Our first time to Dolomites
A TRUE STORY by Michael Parrish – It appened on July 21-22-23, 2017
Today we leave Venice and head to the Dolomites. It will be my first time driving in a foreign country. The drive to Cortina was two hours and thirty minutes through the most gorgeous countryside, eventually giving way to the ascending mountains. We stopped once for some late lunch at a rest area service snack shop just outside Venice. At first blush one might say our choice of lunch establishment was ill-chosen but to our surprise, the food was delicious. We kept it simple and I ordered sandwiches for everyone and some road trip snacks in my best, broken Italian.
The drive to Cortina was truly amazing. Besides the natural scenery, we saw a few of the old vintage cars headed for the Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti road race in Cortina along the way and San Vito looked spectacular with the jagged peaks towering over the tiny town. The Dolomites are gorgeous and we already love it. We can all breathe again now that we out of Venice. We are out of the heat and away from the crowded streets: temperature is about 70 degrees with some light rain. Today we relax at the hotel and tomorrow we hike.
Shortly after arriving and settling our belongings into our rooms, we met our guide Enrico at the hotel. Let’s be honest; he was there to size us up and see what he was in for the next two days. I don’t think our ten-minute visit answered any questions to the affirmative or quailed any of his fears. We said we were excited to hike and he said (not in a mean way) that tomorrow we would take a “walk”. That evening we went to the highly recommended restaurant Il Vizietto. It was great if you like wild game. Anyway, everyone found something to order and at least I liked what I ordered.
On our way there though, we did almost get in a car accident and we were saved by Emme’s gasp or perhaps an angel, or maybe both. I was trying to navigate a new town on narrow roads in a crazy hail storm and I changed lanes and that was all I remember other than the gasp and the glint of a car out of my blind spot and then no wreckage. THANK GOODNESS! No harm. No foul.
So, about the Nord Hotel… it’s definitely one of the more interesting places I’ve found. We do have connecting rooms but only one with a bathroom. There is another bathroom belonging to our reservation is at the end of the hallway. That one has become my own personal bathroom because the women don’t want to use it. They prefer to all share the one in the room. The bathroom they chose only has a tub with a handheld shower handle and no shower curtain or partition of any kind to manage the spray of water outside the tub area.
Emme, in learning how to use it, ended up losing control of the nozzle and it sprayed down the entire bathroom like an out of control fire hose. That made for quite the story and a lot of laughter. In the end the nozzle got away from both Carley and Emme. There was lots of mop-up.
The room key is a skeleton key that probably unlocks half the rooms in the hotel and has a barbell as the key fob (no joke; it must weigh a good pound. It’s definitely not something you keep in your pocket. I think it’s actually meant to drop-off at the front desk when you leave and pick up when you return.
Oh, and the patio door in the girl’s room doesn’t lock, so at night I slide the giant dresser in front of it to keep out any crazies (not that there are any in this lovely and picturesque place).
Nevertheless, it is all super Alpsy and was probably very popular in 1952 when the Winter Olympics were here. We love it though.
We woke up to the typical Euro breakfast: meats, cheeses, cucumber/tomato, cereals and muffins/croissants. pineapple juice. We have seen this before and are good at finding what we want, although Carey would kill for some oatmeal about now.
Enrico arrived promptly at 9:00 AM and assessed our hiking wardrobe. He was not at all impressed.
He looked at our shoes and stated, “Those aren’t the best shoes but they will work… hopefully.”
I asked him if other groups wore running shoes when hiking to which he added stoically that only 1% of all his clients wear running shoes. Who knew? We came dressed for the kind of hiking we did in Sequoia National Park. We thought we were experienced.
As we were leaving the parking lot, Enrico took one last look at us and asked, “Do you have raincoats?” and of course we did not and hearing that reply, he looked us in the eye and kindly but in a concerned way replied, “his is the Mountains, not the beach.” Wow! We’re off to a great start. HA!
Enrico drove his car and we drove our own to the Refugio where we would start our hike and our family laughed and joked all the way there about how this whole thing was starting.
We said that about an hour into the hike, we would all run by him in our running shoes and ask him when the real hike was going to start. We’re such a funny bunch. I’m pretty sure Enrico wasn’t laughing in his car.
As we started the hike, Enrico pointed at this teeny, tiny dot on a far away mountain top and informed us that was where we were going…about 5 hours roundtrip and a 2000 foot gain in elevation to a final elevation of 8500 feet above sea level. We may not have looked it to Enrico, but we were ready. Bring it on! As we started up the trail, Enrico stopped us for a minute and said, “let me take a family picture…it may be the last.” HA! Yep, he turned out to be quite a funny guy. Enrico and the girls raced ahead for so much of the hike and Carey and I brought up the rear. When we did stop for a rest or snack or drink, Enrico would say. “They push me. They say…go guide go!” We passed by several other Refugios along the way and Enrico climbed like a mountain goat but the girls were right behind him. I think the fact that we kept some pace made him less concerned. If we didn’t look like hikers, at least we hiked like we had done this before.
On the climb up we saw some old WWII camps, wooden huts and lookout structures. Enrico shared a few stories about how the Italians during the war used this area to watch and control access of soldiers and supplies. At one point with the final destination coming more into view, Enrico pulled me aside and we conspired about a more challenging (fun) way to the top. He explained that instead of taking the beaten path with the other hikers that we try the “ferrata” climb. Enrico and I kept that a secret until there was essentially no turning back. For the last 100 yards, everyone tied onto Enrico and we climbed the rock face all tied to together. We all loved it.
At the top, we refueled with some food and took a crude squatty-potty bathroom break.
The descent went pretty quickly and we were all ready for a hardy meal by the time we got to the bottom. We asked and encouraged Enrico to join us and he did, which allowed us all to get even more comfortable.
We ate at Rifugio Cinque Torri and enjoyed bread dumplings w/ speck (smoked ham) four cheeses and Carey quite possibly had the best meal she’s ever eaten with her buttered and giant slab of cheese-covered polenta. The water was so cold and refreshing, right from the underground springs… just really hit the spot.
Back at the Nord Hotel that afternoon, Carey and I sat and watched the girls play on the one-person, circle-seat tree swing (lots and lots of fun for them and sun-soaking rest for us).
For dinner that evening we went into town to see the rally cars.
Dinner was actually kind of light in the way of some fresh fruit and light groceries that we bought before heading back to the Nord. Hunger did finally catch up with us again about 9:30 PM and I made a pizza run with Carley to Ristorante 5 Torri.
We enjoyed our first time to Dolomites
Back at the hotel 20 minutes later, we devoured it with our hands. It was not cut into slices. Apparently, they don’t do slicing here. Did not know that. It was just one big pie and no utensils. No problem. That cheese pizza helped everyone sleep just a little bit better.
We are ready for the Dolomites Day Two! I’m not sure where we’re going today. Enrico was going to see if he could come up with something that was different, yet suitable and still challenging. We shot downstairs for breakfast and then filled our water bottles and packed some cookies and peaches and made a sandwich or two with the ham and cheese on an everything croissant. When Enrico arrived we showed him the rain jackets we had purchased. He thought we were pretty funny people.
It was my first time to Dolomites, but I will go back to those beautiful mountains!
For the hike today, Enrico had a couple hikes in mind. The first was a hike more in the trees with waterfalls but still about a 2200-foot altitude gain from the trailhead. Enrico liked this hike a lot.
We could tell. He was selling it hard because it was different than what we did yesterday, below the alpine line and had a lot of “ferratas”.
Enrico put it to vote and the girls overwhelming chose the “farratas”. That made Enrico smile.
It took some convincing to get Carey onboard with this particular hike because she was expecting a stroll today. Maybe that’s because she was dressed for high tea on the veranda instead: boss tweed pants, aquamarine top and white sunhat.
Our first time to Dolomites was an amazing experience!
Oh well, Enrico walked to his car and took great pride in showing us the ropes, helmets and harnesses he had brought for such climbing and then essentially told us that this was the hike he had planned for anyway, regardless of our choice. We all laughed… such a funny guy.
We drove about 20 minutes, parked and then walked through a couple meadow-like areas with a cabin or two and a handmade watering trough. After the meadows we started our accent and these were some of the steepest climbs we had seen. Legs burned. Snacks were devoured. Water was chugged. And then we reached it. Across this great rocky gorge was a gorgeous long-drop waterfall cascading down the side of the cliff wall. Here is where we donned the helmets and harnesses. We were going to descend to the bottom of the gorge and then follow the trail around and ultimately behind the waterfalls. That idea was met with excitement and jubilation!
We see climbers on Cinque Torri during our first time to Dolomites!
This hike was an amazing five hours of the most beautiful mountains. We walked along the raging and frigid mountain river, crossed beautiful bridges and took pictures of multiple waterfalls. We saw Capriolo (deer), Formica (a gargantuan ant pile) and trota (trout) on the hike.
We even spotted a couple mushrooms with red polka dot tops, just like in the fairytale storybooks. I thought that was just a cute made-up thing.
We refilled our water bottles in the river by the second waterfall but before doing so we asked Enrico if the water was safe to drink, to which he replied, “yes, but beer is better!”
And of course our ropes and carabiners were used a lot.
At the end of the hike (last mile), Enrico really picked up the pace and only Kate kept with him. The two of them waited for us in the parking lot as the rest of us dragged ourselves up the last hill. That is where we said a very fond goodbye to Enrico.
We see an amazing waterfall during our first time to Dolomites!
Those two hikes will forever be remembered. We ate what was left in our packs before driving back to the hotel and then Carey and I made a quick snack run for fruit and chips and peach juice at the little mercado down the road. Showers for all! That evening was our last in Cortina before heading back to Barcelona, so we made one last sweep of the little town. We ate sandwiches and took some of the goofiest selfies ever at the only restaurant we could find open at that particular time of the day. We stopped for gelato and on the way to the car came upon a Boston Terrier named Collette in front of one of the shops. I scratched her belly. We bonded.