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Austria and Italy 2014: Stubai Alps, Dolomites, and Cinque Terre

The summer of 2014 was an adventure for us in more ways than one. Life was a little chaotic as we bought a house, sold a house and moved. Our timeline was tight and everything had to go off without a hitch if we wanted to squeeze in a two week family vacation before school started. Due to our circumstances, we couldn’t book a trip far in advance and were at the mercy of plane ticket prices. Plus with such short notice we couldn’t do a trip that required detailed planning or advanced reservations. We had no idea where we were going until we finally booked tickets a mere three weeks before our vacation. To Milan. Did I mention the tickets were for seven days after we moved? So yes, a little nutty on our part, but one way or another we were on our way for a two week hiking trip in Austria.

On previous trips to the Dolomites we often had views of Austria. The mountains looked big and dramatic and we casually said we should go to Austria some day. Looks like the “some day” had arrived! The Austrian Alps have a similar hut system (see our Dolomites 2013 trip report for more information on the mountain huts in general) and good public transport like the Dolomites, so it was a style of trip we were familiar with. Austria was also attractive because it’s not as crowded as the Dolomites (or other mountain ranges in Switzerland and France) during the popular August travel time and we did not need reservations in the huts. We had read from multiple sources that they won’t turn you away in the huts there, even if you have to sleep on a mat in the dining room (and we indeed put this to the test!).

So with plane tickets and a hiking guide in hand, we were off to Austria! Our plan was to travel by train from Milan to Innsbruck, then take a bus to Neustift to start the Stubai Rucksack Route (Stubaier Runde Tour in German) in the Stubai Alps. The route connects eight huts, traversing 80km/50 miles and over 8000m/26,000 feet of ascent and descent. The guide book we used, Trekking in the Stubai Alps by Allan Hartley, breaks the trek into nine stages. We had no set time frame; we would complete the route as weather permitted then visit another area with our remaining days. Easy peasy, right?

Well, Mother Nature had something to say about our plan. Multiple times we were told that part of Europe had an unusually cold and rainy summer and the weeks we visited were no exception. It snowed on our first night in the mountains. Ah, snow, our old foe. It disrupted our travel plans on our two previous trips to the Dolomites and we decided any future trip, no matter what time of year, should include microspikes! Despite the first night of snow we hiked for three days, staying at Innsbrucker, Bremer, and Nuernberger huts, before we abandoned this route due to weather. When we woke up at Neurnberger Hut Tuesday morning a hut worker told us it was supposed to rain until Sunday. At that point we decided it was time to make a retreat.

So now what? We wondered if the Dolomites at lower elevation were maybe less affected by the poor weather and decided to take the train back to Italy. At the very least we had visited the Dolomites on two previous trips, so we were familiar with the mountains and towns and could easily navigate the area. After our most recent trip in 2013 we thought for sure it would be awhile before we were back. But apparently we just can’t stay away!

In the Dolomites we stayed in two different locations: Canazei in Val di Fassa and Ortisei in Val Gardena. Both are lovely mountain towns that afforded us some great opportunities for day hikes (when the weather allowed). We hiked to Forcella Pordoi, Piz Boe, around Secada/Alpe di Cisles, and through the Rosengarten (starting at Ciampedie, over Passo Principe and Passo d’Antermoia, and out through Val de Udai to Mazzin). We really enjoyed the hikes, some of which visited spots we could not hike the year before due to deep snow.

Since we were now completely winging it and were in search of some better weather, we turned our attentions to the coast, specifically Cinque Terre. I’ve always read about Cinque Terre and how beautiful and unique it was and this was a perfect opportunity to visit. I was able to find us reasonable lodging and we planned to spend five nights here before flying home. It was a long trip via bus and train from Ortisei to Cinque Terre, so we broke up the travel with a night in Verona. Despite having less than 24 hours here, we made the most of it and had fun exploring this old and beautiful city. We visited the Verona Arena, Castelvecchio, the various piazzas, and took in the wonderful city views at Piazzele Castel San Pietro.

Our last five nights in Cinque Terre were terrific. We rented a room in Vernazza and used the trails, trains, and boats to explore the cliffside villages and beaches. Though under the weather for a few days, Steve took the opportunity for some long hikes/runs on trails that took him through the terraced farms and to great views. Norah loved spending time on the beach, the focaccia and gelato were delicious, and I had fun taking pictures of the small villages, especially at sunset. The fresh seafood was fantastic and we were happy to go a stretch of days without rain or snow!

Although our trip did not adhere to the original plan, we still had an awesome time visiting the Stubai Alps, the Dolomites, and Cinque Terre. We hope our pictures can convey the beauty of the areas we visited and hope you enjoy browsing the galleries!

Note: pictures are best view in original mode

Our final itinerary:

Day 0: Depart JFK
Day 1: Arrive Milan, train to Innsbruck
Day 2: Stubai Route; Neustift to Innsbrucker Hut
Day 3: Stubai Route; Innsbrucker Hut to Bremer Hut
Day 4: Stubai Route; Bremer Hut to Nuernberger Hut
Day 5: Mission aborted; retreat to the Dolomites via Innsbruck and Canazei in Val di Fassa
Day 6: Forcella Pordoi day hike
Day 7: Rosengarten day hike; chairlift from Pera, hike from Ciampedie to Mazzin via Rifugio Vajolet, Passo Principe, Passo d’Antermoia, and Val de Udai
Day 8: Transfer to Ortisei in Val Gardena
Day 9: Rain day; checked out Ortisei and spent time at the lovely indoor pool complex
Day 10: Day hike to Piz Boe
Day 11: Secada/Alpe di Cisles day hike
Day 12: bus to Bolzano and train to Verona, exploring the city
Day 13: trains to Cinque Terre and our new base in Vernazza
Day 14: hike to Monterosso, beach time for Norah and me, a run/hike for Steve
Day 15: hike to Corniglia, Monterosso beach for Norah and me, hotel for an under the weather Steve
Day 16: beach day in Monterosso
Day 17: train to Manarola and hike to Riomaggiore, Steve continued to hike/run to Porto Venere, Norah and I explored Riomaggiore, spent more time in Monterosso, and rode the boat back to Manarola for dinner and sunset with Steve
Day 18: Pack it up and train back to Milan
Day 19: Fly home
Austria: The Stubai Alps
:: Austria: The Stubai Alps ::
Italy: The Dolomites
:: Italy: The Dolomites ::
Italy: Verona
:: Italy: Verona ::
Italy: Cinque Terre
:: Italy: Cinque Terre ::