East to West through the Dolomites: Part 3 The Sella Ronda and Canazei

Published on:  | Last updated: 29 March 2017

Cortina d'Ampezzo from the road to the Passo Falzorego

Cortina d'Ampezzo from the road to the Passo Falzorego

From the Lago di Misurina you go back the way you come and then turn right at the junction with the SS48. From there, there’s a short climb to the Passo Tre Croci (Són Zuógo in ladino) at 1805 metres. The view opens up of the broad conca (bowl) around Cortina d’Ampezzo and the surrounding mountains.

From Cortina there’s a climb of a little under 1,00 metres over 20 kilometres towards the Passo Falzarego (2105m) and the Passo Valparola (2192m).

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Distances
Misurina - Cortina d'Ampezzo 15 kms
Auronzo di Cadore - Cortina d'Ampezzo (direct) 43 kms
Cortina d'Ampezzo - Sankt Kassian (San Cassiano) 30 kms
Sankt Kassian - Corvara 8 kms
Corvara - Canazei 31 kms

The road features regularly in the Giro d’Italia and has been the scene of the most famous victories of Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali - the mythic figures of Italian cycling. The 1946 Giro was the first of many battles between young and up and coming Coppi and Bartali, who, only a few years older, would be condemned to be seen as Il Vecchio (the old man). Coppi won the stage from Auronzo di Cadore to Bassano del Grappa but Bartali held onto win the race by 47 seconds. On the Passo Pordoi there’s a memorial to Fausto Coppi as well as a memorial listing the winners of the Cima Coppi - the Cima Coppi is the highest point in each year's Giro.

Passo Pordoi - Memorial to Fausto Coppi

Passo Pordoi - Memorial to Fausto Coppi

Until 1918 most of this road was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and during the first world war, because of its strategic importance, it was the scene of some of the most dramatic battles on the Italian-Austrian front. War fought in the high mountains involved feats of engin­eering and ingenuity and aston­ishing endurance. Many of the high mountain roads, vie ferrate, and cable lifts were built to support and supply the front lines. A number of these sites have been restored and are visitable - although usually they involve a cable car ride or hike. The writer HG Wells visited this part of the front and wrote an evocative account.

Read HG Wells' account: 'It must have been like storming the skies'

 The fighting man in the Dolomites has been perhaps the most wonderful of all these separate campaigns. I went up by automobile as far as the clambering new road that goes up the flanks of Tofana No. 2; thence for a time by mule along the flank of Tofana No. 1, and thence on foot to the vestiges of the famous Castelletto.

The aspect of these mountains is partic­u­larly grim and wicked; they are worn old mountains, they tower overhead in enormous vertical cliffs of sallow grey, with the square jointings and occasional clefts and gullies, their summits are toothed and jagged; the path ascends and passes round the side of the mountain upon loose screes, which descend steeply to a lower wall of precipices. In the distance rise other harsh and desolate-looking mountain masses, with shining occasional scars of old snow. Far below is a bleak valley of stunted pine trees through which passes the road of the Dolomites.

As I ascended the upper track two bandaged men were coming down on led mules. It was mid-August, and they were suffering from frostbite. Across the great gap between the summits a minute traveller with some provi­sions was going up by wire to some post upon the crest. For every­where upon the icy pinnacles are obser­vation posts directing the fire of the big guns on the slopes below, or machine-gun stations, or little garrisons that sit and wait through the bleak days. Often they have no link with the world below but a precip­itous climb or a “teleferic” wire. Snow and frost may cut them off absolutely for weeks from the rest of mankind. The sick and wounded must begin their journey down to help and comfort in a giddy basket that swings down to the head of the mule track below.

Originally all these crests were in Austrian hands; they were stormed by the Alpini under almost incredible condi­tions. For fifteen days, for example, they fought their way up these screes on the flanks of Tofana No. 2 to the ultimate crags, making perhaps a hundred metres of ascent each day, hiding under rocks and in holes in the daylight and receiving fresh provi­sions and ammunition and advancing by night. They were subjected to rifle fire, machine-gun fire and bombs of a peculiar sort, big iron balls of the size of a football filled with explosive that were just flung down the steep. They dodged flares and star shells. At one place they went up a chimney that would be far beyond the climbing powers of any but a very active man. It must have been like storming the skies. The dead and wounded rolled away often into inaccessible ravines. Stray skeletons, rags of uniform, fragments of weapons, will add to the climbing interest of these gaunt masses for many years to come. In this manner it was that Tofana No. 2 was taken. 

War and the Future, by H. G. Wells

The Passo Falzarego (Fouzargo in ladino) means ‘false king’ and refers to the local legend of the Regno di Fanes (Kingdom of Fanes) and treach­erous king who sent his army to defeat and was then turned to stone. The survivors of the kingdom are said to be in a cavern below the king waiting for the trumpet call that will signal their return.

The pass itself is a bit of a disap­pointment - not that the scenery isn’t great with the cable cars climbing toward the peak of the Tofanes mountain which dominates the pass. Sadly the bottom of the cable car is a huge car park and the pass itself is not much more than a round­about with an overpriced bar and souvenir shop.

From the Passo Falzarego my suggestion would be to turn off the SS48 and climb towards the Passo di Valparola (2192m) and from there into the Südtirol.

The Passo di Valparola was the scene of bitter fighting in the Grande Guerra and there ruins of the old imperial fort have been converted into a museum (NB closed at lunch­times). From here there’s a long descent amid some wonderful scenery to the town of Corvara.

From Corvara the route starts to climb again to the Passo Gardena (Gardnerjoch - 2121m) and then the Passo di Sella (2240m). From the Passo di Sella it’s downhill all the way to Canazei.

Options

This route meets the Dolomites West-East route at Cortina and you could at this point head south towards Forno di Zoldo.

The Ciclabile delle Dolomiti passes through Cortina and you could take it towards Toblach (Dobbiaco) to the north. The ciclabile forms part of the new München-Venezia cycle route so you could turn south towards Venezia or head for the Brenner pass.

You could also head for Canazei via the Passo di Giau and the Passo Fedaia - although the climb to the latter is fairly steep.

Day-rides

If you are on a mountain bike there are lots of options around Cortina.

If you want to ride the whole of the Sella Ronda I’d suggest basing yourself in either Colfosco, Arabba or Canazei and doing the circuit as a day-ride without your luggage. Colfosco and Arabba are on the circuit itself while you need to climb up to the Passo Pordoi from Canazei to get to the circuit.

if you do the Sella clockwise you could avoid doing the same climbs again the following day.

Sella Ronda - the road to the Passo Pordoi

Sella Ronda - the road to the Passo Pordoi

More information

Places to stay

When it comes to hotels you are spoilt for choice: although in peak season cheaper accom­mod­ation may be at a premium.

Hotels and B&Bs

Find and book places to stay with Booking.com

Booking.com pages for places on this section of the route:

 About these links

If you use these links to book accom­mod­ation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.

I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirm­ation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accom­mod­ation.

I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the oppor­tunity to let me know if there’s a problem.

Many properties offer free cancel­lation but it’s a good idea to check the condi­tions as these vary from property to property.

Campsites

There are campsites at Cortina, Colfosco and Canazei.

  Map of campsites on the route:  DolomitesEW-campsites-map-show map in overlay    |    DolomitesEW-campsites-map-show map in new window   

Articles in this series

Road signs in the Dolomites near Canazei

Road signs in the Dolomites near Canazei

Get in touch

Please get in touch if you find any errors in the information, or if there’s anything, good or bad, that you’d want other cyclists to know.


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