The Dolomites: Northern Italy's incredible mountain range
July 8, 2019
by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch
This indomitable mountain range in the north of Italy is spectacular; a place where nature, adventure sports, jagged peaks and pretty mountain villages mix with diverse landscapes. Breathtaking beauty arises from the 250 million-year-old history of well-preserved geological formations. In 2009, the Dolomites were named a ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’.
Driving from the south, we entered the foothills passing through a tangle of tunnels which bypassed towns and small lakes; until, with gasps of delight, we reached our destination of Cortina d’Ampezzo sitting at 1,224m (4,016ft). Manfred, a former mountaineer, was very excited because he had not been in the European Alps for over 40 years.
Cortina d’Ampezzo housed the 1956 Winter Olympics and from our hotel the view of the mountains across the valley and the large cable car moving slowly along its wires was magnificent. A festival atmosphere, where chatter and laughter rolled out of the restaurants and bars into the streets, pervaded the town centre at the conclusion of a five-day international tennis tournament.
We ate pizza after enjoying the shops, one of which had several boxes of local funghi for sale.
Peaks, green valleys and stunning vistas!
The following morning we drove out of town and into the open meadows of the very steep, winding road toward the Passo di Falzarego which sits at 2,117m (6,945ft). Reaching the pass about mid-morning there were already a lot of walkers, climbers and sightseers enjoying the day.
We took the 5-minute cable car ride up ‘Lagazuoi’ passing by sheer cliffs and hikers on the walking track. Here you can sit in the cafe and enjoy the awe-inspiring view or climb a path up to a cross on the craggy tops where the view is just as magnificent at 2,800m (9,186ft).
These views into the green valleys below, ‘the moonscape’ beneath sheer bluffs of ‘Tommaselli’, and the incredibly high peaks and mountains in the far distance provided a vista as I have never seen before. With great enthusiasm, we walked up to ‘the cross’ which sits at the edge of precipitous cliffs and marks the high point above Lagazuoi.
We relaxed there with other travellers enjoying the late morning sun. Using binoculars we watched climbers across the valley.
In the distance we could see the Marmolada mountains and glacier; the highest mountain group in the Dolomites with Punta Penia the highest peak at 3,343m (10,967ft).
During the first world war, the Italians and Austrians raged war for this territory, even building tunnels in these mighty mountains. On Lagazuoi, they would shoot at one another with a gun in one hand while clinging to a climbing rope with their other hand. Eventually, the Italians won the war and the territory; however, the Austrian influence is still evident in the food and farming culture of the region.
We drove on down the valley through towns and villages which were ‘as pretty as a picture postcard’ and with alpine farmhouses dotting the green pastures. It snows heavily here in winter and people flock to this area for their winter ski holidays. Ski fields were seen on many of the hillsides.
Following very narrow roads twisting around the mountainous landscape, we arrived at the town of San Vigilio and found our small alpine hotel in a meadow below the hillside, surrounded by wildflowers.
On the opposite hill, we could see the ski runs and chair lifts, and a local waiter informed us there are 200kms of ski trails in this area alone.
In the village, we found a great bakery where we could eat pastries and drink coffee.
The town church was built in baroque style and sits in the main square. Beside it, is a statue of Catarina Lanz (born 1771) who is very famous in the area for having fought off the enemy with a pitchfork in 1797 during the Napoleonic wars. Subsequently, she quietly lived out her life in the town, caring for the priests.
We had a stunning dinner of salad, local cheese, soup and pasta made with Chantarelles (Pfifferling in German). Locals need a licence to pick and supply this funghi to the local restaurants where they are prized as a delicacy in the local cuisine.
A stunning drive over Passo Erbe
The following day we reluctantly left the beautiful village of San Vigilio. This was the last day of our journey through the Dolomites and we were following the route suggested by Michael Gebicki in 2012 called ‘The drive stupendous’.
From the San Martin turn off, we again drove steeply up into the hills reaching 2,006m (6,581ft) to the Passo Erbe. Passing through mountain farmland with quaint alpine houses and farm buildings, the road narrowed toward the summit.
We arrived at the ‘Almgasthof Ütia de Börz’, a lovely ‘rifugio’ (retreat), a wooden alpine hotel and, even though it was not new, the wood smell was fresh.
The view was incredible as we gazed at the nearby ‘Peitlerkofel Peak’ while sipping our double espresso coffee in the outdoor garden.
As we set off, the road again narrowed to one lane past the houses and farm buildings perched in the rich green fields. Cut fresh by sythe in the traditional farming style, families worked together to rake in the grass to be used as winter food for the animals.
We dropped altitude to about 1,600m (5,249ft) in an hour passing through towns with traditional ‘onion dome’ churches and more alpine houses as we left this incredible mountain range and continued on towards the Brenner Pass and Munich.
The Unique Dolomites
The Dolomites has something for everyone—skiing in winter, mountain biking and road cycling, hiking, camping and climbing along with paragliding—all amongst the simple charm of the villages. The steep and twisting roads offer amazing vistas while driving, and fresh high mountain air invigorates one’s soul! Along with the local food, wine and beer, the Dolomites offer a unique experience.
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July 19, 2019
Excellent reading, great photography. Very inspiring to want to travel this route in the future