A mountain range for all seasons: exploring Italy’s Dolomites

Northern Italy's dramatic Dolomites mountain range is a year-round destination thanks to its reputation for winter skiing and summer hiking, writes Lucy Woods.

Dolomites

The views don’t get much better than this. Photos: Val Gardena Gröden Marketing

The rugged mountain terrain of the Dolomites in northern Italy is a place of incomparable wonder.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the area is only just starting to attract decent visitor numbers.

With 18 peaks to explore, it’s hard to know where to begin.

One of the most popular areas in the Dolomites is Val Gardena, a valley of great natural beauty that includes the three municipalities of Selva Gardena, Santa Cristina and Ortisei.

During the winter months, thousands of tourists flock to Val Gardena for the ski season.

While in the summer, Germans and Italians spend their holidays walking, cycling or riding through the vast array of mountains, dense forests and rolling hills which the Dolomites has to offer.

The area also offers plenty of local culture.

In Val Gardena, many of the bar and restaurant workers speak excellent English, although the majority of residents speak German, Italian and Ladinish (a local dialect which continues to be taught at schools).

Visitors are encouraged to leave their comfort zone and try out their language skills. When trekking, it is considered normal to greet everyone you pass, in whichever language you prefer.

Selva Gardena is a charming, traditional town, with a friendly atmosphere and plenty of good quality lodgings – from hotels to apartments and chalets.

It is a good idea to book rooms at an apartment or hotel with ‘Val Gardena Active Partner Accommodation’ status, which will entitle you to discounts on lift passes and adventure sports activities.

There are hiking opportunities for everyone, regardless of fitness level. You will often spot panting fathers walking up and down mountain paths with giggling children sitting on their shoulders. There are some really gruelling walks, such as the trek to the Puez Hütte, which requires walking up (and down) some rather steep hills and along the occasional precipice.

In the warmer months, those who particularly enjoy walking up steep hills are welcome to follow the paths alongside (and sometimes through) the snowless ski runs.

A particular challenge is walking up alongside the Men’s Downhill ski run, which during the winter months is a hotspot for hard-core professional skiers.

There are several working bubble lifts in Selva which will lead you to a smorgasbord of trekking routes. Allow yourself to wander off paths and discover waterfalls and hidden caves. Everywhere you trek you are surrounded by the very best of nature. If you are lucky, you may spot a red squirrel or a marmot.

If you head up the Ciampinoi bubble, and follow the path around the very imposing Sassolungo Mountain towards Monte Saura, you will probably encounter some friendly horses and donkeys, who may try and steal your backpack if you don’t keep an eye on it.

Cows roam around the fields, often sporting clunking metal bells so they can be found if they wander off too far. In tandem, these bells create a lovely melody that is perfectly in tune with the surroundings.

Trekkers may wish to stop off for lunch or elevenses at one of the many wooden mountain huts and refuges.

If you’re looking for an outdoor activity holiday, the Dolomites offers some of the best mountain walking in Europe.

Getting there

easyJet flies from London Gatwick to Innsbruck in Austria where you can rent a car, take a bus, train or taxi to Selva. (Allow one and a half hours for the journey).

Other flight options to Val Gardena

Accommodation in Selva Gardena, Santa Cristina and Ortisei

More information on visiting the Dolomites

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