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The Dolomites in Italy: a Country’s Mountain Paradise
The Dolomites are an extremely scenic mountain range in northeastern Italy. They extend from the River Adige in the west to the Piave Valley to the eastern part of the Southern Limestone Alps. The Dolomites are nearly equally shared between the provinces of Trentino, Belluno, and South Tyrol.
This sparsely populated area draws millions to its beauty for hiking, skiing, mountain climbing, zip lining, rafting, and the incredible mix of Italian, German, Austrian, and other ethnic cultures. Since 2009, the Dolomites in Italy have been recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site.
We visited dozens of outstanding small villages and areas, each worth a visit, but will focus on details in and around San Vigilio, Cortina, and Ortisei.
Smile at a friendly inhabitant in San Vigilio, and they may greet you with “Bun de!” This is the locals’ hearty way of saying hello in ancient Ladin – an ancient form of Latin, often used by mercenaries during Roman times – the language still spoken in the area.
The northernmost village, San Vigilio is about an hour northwest of Cortina. In a green picturesque valley surrounded by towering Dolomites, San Vigilio is a perfect setting for skiing, hiking, relaxing, and enjoying the natural beauty of the area.
Ziplining in the Dolomite Mountains
To take in the full majesty of the area, we zip-lined through the valley with Adrenaline X-tremeAdventures Park, Europe’s biggest zip line (open from April 28 – October 28). With ten separate lines, fasten yourself to a cable 100 meters high, and immerse yourself in one of the most panoramic trips of your life. Including the steepest line in the world, with greater than a 400-meter drop over three kilometers, “Adrenaline” is the appropriate descriptor for this experience.
You can feel the excitement and adrenaline increasing as the Range Rover winds its way up the twisting path to your starting point. Rising higher and higher, you know that eventually, you will zip down this great altitude.
Even though I have been zip lining many times, I could still feel the intense emotions building, anticipating the flight. With my brother and son by my side, we joined a young Italian couple – he had surprised her with the zip line for her birthday. From our high vantage point, we were able to see much of the green valley below and the vast distances we would soon traverse.
The team of guides with us were fun, well trained, professional, and safe. Even though several members of our party were first-timers, the staff reassured us all through their confidence and abilities. We started off with the longest line of the day, about 500 meters.
With the village below and the peaks of the Dolomites in the distance, the beauty is indescribable. Add in the thrill of zip lining through space, and the experience is truly the thrill ride of a lifetime.
Rustic Cuisine: a must try when Visiting Dolomites in Italy
TloPlazores is located in a charming old rustic building, dating back to 1296. On a family-owned working farm in San Vigilio, Uli, the “herb witch,” can be seen searching the fields by her restaurant for fresh herbs, greens, and flowers to include in her creative dishes.
Described as rustic cuisine, Uli and her husband use local sources for their menu. Items on the menu include oxen they bring in from Austria, sheep, pigs, and produce from their own garden and other local farmers.
The creative menu indicates the distance the ingredients traveled to your plate, with wines traveling the furthest distance, since wine is not produced in the immediate area.
Try a cup of a flavorful soup made from stinging nettles, or the tres truffles, a tasty fried ravioli. The venison with polenta and mushrooms and the canederli are also popular main dishes. A must try is the speck, a special dry-cured ham found in South Tyrol that Uli’s husband, Roman, tends to each year.
After a visit to Plazores, you’ll agree with their philosophy of using the freshest ingredients from the farm and the local area to create a wonderful rustic cuisine. After all, as Uli points out on their website, “It is good to offer good things to the body, so that the soul may have pleasure in living there.”
Cortina: Popular Outdoor Destination in the Dolomites Mountains
One of the most popular and revered ski locations in the Dolomites, Cortina also has a lot to offer during the rest of the year. This was definitely among the top in our ‘things to do in Dolomites Italy’ list.
In a valley surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Dolomites, Cortina is a mecca for skiing (if you visit in winter, you can book a skiing day trip here), hiking, northern Italian cuisine, shopping, and history. In the center of town stroll by world-class shopping and the Basilica Minore dei Santi Filippo, a fabulous church built in 1769.
Cortina’s rugged terrain and natural beauty hosted the 1956 Olympics and hosts major skiing competitions each year. In fact, the 2021 Alpine Ski World Championships will be held here February 9 – 21.
Several movies, including the James Bond film, “For Your Eyes Only,” Elizabeth Taylor’s “Ash Wednesday,” and Sylvester Stallone’s panoramic thriller, “Cliffhanger,” were filmed in Cortina. Audrey Hepburn, Earnest Hemingway, and many other celebrities have vacationed in this alpine oasis.
Hotel Regina and Ra Stua Ristorante in Cortina
Hotel Regina is a beautiful family hotel in the center of Cortina with great views of the surrounding Dolomites mountains. With free parking, great location, hearty breakfast, and friendly staff, the recently renovated Hotel Regina is a great place to stay. Looking out from our balcony, we were treated with a view of a lovely park and the peaks of Faloria.
Ra Stua, located beneath Hotel Regina, is the oldest restaurant in Cortina. With a tradition of innovation, Ra Stua is known for their excellent mixed grill and the flavorful Florentine steak. For starters, we had the amazing burrata with prosciutto, followed by a delicious wild boar ragout, tender bits of boar mixed with pasta in a savory sauce. Then came the delicious steak, tender and delicious. We finished with a wonderful dessert of gelato with fresh raspberries.
Quiet and cozy, Ra Stua is one of the best dining experiences in Cortina, especially if you are planning to visit the Dolomites in Italy later in the day.
Cortina is a great place to exercise and enjoy the majestic views all around. We took the cable car up to Faloria and went for a pleasant 30-minute walk along the perimeter, with amazing views of the village. We also traveled west to Fagazoui for some of the most dramatic scenes of the craggy Dolomites in Italy.
Site of some of the most ferocious battles of World War I, visitors can still see tunnels, paths, and fortifications used by those early soldiers. Another cable car nearby takes you to the top of Cinque Torri, the 5 towers, the site of more fighting during the war.
Traveling west on the winding Dolomite Highway, we passed through the lovely Val Gardena region to Ortisei. One of the premier vacation destinations in the Dolomites, the village is nestled in a green valley at the foot of Alpe di Siusi, the largest alpine meadow in Europe.
In addition to the great winter skiing, Ortisei is a very popular spot for hiking, mountain biking, climbing, and paragliding. The area is also famous as the international center of woodcarving, and artwork from local wood carvers can be found throughout the area. Anyone that wishes to see the famous Dolomites in Italy has to come to Ortisei.
Hotel Grien in Ortisei
Monika and Rainer Avesani run the wonderful family owned and operated Hotel Grien . Overlooking the village of Ortisei and the green valley below, Hotel Grien offers the unforgettable holiday. From relaxing on the back patio of our room admiring the scenic and relaxing views to enjoying the world-class food and wine served in their restaurant, our time here was very enjoyable.
In addition to well appointed, comfortable rooms with beautiful views, Hotel Grien offers a sauna, swimming pool, and wellness center to refresh both body and mind. The town center is just a few minutes’ walk away, and local buses will take you to the lifts around the area.
We had a delicious dinner at Hotel Grien. We started with the buffet for appetizers – grilled vegetables, quiche with ham, fruits, sliced meats, and cheeses. Next, our delightful waiter, Paolo, brought a delicious tortelloni, followed by a superb beef stroganoff. The dishes were perfect with our Rosso di Montepulciano. At Paolo’s suggestion, we finished with the dessert special, delectable pancakes stacked and covered with white chocolate, meringue, and fresh strawberries.
The best way to see the largest alpine meadow in Europe is by taking the ultra-modern cable car connecting Ortisei with the 2,000 meter high Alpe di Siusi. In just a few minutes, you will find yourself surrounded by the breath-taking scenery of Gruppo del Sella, Gruppo del Sassolungo, Catinaccio, and the Sciliar. Relax and take in the views of yellow flowers that blanket the green meadows, or go for a hike through this magical wonderland.
The Dolomites in Italy are truly one of their treasures. From beautiful Cortina to Ortisei and Bolzano, the majestic Dolomites offer some of the best scenery in southern Europe. During the winter world-class ski resorts draw throngs of visitors, and after the snow melts, a multitude of other activities welcome lucky guests to this mountain paradise known as the Dolomites in Italy.
Before coming to Italy, do not forget these 2 important points:
- Get Travel Insurance! I use Allianz Travel Insurance and can only recommend them. If you travel a lot, I recommend the Multi-Trip Insurance, but you can read all about whether single trip or multi-trip travel insurance is right for you here – as long as you get insurance.
- Visit my Travel Gear and Resource Page to see my recommendations on useful travel gadgets and helpful travel services that can help you with planning your trip.
Dolomites in Italy – A Mountain Paradise was written by Scott Kendall for EuropeUpClose.com
Thanks to the wonderful tourist bureaus in Cortina and Val Gardena, as well as the hospitality of Tlo Plazores and Adrenaline X-Treme Adventures in San Vigilio, Regina Hotel and Ra Stua Ristorante in Cortina, and Hotel Grien in Ortisei.