After another smooth ferry crossing and returning to the mainland, we set off towards Venice. As most of the day was taken up with the crossing, we broke up the journey with a night stopover just north of Florence.
We’ve been pretty lucky with campsites so far – a lot of the sites we’ve stayed at in Italy have been from a network of campsites called “Magic Europe” and they’ve either been in or with good links to the cities we’ve been visiting. The Venice campsite was no exception and was located on the Venetian lagoon with a regular boat service over to the city itself.
Venice has a really nice feel to it. From the first approach across the lagoon and right through the city, all the buildings still have an authentic character that doesn’t seem to have changed a great deal over the years. Added to this, the absence of traffic other than the gondolas and other boats making their way around the canals and being surrounded by water make it a unique place to visit.
During our few days there we enjoyed wandering around the streets, boat trips along the Grand Canal, watching the gondolas and generally soaking up the atmosphere. On our first evening, while enjoying an aperitif, we were kept entertained by a street artist. Although we were impressed with his walking a not-particularly-tight rope over the canal, it was the exception the bar’s dog took to him that amused us the most. It really didn’t take too kindly to him being so near his premises and didn’t stop barking at and chasing him through his entire act. Well, you can’t win them all over …
Other highlights for us included wandering around the market, where the array of quality produce on offer was both a visual and mouth-watering pleasure. We were also amazed by St Mark’s cathedral and the dazzling mosaics that cover what seems like the majority of the ceiling and walls both inside and out. The huge gothic lamps hanging from the ceiling and absence of many windows also give it quite a medieval feel.
From Venice we headed north to the Dolomites. This was to be our last stop in Italy. After a couple of nights in Bolzano to get organised, we headed to a refuge near Cortina d’Ampezzo that Marcello remembered from a hiking trip a couple of years back: Rifugio Cinque Torri. Although we were out of luck with bagging a bed for the night, the owners kindly allowed us to camp on the grounds. Whilst this wasn’t strictly wild camping, it was the closest we’ve been on the trip so far and a nice, if cold, taster. The setting was fantastic. We had dramatic mountains to the front (not a bad view from our bedroom window!) and the Cinque Torri, a climber’s dream, behind.
Whilst setting up camp, we got chatting to a really nice group of people. It turned out that they worked just outside Venice and were in the Dolomites for a weekend of hiking and climbing. We bumped into them again on a walk a bit later on and Rocky – the experienced climber of the group – had set up some “easy” climbs so those that hadn’t done it before could give it a try. It was fun watching them and the other climbers. It’s especially amazing watching those skilled climbers scale up the walls of rock – you wonder how on earth they manage to make it look so effortless when it certainly isn’t!
The next morning, we realised that our planned hike was along part of the route that Misha, Linda, Chris and his lovely dog Callie were doing, so we teamed up. The difference was that they were planning on tackling one of the Via Ferrata to get to Rifugio Nuvolau, where as we intended to walk around as we didn’t have any climbing gear. For info, Via Ferrata were first developed in the First World War to aid the movement of troops. They are climbing routes equipped with fixed cables, stemples, ladders, and bridges. The use of these allows otherwise dangerous routes to be accessible to people with a wide range of climbing abilities.
The views along the walk were as fantastic as always in the mountains – at least when graced with a clear day! – and it was nice to have some people to chat with along the way and swap stories on our various travel experiences. When we got to the point where the others were due to split off we met some other people that had just come down the Via Ferrata. They assured us that it was manageable without equipment so, as neither of us had done a Via Ferrata before, it took all of a few seconds for us to decide to change our plan.
There were two Via Ferrata sections and both were fairly short, with some wires, rungs and ladders. Chris had planned ahead for Callie for these sections and she was carefully secured in a rucksack and put on Chris’s back! Although she didn’t look overly happy to begin with, after watching Marcello go up the first part she obviously realised it was her only option and actually seemed pretty relaxed about it when they were on the move. Luckily the people we’d met were right and we managed fine without any gear (other than a brief panic moment for Karen when her hands started slipping on the wire). We didn’t envy Chris with the extra, moving weight though!
We arrived at the rifugio just in time for lunch. Luckily for us, Dee and Henry from the group (who took a different route) had reserved us all a table as it was packed full of people who were also enjoying the 360 degree views. After lunch we headed back down to our rifugio, stopping off to look around some of the World War I bunkers and huts that had been preserved there.
So our time in Italy had come to an end, our next port of call being Austria. We’d spent two very enjoyable months in Italy, but it felt exciting to be moving on to pastures new. And we can think of worse ways of saying goodbye to a country than whilst enjoying the views of the Dolomites!