If you love mountain scenery, you want to go to the Dolomites in Italy! There is a lot to see and do while you are there, but if the only thing you did was to sit and look at these spectacular rugged mountains, that would be time well spent.
We love Italy so much that we keep returning again and again. We tend to focus on the wine, the food, the art, the culture, the people and the history. We also love the scenery – the patchwork vineyards in Piedmont, the soft rolling hills and beautiful cypress trees in Tuscany, the gentle waves on the water in the Italian Lake District, and the incredible views of the Mediterranean in the Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast and Sicily.
But until this summer, we had not visited the Dolomites. I am kicking myself for not coming here sooner. Now that I’ve been there, I can’t wait to go back.
The Dolomites are a magnificent mountain range in the northern Italian Alps. There are 19 peaks that rise above 10,000 feet. The area features some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes anywhere, with vertical walls, sheer cliffs, and narrow, deep and long valleys. The area is a ski haven in the winter and a hiker’s paradise in the summer. We stayed in Castelrotto and explored the Alpe di Siusi from there. This was a great home base for us on this trip, very near the Val Gardena.
Located on the border with Austria, the region offers a fascinating mix of cultures. Even though you are still in Italy, the food, language and general feel are all different than what you will find in other parts of the country. The journey from Milan to Bolzano takes a little over 3 hours, and Venice is only two hours away, if you are traveling by train. But you may prefer to go by car. You can likely get most of the places you want to go by bus, if you took the train to Bolzano, but a car will make it easier to explore the mountain villages that aren’t on public transportation routes.
Using a car to get to your destination and enjoy the mountain roads to their fullest extent provides freedom and flexibility. That said, you may want to leave it at your hotel when you are not road tripping. You can rely on busses and gondolas to reach most of the places you want to go, once you are high into the mountains.
The Dolomites Offer Spectacular Scenery and Amazing Activities Year Round
The scenery in the Dolomites is absolutely stunning. We just couldn’t get over it. It is hard to describe how beautiful it is. And there really is something for everyone to do in the Dolomites. The area’s versatility is one of its most enduring features. It is a year-round destination, with plenty of cold-weather sports in the winter, and a wide variety of outdoor activities during the summer months.
Known for its natural landscapes, there are plenty of things for every age, level, and ability to enjoy. Visitors can hike, bike, climb, camp, ride a cable car up to famous passes, parasail, drive curvy mountain roads, and more.
And you do all this with beauty surrounding you everywhere you look. As you hike through lush green fields speckled with wild flowers in the summertime, expect to be greeted by the sound of cow bells. As you bike or drive through the area, you’ll notice that each peak offers its own unique and dramatic appearance. The wooden barns and huts are charming and inviting. From rolling green meadows to spectacular turquoise lakes, the beautiful landscape in the Dolomites completely envelopes you. There is gorgeous natural scenery everywhere you look.
There is Absolutely Incredible Hiking throughout the Dolomites
If you like to hike, the Dolomites are a dream destination, whether you are a beginner, expert, or something in-between. There are trails of all lengths and difficulty, and every one includes spectacular, jaw dropping views and memorable experiences.
The ski infrastructure is in place for winter months, but it is leveraged in the summer so that you can hike up to a vista and take the gondola down, or visa-versa. I have bad knees and one day we hiked about 14 miles and the knees were just DONE. Taking the lift down the last 2-3 miles and then taking the bus back to where we started was an amazing option. We had a glorious hike, and my knees were thankful we made it to the lift just before it closed for the day.
The trails are really well marked and well worn, and with hundreds of miles of trails, the possibilities are endless. There are great guidebooks that offer details on each hike including length, difficulty, and what time to be back in order to catch a bus. They offer comprehensive route instructions and maps that can be very helpful. Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena is a good one.
You can pack a picnic, but it’s really a lot of fun to enjoy the extensive network of rifugios (mountain huts) that are dotted along the trails. Some offer simple amenities that are enjoyed and appreciated mid-hike. Others serve delicious hot food and even offer accommodations for through hikers. They are absolutely charming! There is nothing like delicious local food and a cold beer while gazing at the mountains after a long hike.
There is Delicious Alpine Cuisine in the Dolomites
You know that we love food and wine, and the Dolomites do not disappoint! Food in this region is a really unique blend of Italian and Austrian cuisine.
Visiting these mountains gives you a chance to experience rustic local foods like mushrooms, polenta and barley. We loved the sauerkraut with crispy speck (smoked ham) and plates of incredible local cheeses. The Canederli dumplings were such a surprise! These balls of deliciousness are a great way to use up stale bread, and are often flavored with cheese and speck. I’ve never had anything else like them. There are also lots of sausages, game and goulash, and don’t leave without enjoying some apple strudel!
As you drive north from Trento to Bolzano, you will see many vineyards with a very unique training system on the mountain slopes. This is where Alto Adige wines are produced.
Like much of Italy, the Dolomites are home to a long winemaking tradition. Alto Adige is one of Italy’s smallest winegrowing regions, but because of the geography here, it is also multifaceted. These are authentic wines with their own original character.
Most of the grapes are white varietals including Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay. Two indigenous varieties of red grapes are also cultivated here. These are Schiava and Lagrein. Pairing local wines with cheese and speck from the same region, is absolutely delicious. There are wine trails that you can travel on by foot or by bike so that you can visit local vineyards and sip and savor along the way.
There are Fantastic Spas in the Dolomites
I think of the towns and villages here as ski towns, and many of them have stunning spa facilities you can enjoy all year long. Many of the hotels are “wellness hotels” and may include a sauna, steam room and hot tub. It can be wonderful to treat yourself to some time in the spa after a long day of hiking, biking or skiing, depending on the time of year you are there.
There are Beautiful Hotels in the Dolomites Italy
There really are some stunning hotels in the Dolomites. There is a wide variety to choose from including luxury hotels, boutique hotels, and local budget hotels. Finding the one that will work best for you depends first on where you want to be located. As I mentioned, we stayed in Castelrotto at a locally owned hotel called Hotel Zum Turm. It is run by a husband and wife team and we enjoyed their warm hospitality, excellent breakfasts and delicious dinners in the on-site restaurant. It was very easy for us to take a bus to the gondola that took us up to the Alpe di Siusi for our days of hiking. We could also drive up if we reached the mountain road before 9:00 am. After that, traffic is limited to those with reservations, until after 5:00 pm.
We created an itinerary recently for a couple celebrating their 15th anniversary and we recommended that they stay up on the Alpe di Siusi so they would be closer to the hikes and biking trails they wanted to explore. We suggested the Hotel Goldknopf and it was a wonderful choice for them.
Quintessential resort towns like Corvara, Ortesei and Cortina are ideal places to base yourself while visiting the Dolomites. They have a wide range of accommodations available. Once you decide on your home base, look for lodging that meets your budget and has all the amenities that are most important to you. Or you can always hire us to find the perfect place for you and plan your whole trip!
If you love mountain scenery, amazing food and wine, great outdoor activities and wonderful, welcoming accommodations, I highly recommend visiting the Dolomites. I just can’t wait to go back!
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Betsy Ball – Betsy is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group trips to Europe. She is a passionate and culturally curious traveler who thoroughly enjoys sharing her love for exploring Europe with ETC clients. Prior to founding ETC, Betsy taught International Business at Tarleton State University in Texas (part of the A & M System) where she led study abroad trips to multiple European countries and other worldwide destinations. She retired from teaching two years ago and now travels 9 months of the year in Europe. She has a degree in hotel, restaurant management from Michigan State University and an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She also holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
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