It’s week number two in the South Tyrol (you can read Week One here) and we’re in the Dolomites for the hiking (and the food… and the beer… and the people… again, see Part One).
This portion of our trip has been organized by my brother-in-law and sister-in-law – expat digital nomads who contribute and support one another’s projects. She’s a virtual tour guide for Iceland, helping people plan amazing experiences through web resources, guide books, courses, and a very active Facebook Group. He’s a photo + video creator a “world tour” in search of other melon heads with great travel stories. You can also follow their discoveries and world travels together on Instagram here.
I learned so much from them this week! And I just had to include my favorite picture of them in action: He’s lining up the perfect photo while she records an installment for Instagram Stories.
Traveling the Dolomites
The Dolomites are a UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than13,000 km of natural, marked hiking trails offering fantastic views of magnificent peaks, rock pinnacles and craggy towers alongside cozy Alpine huts, inns, and wineries.
If you want to get off the beaten track (something I always encourage) and take advantage of all that the region has to offer, you’ll likely want to rent a car. We rented one at the airport in Venice and made the easy and scenic five hour drive into the Alta Badia – an amazing region rich in history, culture and outdoor activities. If you get the chance to travel here (and we hope to be providing you one of our own soon), take it.
And while this region is more known for its winter sports including world-class skiing (the world cup of giant slalom is held here) on the sunny-side of the Alps, I was a little concerned that a summer trip would place us amidst family vacation plans with loudly peevish children and exasperated parents. I don’t think that’s exclusively an American family-trip trait, but we didn’t experience it. Trails and facilities weren’t crowded, parking and access was easily accomplished, and plenty of options were available – despite the fact that many Alpine lodges use this period to remodel or otherwise freshen their winter offerings.
Our treks varied in length, difficulty, and scenery – again, all heartily recommended – but my two favorite hikes are Tre Cime and Lago di Sorapiss.
“It Was Summer When We Started”
The most iconic feature of the Dolomites are the Three Peaks (in Italian, Tre Cime Dolomiti, and in German, Drei Zinnen Dolomiten).
This is a day hike – a car-to-car, 6 mile circuit that’s well defined (read as “flat”) that circumnavigates the massive rock spires. It begins at Rifugio Auronzo near Cortina d’Ampezzo at a large pavilion with ample parking, public restrooms, sleeping rooms, and a restaurant. Not all the facilities were open – it’s designed to support the largest cross-country ski network in Italy featuring 200 km of trails – but the mountain has more to offer in summer.
The trek departs from a spacious wooden deck, heading counter-clockwise along the base of the three peaks and offers scenic overlooks that your friends are guaranteed to believe are stage sets. The skies were overcast, and at 2400 meters (roughly 8,000 feet) of elevation, the cloud deck hovered just overhead. You can hear the wind in the video clip and perhaps get a feel for the drop in temperature – but to help complete the scene, note that the amount of snow and ice.
After ascending a short but notably steeper grade, with rock gradually giving way to snow, the scenery opened into a wide valley bordered by rocky peaks and ridges. For reference sake, this is where I took the picture of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law at the opening of this post – and it’s where I posted my sandwich photo while I waited).
The weather chased us over the rise, giving us periods of intermittent rain and mist that fouled our photography but had little effect on our experience. We continued along the valley until the snow and ice began to cause concern then reversed our direction for the return. It was summer when we started this trek, but the mountain had other, colder ideas in mind.
The resort town of Cortina d’Ampezzo was the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics and today it’s a snowy haven for the fashionable ski elite. The main attraction this time of year is a combination of picturesque Alpine township and awe-inspiring isolation – although I have to add that the Patisseries (bakeries) are out of this world good. Every trek should begin with cake and espresso.
A short way outside of town, we parked along the roadside and took up the trail head. Unlike the Tri Cime, this forest trail is warm and thankfully free of snow. Several long abandoned World War I bunkers remain along the way, but the biggest distraction is the scenery itself and I found myself stopping along the way to breath deep and just experience it all.
Sun and cloud conspired to spotlight features in the rocks, the breeze beckons through the tree branches, and distant waterfalls separate you in time. This is a trek that will remain apart of you forever.
The trail has a few steep sections, but nothing that requires any experience or special skills. Steel cable hand rails and even a flight of steel stairs ease the effort over trouble spots and encourage you along the path.
We crossed over a small stream and ascended a slow rise to reach Lago di Sorapiss: a turquoise lake that quite simply took my breath away.
I am in awe of the lake and in return, the lake welcomes me. There are no streaming entertainment services, no email, no urgent demands – just me, the sky, the mountains, the forest, and the lake – and I am more temporary than all of it. No illusions of self-importance have arrived here. Sitting lakeside, I imagine the awesomeness of a world dominated by appreciation. It’s funny how our fixations distract us – “one can never get enough of what does not satisfy”
It’s about 13km out to Lago di Sorapiss and back but that’s not likely to help you much. To truly enjoy this trek, just plan for an all-day experience and take your time – have dinner in Cortina d’Ampezzo afterwards, even if just a local pizza, or share a few well deserved beers (I know it’s shocking, but we did both).
Stay tuned. The adventure continues…