Italy: The Heart of the Dolomites

Text: Bart De Schampheleire • Photography: David Stockman

The legendary Sellaronda loop in Italy’s Dolomites mountain range is a mere 34 miles long, but in that distance, you travel around the mighty, plateau-shaped Sella rock massif, climb four passes, ascend more than 5,800 feet, and steer your motorcycle through a countless number of turns in breathtakingly beautiful scenery. If you travel to the Italian Alps, you don’t want to miss riding the Sellaronda. But don’t wait too long: the future of this classic route is uncertain.

“Si, si, Sir. Many tourists. A lot of buses. And motorbike riders and cyclists. Always busy.” The manager of the tavern at the top of the Passo Pordoi, where I wash down an extremely dry ham and cheese sandwich with a second cappuccino, tries to dance around the topic in all possible ways. The last couple of days, when I tried to climb the impressive passes on my bicycle, I experienced how crowded the Sellaronda’s roads are, but I really would like to know how he sees the future—after all, he makes a living by serving tourists food and drinks at the top of the Passo Pordoi. 

The route is so popular with cyclists, motorcycle riders, and sports car enthusiasts, and the tension among these different groups is rising; politicians are brainstorming how everyone can share the road in the future. Also important in this discussion is the price that the environment has to pay for its own popularity, and the revenue that the local economy derives from motorized tourism. 

The debate is becoming more and more polarized because during peak season and on weekends the assortment of visitors traveling over the four Dolomite passes that form the Sellaronda looks almost like a train, or perhaps like a herd of elephants, trunk-to-tail, 34 miles long in two directions. Annoyances and accidents are inevitable, and the Sellaronda is already being closed to motorized traffic on some days in order to allow cyclists to enjoy the scenery safely. When I try to ask the manager of Ristorante Maria more questions about this difficult topic, he rushes to the next table to serve another tourist a dry ham and cheese sandwich and a cappuccino.

Steaming Asphalt

Last night I explored the Sellaronda. After 6 p.m., when all the tourists have returned to their hotels, you find tranquility on the winding roads—hence the idea to start my ride early this morning, hopefully before the other tourists had awakened. At 7 a.m. I ride from the mountain village of La Villa to the better-known ski resort of Corvara. 

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2019 back issue.