Even if you don’t know where the Dolomites are in the map, add this trip to your bucket list! (In case you’re wondering, they’re in the Veneto region, which makes them a perfect trip from Venice). No matter if you visit the Dolomites in winter or in summer, if you like the outdoors, you’re in for a treat. I’ve been there in both seasons and I can’t tell you when the best time to go is. They’re amazing in different ways, with plenty of attractions ready to dazzle their visitors.
If you’re outdoorsy, you’ll get to go on the best hikes; if you like to ski, you’ll have plenty of pistes to choose from. Even if you’re not sporty, the views make the trip worth it! If you’re looking for a more luxurious stay, you’ll get designer’s shops and spas in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Things to do for every taste and budget in this gorgeous spot in Northern Italy! Keep reading to get the best travel tips : )
Falling in love with the mountains
What is it with mountains? When I look at cliffs, ridges and summits I can’t help to think about what it’d be like to be up there. I see gigantic stone people coming up from the center of the earth to check up on things here, and I’d love to have a chat up close with them.
I was raised by an andinist. Every time we passed close to a mountain my dad would tell me all about it, and how amazing his experience climbing it was. And I couldn’t get it. It went beyond my understanding why someone would risk so much to reach a peak. How could someone endure the tiredness and the pain. How someone could decide to climb even the mountains you can reach with a car or cable car. ‘He must be crazy’, I always thought. I loved to go hiking with him, and in general, being outdoors. But that was it. Why would I need more?
Until suddenly it became clear to me. I’m not a climber at all (although I loooove hiking), but just seeing the vistas fills my soul. When I get to a place with effort, I appreciate it much more. It’s not being in the summit, it’s getting there. It’s all about the journey.
The Dolomites in winter
When I was given the chance to go to the Dolomites, I didn’t hesitate for a second. These mountains are really special. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw them. In general, the Alps are not as high as the Andes, and growing up in Chile made me used to the Andes. But what they lack in height, they overcompensate in steepness. You go through the passos in the Dolomites and you have the feeling you’re driving between giants. Those in-your-face stunning rocks are impressive. The colors and shapes are mesmerizing.
That first time was a couple of years ago in February. There was snow everywhere, making Cortina d’Ampezzo a fairytale winter wonderland. It was a stop in a road trip we took with my boyfriend, only because we wanted to see what the hype was about. You see, it’s a very known ski resort, so we thought to add a few skiing days to the itinerary, which only makes sense when you’re traveling through Europe in winter. Little did I know that I was going to love the scenery way more than I’d enjoy the skiing.
I got the ski pass, spent the early morning trying not to fall too often, posed for a picture for bragging rights (after all, skiing in the Alps was on my list), and that was it. The skis went off and I went to explore the areas that I could reach with the cable car. I wandered around Faloria, Pocol and Tofana. I sat with a hot cup of tea in my hands to take it all in. No clue about how many hours passed, but suddenly the lifts were closing, and my boyfriend appeared skiing down the mountain. I was freezing, but my heart was warm. The next few days looked similar. Stroll through picturesque Cortina. Walk around as much as the snow allowed me. Take cable cars up and down. Be amazed.
Always in the back of my mind was a thought –I have to come back in summer to hike. The landmark of the Dolomites –Tre Cime– is not reachable in winter (only as a snowshoeing route), unless you’re a great skier, in which case you can get close enough to get a photo. I was super frustrated I couldn’t see it, so when my boyfriend came back with a selfie with Tre Cime in the background, I promised myself I’d come back in summer to see it with my own eyes.
You can imagine my joy when a couple of years later, this summer, he got a phone call from a friend inviting us to go to Cortina d’Ampezzo with him and his wife. Before he finished asking if I was up for it, I was already all packed. Hiking shoes, get ready. Let’s go to the outdoors!
These friends, Ante and Darija, were going to a trail race –87 km run in the mountains– so I was sure they’d be happy being out.
If you’re going to ski, get the Dolomiti Superski pass. It’ll allow you to go to 12 different ski areas, with about 1200 km of slopes. In Cortina you’ll find 120 km in 80 pistes and 37 cable cars and lifts. Don’t miss the views from Lagazuoi, Tofana di Rozes and Monte Cristallo!
The Dolomites in summer
I was surprised to see that pines went from white to green. So did the mountains. This time around I came across deer, marmots and birds. The Dolomites are a different place when the seasons change. The only constant is how impressive the massifs look. In winter you can see the giant stones coming from the snow, but in summer you get to see layers. There’re green meadows decorated with colorful little flowers. Yellow, white, red, purple, pink –cute tiny details that break the uniform greenery. Then there’re pine trees, in a darker shade of green. Then there’s an even darker green layer, of moss trying to climb the mountains. And then the kings and queens of the place, the stunning massifs.
Rolling roads will take you from one to the next cute little village, with wooden balconies that look like they belong to Rapunzel. Our first stop was Malga Ciapela, the place to base yourself to go to Marmolada. Ante and Sina (that’s my boyfriend) went to climb the stunning 3265 meters peak while Darija and I took it easy –just went to a view point to enjoy the incredible sights of Marmolada glacier, a short walk from the refugio that you reach with a cable car from Passo Fedaia, set at 2700 meters. How many times can I say ‘stunning’ before boring you? I hope that you have thick skin, because it was. Just stunning. A couple of cups of tea later the guys came back, happy to have summited it.
Next on the agenda was Cinque Torri. This is one of the main landmarks of the area, so I was dreading the crowds. We were planning on catching the sunset there, so I thought we couldn’t be the only ones with that idea. But lucky us! I guess people went for the hike around the massifs earlier because there were a lot of cars and no one on the trail. Probably it was time for beer at the refugio.
Anyhow, the trail is easy, with very few ascents. It circles the five towers, giving you an opportunity to see them from every angle. The funniest thing is that, depending from where you look at them, you can count four or six or nine. There’s a very obvious detour which is not part of the trail from where you can see five of them clearly. I can’t understand how it’s not a marked viewpoint. But it’s easy to find.
Beyond the lovely views of the mountain, the trail is also an open-air museum of the First World War –Museo Della Grande Guerra. You’ll find some mannequin-soldiers hanging out in caves, and posters around with information about the development of the war in the area.
We started the hike from the parking close to rifugio Scoiatolli, and it took us an hour to circle the massifs (about 3 km, 150 meters of altitude gained).
As this trip was during a heat wave that affected the whole continent, the temperatures in the area were above 30°C, so we woke up early to head to Lago di Sorapis. If you only have time (or energy) for one hike, this is the one I’d recommend. It’s a textbook trail. Well-marked, with jaw-dropping views, with a perfect combination of going up, flat and down. And the lake… wait until I tell you about the lake.
You can drive or take a public bus to Passo Tre Croci, where the hike begins. It starts with an easy walk on flat terrain leading you to a pine tree forest. Then it goes a up, but never too steep, in a rocky terrain (there’re wire ropes in the narrow parts of the paths and where there’re areas too exposed to the cliff). At some points it goes a bit down, at some points it becomes flat. It’s never boring! The views are incredible the whole way. Massifs around you, with patches of snow to contrast the grey, brown and red-ish stone. A beautiful valley mixing pines and meadows down the cliff. And during the hike you can see Tre Cime in the distance. Even if there wasn’t a lake at the end, I’d recommend this hike. It’s just lovely. But there’s more.
In about 2 hours you reach a bundle of water with the deepest shade of turquoise I’ve ever seen (and mind you, I’ve been to the Caribbean). The lake is simply perfect. It’s surrounded by pine trees, it has a small meadow in the southern side, and it’s guarded by a sharp and spiky massif. I could have stayed soaking it in for days. Did I stress enough how much I recommend this hike?
The return trek should take less than 4 hours (it’s about 12 km with 400+ meters of altitude gain), but leave the whole day for this!
Col de Bois
While Sina and Ante went for the Ferrata degli Alpini at Col de Bois, I went up on a little forest trail (>2 km, 150 m of altitude gain). I would have liked to go around more, but it was late and I already have done 15+ km in the morning, so I settled for a light stroll among the trees. When I reached the ferrata starting point I went back to the parking and sat down for a cup of tea at the terrace of the Da Strobel restaurant. It closed just a few minutes later, so the waiter sat down to talk to me. And then the owner joined us.
I’ve mentioned before that Italy is one of my favorite countries in the world, and here’s why. I was enjoying the view of an amazing mountain and the valley around it (which is good enough reason to love the place), and five minutes later I was drinking wine with two new friends. They barely spoke English, so they were talking in Italian and I was replying in Spanish. Somehow we managed to chat and laugh for over an hour! Italians are great! If you’re around, stop at Da Strobel, I didn’t try the food, but the people are as kind and friendly as it gets!
This trail is named after the French geologist Déodat de Dolomieu, who discovered the composition of the Dolomite rock back in the 18th century. It goes from Rifugio Faloria to Rio Gere, crossing the crest of the Crepe di Faloria. You can start going up the cable car from Cortina to Faloria and hike down to Rio Gere, or take a bus to Rio Gere and walk up to Faloria. There’s 415 meters of altitude gain, so you can choose the first option if you’re feeling lazy. I did that, but hiked all the way back up. It took me about 2 hors and 40 minutes to do the loop of 7.25 km.
It’s a lovely walk in the forest with a viewpoint with stunning views of Cortina from above, but the most special part are the views from Faloria, so if you take the cable car up, you start the day by seeing the best. Still, it’s a great way to stretch your legs.
Fedèra lake (Croda da Lago)
For this hike you’ll need to drive to Ponte de Ru Corto (a bit before passo Giau) on the SP638 road. From there there’s a well-signaled path, number 437. It’ll take you slowly up the hill in the forest until a fork in a meadow, where you need to take trail number 434. It took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to hike the 6.5 km (with 500 meters of altitude gain) to the lake.
The walk is beautiful. It’ll take you across a river, through a meadow that reminded me of Switzerland, and at the end you’ll reach a cute little green lake. There you can walk around it, go in for a swim, sit for a picnic, or grab food and drinks in the rifugio.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo
This was the main event for me, what I was looking forward to the most. Little did I know that everyone else had the same plan. There’s a bus that takes you there, so it’s a very easy day trip, even if you don’t have a car. Considering it’s the most famous mountains in the Dolomites, I understand the crowds. I still don’t like them, though.
There’s a loop circuit that goes around these three peaks. It starts at rifugio Auronzo, where the parking/bus stop is. The first stop is in rifugio Lavaredo. Up to here there’s an asphalt road and you see TONS of people of every age and size, going with their toddlers and dogs, following a tour guide, sticking their selfie stick between other visitors to get a photo. I simply hated it.
The normal loop continues to Forcella Lavaredo, rifugio Locatelli, Malga dei Pastori, and back to rifugio Auronzo. It should take about 3 and a half hours to cover the 9.5 km. As I love the peace and quiet that you’re supposed to get in the mountains, we decided to go off road. Best decision ever!
From rifugio Lavaredo there’s a tiny trail that goes around the base of the massifs. It still has big patches of snow, and you have to hike around big boulders, going up the down the rocks. It was perfect! A lot more demanding mentally, because for most of the way you can’t see the path (you just follow the cairns signaling it), but much much better spiritually. I thoroughly and wholeheartedly enjoy walking in the snow, being at the feet of these impressive walls of stone, seeing the crowds so far away that I couldn’t even hear them. Sina was great helping me navigating the path. He even took a photo of me, and a good one to boot! It ended up being my favorite shot from the trip (thanks, love!).
After spending most of the day in Tre Cime, on the way back to Cortina we stopped for a few hours in Misurina lake. During summer is camping central, so it has a really different vibe than fancy Cortina. You can hike around it or stop for a drink or some food in one of the many cafés by the lake. It’s quite picturesque, but after Sorapis and Fedèra, it’s hard to be impressed. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it in winter, but I’m pretty sure that with snow all around it would look even better. What a good excuse to go back! : D