Vernon McClure, 48, is a Kentucky native who has been living in Italy for the last two decades. He’s now in Vicenza, outside Venice, and is a guide specializing in active vacations – hiking, climbing, biking – in that area for Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine ( www.italiaoutdoorsfoodandwine.com).
Q: Italy has so much to offer – but active vacations?
Most people think of food and wine when it comes to Italy – and you can’t do Italy without them. But there are many outdoor activities near the cultural centers of northeast Italy. You can go for nice hike for two or three hours a day and still have coffee in a Renaissance square.
The Dolomites are the oldest mountains here, and Americans know some of the key tourist points – like the Sella group and the ski areas. But the Dolomite range consists of nine individual mountain groups that form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Q: How far do you have to go from Venice to hit the mountains.
It’s a 45-minute drive. You can ride there if you’re an avid bicyclist. In Venice and Milan, you can see Renaissance paintings that have mountains in the background – and those are the pre-Alps and Dolomites.
Q: What are the most popular mountain places?
When people come to ride or hike, they like to come for a week. You need a minimum of three days to really get a feel. They like to go up to Tre Cima di Lavaredo, Mount Civetta, Mount Marmolada and Pale di San Martino, which are spectacular mountains with cliffs. The “four passes” – Gardena, Campolongo, Pordoi and Sella – are beautiful. Another highlight of the area is the Penta group near Lake Garda.
The tallest mountain is just over 3,000 meters (9,843 feet); the passes are about 2,000 meters (6,582 feet).
There’s something for all levels here, novice to expert.
There are overnight camping huts throughout the system: You’re never more than 2 1/2 hours of walking from some kind of support system. You can stay in a hut in the mountains or stay in villages or town.
You don’t, as a rule of thumb, want to hike in the higher elevations after 3 p.m. That’s often when you get thunder storms off the Adriatic Sea.
Q: What are the huts like?
They do dinners. You can stay there – they can take seven- or eight-person hikes. You pay for your bed, meal and whatever you need. They have showers that run off of solar energy. They’re not like shacks, but are not five-star quality.
Q: Weren’t these mountains fought over in World War I?
The mountains were the boundary between Italy and Austria-Hungary until 1919, and the major World War I front was from here almost to Verona. Asiago – where the cheese comes from – and near Cortina are where there were a lot of battles.
It changed parts of the land; some places still look like moonscapes. Soldiers would drill through the bottom of a mountain, pack it with explosives and try to bring the mountain down on enemy fortifications.
Many soldiers were from factories and farms – not everybody was a mountaineer. What they had to do was put pegs and ladders along the cliffs so troops could move through the mountains on goat trails. It’s called “via ferreta” – “iron road” – and steel cables are anchored into the rock. They’re very safe – I’ve taken my 8-year-old up there. You clip your harness to the old safety line. The lines are maintained and checked for safety.
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