The beautiful Dolomite region is usually presented in images when the days are bright and sunny. But will your drive through the Dolomites be worth it if the weather is wet?
The lucky ones drive through the Dolomites to a holiday destination on a dry road with plans to stay for a while. During their stay they enjoy an alpine environment with breath-taking panoramic views. In the summer they go trekking and hiking, and in the winter alpine skiing. But what about the rest of us – those of us whose schedule only allows for a day drive through the Dolomites? What if the weather closes in and the bright, sunny days we had hoped for are replaced by grey and wet days? Are those peaks and valleys worth visiting in the absence of bright sunshine? And is it safe to drive those turns and switchbacks on wet roads? What can you expect to see and experience on a day trip? Is driving through the Dolomites worth it when it’s wet? We’ve put this post together so you can make up your own mind.
This post is not about displaying the pristine beauty of the Dolomites and nor do our images reflect it. This post is about helping you assess whether that day trip in the Dolomites you planned is worth it when it is wet. The images we have selected support that theme. Our view is that the beauty of the Dolomites is not diminished by poor weather. It is just a different type of beauty. All that is required is a simple change in expectations as to what there is to see.
- Route for this drive through the Dolomites
- The Drive on Wet Roads Through the Pordoi Pass
- The Scenic Drive Along the Livinallongo Valley
- Drive into Arabba – In the Heart of the Dolomites
- Pieve di Livinallongo
- Col di Lana Under a Veil
- Drive Along the History of the Falzarego Pass
- Cortina d’Ampezzo in Cloud, Mist and Rain
- Cine Dreiz Zinnen
- Gruppo del Cadine
- Mt Crystallo
- The Passo Giau When it is Wet
- Mt Pelmo
- Selva di Cadore
- Worth Driving To: Colle San Lucia and the Marmolada Group
- Final Thoughts on Why A Drive Through the Dolomites Is Still Worth It When its Wet
The Route for the Drive Through The Dolomites
This drive through the Dolomites starts at the Pordoi Pass and follows the SR48 to Cortina d’Ampezzo. The road then swings south through the Giau Pass to Selva di Cadore and then back towards Belluno. The drive completes the route previously published in Your Scenic Road Trip Through The Dolomites, which went from Belluno through Falcade, the Passo Pellegrino, the Sassa Valley and the adjacent Rosengarten Group, to the Pordoi Pass. That post also detailed the natural history of the Dolomites. It explained the uplifting of the sea floor and the subsequent shaping of the limestone and dolomite landscape by mild tectonics and glaciation. These descriptions included explanations of how the major limestone features of the Dolomites that are enjoyed today were formed. Those same explanations can be applied to what you will see along the route of this scenic drive.
The following Google Map displays the first part of your Dolomites drive which is along the Strada Regionale 48 delle Dolomiti (SR48) between the Passo Podoi and Cortina d’Ampezzo.
The Drive on Wet Roads Through the Pordoi Pass
A number of images of the Pordoi Pass were included in our previous post.
The weather gathered at this stage of the drive in the Dolomites. The sprinkling rain appeared to soften the surrounding landscapes, even the hard, carbonate edges of the Sella Group. The mists and clouds started to lessen visibility and so the drive somehow became more mysterious and uncertain. The subdued light removed the advantages of long-range views and replaced them with features that appeared closer and more immediate. The Dolomites in the wet were putting on new clothes and presenting a different persona. It wasn’t driving through the Dolomites when it’s wet; it was a drive through different Dolomites.
The roads through the Dolomites have always demanded respect, irrespective of conditions. It pays to be attentive on the many bends and switchbacks. The sizeable number of switchbacks that led up to the Pordoi Pass was matched by those that led away from the pass.
Driving in the Dolomites can be slow going even in fine weather. It pays to be extra patient when driving on the wet roads. The occasional heavy rain on the windscreen adds to the care needed. The wet conditions required a reduction in speed for safe driving and the need to be especially mindful of approaching vehicles. It would be easy on a day like this to lose some traction or to take too much room for cornering.
The elevated vantage points along the road leading from the Pordoi Pass grant views of the scenery to be enjoyed further along the drive.
The Scenic Drive Along the Livinallongo Valley
Once beyond the Passo Pordoi the SR48 continues along the Livinallongo valley, formally known as Livinallongo del Col di Lana. The valley is quite deep in sections and the road is framed on either side by beautiful green, steep hillsides which are often capped with Dolomite peaks. The road along the valley descends and winds. Driving which is relatively comfortable in fine weather becomes a little more stressful when the weather is wet. So, it is important to remain attentive in the wet along this stretch of the drive and not to become overly distracted by the scenery. It is always best to stop, or get out of the vehicle, to enjoy the views.
Communities in the Livinallongo Valley host a variety of popular holiday activities. You can check them out for next time. Several Ladin villages also populate the Livinallongo Valley, the first and most significant of which is Arabba.
Drive into Arabba – In the Heart of the Dolomites
Arabba, at an altitude of 1602m, is promoted as a resort lying in the heart of the Dolomites, significant by its being surrounded by the Sella group of mountains as well as mountain passes and ridges. The Sellaronda, a popular ski area accessible from Arabba, links the Gardena, Campolongo, Sella and Pordoi Passes and their respective ski resorts and slopes. All can be visited, even when it is wet. In fact, all the highlights referred to throughout this post have acres of ski fields and cable car services to the summits.
The warmer months welcome trekkers, cyclists and others to enjoy all manner of activities on the grassy or along dolomite trails. Sadly, you may have to forego much of what is on offer due to conditions.
Arabba, like many of the Ladin communities of the valley of Livinallongo del Col di Lana, hosts many of the ancient Ladin traditions.
Arabba is the perfect place to take a break from driving and to take refuge from the wet weather. Visitors can enjoy a meal at one of its many restaurants or stroll through the village in the dry and explore the characteristics that make up a Ladin culture.
The SR48 continues through Arabba, Renaz and Brenta, and arrives at the charming village of Pieve.
Pieve di Livinallongo
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Pieve, at an elevation of 1,645m, is a lovely little town and is anchored to the valley wall. Dolomite peaks of the Livinallongo Valley rise above the green hills behind Pieve . It is well worth the time, even when it is wet, to stop and have a walk around. You’ll get some incredible shots of the Livinallongo Valley as well as Pieve itself.
Left hand image courtesy of Xavier Cortesano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
However, given that this post is concentrating on driving in the Dolomites during wet weather we’ll leave a link for readers to check out Pieve and perhaps consider Pieve as a possible holiday destination. There is a lot more information on the Pieve site than first appears. You’ll need to click around.
Col di Lana Under a Veil
The Dolomite peaks behind Pieve are those of the Col di Lana. This location is accessible by car.
Once through Pieve the SR48 continues through the Falzarego Pass at an elevation of 2,105m and on to several hamlets such as Andraz and Cernadoi.
Drive Along the History of the Falzarego Pass
The Falzarego Pass offers an interesting historical diversion – even in the wet weather. It may be difficult to contemplate, but during the World War 1 defence of Italy, the Italian infantry hauled artillery over several locations in the Dolomites, including the Col di Lana.
A cemetery and shrine within the commune can be visited near the Falzarego Pass.
The road continues along the Fazarego Pass and winds back and forth at Cernadoi and continues in the same manner all the way to Cortina d’Ampezzo. This is largely through forested areas but even so it will pay to be cautious along this stretch of the SR48 if the rain falls heavily. The rain can easily pool on the road, or mist and cloud can obscure vision.
Prior to arriving at Cortina, you will pass through Pocol (1,535m) near Mortisa. Unsurprisingly, both support the skiing at Cortina, although Pocol also has a war cemetery established in 1935 which contains the remains of 9,707 Italian soldiers (4,455 unknown) and 37 Austrians whose deaths are associated with the WW1 Battle of the Dolomites.
Cortina d’Ampezzo in Cloud, Mist and Rain
Cortina, at an elevation of 1224m, is one of the primary venues in the Dolomites, if not foremost. Its elevation is a little misleading because it is nestled lower in the Ampezzo Valley. It nearest peak is the Tofana di Mezzo, which towers at 3,244 metres. Once again, we won’t be displaying any information about Cortina as it is not the theme of this post. Nevertheless, there is a plethora of sites that cover Cortina’s support for summer and winter sports and activities. One site is very comprehensive in this respect.
The following images show the mountains around Cortina and the approach to the Ampezzo valley shrouded in mist. Although the sun was hiding, the Dolomites, even in this weather, have their own sort of beauty.
Click on any image to enlarge images
Cortina d’Ampezzo represented the soggy eastern boundary of this trip through the Dolomites. It is also half way. What is there to see and experience as we head back through Pocol and venture off the SR48 onto the SP638 for a drive through the twists, turns and descents of the Giau Pass?
From Cortina to Cencenighe Agordino
The SR48 which also incorporates the Passo Falzarego returns from Cortina to Pocol, and then turns onto the SR638 and the Giau Pass.
The Passo Giau When It’s Wet
The Giau Pass at an elevation of 2236m is a lengthy stretch of the SP638 which winds its way between Cortina., Selva de Cadore and Colle San Lucia. It includes the Passo Falzarego between Cortina and Pocol. The two sections, Cortina to Pocol and then Pocol to Selva, are quite different. The Giau Pass has 29 hairpin bends to navigate and also three tunnels to protect the road from possible avalanches.
The Giau Pass should always be driven carefully, but particularly on wet roads. Even so, pelting rain and fog do not remove all the opportunities to glimpse the geological formations along the route. The following images were taken while the car was in motion in the vicinity of the Berghotel Passo Giau. You can walk to the formation on a solid trail.
When it comes to driving the Giau Pass safely in the rain, the following video is self-explanatory. The video captured just some of the drive between Pocol and the Berghotel Passo Giau. Things to look out for include the road surface, the variation in the width of the road, the steepness of the road in places, the presence or absence of guard rails, blind curves where it is safest to practically stop to ensure a vehicle isn’t coming in the opposite direction on the wrong side of the road, changes in visibility, and the scenery.
Just beyond Monte Cernera the landscape opens up to reveal two centrally located massifs on either side of the Giau Pass. Once again, the clouds associated with the wet weather provide a different perspective. You may have noticed the consistency in the form of the landscapes throughout the Dolomites.
And on the opposite side of the valley …
Selva di Cadore
The SP251 turns off the SP638 within a kilometre before reaching Selva di Cadore.
Should you wish to spend a few minutes you can drive through Selva onto the SP20. Just a few minutes outside of Selva the SP20 passes through a tunnel and emerges adjacent to a pretty river valley.
It is worth stopping just where you exit the tunnel to observe a couple of interesting geological features.
The first is an anticlinal fold clearly seen in the strata beside the road.
The second is more significant. Most of us have seen strata in a cliff or similar. The strata, or beds, can be folded, faulted, horizontal, or tilted at an angle to the horizontal.
But sometimes the strata are tilted in the same direction as the slope, referred to as the strike. This can be an unstable situation for road engineers because of the risk that the bedding planes will slide down the slope. A solution is to pin the beds to the underlying rock and this is what has been done here.
Selva offers many excellent views of the distant Mt Pelmo (3,168m). Monte Civetta, often linked to Monte Pelmo, is a little further south. Pelmo looks positively annoyed when surrounded by cloud.
Worth Driving To: Colle San Lucia and the Marmolada Group
Colle Santa Lucia and Marmolada can be reached by going back through Selva and turning off along the SP251. It makes for a longer drive through the Dolomites, particularly in wet weather, but the features that await are worth the effort.
Colle Santa Lucia, a composite community surrounded by Civetta, Pelmo and Marmolada, is centrally located between two significant massifs on either side. Once again, the clouds associated with the wet weather provide a different perspective.
Marmolada is still Majestic even when seen from wet roads so continue your drive on the SP251 towards Marmolada. The peaks of the Marmolada include the highest mountain within the Dolomites. The main peak of Marmolada, Punta Penia, has an elevation of 3343m, and the others are; Punta Rocca 3309m; Punta Ombretta 3230m; Monte Serata 3069m and Pizzo Serauta 3035m. A cable will take you to the top of Punta Rocca if it is operating in inclement weather. Although much of the detail of Marmolada was hidden behind cloud and mist when viewed from the car, it still looked imposing.
We’ll leave it to our readers to search through the thousands of image of these locations.
The Route to Alleghe
The SP251 forks near the small hamlet of Rucava and a left turn joins the SR203 towards Belluno in the distance.
The journey south along the SR203 passes through the pretty towns of Masare, Alleghe and Cordella which are all built on the shores of Lake Alleghe.
Alleghe has been described as a ‘fairy tale town’ due its lake-side location while being surrounded by nearby mountains and peaks. There are certainly many ways to spend time in Alleghe, even in the wet.
The pretty town of Masare also paints a peaceful picture on the shore of Lake Alleghe
Finally, the road drops into our starting village, Cencenighe Agordino.
Final Thoughts on Why A Drive Through the Dolomites Is Still Worth It When its Wet
This is a alpine climate. Should you plan your drive for the Spring season, then plan for wet weather driving.
Each location mentioned in the post is a hub for wall-to-wall ski fields at elevation and cable car rides to the summits. Try to take one or two rides to enrich your visit. Each location and its facilities is described by many, many web sites. We’ll leave the research up to you depending on what you want to do during your brief visit. You won’t be able to even scratch the surface as to what is on offer, but you will be able to sample it.
Driving through the Dolomites is tiring even if the driving is shared. The distances between towns don’t appear to be very long but driving the switchbacks and the time taken to get out of the car to look around will take longer than you plan for. Coupled with the concentration needed to keep the car on the road in the wet and to anticipate what other drivers might do will make for long days.
Don’t let inclement weather dissuade you from touring the Dolomites or allow your optimism to be replaced by an upside-down smile. The mountains may be shrouded in mist as if they had waited all day for your arrival only being intent on teasing you when we get there. Rely on occasional breaks in the weather, fresh air and crystal-clear alpine water to ensure a worthwhile visit. It’s a beautiful region so don’t miss your opportunity to enjoy it.
The theme of this post is the drive through the Dolomites in wet weather. The images in this post are therefore only an indication of the beauty of the Dolomites. Much like a grain of salt in the Pacific, we would have thought. And much detail and many views were obscured by cloud and rain. But you are seeing the cost of being in the Dolomites for a short period of time when the weather is not ideal. If you can, compensate by seeking out some of the many cable cars and take a ride to the roof of the world!
The main lesson is that when things don’t go to plan, be flexible and design another plan that suits what’s in front of us. So, it’s up to you. Is a drive in the Dolomites worth it when it is wet?