In northern Italy, choose a winding road into the Dolomites
By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2014
When the sun is shining brightly in a cloudless sky, most Italians head to the beach, but some prefer higher (and cooler) ground.
The Dolomite mountains north of Aviano Air Base, for example, aren’t nearly as crowded as the beaches to the south any time of year, except when the snow falls.
There are still a few months before that should happen, though, and there are several routes that wind their way up into the mountains. One of them starts at Maniago and continues up to Tolmezzo or branches off to several other destinations.
On a recent sunny day — and in a small vehicle capable of making the climb — we encountered almost no traffic. Not a bad thing, considering that some of the roads seem barely wide enough for one vehicle.
The SP26 begins at the center of Maniago and ends just before the village of Poffabro. It’s one of six villages in Friuli-Venezia Giulia given the designation Borghi piu belli d’Italia (most beautiful villages in Italy). You can judge its merits for yourself, but other than taking in the view of the surrounding mountains, there’s not a whole lot to do in Poffabro.
Backtracking about a mile, the SP63 begins. Taking this would be good for those who’d like to get a taste of bicycling in the mountains but don’t have the equipment or endurance to take on heavy climbs. It crosses the Meduna River and ends at the SP552. The town of Meduno — a metropolis in this area — is off to the right. Going left sends motorists farther north into the mountains.
The SP552 continues 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) or so until it ends at the SS52 that runs roughly parallel to the Austrian border to the north. Much of that route is winding and narrow enough to not have any painted traffic lanes. Those not interested in spending the night in the mountains can travel up a short distance to a series of towns that share the same name.
Tramonti di Sotto is the first of the trio. Sotto means lower. The Valtramontina camping ground nearby is pretty basic, but there are picnic tables and rudimentary toilets.
Tramonti di Mezzo (middle) is smaller and is located off a branch in the road. Tramonti di Sopra (upper) is the largest of the three. The road quickly gets narrower and more winding after that, so it’s a natural place to turn around and head back down the mountains.
Dolomite Mountain roads
Maniago is northeast of Aviano and can be reached in several ways. The easiest (mainly the SP19 road) starts at the industrial area of Aviano and takes about 15 minutes. Signs marking the various roads can be a little spotty, so it’s best to have a map and follow the blue signs for the villages along the route.
Just gasoline for the vehicle (a full tank to start is a good idea). No road tolls or entry fees.
Sunny weather is almost a must, unless you’re planning to ski or engage in another winter activity. Roads are more crowded on weekends but there generally isn’t much traffic during the spring, summer and fall.
Places to eat are few. Meduno has a couple of options (and an Agip gas station). There’s a pizzeria near the southern end of Lake Redona. Some of the other villages have sometimes seasonal restaurants or small stores whose opening hours (and days) vary widely. It might be best to bring picnic supplies.
More information is available at the region’s tourism website: www.turismo.fvg.it. Many local tourist offices have brochures and other information on the area.