Late Summer Walking in Alto Adige: The Dolomites, Italy

18 Sep

Snow melting on fir trees, steady gentle drips with the occasional swoosh thump as a load slides off a branch. A woodpecker vibrating insects out of a tree trunk. The distant clang of cow bells as a herd moves slowly by, steadily munching their way down the mountain
This is one reason I walk, to be alone in a place of outstanding natural beauty. To empty my head of internal commentary, music ear worms and white noise by concentrating on ambient sounds and my own breathing as I match inhale and exhale to footfalls. Walking meditation works best for me when ascending, the effort demands focussed respiration and the chance of slipping or misstepping is negligible.


Stuart and my walking companions tolerate my need to forge ahead alone or hang back. I don’t walk alone all the time, just enough to bring me inner peace.


Our walking destination last week was a place we know well when covered with snow. Alta Badia in The Dolomites was a fantastic ski experience earlier this year. We’d half joked with staff at Hotel Cristallo, located between Corvara and La Villa, that we’d be back in the summer to see it coloured green and grey instead of white. The joke became a reality. Roping in English friends Anne and Charles for a walking holiday we spent five days exploring UNESCO heritage mountains and valleys from Passo Gardena to Cortina. The first four nights Frans, Manuela and team at Hotel Cristallo spoiled us rotten. The final two nights we stayed in an interesting ‘two bedroom’ apartment in pretty San Cassiano (ask me some time and I will elaborate). 

 Owner-Manager of Hotel Cristallo, Frans with his daughter Leonor and Frederico.

Frans’ wife, Manuela (right front), is the sommelier. She conducted a two and a half hour free wine tasting of local vintages for 12 guests. Our slightly inebriated party is in this shot. Lagrein has been added to our list of favourite wines.

 Apart from one mostly grey day with intermittent drizzle we had hours of sunshine every day and after rain overnight of the fourth day we woke to fresh snow above 1800 metres.


With these ideal weather conditions, a local tourism office map, and generally well-marked trails we were able to plan our own day walks.


Our first was a steady two hour climb on route 650 from Colfusco car park via Passo Gardena to lunch on the deck at Jimmy’s Hut. The return route down via 8a and 8b gave us a gorgeous long view of the pastures and forest of Corvara valley. 

 If you prefer two wheels there are plenty of  options for you too.  

Second day we took a lift up La Villa’s Piz La Ila telecabine to 2077 metres to walk trail 23 along the undulating spine via Pralongia. The 360 degree views were stupendous. We dropped down to La Marmotta for lunch in the sun before hiking the final section on the road into Corvara. A bus took us back to La Villa.            

The friendly staff at La Marmotta created a new menu item for me, a vegan spaghetti with mushroom, tomato and garlic sauce. The waitress thought it looked good so had one herself!    
Day three began grey and drizzling so we opted to drive over the spectacular Valparola and Falzarego passes to Cortina for a pizza lunch and a trip up the three stage telecabine to Tofana in the clouds at 3191 metres.   


  Tofana level three.  

Charles and Stuart higher than kites at Tofana level two.

Day four Stuart and I took advantage of the guided hike offered by the hotel while Charles and Anne hiked in both La Villa and Corvara.


Luca, a professional guide and ski instructor, led our group of six hotel guests from Cappana Alpina at 1726 metres on a 17.5 k out and back hike on route 11 to Lago Verde and Rifugio Fanes on a 2,000 metre high tabletop ringed by higher peaks. We passed marmots, herds of cattle and ponies and a few walkers.


Luca planned to take us to Scotoni but there was too much snow. In fact it worked out beautifully as Rifugio Fanes, our revised lunch stop, which was built by Luca’s Dad and is run today by his older brother and niece. I had the best fried polenta ever, huge golden chunks smothered with a sauce of three kinds of mushrooms. 

Mountain man Luca leads the way. 

   Lago Verde 

  Rifugio Fanes  
 Luca’s Dad. 

Remembering Italian infantrymen lost in 1915-18 conflict. 


Fabiana lending perspective to my shot.

Day five and our final hike. We drove to Badia and caught the first stage of the bubble up to 1000 metres to begin the ascent to Santa Croce church alongside the Stations of The Cross. 

 A beer in the sun at Santa Croce Rifugio before pushing on to Rifugio Pasciandu could have been our undoing. We all failed to see the markings for route 13, lured as we were by a gravelled path that became a dead end. Oh well, the sun was still shining and the only thing we lost was time. We had plenty of that. 

After retracing and correcting our course we arrived at the farmhouse lunch stop famished and thirsty. The thirst was easy to satisfy but food options were limited. Two kinds of cheese, meat soup, sausage and apple strudel for dessert. I made do with good rye bread and beer. Some time later the young waitress came back carrying an apple and a sharp knife on a plate and said ‘My grandfather said to give you this’. Sweet. 

 The 13b downhill return to Badia was slightly circuitous but still highly enjoyable.      



Did walking in The Dolomites meet our expectations? Unequivocally yes. Spectacular views, generous Ladino-Italian hospitality and the ease of getting about makes it an ideal walking holiday destination. So much so that I’ve just broken the news to Stuart that I’m considering hiking the Alta Via 1 (the original and first of seven walking/mountaineering routes running North-South through the Dolomites) by myself for a week next year in the springtime as part of my yearlong 60th birthday celebrations (I plan to milk the milestone for all it’s worth). We hiked a small section of AV1 on the way to and from Fanes so I’ve had a tiny taste and would like more. Stay tuned! 

 PS Special thanks to Anne and Charles for their companionship and forebearance this week. Navigating Italian roads, transport systems, airports and walking trails was made much more enjoyable by their company.

Footnote from Stuart:

If Sharon walks the Alta Via from North to South enjoying her solitude, I shall walk South to North desperately searching for companions to avoid my own internal noise. When I come across a lone Australian woman walking in the opposite direction I shall say ‘Bon giorno’ and continue on my way, unless by then she has had all the solitude she needs and begs for companionship. But then again it takes a while to adjust to being sixty. 


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