines – from Nativities of all sizes, to animal figurines, to bowls, to gnomes to modern art. Also lots of caffes and with outdoor tables even though the outdoor season is even shorter than Ottawa’s.   We enjoy a refreshing glass of Prosecco with ribes syrup, ribes and blueberries floating in the drink too. The little munchies are different shapes of phyllo pastry with speck, cheese, spinach fillings – tasty and pretty too. Instead of the usual pigeons looking for crumbs under the tables, here there are little brown sparrow like birds that fly right into your hand if you hold out some crumbs for them.

The people walking around are all dressed for hiking. It is cool probably around 14C and still heavily overcast. There is a bus stop that looks like one of the wooden hay shelters in the meadows. There seem to be a good number of buses available to take people to the various ski lifts.

We walk around a bit more up the hill where there is a nice path overlooking the town below and the meadows beyond.

The drive back to Corvara is along the same road and it is raining again.

We walk over to the Community Centre in Corvara where there is an exhibition of pictures taken during WWI. They belong to a private collection and are being displayed as part of the Remembrance of the start of World War I, 100 years ago. This whole area was a battlefront held by the Austrians and fought over with the Italians. More on this in another blog.

Time for another enjoyable evening and delicious dinner at Christian’s.


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