Europe Road Trip Day 8: Bolzano, The Dolomites & Cortina

Day eight of my European road trip was one of my favorite days of the trip thus far. It started in the strange town of Bolzano at the edge of the Dolomites and continued through the Dolomites into Cortina d’Ampezzo. It was a spectacular drive, one of my all time favorites.

Bolzano, Italy

I had never heard of Bolzano before. I didn’t know anything about it. That is very unusual for me. We decided to stay there because it was essentially halfway between Bergamo and Cortina and was a good place to stay for a night.

Upon arrival, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a like a German city in Italy. It isn’t far from the Austrian border so it makes some sense but still, all the signs were in German then Italian.

The architecture in the modern city was very German and up in the hills and towns the chalet houses looked German or Swiss. The countryside was immaculately manicured like you’d see in Switzerland and everybody we came across was speaking German. It was very perplexing to me.

Everybody staying at our hotel was German or at least speaking German. That’s not bad, it’s just weird but I figured out they were there to start a trek or drive into the mighty Dolomite Mountains. They are visible from above the city after you take a cable car up about 2500 meters in 10 minutes to a small town called Renon.

Along the cable car ride, you see unreal views of the city and valley below where they have cultivated the land so well that you’d swear you’re in Switzerland. Upon arrival in Renon, you can walk around and hike for hours to different viewpoints of the Dolomites across the valley. The little town is great to check out and the chalet style hotels and houses are very warm and welcoming.

There isn’t a ton to see or do in the city itself. Bolzano is an OK town with a small center and some usual things like a cathedral and shopping but nothing to really keep you here. The highlight is the cable car and the start of the Dolomites.

Drive Through the Dolomites, Italy

The Strada Regionale delle Dolomiti is one of the best drives I’ve ever taken. From Bolzano, you take the highway about 20km or so north and it begins and goes until Cortina. In between is some of the best mountain scenery and passes that I’ve ever seen. I loved it!

It’s hard to describe exactly how cool it is racing around windy roads and up and down huge mountains whilst seeing amazing vistas, mountain views and spectacular backdrops. All the while dodging maniacal motorcycle drivers and Tour de France type cyclists on the narrow roads.

I hope the pictures do it some justice but pictures can never show the true beauty. You’ll have to go see it for yourself some time. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy

Cortina d’Ampezzo, better known as Cortina was the host of the 1956 Winter Olympic Games and narrowly missed out on hosting them again in both 1988 and 1992. It has also been the setting for some memorable movie scenes including scenes from James Bond’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and also Sly Stallone’s ‘Cliffhanger’.

Cortina is to Italy as Chamonix is to France. A very affluent ski town that has everything a jet setting Italian socialite could want in a winter playground.

It has the usual great shopping, an awesome little town center complete with cathedral and has the gorgeous backdrop of the Dolomites. It also has windy little roads and a crystal clear river running through the town. It is a breathtaking place and one that would make a perfect ski holiday.

There isn’t much to show it hosted an Olympics except for a ski jump and some pictures in some of the stores around town. Cortina was actually scheduled to host the 1944 games that were cancelled due to World War 2 and as I said, the did get it in 1956 and they were very successful.

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  1. Kai Chongloi says

    The pics are amazing Lee.

  2. Wow that’s just gorgeous…

  3. Dude, you’re killing me…that looks unbelievable

  4. That sounds like the drive of a lifetime. Looks like it too.

  5. cool story and pics Lee

  6. I’ve always wanted to see Cortina. Thanks for confirming my suspicions.

  7. Did you shake hands with Ötzi the Iceman in Bolzano?

  8. Ötzi the Iceman resides the South Tyrol Museum of archaeology in Bolzano. As europe’s oldest human mummy, he’s great to see!

  9. Amazing photos! I would like to visit bolzano in the future and thanks for your awesome post. By the way I’ve added you on my favorite links.

  10. Hi,

    I wish you could have tried to climb a bit of The Dolomites rather than wander down at the valley and the roads packed with cyclist and noisy lazy motorists. The best and the easiest way to give it a go is to try Via Ferrata treks which the Dolomites are covered with.
    July this year we were too in Bolzano but escaped to mountains right after one night in a small and boring city.



    • Thanks Jonas…I wish I had more time to hike up into the mountains as well but I will surely be back in the Dolomites. I do like the little towns as well though especially Cortina.

  11. Shame you didn’t get to see Otzi – he really is remarkable and most certainly deserves to be top of your list next time. I blogged about our visit here (And following posts) That region is beautiful, I agree and has a fascinating history, which results in this curious mix of cultures. Thanks for sharing your trip.


  12. this is my favorite place in the Alps as I live very close to cortina. it’s a pity you stayed little time. well, a good reason to go back and explore the dolomites area!

  13. Hi, What do you think i should spend more times either in Bolanzo or Cortina? I will be using public transport only.. Thanks so much for the information.can’t wait to be there in September. xxx

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