This year we have been trying to explore Italy by taking a few short trips in between hosting our farmhouse guests. It takes a lot of work to keep our property in great shape here in Umbria, and all work and no play is simply not good for the soul. Nothing makes you appreciate the beauty of your own home more than a break away from daily chores!
Before we even arrived in Umbria for our 6 month stay we began discussions on where we would like to visit this year and of course my husband and I both had very different ideas. Since we both love seafood, our trips from landlocked Umbria usually take us to the sea, but this year I was determined to head up to northern Italy to stay a few days in the Alps.
We have not visited the northern mountainous region of Italy since we moved from Milan in 1995 so I decided a trip there was certainly past due. My plans were to visit some of the well known cities there such as Bolzano, and Merano while also squeezing in a hike each day.
My husband, being an avid cyclist, had read about the Passo dell Stelvio and he really wanted to give it a try. The Stelvio Pass is a mountain pass with an elevation of 2,757 meters and is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps. We decided to start our trip in Bormio which is the starting point of the route across the pass. Our plans made, bags packed, we were all set for our mountain adventure.
Unfortunately, one cannot control the weather, and northern Italy has had a wet, cool spring and summer just as we have had in Umbria and rain was expected throughout our trip. Not wanting to change our plans due to bad weather, we headed up north anyway, and 7 hours after leaving our farmhouse in Umbria we arrived in Bormio.
Bormio is a small town located in the Alpine province of Sondrio in northern Italy’s Lombardy region. It is a very pretty medieval town surrounded by the Stelvio National Park and is well known for its ski slopes, hiking trails, and thermal baths. It rained throughout most of our drive to Bormio, but once we checked into our hotel, the rain did stop.
The next day we awoke to sunny skies which was great since that was the day of the “big ride”. It was planned that my husband would take off by bike from the hotel, and I would follow along by car, stopping when I could along the route for photos.
Since it was the first nice days in many days, cyclists were out in droves, all eager to challenge the Stelvio Pass. The route takes you through very narrow tunnels and winding roads with dozens of hairpin turns, but the scenery is absolutely stunning so I didn’t even have time to become too nervous driving up to the top. Of course there are no bike paths on these narrow roads, so cars, motorcycles, and cyclists all have to share which gets extremely intersting at times.
In less than two hours of very challenging riding and climbing, my husband made it to the top of the pass and after a short stop for coffee and photos in the small village at the top, we headed down the back route which was much easier for him (downhill riding all the way – woohoo!), but very nerve-racking for me as the hairpin turns (all 40+) were extremely challenging and tight.
I normally am comfortable driving with my 6 lb Yorkie Luca on my lap, but driving down from the top of the pass trying to make those tight turns I made Luca sit in the passenger seat. Either feeling my stress, or just being upset he wasn’t on my lap, he cried the entire way down which didn’t help relieve my stress levels AT ALL.
I have never enjoyed driving in the big cities here in Italy nor on mountain roads like these so I was quite proud of myself as well as my husband that we both made it up and down the pass. We finally arrived at the bottom of the Stelvio Pass with me white knuckling it all the way, but I was very happy I could be there for my husband to accomplish one of his goals. We then headed towards our next stop, the small village of Nalles, which is halfway between Merano and Bolzano after stopping for a very German lunch at Forst, home of the famous Forst brewery.
Unfortunately much of the rest of our stay in the mountains was a rainy one, so all my plans for hiking were discarded. We did explore Merano and Bolzano, and had some wonderful meals at our hotel in Nalles. We explored the stunning landscape around the hotel by car instead of foot, and really enjoyed the glorious scenery.
It is interesting to note that this northern area of Italy is in fact heavily influenced by its close proximity to Germany and in fact German is the first language spoken. The street signs are often only written in German, and one bookstore I visited in Bolzano had only a very small section of Italian language books, with two floors of books written in German.
The cuisine is very different than other regions in Italy as it is much heavier, reflecting its location in the mountains. The breads were wonderful, very dense using many different whole grains which I love. For us it was a very different trip, and at times I almost felt I was no longer in Italy, but having been, I am now hoping to go back next year so I can actually get to go hiking.
I would recommend either of the two hotels we stayed in (see contact info below), and in fact I placed good reviews for both on Trip Adviser and that is a first for me after many years of staying in hotels across Europe, but they were both that good. The Hotel Zum Rosenbaum in Nalles in particular, was one of the best hotels we have stayed at in many, many years.
A small, family run hotel, their attention to small little details was much more than I would have ever expected. The chef who oversees their kitchen is an absolute gem, and I honestly would return to this hotel just to eat there and for me, that is saying a lot. Although it is situated in a small, sleepy village, it is halfway between Merano and Bolzano, just a 15 minute drive to either city. I actually hope to head back to the region with better weather so I can hike and I will certainly stay at Hotel Zum Rosembaum.
Retzia Hotel Bormio
Via Milano 9
Bormio, 23032, Italy
Hotel Zum Rosenbaum
Nalles, 39010, Italy
The Beautiful Village of Bormio
Passo dello Stelvio Accomplished!
Village of Forst (Top) & Merano