The Dolomites: Northern Italy's incredible mountain range

The rugged Dolomite’s

Mountain beauty

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’.

An alpine house in the green meadows in the Dolomite’s

Cortina d’Ampezzo

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.

Driving through the villages on the way up to Cortina d’Ampezzo

Cortina d'Ampezzo from our hotel room

Cortina d’Ampezzo from our hotel room

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.  

A hotel in Cortina d’Ampezzo leading to a narrow street

A church in Cortina d’Ampezzo

We ate pizza after enjoying the shops, one of which had several boxes of local funghi for sale.

From the balcony of the pizza restaurant in Cortina d’Ampezzo

Local funghi from the Dolomites region – Porcini’s and Chantarelles

Local funghi from the Dolomites region – Porcini’s and Chantarelles

Bottled preserved Porcini Funghi in a shop in Cortina d’Ampezzo

Peaks, green valleys and stunning vistas!

Cyclists on the road to Passo di Falzarego above Cortina d’Ampezzo, Dolomites

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.

The restaurant at Passo di Falzarego 2117m, Dolomites

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).

A pictorial map at the cable car Lagazuoi, note the cross, Dolomite’s

View looking down from the cable car up to Lagazuoi, Dolomite’s

Our destination is on the top right, The cross on Lagazuoi, Dolomite’s

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.

At the cross on Lagazuoi


Lagazoui to the cross walking map

‘Tommaselli’ and hikers seen from Lagazuoi

We relaxed there with other travellers enjoying the late morning sun. Using binoculars we watched climbers across the valley.

Italian photo shoot on Lagazuoi

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).

Manfred sitting on the edge of the cliff of Lagazuoi with Marmolada in the background

At the top of Lagazuoi with Marmolada in the background across the green valleys below

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.

The entrance and remains of a WW1 tunnel on Lagazuoi

San Vigilio di Marebbe

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.

The Dolomites towards San Martin and beyond from Lagazuoi

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.

Wildflowers by our hotel in San Vigilio


Manfred on the balcony of our hotel in San Vigilio

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.

Ski runs above San Vigilio

In the village, we found a great bakery where we could eat pastries and drink coffee.

Enjoying coffee in the bakery in San Vigilio

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.

The church in San Vigilio

Inside the baroque church in San Vigilio

Statue of Catarina Lanz, San Vigilo

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’.

Alpine village on the way to the Passe Erbe near San Martin

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.

Pretty alpine farming village in the Dolomite’s near Passo Erbe

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.

Almgasthof Ütia de Börz, opposite the Peitlerkofel Passo Erbe

The view was incredible as we gazed at the nearby ‘Peitlerkofel Peak’ while sipping our double espresso coffee in the outdoor garden.

Pretty alpine farming village in the Dolomite’s near Passo Erbe

The mist on Peitlerkofel Peak clear away and provide us with a great view

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.

Mountain farm scene on our descent from Passo Erbe

Raking in the sythe cut grass

  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.

Rugged peaks in Passo Erbe

Mountain village as we drop down from Passo Erbe

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.

TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch

As a young adult, I wanted to travel and write – I now get to do both. In the interim, I became a registered nurse and gained a Masters in Health Science and bought up a family of 4 children – who live scattered around the world, providing me with destinations and stories. I also practice and teach Accunect, a holistic healing practice based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I practice meditation and enjoy my collective and extended family of Oneness and Buddhist friends. My husband loves to cook and we explore the food of the world, particularly Mediterranean cuisine. This myriad of experiences feeds and inspires my writing. We are always researching and planning the next trip.