For centuries the Dolomites stood as a beautiful but formidable obstacle in northern Italy. The lack of a single road through the region made travel along the ancient trading route through the Alps all but impossible. The construction of The Great Dolomite Road began in the 19th century and took decades to complete. Today, motorists can make the 110-kilometre journey from Bolzano to Cortina d’Ampezzo in just a few short hours, but you will want to give yourself at least one full day so you don’t miss any of the spectacular scenery and breathtaking views.
Your journey begins in Bolzano in South Tyrol, the capital of this cultural crossroads, and a popular destination for skiing. As you explore the town, you will hear locals speaking both Italian and German (who refer to the town as Bozen). The Great Dolomite Road runs from west to east and begins on SS241 and continues on SS48 the rest of the way to Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Proceed through the narrow roads and steep canyons of the Eggental Gorge to Lake Karersee, which is known for its many shades of green due to the clarity of the water in this spring-fed lake. It has been a popular attraction with visitors for over one hundred years and was a favourite of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth.
As you continue along the Karerpass keep an eye out for the Vajolet Towers, rocky summits popular with mountain climbers from all over the world. Vigo di Fassa is a charming village in the Fassa Valley in Trentino with views of the Rosengarten Mountain Range in the background. Here you’ll take the turn onto the SS48 to continue along The Great Dolomite Road.
Approximately midway between Bolzano and Cortina d’Ampezzo you will come to the small town of Canazei. This is an excellent place to spend the night and the perfect location from which to take a side trip to Malga Ciapela, where you can ride a cable car up the mountain to a height of 3,265 metres and enjoy majestic views of the giant peaks.
From Canazei, follow the steep and winding road up to Passo Pordoi in Veneto with its expansive views of the Marmolada, Rosengarten and Sassolungomountain ranges. The road to Arabba is a must for driving enthusiasts with over 75 hairpin turns. Then make your way through the mountain pass to Passo di Falzarego, which attracts visitors due to its World War I battlefields and museum.
The Great Dolomite Road winds from Passo di Falzarego through a valley carpeted with pine trees to Cortina d’Ampezzo. The views here have remained unchanged for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. You will pass through two more “galleria” – Italian for tunnel – on your way to Cortina. Nestled in the shadow of the Dolomites, it’s a great place to unwind after your adventure. You are now ready for one of the most stunning drives in all of Europe; nothing, however, will prepare you for the beauty of The Great Dolomite Road!
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