Three days of traversing the Dolomites has quite literally left me speechless.
Day 1 Bormio to Lana The road down from the top of Stelvio. Peter drove over the pass and then joined the cyclists for a leisurely 70km along the bike paths through the apple orchards (more about apples later). I got quite lost – really need to update the Navman – not helped by the fact that here in the South Tirol, roads (and everything else have a split personality, Italian one day, German the next!
The man in the hotel in Lana, when asked if he needed the details of the car I’d left in his car park, pulled up his nose and said “no, I saw it, it’s the Italian one”. I was left wondering how on earth a Skoda station wagon is “Italian” until I realised most of the others in the car park had German number plates! He expanded on his views when Peter checked in a couple of hours later… This area, the Italian “just TOOK it, just like that” snaps his fingers… “Just like Putin just TOOK Crimea, they just took it”. Okay then. Anyway, I’m much more comfortable in my broken German than in broken Italian.
Meals that night were outrageously gigantic in the restaurant / pub down the road. Apparently wine is a foreign concept… All menu items came with a beer match suggestion, but we had a choice of only 2 types of red wine – we sampled both and were sad to have left Nebbiolo country behind us (but fortunately a few bottled stashed back in the room for emergencies).
Day 2 From Lana to Selve di Val Gardena (full name specially for you, Willy Sussman) I was on driving duty. For the cyclists, a long slow ride through the valleys and then up up up into what is a ski resort (where I’d managed to find a hotel that was so far up the ski slopes that there was a somewhat unnecessary climb at the end of the ride. Rewarded by this view from the hotel room window of the glorious pink Dolomites.
With the day pretty much to myself, I unpacked ALL of the luggage into our room, set up a little birthday surprise for Don…
The restaurant across the road from from our lodgings was the perfect place to celebrate Don’s 76th birthday, which we did with style. For me smoked duck prosciutto (rivalling my other new culinary discovery – swordfish carpaccio, from the hotel in Bormio), followed by gnocchi with Gorgonzola… I didn’t join the boys in dessert (though the warm fresh raspberries with ice cream smelled scrumptious). Best of all, the perfect waiter… One of those wonderful Europeans for whom serving in a restaurant is a career, and one he is very very good at. Great wine and food advice, just enough banter but not too much, indulging our bad German and Italian before gently revealing that actually his English is pretty good, humouring Don’s sometimes unconnected questions or remarks… All in al, a great night out.
Day 4: Gardena to Cortina. Maybe it was the big dinner, or the altitude, or the biggish ride the previous day. Having waved the cyclists goodbye – all four of them – I was no sooner round the first of what was to be an unexpectedly large number of hairpin bends than I was waved down by a forlorn Peter sheltering under a sign at the side of the road. Seems the lungs are still not quite up to riding 3 days in a row.
Plus was that I got to sit ogling the scenery from the passenger seat, while he drove (with regular stops to allow the others to don their warm gear for the downhills, and shed it again for the next climb.
A very weary bunch of riders arrived in Cortina mid afternoon, and by 5.30pm we were desperately seeking dinner – not an easy ask in a town where at that time mostly all that is on offer is cakes, ice cream and beer! A small, quite basic and very expensive pizzeria rescued us from a rush of low blood sugar grumpiness… And by 730pm all were back in their rooms (Alistair having decided he was no longer sharing with Don) and some, I believe snoring soundly by 8!
So finally, back to the apples, and back to the very first day of our journey. From the moment we left Lake Como, and all the way through the Gardena, the valleys are awash with the yellow and red of fresh ripe apples waiting to be harvested. The volumes are overwhelming… One packhouse we passed was as large as a small village! I could not help but wonder at the fact that New Zealand actually exports apples to Europe, and quite successfully so. Yes, we fill their “off season” – but unless you’re an apple aficionado, you will probably be quite happy with the local ones kept in cool stores for a year round supply. The importance of our pip fruit innovation programme… Constantly developing new varieties to meet and to generate new tastes – it’s absolutely critical. I was again pleased to have played a small part, through one of my best research projects ever, in helping to shape the development priorities for that programme.
Because honestly, beautiful as they look, these apples are, to eat, not a patch on our fantastic Pacific Rose, Lemonade, Jazz and other varieties, not to mention my very favourite bite sized Rocket apples!
So here I am in Cortina for the next six days. A town completely dedicated to VERY fit and active pursuits. If you’re not here to ride (road or mountain bikes), hike or rock climb, the man in the information centre is pretty much at a loss as to what to suggest. Fortunately I am perfectly happy to wander, with my book, my note pad and my knitting; and of course my shiny new camera that I am getting to know a little better each day.