Sunday, April 12, 2009

Luisa's Favorite Ride: Cortina d'Ampezzo Loop

A "Thank You" to Luisa for writing in about her favorite ride in Italy, and sharing her route. She also writes, "Do you want to ride with me in the Dolomites? Visit my Dolomites tour page at or email me at"

My Favorite Ride in Italy

Anyone who loves riding and finding undiscovered and unknown places on a bike knows the difference between admiring scenic landscapes and approaching small, hilltop villages by bike rather than from the window of a car. However, when I went up the Dolomites passes for the first time, I felt an emotion that I never felt before. With every switchback, the road hugging the mountains, those gigantic ragged peaks looking majestic and intimidating, I felt very small, but also powerful and proud, and like I was in heaven. As I have said when describing my Dolomites tours, you feel a great sense of achievement mixed with the joy of being surrounded by such breathtaking beauty.

I know the Dolomites so well that I can be there for over a week, and never ride the same route twice. However I have my favorite loop that I would like to share with you.
This100 km (65 miles) loop starts from Arabba, in the heart of the famous four passes of the Sella Ronda, goes to Cortina d’Ampezzo though the Colle Santa Lucia and the Giau, and loops back through the passes of Falzarego, Valparola and Campolongo. Yes, the ride includes the five famous and legendary Dolomites passes, plus the visit to the famous and elegant ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo.

This is my favorite ride for these reasons:
1. It is the right length for a full day of riding that allows you a nice lunch break in Cortina.
2. Every pass has a little different special twist that provides plenty of variety to the ride.
3. It includes the challenge of climbing one of the steepest passes in the Dolomites, the Giau.
4. The route goes over the point where passo Falzarego and passo Valparola intersect, offering an unbelievable 360 degree view.
5. The top of passo Valparola is totally unique with its spectacular, moonlike landscape.
6. The 15 km (9 miles) descent from Passo Valparola to La Villa (the village where the famous Granfondo Dolomiti starts) is one of most beautiful descents in the Dolomites: open, scenic and winding, with views of the valley and the La Villa.

The ride starts in Arabba, and you head towards Passo Falzarego with the Passo Pordoi behind you. The terrain is beautiful and rolling, mainly downhill coasting along the valley with a lovely stream on your right. When you reach the intersection for Passo Falzarego, ride straight, veering right. The road continues for 5 km (3 miles). Take the first left turn, looking for the sign for Passo Staulanza. You may miss it if you are descending too fast. Turn left at that intersection. The road immediately begins steepens but for only about 2-2.5 km (1-1.5 miles), and then levels off. The entire climb is 3-4 km long (2-3 miles).

Then descend to Selva di Cadore. Just before you reach the small village, take a left turn towards Passo Giau and Cortina d’Ampezzo. The Giau is 10 km long (6.2 miles) and starts with a tough section of 10% grade, an indication of what lies ahead. There is a temporary reprise of 7% but after crossing a small bridge, the climb gets steep again and maintains a 9%+ grade all the way to the top. Between the switchbacks are long straight stretches of steady steep grade and the switchbacks do not provide any space for recovery. At 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the top, ride through two well-lit tunnels with a 10% grade. After the second tunnel, you’ll see the sign “2 km” and you might think it’s almost over but with 8 km of this gradient in your legs, the last 2 km seem to go on forever. The scenery opens up to a spectacular view of rugged peaks but the 10% grade will stay with you the rest of the way. You can see the“rifugio” at the top … you keep looking at it, but it just seems to float in space always ahead of you!

Finally you reach the summit and can enjoy the long descent. Keep going straight when you see the sign for Passo Falzarego and continue straight towards Cortina d’Ampezzo. After a short visit and lunch on the main street in Cortina, you can head back in the same way you came, towards Passo Falzarego and Pecol.

Take the right turn towards Passo Falzarego. From this side Passo Falzarego is much easier and gentle. Its 16 km (10 miles) total from Cortina and the average grade is around 5%. The road goes through woods and pine trees forests until the last km when it opens up to an unforgettable view at the summit. Right at the top, after stopping to enjoying the scenery and taking pictures, take a right turn to Passo Valparola. The road gets steep, but it’s only for a little over 1 km. It then levels off and this last effort is all worth it. You feel like you are on the moon. Be careful, since it gets very windy at the top of Passo Valparola. There is a nice little “rifugio” for a quick snack and break just before the descent. Be cautious at the beginning of the descent since there are steep switchbacks, but the view is breathtaking.

Follow the signs to La Villa as you descend. At the bottom of the descent, you will reach an intersection in the village of La Villa. Take a left at this intersection and head towards Arabba and Passo Campolongo. The grade is gentle for 3.2 km (2 miles) until you reach the village of Corvara. Keep going straight following the road and you will approach Passo Campolongo. It’s only 4 km (2.5 miles) long, and the first 3 km (2 miles) have steep switchbacks above 7-8%, but they are open and reveal a beautiful view of Corvara and the entire valley. If you ride through here around 5 or 6 p.m. you may encounter a herd of cows crossing the road that will entirely stop traffic. The last km is almost flat. When you reach the top of Passo Campolongo you are basically finished. Enjoy the beautiful 4 km (2.5 miles) descent to Arabba and be ready for a well deserved beer and apple strudel.

Photos: Luisa's favorite loop, group at the start in Arabba, profile of the Passo Giau (sections in red are over 10%), riding up the Giau, Passo Falzarego at 2,105 meters, views decending towards La Villa

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