If pedalling through history and nature, amongst ancient hamlets and wild nature, and being challenged by technical routes and demanding climbs sounds good to you, the Little Dolomites might be just what you’re looking for. Lying between the provinces of Vicenza, Verona and Trento, the Little Dolomites get their name from being lower in height than their world-famous siblings, the Dolomites, but there’s nothing little about the routes they offer. Riding through this landscape provides an exceptional immersion in the local territory. At Fulcrum we know this area well, alongside Monte Grappa, the Asiago plateau and the Berici hills. These are our regular haunts for weekend rides and the testing ground for our wheels.
The Little Dolomites run from east to west and include the Catena delle Tre Croci, Massiccio del Carega, the Catena del Sengio Alto and the Massiccio del Pasubio. Amongst them a series of hills stretch down towards the plain close to Vicenza which are criss-crossed by paved roads, cart roads, mule tracks, military roads and paths: a veritable paradise for bike lovers of all disciplines.
Recoaro Mille and Passo di Campogrosso: where all roads head up
The Giro d’Italia has often paid visit to Monte Grappa and the Altopiano dei Sette Comuni, but that’s not to say that the climbs of the Little Dolomites are less interesting for road riders. There was a memorable stage that ended in Schio in 1998, the year that Marco Pantani won the overall classification. On the descent from the Passo dello Zovo, made slippery by the rain, the Italian champion fell, along with one of his main rivals, the Swisss Alex Zülle. The Pirata’s fans held their breath, fearing the worst, but fortunately the fall didn’t have serious repercussions on the final results.
This is our starting point to discover some of the best climbs in the area. The Zovo (SP 45), from the Schio side, is 6 km long, with an average grade of 7% and a maximum grade of 15%. After reaching the top of the climb at 631 metres the road drops down to Valdagno. Here there are various options to get back to Schio: the shortest one passes through Recoaro Terme, to then climb the Passo Xon. Even though only 4 km long, and climbing 200 metres, it affords great views of all the Little Dolomites. Definitely worthwhile.
Riders looking for more of a challenge have various levels of difficulty and lengths to choose from. There is the climb from San Quirico di Valdagno to Recoraro Mille (9.32 km and an average grade of 7.3%). From the top you can drop into Recoaro Terme, which is the starting point for the popular climbs to the Rifugio Battisti and the Rifugio Campogrosso “Toni Giuriolo”. The first (10.2 km and an average grade of 8%) leads to the foot of the Catena delle Tre Croci, with its breath taking Alpine landscape. The second climb to Passo di Campogrosso (1460 m), through the village of Merendaore, is no less spectacular or challenging, rising 1,000 metres over its 11 km, with maximum grades of 10-15%, close to Merendaore. Once you reach the pass the views make all the hard work worthwhile: to the west there is the majestic Carega and to the east the typically Dolomitic sheer walls of the Catena del Sengio Alto.
Pian delle Fugazze, Xomo and Passo della Borcola: in the presence of the Pasubio
After some refreshments at the rifugio you can cross over into Trentino and continue along the Strada delle Sette Fontane (it’s closed to cars, but keep an eye out for the many walkers) and reach the Passo Pian delle Fugazze (1,163 m), that divides the Sengio Alto from the Pasubio. A deviation leads to the military memorial of Monte Pasubio, that dominates the Val Leograe and is home to over five thousand fallen soldiers of the First World War, or you can drop down Schio along the SP 46 road. Counterclockwise the climb that from Valli del Pasubio reaches Pian delle Fugazze measures 11.6 km, with an average grade of 7.1%.
From the SP 46 road, in Ponte Verde, there is another climb that leads to Passo Xomo (1,059 m). This is the famous access point for the Strada delle 52 Gallerie, an impressive feat of military engineering built by the Italian army during the First World War. Even though it’s called a road, it is actually a mountain path and can only be accessed on foot. Starting from Schio, there are 22 km to reach Xomo, whilst from Posina the climb measures 6.8 km, with an average grade of 7.6%.
Posina is the starting point of another formidable climb, the Passo della Borcola (1,207 m), which, in fact, marks the eastern border of the Little Dolomites. The climb measures 9.3 km, with an average grade of 7.2% and a maximum grade of 15%.
MTB and gravel
If you prefer steering clear of paved roads and are looking for MTB and gravel routes, the Little Dolomites have plenty to offer too. The hills lying at the feet of the higher peaks are crisscrossed by countless gravel roads and singletrack, leading to ancient hamlets where life seems to have stopped in time. Looking further north you can feast your eyes on the fascinating world of rocks and ramparts. The great thing for off road lovers is that you can ride all the way up to 2,000 metres of the highest peaks of this mountain range.
Proceeding in order let’s have a look at the main routes from west to east. From Recoaro Mille you can follow most of the Sentiero dei Grandi Alberi, through meadows, pastures dotted with Alpine shepherd’s huts and wooded sections, to reach Rifugio Battisti. The route crosses the Conca di Smeraldo, the natural amphitheatre that dominates Recoaro Terme, with just 250 of climbing over its 10 km. A larger loop raises the climbing to 1,048 metres, over 26,6 km, if you decide to start from Recoaro Terme, climb up to Recoaro Mille, reach Rifugio Battisti, the village of Merendaore and back.
The Sengio Alto, l’Ortogonale 1 and Monte Pasubio loop: an immersion in history
Moving to the Alpe di Campogrosso, there is the wonderful loop of the Sengio Alto. The Strada del Re, which runs on the southern side is closed to road traffic and impossible for road bikes. This is pure MTB and gravel territory, but with a surprise: a Tibetan bridge that crosses a landslide, where there is only one thing for it, but to put your bike on your back. After this spectacular section the loop continues on paved roads to Pian delle Fugazze and along the Strade delle Sette Fontane that leads back to Passo di Campogrosso.
This is the starting point of another extremely interesting historical route: the Ortogonale1, that runs as far as Monteviale, close to Vicenza. At almost 54 km (with 1,790 m of climbing and 3,204 m of descending), it follows the 1916 defence lines, along the divide between the Agno and Leogra valleys. A route that will let you discover military roads and stations, from the high Vicenza valleys populated by the descendants of the ancient European tribe of the Cimbri, as far as the Veneto plain.
Then there is Monte Pasubio, with another super-classic route. Starting from Pian delle Fugazze, the climb follows the unpaved road of the Val di Fieno, as far as Galleria d’Havet, which is the starting point of the Strada degli Eroi, so called because on the rock walls there are the plates in memory of the 12 gold medals for military valour who fought on the Pasubio during the First World War. The road overhanging the Val Canale climbs up to 1,918 m and the Rifugio Achille Papa. To complete the loop take the descent of the Strada degli Scarubbi as far as Bocchetta Campiglia. Then onto Passo Xomo, down to Ponte Verde and then back up to Pian delle Fugazze along the SP 46 road. The total loop runs 28.8 km with 1,639 m of climbing. But there is obviously more, if you want: starting from Schio, you can climb up to Passo Xomo, along the road that starts in Santa Catarina del Tretto and by taking the Stada degli Scarubbi, you close the loop in reverse. This option runs to 50 km with 1,744 m of climbing. The perfect recipe for a grand day out.