Today felt like we visited a completely different country. After a Saturday breakfast on a sun-drenched terrazza overlooking Feltre, we planned to point our Fiat north into the Italian Alps.
Breakfast in Italy doesn’t seem to be the large meal it is in Germany or even back in the States. The little coffee shop across the piazza from our front door enjoys a steady stream of customers in the morning but they don’t linger.
“Un Caffè” (the default drink here) is an espresso served in a tiny cup on a saucer accompanied by an equally tiny spoon. Basically, it’s an express shot of caffeine taken at the bar standing up. Italians might have several of these scattered throughout the day.
I preferred a cappuccino but remember, coffee with milk is considered nourishment as part of breakfast. Order one after noon and you’ll get funny looks. A close approximation of American coffee would involve adding hot water to an espresso in a larger mug. Italians just don’t drink it that way.
Now that we had the coffee culture down, we hiked to our rental Fiat and drove north toward the Dolomites, the name for the mountain range in northeastern Italy. The rock is pale and seems to erode slower than surrounding strata, resulting in strange shapes and fantastic peaks.
We were surprised to find our rental Fiat featured a panoramic roof nearly the length of the vehicle with a retractable cloth headliner. It provided spectacular views of the mountains as we wound along the alpine strada.
Our first stop was the small town of Agordo. At first, we were about to drive through but we noticed the small sign for the historic center of town and decided to pull in. We were so glad we did, it was beautiful.
Venice’s power extended far north as evidenced by the winged lion atop the fountain anchoring the center of town.
Surrounded by peaks, Agordo’s large piazza featured a wide, grass expanse ringed by trimmed trees and shops. This part of Italy was beginning to remind me of Austria and southern Germany with its alpine-shaped houses and onion-domed churches.
The tempting gelato shop proved too difficult to pass without a sample. Italian ice cream is sweeter with more sugar than the American version. Just like coffee, a smaller, more intense portion is appropriate. This seems to be a theme with Italian vices.
Further north, we stopped at the village of Alleghe alongside a striking emerald lake. A storm front had moved in and the sky alternated between light and dark clouds.
Climbing higher into the mountains, we reached the small village of Colle Santa Lucia and its prominent church. The white facade contrasted sharply with the dark colors of the surrounding evergreens.
Most of the buildings featured plaques detailing their past with some build dates reaching back to the 1500s. One alcove provided protection for a painting of a historical couple decked out in their traditional alpine finery.
The stoic church perched high above town was surrounded by a quiet cemetery with sweeping views of the valley. I thought the lone window above the entry door appropriately suggested an edelweiss flower.
The church was ringed by graves of townspeople but clergy were memorialized with plaques on the walls of the building itself. Don Giuseppe Masarei was a military chaplain (cappellano militare) born in Colle Santa Lucia in 1887. Perhaps he served in the Great War of 1914–1918. I noted he died in March of 1944 as war raged again in Europe.
We finally reached Passo di Giau, a mountain pass beyond the tree line. Dual signs plastered with visitors’ stickers announced “goodbye” in Italian and German as we left the district of Colle Santa Lucia.
As we finally started down out of the highest reaches of the Dolomites, we passed a large hotel crammed with cars and people. If you come across streams of locals heading for a festival, pull over and join in.
It was a party celebrating mountain hikers after a big race (at least, that’s what we could surmise). The key to crashing ANY party is to act like you belong. We strode right inside the party tent and made our way toward a long table full of finger-sized desserts.
As best I could tell, the sign asked for five Euro for a small plate where you could assemble five selections from the buffet. Mom and I heeded the instructions but Miss Debbie never saw the sign and picked out treats beyond the limit.
No worries! We packed up our dishes with a napkin and the hostess cheerfully provided us plastic wrap. I waited until we got to the car to break the news to Miss Debbie. We laughed and laughed but Miss Debbie HAD provided the 20-Euro note to buy the desserts. She deserved to pick out a few more.
We each sampled one and saved the rest for the remainder of our trip (and next morning’s breakfast). As you can imagine with dessert crossovers between Italian and German cultures, they were delectable. We drove back to Feltre as the sun set and successfully found our apartment in the dark.
We’re packing up and heading west to the Italian lakes on Sunday. We have an Airbnb along the banks of Lake Como in a town called Torno.