For drama and beauty it’s hard to beat the Dolomites. A pristine mountain wilderness, where vast meadows swathed in fragrant wildflowers blend with stark pink-white limestone ramparts, and conifers alternate with rolling green pastures.
About this Italy walking region
Italy’s spectacular rooftop, the Dolomites, offers some of the best mountain walking in Europe. Here is where the landscape of the Dolomite mountains enthralls walkers with the constantly changing play of light on towering peaks, the fresh country air, rich culture and traditions that vary from valley to valley.
The Dolomites are, in fact, the south-eastern Alps and whilst the walking areas listed below are primarily in the northern section of the Dolomites, the entire Dolomite range extends well into Veneto to the east and Trentino to the south. Even though the twin-provinces of Trentino-Alto Adige form one Alpine region, they are best thought of as independent of each other – completely different culturally, linguistically and historically. In general, the local culture in the northern section of the Dolomites is more Germanic than Italian, as the region was part of Austria for centuries, but after World War I the border was moved north to its present position. Now Italian and German traditions and language exist side-by-side in a friendly way – many Dolomite villages, in fact, have dual names.
The stunningly beautiful pink and white limestone mountains of the Dolomites are famous for meadows covered in richly-coloured wildflowers, picturesque Rifugios, the outstanding walking and, of course, exhilarating Via Ferratas. In Italy ‘ferrata’ – literally ‘iron ways’ – are aided rock climbs consisting of permanently fixed metal cables and ladders onto which climbers clip their safety harnesses. Providing access to sheer cliffs and rocky peaks, some of them date back to WWI, when they were used by Alpini troops to reach strategically important peaks. Many others have been created since by civilian mountaineers.
Walking in the Dolomites
This is a super region for a walking holiday, with a plethora of well-marked trails at all altitudes. Some of the trails have been used for thousands of years and have a feeling of timelessness that can transport you light-years away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Numerous chairlifts and cable cars are springboards for more demanding hikes, whilst Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm, in German), Europe’s largest high-alpine plateau, offers boundless easy walking that presents beginners and seasoned walkers alike with classic Dolomite views across undulating pastures. Ascending from 1800m to 2200m (5900ft to 7200ft), Alpe di Siusi is best-known for its multi-coloured alpine flowers. And in the distance, the 2000m (8200ft) walls of the Sassolungo Sassopiatto and Sciliar peaks attract hard-core rock climbers, while energetic walkers tread a vast network of excellent trails serviced by a system of refugios (mountain huts). Probably some of the most famous peaks in the Dolomites are the Drei Zinnen (German), also known as Tre Cime di Lavaredo in Italian. Located in Alta Pusteria (Hochpustertal) in the Northern Dolomites, numerous walking routes lead from the surrounding villages to and around these truly stunning peaks.
Most people who have travelled the region know its highest peak – Monte Marmolada (German: Marmolata; also nick-named ‘Queen of the Dolomites’). Located in the very heart of the Dolomites, it consists of a ridge running west to east made up of several summits with Mt. Marmolada itself 3342m (10,965ft) being the highest.
Weather depending, the Dolomites walking season runs from approximately mid June to the end of September/beginning of October. Note that nearly all mountain huts (called refugios) close around mid September!