WITH FREEWHEELING ON SUMMER
The Dolomites are a great adventure terrain for whoever feels up to summer challenges such as climbing, mountain biking, hiking and mountaineering. Whatever your chosen activity, these landscapes are themselves a good enough reason to come here from any part of the world. Complement this with good food, friendly folk and great services for families and you already have the perfect destination for your next holiday.
The so-called “Guida Alpina” (mountain guide) is professionally certified to take people up in the mountains. This section lists several of the activities we can enjoy together in the Dolomites. The suggestions attached to them are just a small sample of what the Dolomites can offer.
Here the possibilities to make our dreams come true are endless. Every activity comes with this certainty: our magnificent landscape, really unique in this world.
We can come up with a customised plan fitting everyone’s wishes and skills.
The Dolomites – An overview:
A UNESCO world heritage site since 2009, the Dolomites are found in Italy’s North-eastern Alps, split between the provinces of Trento, Belluno, Bolzano, Pordenone and Udine.
If we imagine flying above them and looking through the plane window, we would see some isolated mountain groups very close to each other. The colours range from the white mountain tops, the grey rocks and great green basins. Let’s imagine for a moment that the green represents the sea and the grey some ancient ocean atolls. This more or less explains the geological history of this unique, incredible place.
The history of the Dolomites and its secluded valleys begins a lot earlier than what we might think: the burial sites discovered under Mondeval’s cliffs, at an altitude over 2400 metres high, go back to neolithic times. The Dolomites have always been a border zone. Several Italian kingdoms from the Po Valley and the Austro-Hungarian empire ruled these lands at different times. The end of the First World War, which was fought among these very peaks, brought the entire area under Italy’s control. Luckily, despite this, local customs and the German language have been preserved very proudly and are very much alive to this day. Essentially, many of the valleys are bilingual between Italian and German. This linguistic landscape is enriched by Ladin, a third language both written and spoken in 5 of these valleys: Val Gardena, Val Badia, Ampezzo, Livinallongo and Val di Fassa. Ladin is a very old language, dating back to the 5th century. It managed to live through to this day thanks to the location of these valleys, pretty isolated until not that many years ago.
This original mix-up between mediterranean and germanic culture can be seen everywhere: from the architecture and the wooden houses to the arts, traditional food, language and local customs. Talking about customs, the hotel’s receptionist wearing traditional ladin clothes isn’t just a tourist attraction. Wearing the typical “loden” is a custom very much alive here. It is fairly customary to put it on for special occasions, such as weddings and celebrations, and even just for a Sunday lunch.
WHERE TO GO IN THE DOLOMITES
The Dolomites span an area around 16,000 square kilometres wide. Every one of the valleys has something to show and deserves a few days. So, how can we choose the best place to satisfy your needs?
We point out a few choices below:
If you’d rather combine art, culture and mountains, go for the Brenta Dolomites or the Catinaccio group. Being close to the cities of Bolzano and Trento is definitely a bonus.
Would you rather climb some of the Dolomites highest cliffs? Civetta’s north-western face and Marmolada’s south face are the most impressive vertical shots. Val Cordevole sits just at their feet.
Are you looking for the longest Via Ferratas instead? Choose somewhere between Val Badia and Cortina d’Ampezzo and you won’t be disappointed.
The steepest and most dramatic? Sesto Dolomites, whose icon are the Three Peaks of Lavaredo (Tre Cime)
Summit not to be missed:
A single Dolomitic icon has never been established, due to the endless amount of peaks, spires and incredibly vertical cliffs. Below is just a very limited selection of the most photographed and symbolic mountains:
When to go? Weather and general observation.
The Dolomites’ climate is typically Alpine, even if somehow made milder given their location on the Alps’ Italian (southern) side. Indeed, the high summits shield the very cold northerly winds coming from Russia and northern Europe. The Dolomites range in height from a minimum of 1,200 metres (valley bottom) up to 3,000 metres (Marmolada is the highest elevation at 3,343 metres).
July and August are the hottest months, with an average minimum temperature around +7 °C and a maximum around +15 °C at 2,000 metres. Spring and Autumn show a wide range of temperatures. Spring is cooler than Autumn. March can record average minimum temperatures around -6°C at 2,000 metres, May records around 0°C and 1°C. September shows average minimums around 5°C and maximums around 12°C. In November these decrease to -3.5°C and 2°C.
With a rainfall average of 420 millimetres during the three summer months (and a 1050 mm annual average), summer is definitely the rainiest season. The average count of summer rainy days is 41, which makes it about 50%. In Spring this is 31, in Autumn 21. This doesn’t mean we’ll spend half the days indoors. Summer’s rainfall is generally caused by thunderstorms, thanks to a mountain terrain configuration very favourable to generating these phenomena also thanks to cold Atlantic northerly air masses coming through. Thunderstorms generally happen during in the afternoon and evening due to the daily heating.
Due to their very geographic location, between the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, the Dolomites are dominated by 2 opposite weather systems: if northerly winds come through, temperatures can fall dramatically, if these clash with hot air then violent thunderstorms can develop and it isn’t that rare to see small amounts of snowfall above 2,000 metres even in August. Conversely, if southerly winds take over, temperatures can easily climb above the averages mentioned previously. The African anticyclonic system can get temperatures up to 30°C in the valley bottoms. Rainfall also varies according to these forces, indeed even in summer we can have long stretches without any rainfall, when the subtropical anticyclone can stop the convective air flux generating thunderstorms. On the other side, sometimes we can have more than 500 mm rainfall in a single summer o autumn month. Generally, rainfall occurs when North Atlantic systems move in and these generally follow a north-west/south-east pattern. This is why we can often escape bad weather moving just one valley to the north. The rainiest areas are indeed Pale di San Martino, Lagorai, Marmolada, Civetta and Agner, the driest are Sesto Dolomites, val Badia and Sella group.
Other factors are exposure and latitude. Northern mountain sides are colder than southern ones. In the valley bottoms thermal excursion can be even wider than up high, where instead wind and its wind-chilling effect can cause trouble.
When to go:
Mountain huts in the Dolomites generally open around the 20th June and close around 20th September. Many could open earlier and close later (especially at weekends), depending on weather conditions.
July and August are definitely the hottest months but also the busiest. Particularly avoid the 2nd and 3rd week of August if you can: higher prices and the crowds could make for a slightly less pleasant holiday.
June and September are 2 the less crowded months. Depending on what you’d prefer doing, you could choose one or the other.
June is the greenest month: the countless meadows look like emerald whilst up high snow accumulation can still be considerable. For these reasons, this is the best month for cycling and hiking.
climbing or tackling via Ferratas have to be planned with care, as the shadiest sides could still have significant snow accumulation.
Sunsets are fantastic in September and October. And, often, the weather is even more stable than in the summer. Early mornings can be chilly: autumn is on our doorstep! In the central hours the sun warms up the air and our skin. Via Ferratas or long-distance treks (such as “high routes”) are definitely recommended at this time: snow is not a problem anymore and the lower temperatures allow us not to worry about fatigue or dehydration even in the central hours of the day. If you are here to climb, then look for south-facing cliffs: we can often climb in short sleeves even in October.
Chairlifts and Cable cars:
These generally open from mid-June to mid-September, however dates can vary quite a bit depending on the specific installation. We recommend checking the dates for each specific area you are interested in.
The Dolomites started gathering visitors more than 100 years ago. This allowed for a long, consolidated tradition around hospitality and accommodation. Generally speaking, you won’t find many large tourist establishments but rather small hotels, apartments for rent or rural tourism well integrated in the villages they are located in. We must note that accommodation standards here are very high. You can safely book a 1-star hotel and not fear about cleanliness, hygiene and the way the will look after you. Often, accommodation is recently refurbished and modern. There are clearly differences between the valleys. The one with the most modern services are Val Badia, Val Gardena, Val Pusteria and Val di Fassa.
Camping: these are not that common in the Dolomites, however there is a good spread between Colfosco, Canazei, Malga Ciapela, San Cassiano, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Alleghe and the Alpe di Siusi.
Dolomites’ mountain huts are renowned for being the most welcoming in the Alps. Many of them are like a Bed and Breakfast with 3- and 6-bed rooms, common bathrooms and hot showers. Dining rooms are warm and cosy: you will be surprised how wooden interiors make amazing sunsets feel even warmer in their charm. To sleep in these you don’t need a sleeping bag, as you’ll find blankets or duvets, however a sleeping liner is mandatory. These can be bought in outdoor shops or even at the huts directly. Huts often offer hearty lunch-time and evening meals, besides some luxuries that can be surprising, like draught beer at 3,000 metres high! Packed lunches and snacks such as cereal and chocolate bars can be bought to be taken during the day activity.
HOW TO GET HERE
The closest airports from which to reach the Dolomites are listed below in descending order of convenience:
– Venice and Venice-Treviso
– Milan Bergamo (Orio al Serio)
– Innsbruck (Austria)
Depending on where you’d like to get to in the Dolomites you can choose from the following options:
– Car hire
– Train and bus combination:
From Venice or Bologna, a direct bus can take you to Cortina or Val Badia (Cortina Express)
From Trieste, a SAF-operated bus goes to Val Pusteria.
From Bergamo, Terravision’s bus reaches Selva di Val Gardena.
From Belluno’s train station, buses operated by Dolomiti bus will take you to any of the province’s towns and villages such as Cortina, val Cordevole and val Zoldana.
Bolzano’s train station is well connected with val Gardena and val di Fassa through SAD bus company.
In the ‘Links’ section you can find links to the Italian and Austrian railway and main bus operators.
The Dolomites aren’t just the venue of glorious mountaineering endeavours, they also made history in another great sport: cycling. Every year one or more legs of the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) take place here. Cycling enthusiasts can follow on those steep ascents and hair-rising descents on the famous 4 passes or the road climbing up from Misurina to the Three Peaks (Tre Cime).
In the last few years, mountain and downhill biking really took on. First thanks to chair lifts and cable cars being operational in the summer and the opening of many routes, then e-bikes coming onto the scene.
These are particularly suited to the steep slopes of our terrain. Thanks to their electric engine, they allow us get up without an excessively demanding effort and let us thoroughly enjoy the descent. Using e-bikes to shorten climbing routes’ approach times is opening up routes that were once pretty far and isolated, now achievable in a day.
Paragliding and Rafting are some of the other disciplines that could add something special to your holiday.
Canyoning is about going through alpine rivers by means of ropes, wetsuits and harnesses. It allows us to discover a labyrinth of rocky cliffs, waterfalls and ponds where to enjoy a dive!
WHAT IF THE WEATHER IS BAD
We can definitely take advantage of bad weather to relax our muscles in one of the many spas. These are often inside hotel structures, however they are open to the public. A special one is the new thermal complex QC Terme Dolomiti in Val di Fassa.
For the ones that can’t stop getting their sweaty hands on some holds, we can suggest a few indoor climbing walls to carry on the practice.
Moreover, you can look at cultural stuff, particularly the intense modern history of these places is the main subject of a number of museum Expositions.
Messner museum: www.messner-mountain
Bolzano archeological museum: here you’ll get the famous ice-man, Otzi.
Each of the 5 Ladin valleys counts a number of dedicated museums.
WHAT TO CARRY ON YOUR RUCKSACK
Here is a summary of equipment and clothing we recommend you need. For more information, see this page: What to bring.
It is thoroughly recommended to get the rucksack weight down as much as possible when taking on multi-day treks in the Dolomites and going from hut to hut. The pack should be between 30 and 45 litres, here is a list of what to bring:
PERSONAL CARE and other items
Suggested outdoor equipment stores:
The Dolomites are well equipped with many outdoor shops packed with gear for the outdoors, via Ferratas, trekking and mountain biking. Here is a list of shops with a good gear selection: