I could have sworn I saw Heidi skipping down one of the many long grassy slopes with her grandfather slowly walking behind her. But, despite the magical views, I had to concentrate on the road ahead as we wound our way through some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet: the Dolomites mountain range in north-eastern Italy.
Forming one section of the Alps, the Dolomites extend from the Adige River in the west to the Pieve di Cadore valley in the east. Containing more than 40 glaciers, the mountains themselves were created from carbonate rock, which gives the Dolomites their spectacular and stark appearance.
Merely the fact that we were riding in Italy—the land of romance and the renaissance—would have been enough, but every aspect of the trip worked out just right as well. The countryside is typically European, with well-surfaced roads, quaint towns laced with beautiful villas and historic monuments; even a few castles dot the landscape. The Italians are warm and friendly, with a legendary laid-back attitude and an appreciation of fine food and wine enjoyed over leisurely meals.
Having landed at Marco Polo Airport in Venice, it was an hour’s drive before we arrived at the Ducati factory in Borgo Panigale. The tour of the legendary pre-war buildings was fascinating. The museum is a large circular room with several smaller adjoining themed rooms. Motorcycles from Ducati’s storied past are beautifully displayed, from the Cucciolo—Ducati’s original engined-bicycle—through to the latest MotoGP star. There were enough immaculately restored, and original, motorcycles to stir any Ducatistas blood. Hailwood’s 1978 TT winner was there, as well as other storied race-bikes, all in glorious Italian racing red and available for detailed examination.
We spent most of the day at Ducati, then headed to the hotel in Vicenza. Located roughly half way between Venezia and Verona, Vicenza is Italy’s unofficial jewelry capital. Our host, Paolo Bari, is one of those genial spirits who seems to know everyone. Established by his grandfather as a bakery in the Sant’Agostino Valley, Nogarazza—his trattoria and hotel—is the base for his new motorcycle touring holiday venture: Dynamic Ducati Driving.
We had a choice of dining inside Nogarazza’s main restaurant, or outside on the covered terrace where the warm evenings and wonderful local wines can be savored Italian style—slowly. Bari is such a confirmed Ducatista that he is now producing his own wine: DesmoRosso, a light cabernet/merlot blend that includes rare carmanere grapes too. But Nogarazza is especially well known locally for its gourmet food. Typically we’d start with carpaccio, parma ham e melone, or a salad consisting of roasted beets, warmed goat cheese and walnuts, and mixed greens tossed with extra virgin olive oil. This would be followed with some pasta; invariably either a ravioli or spaghetti tossed with a Bolognese sauce of beef, tomatoes, celery, onion, carrots and garlic. Over a bottle of a local ’99 Brunello di Montecino, I was first introduced to the house specialty of salted sea bass. The salt hardens in the oven and is then broken off in chunks by the waiter at the table, revealing a perfectly cooked and delicately flavored, light, white fish that is absolutely delicious. For the final dessert course I fell in love with Nogarazza’s meringue cake. Made with whipped custard, lots of cream, and delicate meringue, it was the perfect sweet ending to a meal that always had me muttering basta (enough) by the end of it.
Ducati Dynamic Driving is endorsed by the Ducati factory. Using Nogarazza as its base of operations, Bari is able to offer a menu of unique, fully-inclusive experiences which can be ordered à la carte. In addition to the tour of the Dolomites, a typical week could also include the Ducati Riding Experience (a track day at Mugello), a visit to Ferrari at Maranello, and a day trip to the IWC watch factory just over the Swiss border in Schaffhausen, where you will have the opportunity to assemble your own watch—and then purchase it if desired. For those wishing for more private accommodations, Bari also owns a local and exquisitely furnished four bedroom villa, where guests can indulge in private luxury—fully catered by one of Nogarazza’s chefs.
The following morning, after an elegant breakfast and a cup of coffee that only the Italians can brew, our group set off. On offer are the Ducati Monster S2R 1000 or S4R S. The slightly roomier Multistrada 1100 is also available and, being two-up, Mary and I naturally opted for one; at no point did we regret our decision.
Vicenza is about 90 minutes from the Dolomites. The local countryside is lush and green, and tree-lined roads curve up into the local hills. Leaving Nogarazza we threaded our way towards the Tangenziale Sud di Treviso motorway. The road is well-paved, like all of the roads we encountered, and lined with trees and neatly trimmed hedges. Attractive shuttered villas with longish driveways are nicely separated; the classic Tuscan-style elegance of the earth-toned buildings blended harmoniously with the landscape.The plan was to thread the Passo Campolongo on Localita Passo Tre Croci and head for the ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo. With the mountains clearly in sight, the scenery was becoming more dramatic and the air was getting sharper as our altitude increased. Taller, pine-covered hills flanked the roads. Ancient stone walls and numerous waterfalls added to the backdrop. We cleared Feltre and headed toward Santa Giustina; as the curves in the road became faster and more flowing, Davide, our guide, upped the pace a little to around 130 kph, and the Multistrada responded with eagerness.
With clear vision and a dry road, the exhilaration of sport-touring flooded back to me. There is something incredibly elegant about being a part of, and watching, a line of sport motorcycles threading their way through a series of corners. As each one leans into a bend, I find it absolutely thrilling to watch each bike perfectly emulate its predecessor just a moment later. There is a balletic rhythm to riding sport; it requires all of your concentration, but it is immensely gratifying to be a part of the train.
The afternoon’s story continued the same progression as earlier. The higher our altitude became, the more dramatic the scenery. Respectfully slowing for the narrow streets in the villages enabled us to glance at the inviting shops and cafes spilling on to the sidewalks. The traffic was fairly light, even in the towns and with only one or two traffic lights to stop us, we traveled pretty much unhindered. Once back on the open road, the magnificent scenery surrounding us was truly captivating. Somehow, the grass appeared greener, the sky bluer and all the colors richer in the warm Alpine sunlight.
Dropping into the town of Peron, a brilliant emerald lake glistened in the afternoon sun. The quiet breeze ruffled the water’s surface and at the back I could see a couple of long waterfalls dropping from the dark mountainous rock behind. Created by the unique mixture of minerals rushing off the Dolomites, the translucent green color of the water was startlingly beautiful; it was quite unlike anything either of us had ever seen before.
At about 3:30 pm we reached Colle San Lucia, just over a mile above sea level. Davide’s earlier promises of better scenery “a little farther” were clearly not empty ones. He’d smile knowingly and now I could see why. The gray, craggy rocks of the mountains were thrusting out of the snow laden slopes. We had left civilization behind and there were only a few buildings; it literally felt like we were on the roof of the world. We stopped and got off the bikes; this was a photo opportunity we couldn’t miss. (Click image to enlarge)
Photography appetites sated, we headed off on the final leg of the day’s ride, to the so-called Queen of the Dolomites: Cortina d’Ampezzo, host of the 1956 Winter Olympic Games. The road continued its snaking path. We were traveling downhill for the most part, and every few hundred yards there was another hairpin turn. I was trying to ride smoothly, but I could tell that Mary was becoming fatigued from having to fight the inertia of braking. Although we were closer, our path was now taking us uphill for the final time. The road is steep; crowned by the beautiful peaks of Tofane and Cristallo, the ski resort sits nearly two miles above sea level.
By the time we reached the absurdly luxurious Hotel Armentarola, the chase van had arrived and our luggage was already in our room. Paolo, ever the gracious host, gave us our room key and a quick run down of the spa amenities. Perfect! Off to the room for a quick change into a warm, fluffy towel robe, then down to the spa for a quick spin through the saunas, followed by a massage to relax the muscle tension that I had spent all day developing.
Hotel Armentarola’s amenities are as luxurious as its views are spectacular. Photograph by Armentarola.
The hotel was dazzling; similar in the architecture we had seen all day. Our room was actually a two-level suite with double balconies and marble floored bathroom. The use of knotty pine throughout gave the whole property a warmth and fresh scent that also helped revitalize us. Meals were undoubtedly filling, and yet somehow they always seemed healthy; the ingredients were always fresh. Dinner was just like the others: a fun and relaxed affair. It consisted of a mix of meats, including venison, partridge, beef, and lamb, and was quietly washed down by a particularly pleasant red ’00 Amarone Valpolicella. The general ambience—fuelled by everyone’s memories of the astonishing scenery and challenging ride we had shared—was lively and laughter-filled. There is a definite bonding that occurs between motorcycle riders who have enjoyed thrilling and unusual experiences together, and this was definitely one of those occasions.We awoke the next morning to snow falling outside. Donning our gear we realized we were going to have to brave the elements for at least the first couple of hours of the day. Motorcycling is an adventure sport, and I am prepared to deal with whatever nature dishes out—provided I get to recover at an Armentarola at the end of the day.
The roads were wet, but the Alpine asphalt is grippy and the Multistrada wasn’t fazed. The roads often have no center lines, but there is plenty of width. Traffic is light—there are few cars and even fewer law enforcement officers—so the Dolomites are clearly sportbike heaven.
Helmets: Dainese Airstream Course
Jackets: Dainese 8-Track
Gloves: Dainese Air Carbon
Pants: Dainese 2L Gore-Tex
Boots: Dainese D-23 Gore-Tex.
Although they punctuate the Italian Alps, the Dolomites are named after French mineralogist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu. (Click image to enlarge)
There is an ancient and unspoiled ambience; I was very much aware of the billions of years it’s taken to create the mountains and environment we were traveling through and I felt incredibly fortunate and humbled to be a guest here. As the road’s altitude lowered, the snow turned into a light rain and the road glistened. On through Sagron, we reached Mezzano and stopped for lunch.
Artisan architecture and natural colors blend seamlessly with Ducati motorcycles to create uniquely Italian landscapes. Photographs by Mary Buch. (Click images to enlarge)
As we descended through the final part of our journey, the clouds parted, and there was one final stop for the day that Paolo wanted us to experience. Situated in the lowlands and about a 30-minute drive from Vicenza is the medieval walled-town of Marostica, famous for its Human Chess Game that dates back to 1454. Played every other year, it is a festive occasion. When the game is not being played, the coffee shops and bars that line the town square are a perfect place for a wandering motorcyclist to stop for refreshment. We took full advantage with an espresso as we sat outside in the late afternoon sunshine.
Arriving back at Nogarazza, that evening Mary and I had a chance to think through all that we’d seen and experienced in the last few days. Paolo’s Dynamic Ducati Driving experience is a fabulous vacation in a beautiful, friendly country. The ride through the Italian countryside and Dolomites is spectacular and the accommodations are excellent. If you are a sporting rider with a penchant for combining adventure with your luxury, then you will have an absolutely unforgettable experience on this trip.