Santa Maddalena in the Dolomite region of Italy
On a recent trip to Europe I had to travel from Stuttgart to just north of Venice. I decided to take a day extra and explore an area of northern Italy that I have always wanted to see, the Dolomites. It turned out to be a bizarre experience for a fairly seasoned traveler.
Most of the trip from Stuttgart was uneventful. Finding my way to the area was pretty easy with all the modern technology available. There is motorway for all about 50km at the end. I chose a guest house in San Pietro which is the little village near to Santa Maddalena. Santa Maddalena is home of two famously picturesque churches. Santa Maddalena itself and St. Johann Church (really a chapel) pictured below.
Well, I arrived in San Pietro without much problem. However, I hit a dead end (due to major road works) to the road my GPS and Google Maps were telling me I had to go down. So I stuck the address in again and Google Maps sent me on a completely useless trip that definitely did not lead me to my destination. So I returned to where I was originally stuck because the road dead-ended. I noticed there was a tourist info place nearby. Of course, it was closed, being lunch time. So I asked someone on the street. He told me the guest house was just a little past the hotel with a similar name. Turns out this hotel was part of what was causing a blockage in the road. They were renovating the hotel and it was completely gutted. I parked my car, I’m sure completely illegally, and ventured out on foot to find the guest house. With a little, not-very-friendly help from locals, I eventually found it. Not promising. It had a strange, ragged Father Christmas dummy sitting on a bench outside (I was there in March)and the top floor of the house was also gutted for renovation. Nobody answered the door when I knocked. Eventually I decided to go scout the area for photographic locations and come back later.
After my scouting trip, I returned to the Tourist Info place. Fortunately there was a very helpful lady who phoned the owner of the guest house. She also told me the road would open up at 5pm every day. In the meantime, I walked again. When I got to the house I tried one of the many doors. There were no signs telling you which was the correct entrance. I was eventually met by a man, whether he was a member of the family I do not know, who was clearly doing the renovations to the property. His filthy handshake gave away this clue. With almost non-existent English (but better than my Italian), he showed me to my room and that it was it. No paper work, no instructions. Oh, he did give me the password to the Wi-Fi but that didn’t work, no matter what combination I tried. Well, I put my stuff down and went out to take photographs. But before I did, I had to clear up one thing.
Everything in this town was German. The people, the street names, the guesthouse names, everything. So I went back to my tourist info lady to clarify this strange phenomenon. It turns out that this Southern Tyrol area was previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was annexed to Italy in 1919 after World War I. For more on this fascinating subject, check this BBC page http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20633126
So off I went to photograph.
I got back around 7:30 and passed what turned out to be the owner of the guesthouse. She was taking her dog for a walk, but said nothing to me. I then left to go have dinner – walking to find that the only restaurant I had seen was closed. So I went back to fetch the car and go look for another restaurant. San Pietro is tiny, so I headed for Santa Magdalena which is marginally bigger. The place was almost completely asleep at 8pm. The only signs of life I found was the fire station doing a drill for, what I guessed were, volunteers. Nothing to eat – nada. So I started heading back, resigning myself to the fact that I probably was not going to get supper. As I approached my turn-off, I said to myself, ‘just go a mile or two further down the road and see if there is something’. To my delight, I found the only restaurant in the entire region, a few hundred yards down the road. And the restaurant had wi-fi!!
Despite my weird experiences in the area, the landscape was worth it. The bottom line is this is an incredibly beautiful part of the world, probably best visited a little later in spring, summer or in the Fall. There is probably more life then. I also think a lot of the guest houses offer food, certainly breakfast. So check it out before you go. It is worth a quick detour to go and see it.