A Mountain e-biking holiday at the Val Gardena, in the magnificent Italian Dolomites, is something everyone should experience.
And that is the best thing about e-bikes, for they make biking holidays in the mountains accessible to anyone of any age and ability.
The Italian Dolomites at Val Gardena, with their shimmering rocks are breathtaking, and one of my favourite places on the planet. I have snowboarded in the Dolomites plenty of times, but this was my first visit in the summer.
We stayed in Selva Val Gardena deep into the region of Val Gardena, near the Sella mountain range. The small town was quaint and beautifully Italian with more than a touch of Austrian influence.
The menus in the town’s restaurants follow in this same vein and if you love Italian food you will not be disappointed. But, alongside mouth-watering fresh pasta dishes such as mushroom ravioli with shavings of truffle sprinkled on top, regionally inspired risotto dishes, and to-die-for homemade Italian ice cream, there are traditional Austrian dishes, as well as a glorious fusion of both.
E-biking is fairly new in the Dolomites and to celebrate this phenomenon and for one day only this summer, the roads around the Sella Ronda were closed to cars, motorbikes and buses, giving exclusive right of way to cycles.
We hired out Bosch mountain e-bikes for the weekend. I have been e-biking in the mountains in the past, but had always found e-bikes rather lacking – they were either too heavy, didn’t have enough power to handle the steep gradient, or didn’t have enough battery juice to last. These Bosch e-bikes are designed to be mountain bikes and can last all day as long as you are economical with the power settings when riding.
Overall, there are four power settings starting off with eco. I found eco to be best for flat and slight inclines. The next setting was tour and I used this for longer and sharper inclines. For an extra burst I used sport or turbo.
For those unfamiliar with e-bikes, it’s important to remember that they are designed to assist and not to do all the work for you. They do make riding in the mountains a lot easier, but it is still a workout and you do have to pedal!
These are very easy bikes to ride with a user-friendly touch screen controller on the handlebars. The gears and brakes were excellent quality and much better than other e-bikes I have ridden. I often just clicked the bike into eco and really worked the gears to get the bike to do all the work and save on juice.
Saturday 24th June
We started off before breakfast and already the blazing hot sun in the perfectly blue sky was beating down on us. Our intention for the day was to explore the local Val Gardena region.
This was an easy day riding on a mixture of stony mountain trails and mountain roads, with frequent stops for photo opportunities – because, believe me, there are plenty of those! The lush green rolling fields colliding with the imposing mountains set against the bright blue sky, is simply majestic. An abundance of pics with #nofilterneeded for social media.
We stopped for lunch at the Caffe Val d’Anna, in picturesque settings above the quaint village of Ortisei. After enjoying a much needed refreshing starter of melon balls on a stick wrapped in parma ham, served in a glass of cool blended melon, there followed the biggest schnitzel I have ever had in my life.
After lunch, we lounged on the deck chairs that were dotted around on the grass. This is also a family friendly setting with lots to do for kids including a mini park.
After catching a few rays I headed down to the fast flowing, rocky, and shallow river. It is known by the locals to have healing properties – I don’t know about that but I enjoyed cooling my feet in it. I paddled halfway across and sat on a big rock, enjoying the flow of the water lapping up over my legs. A great way to cool down.
I could quite easily have enjoyed a lazy afternoon there with a few cold beers but with much resistance from my legs, we climbed back on our bikes and headed out. As we did so, the owner of the restaurant played a traditional Austrian tune over the speakers whilst ringing a big outdoor bell to see us off, with all the staff waving goodbye. I wasn’t sure whether they were being ultra-friendly, or were just so happy that we were leaving!
After an insanely gruelling ride up to an ancient church above Ortisei that even the e-bikes struggled with – a journey that must test the faith of the villagers – we headed over to Maso Paratoni, a family run restaurant in a converted mountain hütte, to enjoy locally made grappa and dessert. The father and son who run the hütte were extremely friendly and welcoming. The view from the window was a picture-perfect scene that even the best photographer in the world wouldn’t be able to do justice to. But, with dark clouds starting to canvas the top of the mountains, we decided to head back to the hotel before the storm hit.
Sunday 25th June
And boy did the storm hit! We woke up to torrential rain, thunder and lightning, which stopped our plans heading out to cycle the Sella Ronda. Instead we made use of the hotel Gran Baita’s pool, hot tub, saunas and steam room. Not a bad way to kill off a few hours!
Just when we thought all was lost for the day, the sky cleared and out came the sun. The weather in the mountains is so unpredictable!
We quickly clicked on our helmets, grabbed our bikes and headed up towards the Sella mountain range. This was mainly an uphill ascent so really got those leg muscles working.
This was the celebrated Sella Ronda Bike Day, which meant that the bikes had free reign of the roads with all other vehicles banned. We wore the event’s specially designed bike tops and there was a real sense of camaraderie with all the other cyclists on the road. Although, I felt a bit guilty whizzing past them on my e-bike, when all they had to power them were gears, muscles and pure grit!
After lunch we headed towards the Sella mountain. The closer we got, the more imposing the mountain became as it dominated the skyline with its sheer magnitude. The road took us alongside the foot of the Sella, almost close enough to touch as we cycled along.
This was an experience that you do not get when skiing or snowboarding the famous Sella Ronda in the winter, as the ski runs are quite a distance away. Up this close, the rock’s almost vertical ascent was formidably magnificent and very surreal, as if the creation of a fictional fantasy adventure novel like Lord Of The Rings.
It was bliss with no cars or buses on the road to avoid and felt so tranquil. It was so enjoyable riding with all the other cyclists who were from all nationalities, different ages and abilities. Although, there must have been hundreds of cyclists on the route at any one time, it never felt crowded in any way as everyone was so spread out.
After passing the Sella, we started climbing up hill and I was very grateful for the assisted help from the e-bike, as I notched up the mode from eco to tour. After reaching the highest part of the road, I got off my bike and climbed up a rocky trekking path to gain a better vantage point and the view was magnificent!
In one direction I could see for miles down a valley where the lush green grass in between the mountains was sporadically interrupted by small towns and villages, whose buildings glinted in the afternoon sun.
Looking back in the direction I had just cycled, the road which I had just cycled along snaked its path by the Sella, with plenty of cyclists riding in both directions. After a few scenic photos and the obligatory selfie pic for social media, we headed back down the path, jumped on the bikes and leisurely headed back to Val Gardena.
Unfortunately, I had to leave Val Gardena the next morning, and as I headed back to Verona airport I felt blessed to have visit what must be one of the most stunningly beautiful regions in the world. With Val Gardena the jewel in the crown.
The Sella Ronda Bike Day is a great event and it is pure joy cycling around the mountain roads without the fear and noise of traffic. E-bikes have really opened up the experience for anyone and I highly recommend them.
As for Val Gardena, I want to go back! Hopefully, in the winter for a comparison experience.
* we flew with easyJet on the London Gatwick to Verona route
* nearest airports to Val Gardena are Innsbruck, Verona, Venice and Milan Bergamo with airlines including easyJet, Ryanair, Monarch and BA
* Inghams www.inghams.co.uk is the main UK tour operator to Val Gardena in summer
* for more information on Val Gardena go to www.valgardena.it/en email email@example.com or call +39 0471 777 777
Mark is also the manager of Jamie Barrow (Britain’s fastest snowboarder)