She Said, She Said: The Dolomites
by Geri Bain and Jenny Keroack
Five years after their first blogged adventure (She Said She Said London) Jenny Keroack, now 23 years old, and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain, set off on a new journey. This trip centered on three great societies: the Ancient Greeks, the Ottomans, and the Venetians. Starting in Athens, they set sail on a Windstar Cruise to Venice, tracing the interwoven histories of these superpowers. After the cruise, they headed to the Dolomites. As with their last adventure, they recorded their impressions and favorite finds along the way. Jenny’s are in italics; Geri’s are in regular type. The following is their final installment, logged from Ortisei in the Dolomites.
We had planned to set out on the three hour drive from Venice (Insert Link) to the Dolomites by 3:30 pm and arrive before dark. However, despite confirmed reservations, the Enterprise rental car clerk held us nearly an hour waiting for confirmation from the Munich office where we’d ultimately be dropping the car. As a result, we started climbing into the Italian Alps just as the sun set, the lights of villages in the surrounding mountains serving as a tease of the scenery we were missing.
Adler Dolomiti Spa & Sport Resort. We stayed at the Adler Dolomiti based on experiences at its sister property in Tuscany (Hotel Adler Thermae), which offers a similar combination of complimentary guided outings, saunas and pools and farm-to-table dining, and we weren’t disappointed. The resort is set in the Dolomite Mountains, part of the Southern Alps, in the village of Ortisei, a center for hiking, biking and in winter, skiing and snowshoeing. Its 3,500 square meter “Water & Wellness World” is like a theme park of relaxation rooms, hot tubs, and pools with tucked away waterfalls and massaging jets. We also loved the spa treatments’ use of regional ingredients and the salt grotto. There are also diverse saunas with infusions such as organic hay, floral blossoms and lavender and lime—all available at no charge. One thing that took some getting used to: in the saunas, towels, but no swimsuits, are permitted and most are co-ed. Our favorite shared ritual after each day of exploring on foot or e-bikes was soaking in the outdoor hot tub. Here, we had great views of the surrounding mountains and enjoyed chatting with fellow guests.
E-biking. Unless you’re a sensationally good bicyclist, there is no better way to see the stupendous mountains of the Dolomites than by electric bike (e-bike). With the help of small, or sometimes big, electric boosts with each pedal, my mom and I were able to bike up and around the Alpe di Siusi (a.k.a. Seiser Alm), the largest high-altitude Alpine meadow in Europe. The views are unbelievable and, while the workout is challenging at times, the e-bike makes even the toughest hills do-able. One piece of advice I learned the hard way: since the mountain bikes have tough seats, wear (padded) bike shorts.
Hiking. Hiking in the Dolomites is dramatic due to the steep alpine terrain. While we never used them, the region is wonderfully organized with bus routes (with free tickets for local hotel guests), interconnecting lifts and well-marked and maintained routes. We preferred going under our own power, following well-marked trails including a “Dialogue Walk” with stone-carvings of quotes (in German) from Mother Teresa, a Cherokee Native American and others along the way. We also followed the Val Gardena Railway trail which connects the villages of the valley and a steep pilgrimage trail through the woods, punctuated with brightly painted story boards, that leads to St. Jacob’s Church. Along the way, trails would swing by towns, playgrounds and pastures and then climb into long, often steep stretches of forest where we often saw no more than one or two other hikers for hours.
Regional Food. One of the reasons we love Adler resorts is their authentic regional food. Both at the Adler Dolomiti and through stops on group bike rides and hikes, Adler Dolomiti makes sure to give you a taste of the Dolomites. Since the area was historically part of Austria, a lot of the food will feel familiar to anyone who has traveled around Austria, Germany, or Scandinavia, but the Italian influence is also evident, especially in the many varieties of pasta dishes and seafood. Two of my favorite local dishes were Kaiserschmarrn, pieces of shredded pancakes cooked with caramelized raisons and other ingredients and topped with berries or fruit compotes, and spaetzli, dumplings with a local smoked ham called speck. Upon seeing me eat Kaiserschmarrn topped with lingonberries, one German man informed me: “That’s what we make at home!”
Three cultures. The Adler Dolomiti is in the center of Ortesei, a picturesque village in the Val Gardena (Garden Valley) where the region’s three cultures are evident. The region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until being annexed by Italy at the end of World War I, so German, along with Italian, is one of three official languages here. The third language, whose roots go back to the days of the Roman Empire, is Ladin. A Romance language, it is still spoken in a number of once-isolated valleys, including Val Gardena. Woodcarving, a craft honed in the long alpine winters, is displayed in traditional and modern forms in shops, adorning homes and churches, and in the Museum Gherdeina, which focuses on Ladin culture.
Next stop: home. We were half dreading the three-hour drive to the Munich airport, but the dramatic scenery, especially as we drove past Innsbruck, and the generous breakfast-to-go the hotel packed, turned the drive into a fun outing.
Geri Bain, a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 65 countries. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
23-year-old Jenny Keroack, a recent graduate from University of Chicago, has written for The Gate, Observer Tribune and other publications and is now a Senior Analyst at National Journal’s Network Science Initiative.