Once we had realized that we had a week where there were to be no guests and no work, we decided the only logical option was to drive 15 km through a mountain and into Italy. Mike had gone previously in the spring to the coast and couldn’t stop gushing about how great it was and how much I would love it. He knows me well!
After renting a minivan (read: long tall car) we put the seats down, threw together some “camping” gear and some food and hit the road. Chamonix is very close to the border of Italy, only separated by some mountains (and by some I mean the tallest mountain in western Europe: Mont Blanc). Rather than building a pass over these giants (considering there are glaciers on them year round) a tunnel was built through the middle. For 40 Euro ($60 US) Mike and I had the pleasure of spending about 20 silent minutes driving through what I’m sure is one of the longest tunnels in the world. When you emerge you are in Courmayeur, Italy.
I should stop here to note that unlike our usual tendencies, we went for the no guidebook/no map/don’t speak the language tour of Italy. We googled the Dolomites the night before and got directions to the general area. Saying you are going to the Dolomites is akin to saying that you are going to the mountains in Colorado. There is quite a bit of terrain.
After about 5 hours of driving Mike introduced me to the joy of Italian rest stops. Fully equiped with a full espresso bar, these people are not joking around about their “gas station coffee”. We both order a cappucino and stand at the high tables like everyone else to sip our freshly made 1 euro beverages. No no…not the capuccinos you get at American gas stations that are basically high fructose corn syrup heated up…oh no. These are delicious, lick the foam off your lip, capuccinos. Rejuvinated, we got back into the car and finally started entering the mountains that we had been seeing ahead of us for hours as we toured through the land of wine and fruit and olives.
Upon arriving in about the cutest town I had ever seen we decided to pull over. We had no idea where we were in a traditional sense. We didnt’ know the name of the town and couldn’t point out where we were on a map. But we could smell the pizze and we liked what we smelled. After determining where we were on a map (St. Ulrich), we decided to move on to the next village up, Wolkenstein (or Selva Gardena) as Mike had heard of some mountain guides basing out of this town. We found a lovely little dirt road to park our car on and found Rino’s. Rino’s pizzeria that is. 2 pizzes, 1 (overfilled) liter of house wine, 1 tiramisu, and 2 coffees later, we were in love. Yes with each other, but also with the area. While we were eating outside, around 9 p.m. the streets started filling with people and the shops re-opened. Everyone went out for an after dinner walk and town was bustling.
After a restful night of sleeping in our “minivan” we headed up for Sella Pass. You wouldn’t believe the number of people up there. So we packed our climbing bags and headed up. (Aformentioned Italian climbing story enter here.
Sella Pass in the Dolomites
My personal mountain guide
Coffee at the crag
The next day we were unsure of our decision not to buy a guide book so we went into town to try and determine where some sport crags were that had mid-grade climbs on them. After finding a few we headed back up towards the pass. Stopping at one, we packed in our harnesses, rope, draws, snacks, and of course jet-boil, coffee, and milk in a mini tetrapack. We were in Italy! When in Rome…. While Mike scoped out the different walls I napped in the shade while watching a teenage boy climb a long 5.13 (I’m guessing) overhanging limestone route, belayed by his much older father. Not something I’m used to seeing in the states. A few routes later we were back in the car, driving back to Rino for another pizze night.
The next day, upon determining that while I really wanted to see the ocean (a beach north of Venice is what we had decided on) neither one of us were in the mood for big city. We remembered signs for a Lago di garda while we were driving towards the mountains so we decided to head back the way we had come and look for those signs again. After poaching a map for a few minutes at a rest stop, we determined that we were a mere 30 km from Arco, a world renowed sport climbing area, and that Arco was 10 km from the Lago di garda which is the largest lake in Italy.
Every new place we went was like hitting the jackpot in Italy. Arco is the classic adorable Italian town you have pictured in your mind. Tiny cobbled streets litered with gelatarias, shops, pizzerias, beautiful old churches, a castle overlooking town, people riding their bikes everywhere…we loved it. Since it was about to be the heat of the day, we both got a scoop of gelato, a slice of pizze, and headed for the lake. Lago di garda may be the windiest place on earth, hence the millions of windsurfers that polka dot the lake with color. We felt like we were swimming in the ocean as we dove into the oncoming waves. After sufficiently cooling down and being over looking at the man next to us with his very tan hairy butt hanging out, we went back into town. I do have to say that while we were at the beach we really noticed that Italians know how to get a tan.
After cooking some tortellini in the parking lot we packed our bags and headed out to find the climbing. It shoulnd’t be hard, the cliffs practically rise right out of town. After about two hours of walking, chatting with ostriches, and checking out different trails later, we finally find a little crag that suits us perfect. Interestingly enough we were there with three other couple climbers. Not something you usually see at the crag, even male/female ratio. By the middle of the wall we determined that if we didn’t head into town soon we would miss our last opportunity for 5euro italian pizzas and gelato for dessert. This was not an option.
Mr. Ostrich. He followed Mike along the sidewalk for about 5 minutes.
Lago di Garda