With their distinctive limestone formations, it’s no wonder Italy’s Dolomite Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Yet the Dolomites offer more than phenomenal natural beauty; the region contains cultural treasures, too. From the cathedral and cloisters of Bressanone, follow cobbled lanes through mountainside vineyards to the Abbey of Novacella, a frescoed Baroque jewel. In natural parks like Puez-Odle and Fanes-Senes-Braies, trek through lush valleys past Ladin cabins into meadows dizzy with wildflowers. Marvel at high Alpine passes, wind-carved rock formations, and vistas of craggy peaks. Walk from shimmering Lake Misurina to chic Cortina d’Ampezzo, the “Pearl of the Dolomites” and one of Italy’s most beautiful resorts. Make the traditional circuit of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, three peaks at the Dolomites’ heart. Evenings in Tyrolean hamlets will reward you with the enrosadira, gorgeous sunsets that paint the towering white limestone summits with pink light. Crown your experience in the Val Travenanzes, where a cable car lifts you 9,000 feet to the region’s most sensational trail.
The tour begins in the charming medieval town of Bressanone(as it is known in Italian, or in German, Brixen) located just 28 miles south of the Brenner Pass, the border between Italy and Austria. Bressanone is located in the South Tyrol, the part of Italy encompassing the Trentino and Alto Adige regions, a bilingual region that belonged to Austria until 1918; in fact, German is spoken more than Italian by the inhabitants. This “Ancient Bishop’s City” is nestled between two rivers, enveloped by mountains sloping down to vineyards and lush orchards, with a pleasant center of narrow cobblestone streets, pastel-colored houses, and lovely buildings and bridges. Following a brief orientation at your centrally located meeting and first night’s hotel, you set out on foot for a leisurely loop walk along the Isarco River to the magnificent Abbey of Novacella, two miles north of the city center, in the tiny town of Varna. An upper path meanders past houses with flower-filled balconies, through apple and pear orchards, grapevines, and with views over the town and surroundings. The largest monastery complex in the Tyrol is a well-preserved jewel of medieval architecture with its white stucco and frescoed ceilings. A lower path parallels the Isarco River under shady chestnut trees back to your hotel. This evening, you stroll to a nearby restaurant for an aperitivo of local Alto Adige wines and cured ham (“speck”) and cheeses, before sitting down to a dinner of outstanding South Tyrolean cuisine. A first course may be handmade spinach-filled ravioli followed by a main course or “secondo piatto” of river trout, local game, or lamb, toasting the start of your adventure with a crisp white wine from the vineyards of the Abbey visited earlier in the day. And dessert may be your first taste of the region’s delectable apple strudel.
You awaken to a generous breakfast buffet in your hotel’s warm, wood-beamed dining room of eggs to order, cheeses, speck, and an assortment of Alto Adige yogurts, cereals, juices, pastries, fruit, and, of course, cappuccino! Check out and board your private coach for a one-hour drive through the Funes Valley—the Dolomites’ northwest boundary—and on to the Passo delle Erbe, roughly the Grassy Pass, where you can see the extraordinary peaks of the Odle that resemble a castle’s battlements. Today’s route is the Sass de Pütia loop, which starts out on a wide gravel path bordered with heather and bilberry, and ascends gently past summer hay huts and the local Ladin people’s small summer mountain cabins called “baita.” An ancient culture of a small minority population living in the Dolomites, the Ladin language developed in the isolated mountain valleys from the time of the Roman Empire. In the summer, Ladini families climb to their summer cabins to relax, picnic, hay, and carve wood, and at many of the cabins, refreshments or snacks are offered to hikers. Continuing through meadows, the trail narrows, skirting a mountain, and at this point, you encounter the day’s greatest challenge—a 650-foot ascent of about an hour. Switchbacks make their way steeply up the hill, through large boulders, a trickling stream, and Rhaetian poppies, with steps and timber traverses at the final push. The view from the top of the saddle, Pütia Fork, at about 7,700 feet, is well worth the effort—rolling pastureland thick with yellow buttercups, gentians, and pink mountain thrift and views of the upper Badia Valley, the Fanes Range, and the Sella Group. Rounding the Pütia Mountain, the route then joins the famousAlta Via 2 (the second of a network of eight long distance footpaths through the Dolomites, called “Alte Vie,” meaning high paths). These trails are week-long routes and are served by numerous “Rifugi” (or refuge huts). The next mile or so is on a beautiful level trail between green pastures and grazing cows, with views of the Sella group and the Odle, and soon your lunch spot comes into view—the welcoming Rifugio Genova at 7,566 feet. Stunning views accompany a lunch of homemade mountain fare, such as polenta with cheese, homemade noodles with mushrooms, and a local Forst beer. After lunch you continue on a farm track, through sloping pasture that is home to marmots and abundant wildflowers; raptors soar above the mountain passes. With views below to the village of Antermoia, you enter a shaded forest trail where black grouse may be flushed out. After a farmhouse refreshment stop, the trail loops back to the starting point at the Passo delle Erbe. A short transfer takes you on to your home for the next two nights in the idyllic mountain village of San Vigilio di Marebbe, where you are welcomed by the family that has been running their Art Nouveau hotel for generations. Surrounded by a crown of mountains, a cocktail in the hotel’s garden is the perfect place to see the “enrosadira,” the Ladin word for the pink sunset glow illuminating the peaks as the sun’s last rays strike the white dolomitic limestone. You proceed to the hotel’s dining room for the chef’s fare of locally raised meat, fresh vegetables, and herbs picked from the garden.
A sumptuous breakfast buffet fuels you for today’s walk in the Fanes-Senes-Braies Park. That being said, instead of starting off with a long, but gradual ascent, a very convenient option would allow you to take a jeep ride to meet the group at lunchtime, and then enjoy the afternoon’s 5-mile walk. For those who choose the morning option, a short drive brings you to the eastern end of the Val Badia and the glacially carved Pederü Valley. From the Rifugio Pederü at 5,079 feet, a long wide mountain road over gradual switchbacks climbs for 2½ hours (elevation gain of 1,680 feet), larch trees lining the way. After passing a rocky gorge, you emerge onto the level Fanes Pasture. After passing green pastureland, yellow wolfsbane, rushing rivers, and grazing cows, you encounter the family-run Rifugio Fanes, a backcountry lodge of wood and stone with a huge deck overlooking the natural bowl of the Sasso della Croce and the Cunturines groups of mountains. The unique stratified rock layers and solitary pines in the horizon are known as the “Marmots’ Parliament,” part of the rich Ladini folklore of stories and legends about these mountains. A “Radler”—a refreshing mix of beer and lemonade—may hit the spot to accompany lunch, a hearty bowl of pasta, soup, or polenta. After lunch, a 15-minute ascent (367 feet) of gradual switchbacks through a carpet of junipers brings you to Limo Pass (at 7,126 feet, the highest point of the day’s walk). The trail then levels out at azure Lake Limo, gently undulating into a wide natural amphitheater, as you enjoy the Fanes high plateau with its typical karstic limestone landscape of windcarved rock formations, caves, fissures, underground streams, and small lakes. A growing population of fox, deer, chamois, mountain goats, and eagles thrive under the park’s protection. After a final stunning view at the Forcella Col de Locia, a steep and narrow descent of steps brings you to the Capanna Alpina (5,643 feet), where you are rewarded with a refreshing drink or snack. A short drive brings you back to San Vigilio di Marebbe, where there is time to relax, stroll through town, or schedule an Ayurvedic massage at the hotel, before gathering for dinner in the hotel’s dining room.
Morning option: Popena to Lake Misurina: 4 miles, moderate, elevation gain of 1,545 ft and loss of 1,240 ft. (Total walking time: 2.75 hours) Afternoon option: Parco Naturale di Cortina d'Ampezzo: Màndres to Fraina; 2 miles, easy to moderate. (Total walking time: 1.5 hours) Departing San Vigilio after breakfast, you head east for the approximate one-hour drive through the Pusteria Valley, and then south through the Landro Valley on the Cima Banche, finally reaching the Popena River Valley, near Cortina, your home for the next three nights. Today’s walk begins at Popena at 5,443 feet and gradually ascends while paralleling the Popena River; the trail alternating between gravel, woodland path, and stony limestone river bed through mixed forest of birch, spruce, and pine. The peaks of the Tre Cime, Monte Piana, and Cristallino are on the right, and just before the top, you traverse a sunken green pasture before emerging onto high pastureland. Soon after, you reach the saddle at just under 7,000 feet, with spectacular 360-degree views, including the morning’s final destination of Lake Misurina nestled below, and higher peaks of the Falori group, the Sorapiss group, Tre Cime, and Cristallo and Cristallino. After a rest at the top, you descend through gradual switchbacks and arrive at Lake Misurina (elevation of 5,748 feet) for lunch at a lakeside restaurant. The shimmering Lake Misurina is dominated by the triple-spired “Tre Cime di Lavaredo” (the three peaks of Lavaredo). The air around the lake is considered so clean, in fact, that it is the site of Italy’s only center for childhood asthma. Alternatively, you may choose not to participate in the morning walk and be driven to the lake and meet the group for lunch to do the afternoon walk. Or, you could choose to forego the afternoon walk and transfer directly to Cortina after lunch. The afternoon walk begins through a meadow and a river crossing, and then continues along an undulating forest path with views of the Tofane Mountains and Cristallo. After about two miles, you board a cable car descending into the heart of Cortina, and from here it’s a short walk to your hotel. Cortina d’Ampezzo, known as the “Pearl of the Dolomites” is perhaps Italy’s most beautiful—and stylish—ski resort town. Set in a valley ringed by 9,000-foot peaks, it is appreciated for its miles of ski runs as well as its bustling center full of chic cafés and shops. Your historic hotel is perfectly situated in the heart of the pedestrian zone for strolling around the town. After settling into your room, you regroup for dinner just on the outskirts of town at a cozy yet refined favorite local restaurant. The Zardini family provides a warm welcome and specializes in grilled meats, vegetables, and local game when in season, and of course, tempting homemade desserts.
This morning, a 45-minute drive takes you to the start of the day’s walk, a circuit around the “Tre Cime di Lavaredo,” in the Sesto Dolomites Natural Park. The distinctive three peaks are one of the Dolomites’ most well-known landmarks; prized by rock climbers for the sheer rock faces, appreciated for their amazing pastel and vibrant red hues at sunset, and the site of some of the most intense mountain warfare of World War I. In fact, the range constituted the border between Hapsburg Austria and Italy up until 1918. Today’s loop walk provides views at all angles, beginning with a drive up the beautiful Tre Cime Panoramic Road to the Rifugio Auronzo at 7,644 feet. After a fortifying cappuccino you set off along a wide trail, a former military track, just beneath the peaks. After a chapel commemorating the First World War, you veer north passing the Rifugio Lavaredo. Soon, breathtaking views of the Tre Cime open up, and you may spot rock climbers at seemingly impossible heights on the rock face. After dipping below the Mount Paterno ridge, which is still riddled with wartime tunnels, a level traverse across a scree slope brings you to the Rifugio Locatelli. After a short break, the route initially descends a series of switchbacks, then traverses an undulating basin called the Pian da Rin, a grassy wildflower-filled meadow where you may hear whistling marmots. This tranquil trail offers spectacular views of the Tre Cime surrounded by a mountain quiet only interrupted by the dull clanging of cowbells. A steep but short ascent of 280 steps, probably the day’s most challenging section, is soon over and followed by a flat stretch to a mountain dairy hut, where you may be able to taste incredibly fresh homemade yogurt or cheese. You then round the south side of the Tre Cime at the Col di Mezzo pass, and close the loop back at the starting point, the Rifugio Auronzo. A short drive delivers you to a traditional restaurant for a satisfying lunch—perhaps homemade canederli bread balls with cheese or a plate of patate all’ampezzana (pan-cooked potatoes and onions flavored with local speck ham). This evening you are free to explore Cortina on your own, perhaps browsing its enticing shops, before enjoying a peoplewatching aperitivo on the terrace of the Hotel de la Poste, and then venturing out to discover one of the town’s many fine restaurants.
Today’s walk is considered to be one of the finest routes in the Dolomites for its variety of scenery—high peaks, remote wild areas, and significant evidence of World War I warfare. After breakfast at your hotel, you board the coach for the 30- minute drive to the Falzarego Pass to catch a cable car to the 9,000-foot summit of Mount Piccolo Lagazuoi. The walk starts at the summit’s family-run Rifugio Lagazuoi, which is the highest refuge in the area, reachable only on foot or by cable car. On its terrace, you’re on top of the world, with 360-degree views overlooking the Dolomites’ impressive peaks such as the Marmolada, the Croda da Lago, and the Cinque Torri. The mountain you’re standing on has thousands of feet of tunneling, a result of the fierce fighting between Austrians and Italians during World War I to control the peak and surrounding territory. Other wartime remnants are still ubiquitous, such as barbed wire, shell fragments, and building rubble. You initially pass these tunnels, trenches, and caves, near massive anti-avalanche fortifications, then gradually descend the Val Travenanzes, with the majestic Tofane di Rozes rising straight above the rubble and debris. Here, far from the more frequented trails of the Dolomites, you may be lucky enough to spot sure-footed chamois on the rocky slopes. The path dips into a larch forest passing streams and waterfalls, and an abandoned shepherd’s hut, surrounded by pink alpenrose. Farther along, the trail traverses an expanse of white gravel, crisscrossed by streams that may need to be crossed depending on the water level. Among the dramatic scenery of mountainside, rock faces, and waterfalls, a picnic spot is found to enjoy a spread of thinly sliced speck from Cortina, fresh creamy Pusteria Valley cheese, fruit, and other treats. Fueled for the final leg, the valley becomes a canyon as the trail descends, with a torrent churning below and the Croda Rossa’s distinctive silhouette coming into view. Soon the path enters a shady pine needle-covered trail, crosses the “Ponte Alto”—a high bridge over a deep ravine—and concludes at a cool stream where you can reward your feet with a soak before being picked up by jeep for the return drive to Cortina. This afternoon you have time to relax, pack, and do any last minute shopping before gathering for your farewell dinner on the outskirts of town. You are welcomed with a glass of sparkling Prosecco on the deck of the warm chalet restaurant on a small lake at the base of the Croda da Lago peak. In this intimate locale, the first course, or “primo piatto,” may be the Cortina specialty of handmade, crescent-shaped ravioli stuffed with tender red beets and topped with melted butter, poppy seeds, and a generous dusting of parmesan cheese. Tonight’s main course may be fresh lake trout, grilled to perfection, as you toast your discovery of the beauty of the Dolomites.
Departing shortly after breakfast, a scenic two-hour drive returns you to the tour’s starting point of Bressanone, where you can conveniently make rail connections throughout Europe, south to Verona, Venice, or Milan, or north to Innsbruck, Munich, and beyond. We can assist you with all of your travel arrangements from this point on, so don't hesitate to ask! firstname.lastname@example.org
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