Relaxing (or trying to) in Sardinia

After our active time in the Dolomites, we hopped on a flight to Sardinia in need for some beaches and relax time. About half an hour drive from the airport of Olbia, we checked out some first beaches early in the morning – a great welcome to Sardinia!

We had booked a couple of nights accommodation in Orosei, a little village on the East coast of Sardinia close to a national park and some amazing beaches. The plan was to do some hikes over the next few days to check these out, but also to spend a lot of time soaking up the sun. Unfortunately, the weather was not as reliable anymore: with temperatures in the low 20s, frequent rain showers and some strong wind now and then it wasn’t quite the beach weather that we had hoped to encounter. But of course we made the best of it! Our first day hike took us to Cala Luna – a hike much further and trickier than we had expected, which got super muddy and slippery due to the rains. Cala Luna was beautiful though and absolutely worth the journey!

Next day, we went on a road trip to Cala Goloritzé which is said to be the most beautiful beach of Sardinia and you have to buy one of the limited permits in order to be allowed to hike there. It was super stormy that day and while there’s a cool pinnacle rock near the beach we couldn’t quite understand the hype around it. But maybe it’s different when the water is calm… Still, the hordes of people would probably anyways spoil it for us.

Unsatisfied, we drove around a bit more in the area, got to some nice viewpoints and visited the main beach at Santa Maria Navarrese – a broad stretch of sand which we kind of preferred over Goloritzé.

The next 2 days were rainy and cold. We spent one of them mainly relaxing in our accommodation and used the other one to drive across the island up to Castelsardo on the North coast of Sardinia. To be honest, it was a rather miserable day and the rain just didn’t want to stop. The interior of Sardinia is beautiful, but in the rain the most amazing viewpoints disappear into the clouds… We did one short stop in Orgosolo, a little town that is famous for its murals. Other than that, we just drove… to get to Castelsardo and checked into our accommodation at the earliest option possible.

Luckily, the sun was shining again the day after, but it stayed windy and rather chilly. We had quite a full day planned, driving all the way to Palau, the port where the ferries to Isla Maddalena depart from and then on to our accommodation on Maddalena. It’s not a far distance, but we wanted to stop at some beaches along the way.

One of the really worthwhile stops was Costa Paradiso – a bit of a strange empty resort place (not sure if it even is accessible for everyone during high season). It’s a super pretty part of the coastline with red rocks in crazy shapes. Super cool! We walked and climbed around there for quite a bit until we had to push on.

Another cool stop with some more crazy rocks was Capo Testa. It was super windy and cloudy when we arrived, but at least it was a nive area to walk around for a bit.

And then it was all about Maddalena! I won’t go into the details of what we did each day, because the days were quite comparable to each other. Basically, during our very last few days of this holiday, we tried to chill on the beach as much as possible. Maddalena and its wilder sister island Caprera offer loads of little beaches, so there was plenty, of choice. The weather was once again challenging though with lots of wind and cooler temperatures. Every day we ended up driving around for a while to find the prettiest and at the same time least windy beach possible. And it kept changing which side of the island that would be, even during the day. So we kept ourselves busy with the hunt for the perfect beach – sometimes more successful, sometimes a bit less so…

Overall, Maddalena is a beautiful place, same as what we have seen of Sardinia overall. We are not sure whether we were just unlucky with the weather or whether this is normal for end of September / beginning October. We wouldn’t want to be here in high season either, as the beaches seem to get super crowded then, so I’m not sure what the best time to visit Sardinia would be. We still really enjoyed our time here and can confirm that Sardinia has some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches and most turquoise water!

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Discovering the Dolomites

If someone would have told me that in 2020 I will only get to travel to Italy (and my home country Austria), I would have declared them crazy. But like for so many other people around the world, corona crashed my travel plans and dreams of the year and left me feeling thankful for anything that was possible at all. So in September, that meant spending our yearly 3-week vacation in Italy.

One of the only countries that was letting us in without issues and not struggling with corona too much at that time. Well, we could have chosen worse! Our plan was to spend a bit more than half of our holiday in the Dolomites in the North of Italy and to have some relax time later on Sardinia. We flew into Verona, rented a car and drove up to famous Cortina d’Ampezzo. Most of the drive was unspectacular, but the closer we got to Cortina, the better the views became. And, wow, Cortina is located spectacularly between the mountains! We immediately fell in love with it.

Setting up our tent at a campsite a bit outside of Cortina, we decided to spend the next couple of days exploring the surroundings. Our first day hike brought us to Lago di Sorapiss, a turquoise-coloured lake beautifully surrounded by the mountains. We started our hike early in order to escape the crowds and experience the pretty morning light.

After a couple of hours, we reached Lago di Sorapiss. And yes, I get what all the hype is about! Look at these colours…

In order to avoid the crowds on the way back, we chose the long route back across another mountain pass which offered some more spectacular views. Not a bad choice!

For our second day, we decided to try a via ferrata at Passo Giau. Actually, not just one, but a series of three via ferratas! First up to the summit of Ra Gusela, then on to Monte Nuvolau and last but not least we added on the via ferrata up to Monte Averau. A bit much? Not really, as they were all very short and apart from the latter wouldn’t even have required via ferrata equipment. The day started off with some beautiful morning light again… waking up early in the mountains is a must, not just to avoid crowds but for views like this:

After a bit of a hike, we climbed up the first via ferrata part and were rewarded with views of the Cinque Torri and of course all the other surrounding mountain chains. Not too bad!

The via ferrata then brought us up to Monte Nuvolau with its spectacularly located mountain hut. Not too bad either and a good spot for a break!

We were a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t really have needed the (expensive) via ferrata equipment until then though. Hence, down the mountain and up Monte Averau we went. This time, there was actually a real climb involved, which was fun! Also, the summit felt more like a real summit.

All in all a great second day and we were hungry for more adventures. On day 3 we had to wake up super early and go for a bit of a drive to Fischleintal where we met up with my dad bright and early, to hike the famous Tre Cime. We decided for a different and longer option again, which kept us busy the whole day and (mostly) away from the crowds. Starting off in Fischleintal, we approached the towers of Tre Cime…

Wow! What a view again. No matter what you have seen in your life, no matter if you (like us) have done some stunning treks around the world. These towers will wow you.

The rest f the hike was beautiful too though and brought us to some more spectacular views and cute mountain huts. It was a long hike back down to Fischleintal, and the dinner was more than well deserved I would say!

Yet another day in the surroundings of Cortina, but weather forecast didn’t look too promising and made us op for the safe option: we were gonna do the via ferrata at Kaiserjägersteig on the way up and descend the mountain through the Lagazuoi tunnels – a tunnel system that was set up during WW2. This time, the via ferrata was a little bit more challenging, but still not difficult. The views from the top were of course pretty again, but the clouds on the horizon made us pack up quickly.

As mentioned, the descent was almost entirely inside the mountain, which was super special but also a little strange. There were of course lookouts along the way and I suppose it was a good option in case it had started raining earlier.

In the end, we probably would have been able to do a proper via ferrata and a full day tour somewhere, as the thunderstorm only came in the late afternoon. But in the mountains it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to thunder and lightning!

After so many active days, we needed some rest. And so we spent the next day road-tripping. From Cortina, we drove the following route which is very much recommended: Passo Falzarego – Arabba – Passo Pordoi – Passo Sella – Passo Gardena – Colfosco. The most beautiful parts were Passo Pordoi and Passo Sella, but Passo Gardena was not too shabby either… If anyone would ask me, I would do the panoramic drive the exact same way again and not leave out a single one of those mountain passes!

One rest day had to be enough, because we still had some active ideas in our head and the weather wasn’t going to stay sunny forever… As we were still missing that ‚proper‘ via ferrata experience, we decided to rent sets again in Colfosco and planned two via ferratas for the next two days. We started off with one of the most famous via ferratas of the Dolomites: Brigata Alpina Tridentina at Pisciadú. As we heard that it can get pretty crowded, we were off to yet another super early start and managed to dodge the crowds very well once again. And what’s more: we loved it!!! This finally was a proper via ferrata, lots of nice climbing, some more challenging parts (especially for me) and not too short either. Beautiful views all the way up…

At the end of the via ferrata, there was the option to continue with a hike up to the summit of Cima Pisciadù. We were a bit doubtful about whether to do it since it was going to add significant time to our hike – but in the end decided for it. Was it worth it? Judge for yourselves…

The descent back into the valley took much longer than somehow expected – of course we had also chosen the longer one of the two routes again as it was supposed to be more beautiful… Not sure if I would make that choice again as we arrived rather tired back at our car.

Recovery time was short: next day, next via ferrata! This time we drove back to Arabba where we had decided to tackle via ferrata delle Trincee. Something completely different to the day before! The via ferrata is set on volcanic rock and leads along a mountain ridge, climbing up and down. The beginning was super challenging and in between there were certainly some tricky parts.

But all in all it was super awesome with panoramic 360° views all around us with the glacier of Marmolada right next to us the whole time and beautiful weather… Couldn’t have asked for more!!

After so much action, even we needed a rest day again, so we decided to go for yet another scenic drive. Nothing can top the panoramic road-tripping day where we drove across all these different mountain passes… but on that day we explored Val Gardena and Val di Funes a bit and that was also pretty nice. Lots of green, little villages, quite an Austrian feel for me. As with so many places in the Dolomites.

Looking at the weather forecast, we realized that our luck was slowly coming to an end. We still wanted to hike around the Sassolungo massif, but we soon realized that we would have to power hike in order to make it!

Loads of beautiful views, but we were a bit rushed. Clouds started accumulating more and more and surely enough, at one point it started to rain. Fortunately not too heavily and due to our high hiking speed we had already reached the end of the hike by that time. Phewww…made it, just before the rain came pouring down!

After so much good weather, we really can’t complain… but couldn’t it have stayed sunny just for another 2 days or so!? When we drove to Val di Fassa after our power hike, mood was a bit down. It was grey, rainy and miserable. We didn’t feel like camping and struggled to find an affordable alternative. Our detour to Lago di Carezza was beautiful despite the grey weather but we could only think about how amazing it must look on a sunny day…

Our last major hike in the Dolomites was supposed to have been the Vajolet Towers hike – but it really did not look good at all in terms of the weather forecast. Basically, between 10am and 11am it was going to start raining and stay rainy and cloudy for the rest of the day. Even though we didn’t feel like it, this meant another (super!!) early morning with our hike starting at 6am, trying to power hike once again and maybe being lucky to still reach the main viewpoints before the clouds did…

So the plan. And while our weather luck had come to an end, we got really, really lucky in a very different, unexpected way. The first part of the hike would have been a 1.5h long slog on a perfectly paved road, just because you are not allowed to drive on there as a tourist. So we parked our car as close as possible to where the private road starts and started walking. 1.5h of dullness in the dark awaiting us. 15min into the hike, we hear a car approaching and I joked about hitching a ride. Surely, no one would pick us up in the dark and with corona and all!? Guess we were wrong (and super duper lucky!): the guy stopped and not just took us all the way on the paved road, but even quite far on the gravel road that followed afterwards. Turned out he had to fix some parts of that road and ended up saving us about 2h of our hike! I honestly felt like hugging him 😀

Once we actually started hiking, it wasn’t all that far anymore. Which was good. We reached the main mountain hut at the foot of the Vajolet Towers (Rifugio Re Alberto) around 9am and were rewarded with a beautiful view. We quickly hiked up to Santner Pass for views from even higher up.

After a couple of minutes, the first clouds started coming in… we went into the hut for some well-deserved (early wake-up, hey!) hot chocolate and when we came out again, the towers were gone. Gone, disappeared into the clouds. They sometimes opened up in between, but mostly there were just no views anymore.

Happy and very thankful to our savior we made our way back down the mountain knowing that without him, we would have had a long, miserable hike without getting any views…

And that was it for the Dolomites! Next day, it was even cloudier and rainier, so we drove straight to Verona. Luckily, the closer we got to Verona, the more the sun came out again – so we ended up exploring Verona in nice and warm summer weather.

A cute little town that is obviously famous for the story of Romeo and Julia, but which has a lot more to offer than a love story which did not actually happen there. We quite enjoyed a relaxed afternoon of walking around the city, feeling like arriving back in civilization after all our mountain adventures. Good times!

We loved the Dolomites and were positively surprised by the beautiful landscapes, great hikes and awesome via ferratas. We’ll be back soon for sure for some more via ferrata action! Up next: Sardinia…

Finally in Florence

If anyone would have told me at the beginning of 2020, that my first trip this year would be to Florence in August, I would have thought they were crazy. But, corona happened and changed all our plans. My dive trip to Raja Ampat in April got cancelled and so did our weekend in Florence in May. We didn’t give up though and after re-booking twice, we finally managed to get there in August!

We had wanted to visit Florence for a while, so it felt double good to finally be there. Finally travelling again, out of the lockdown drama and into explorer mode.

We had 2,5 days in Florence and did a day trip to Pisa. It was a hot, hot, summer weekend with up to 37 degrees which called for lots of gelato and celebratory drinks (yay, travelling!). But to be honest, it was maybe just a little bit too hot for sightseeing in a city. So we took it slow, from shade to shade, while sightseeing. On the first day, we walked from our accommodation in Oltrarno across the river to the church Santa Maria Novella. Due to corona, we had to do quite some online bookings to get into certain museum and churches, but it was also nice in a way because we didn’t have to stand in line for a long time. I really liked Santa Maria Novella and it was probably my favourite church of Florence.

Apart from the Duomo, the main cathedral of course! Which was our next stop. Walking through the little alleys of Florence, you’re kind of looking for it and then suddenly…it’s right in front of you! It’s funny how such a massive, impressive building was squeezed into a little square, surrounded by houses. The Duomo is one of the most impressive churches I have ever seen – from the outside. Lines to get inside were super long until we finally managed on the last day – and were disappointed. Outside: wow. Inside: really not that special.

From here, we continued our walk through the historical center of Florence, passing many little squares and churches. One of my favourite squares was in front of Palazzo Vecchio where there is a fountain and a sculpture gallery – Loggia dei Lanzi. After one of the many temperature checks of this weekend (corona measurements), we were allowed up and could explore the beautiful sculptures all for free.

Compared to that, the Galleria dell’Accademia almost seemed a bit expensive later on – but we spontaneously decided to go for a visit anyways and see David. David is probably the most famous inhabitant of Florence – or the most famous sculpture Michelangelo has created. And it is pretty stunning! Only the rest of the exhibits didn’t really wow us at all.

Passing some more pretty squares and having a drink or two along the way, we reached Basilica di Santa Croce and the Arno river with the famous bridge Ponte Vecchio. As it was my birthday, we treated ourselves for a nice dinner and some drinks on the other side of the river – in Oltrarno. A good way to end the first day!

Day 2 didn’t start as successfully, as we climbed up the hill to Forte di Belvedere only to stand in front of closed gates. Corona or normal schedule, I don’t know, but it meant climbing down the hill on the other side and up again to reach Piazzale Michelangelo – THE main viewpoint of Florence. In hindsight, we should have just skipped the fortress anyways, as you’re getting the same view and probably much better from the piazzale. And what a view that was! I always love viewpoints to see a city from above and this one was one of the best we have seen so far.

Later, we crossed the Arno back into the historical center again, where we had booked tickets to see Basilica di Santa Croce from the inside (not really worth it) and Palazzo Vecchio. The palace was actually really beautiful and well worth seeing. Still, a little disappointment awaited us when we learned that we wouldn’t be able to go up the tower for a view due to corona rules. We had chosen Palazzo Vecchio mainly because of its view tower where we were hoping for close-up views of the Duomo and other historic buildings in the center.

On our third day, we took the train to Pisa. where of course the main goal was to see the Leaning Tower. However, there are also many other beautiful buildings on the Miracle Square. The real miracle is of course the tower tough…

Although it was cool to see the Leaning Tower (kind of a once in a lifetime thingy), it took quite a while to get there and it was super busy. We enjoyed exploring the square and taking photos, but had a long wait for the next train as the schedule was a bit irregular (yes, due to corona).

Once back in Florence, we quickly scored some drinks and bus tickets (it was Sunday, so both of it actually felt like a success) and took the bus up again to Piazzale Michelangelo. We dot beautiful day time views the day before, but now we wanted to see some evening light, have some drinks, enjoy the view… and listen to beautiful guitar music as it happened. Not too bad at all!

Our last day was more like half a day and we had pretty much seen everything we had wanted to see. So we ended up taking a bus up to Fiesola, a little village up in the hills above Florence. Here, we took one of the walking routes through the hills and enjoyed the views over Florence one last time. Florence – it’s been amazing to finally see you and to finally be out travelling again! (see more pics by clicking on the photo below)

Destination: Everywhere