Country of the Pale Mountains ~ Dolomites

Italy’s regal, rocky rooftop, the Dolomiti, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, provides some of the best mountain scenery in all of Europe. These pale sentinels, composed of sedimentary rock similar to limestone, rise dramatically above the surrounding landscape.  These unique summits were named after French scholar and mineralogist, Deodat de Dolomieu back in the mid-18th century, the first person to discover how this stone differed from limestone.

We had a week to explore the towns and villages dotting the landscape and to do what we love best, hike, beneath dazzling light-gray spires, azure sky, and with a lush green carpet at our feet.  We marveled at every turn the beautifully manicured lawns, meadows and fields.  What the cows didn’t take care of, the mowers did.  Flower boxes hung off most window sills, while many buildings and private homes had hand-painted names on them, business branding, words to describe the local landscape, and family surnames.   The entire region was a work of art!

Thanks to friends Frank and Margee, we settled into a timeshare in the village of Santa Cristina, a perfect location for exploring the Dolomites.

Seven out of ten locals speak German as their first language and many wish they were part of Austria.  Signs and literature in the province are written in both German and Italian.  Some of the local elders in the villages still speak in the ancient Roman language of Ladin.

Even with a week, we couldn’t begin to explore the entire province.  This is what we managed:

2.  Castelrotto

Italy is known as the land of 1,000 bell towers and this village seems to subscribe to the theory “bigger is better”, as their tower dominates the town’s scenery.  Only 5% of the locals are native Italian-speaking and most know their town by the German name of “Kastelruth”.  Murals on several of the town’s buildings speak to its 1,000 year history.

3.  Bolzano

Gateway to the Dolomites, this city of 100,000 boasts a most unusual attraction that drives hordes of tourists to her doorstep, a draw envied by her neighboring country of Austria ~ Ötzi the Iceman.

While hiking in 1991, high in the mountains on the Italian/Austrian border, a German couple stumbled upon an amazing discovery, a corpse, thought to be that of a missing hiker from several years earlier.  What was actually being witnessed was a discovery unlike any other, the corpse of Ötzi the Iceman (found in the Ötztal Alps, ergo the nickname Ötzi), entombed for more than 5,000 years in a glacier. This revelation began a 10-year battle between Austria and Italy for ownership.  Tooth enamel studies showed that he grew up in Italy, ending the battle.

Our main goal in Bolzano was to visit the South Tirol Museum of Archeology and see the actual corpse of Ötzi. Although encased in glass now, it is compelling to see flesh and bone and clothing of someone who walked the earth 5,300 years ago.  An artist’s rendition of what he looked like in life is displayed as well.

After touring the museum we headed to the open-air market, where I had a great time trying to converse with the woman at the pasta counter in Italian.  A typical German lunch at a street-side bistro rounded out our time in Bolzano.

4.  Ortisei

Many of the surrounding towns and villages are connected by walking trails so we decided to get our morning exercise and explore Ortisei, a town where wood carving runs a close second to tourism in its economic vitality. We browsed through the ART52 exhibition, a room given by the township to showcase local artists’ work.  Lots of creative, talented people appear to live here.

5.  Sterzing (Northern Italy)

There seem to be ancient castles on every hilltop, some vague images of their former regal selves, while others have been refurbished.  We had read about a castle near the Austrian border that had not been developed for tourism, had changed little since the 15th century, and could be toured.  This sounded intriguing so we booked a tour of Reifenstein Castle, led by Frau Steiner. It is a fascinating medieval castle, one of the best preserved and historically important castles of South Tyrol.  Unfortunately no photos were allowed once inside the castle.

We crossed over into Austria for a typical sausage lunch and stopped to visit a beautiful church in Gries, Austria.

Of all our activities while in the Dolomites, hiking remains my absolute favorite, a memory I will carry with me for some time.  We had perfect weather, allowing us two hiking days up close to these pale giants.  I had dreamt of completing a via ferrata while in Italy, but our location didn’t allow for it so I will just have to save this for another time.  The hikes we did were breathtaking so I have no complaints.

For our first hike, we took the gondola up to Compatsch, where we hiked the Panoramic-Zallinger Hutte Hike.   Stepping off the gondola, I felt the urge to yodel as we stepped onto the Alpe di Siusi, Europe’s largest alpine meadow, where we were surrounded by 360º views of the Dolomites and the sound of cow bells clanging.  This trail followed alpine meadows, dropped down into deep woods, and traversed high valleys dotted with huts, one of which we stopped at for tea and apple strudel…oh so yummy!

Our second hike found us on yet another gondola from Col Raiser, where we hiked for miles before arriving at Seceda, with stunning views across the entire Dolomite range. The Alpe di Siusi lay before us, dotted with huts and hotels, one of which we stopped at during our hike, for a lunch of local cheeses and breads.

We will never be able to choose one favorite location during this European trip, but the Dolomites will most likely rise near the top.

Next Up: Venice

42 thoughts on “Country of the Pale Mountains ~ Dolomites

  • What a fabulous post! I loved all of it. You got me reading about Ötzi! Fascinating! And I love the sculpture of the women in the ART52 exhibit. The villages look so beautiful, and the countryside hiking sounds wonderful. I can see why this would have been a highlight.

  • I remember the sound of the cow bells rising from the valley below the Swiss Alps, a whimsical yet calming melody. However, unlike you, I could not contain myself and did give a little yodel. I figured that I probably would not return and did not want to feel remorse when returning home for not allowing myself the pleasure. Virginia Gerrish

  • Lu and Terry,
    I love following your trip. Your pictures are fabulous and it looks like you’re having so much fun. You won’t want to come home!
    Nancy Kann

  • Wow! You four are having a dream trip for sure:) Getting out into the countryside might just draw me to visit. What stunning scenery:) The little villages are so adorable. The mountains unforgettable. I had to go and read about Via Ferrata, never having heard about this. Okay, I’m ready to go!!! Even John commented on what a great adventure you were having. Thanks so much for sharing this amazing trip with us:) Your photos are beautiful. Enjoy!

    • I watched videos and read about the via ferrata before we left for our trip. No one along for the ride would commit to doing it with me. I knew if we got close enough I would have to join a tour group and go it alone. We didn’t stay close enough to one and having only one vehicle made it more difficult to consider. There are some in Canada. Care to join me in one of those treks? 🙂

  • Absolutely stunning scenery…. between the abundance of flowers, unique architecture, and impressive mountains, I’d want to yodel too! If you can’t make it back over to Europe to tackle the via ferrata, perhaps you should check out the one in Telluride. I keep that one in the back of my mind for inspiration 🙂

    • It has been quite the trip so far Ingrid. As for the via ferrata, there are some in Canada as well. I didn’t know about the one in Telluride…hmmm. Thanks for the info. 🙂

  • From your wonderful descriptions of the area, I feel like I am there. I just love those carvings. The scenery is gorgeous. The mountain photos are my favorite. You two keep enjoying the good life. This is an adventure of a lifetime!

  • Wow! Stunning scenery and what a tour you are having. Perhaps you could stay and take up yodeling? Seems like an excellent excuse to stretch out the tour. 🙂

  • Hi LuLu, Just wondering if you and Terry sent in your absentee ballots yet? Wouldn’t want you to miss this while you are gone. Keep enjoying your trip and having fun……….Rog and Gayl

    • Yes we have. As we have been able to get online, we have watched some of the fiasco called the political scene this year. We would not pass up our opportunity to vote. Hope you two are doing well.

  • Such gorgeous hikes—and how cool that the villages are connected by walking trails! I love seeing your wonderful photos of the architecture, landscape, art, and cuisine of each place that you’re visiting. Makes me feel like I’m right there with you. 🙂 I wish you had been my travel planner when I was in Europe oh-so-many years ago.

    • You and Eric would have loved the huts dotting the landscape while hiking through the mountains. With all the wonderful foods along the way, along with alcohol I might add, it is tough to keep the extra pounds from sticking. I think we have all agreed that a cleanse and some vigilance in the gym is in order when we return. 😉

    • This is true Laurie and I know from experience. I fell onto my camera during a hike and I don’t think it has ever been quite the same. 😦

  • Awesome, awesome, awesome! This is a place we never visited when we lived in Europe, but I’ve always dreamt about it. Such great pics you got, as well as a fabulous experience!


  • Beautiful country, beautiful captures. (it seem my comment was lost 😦
    Anyhow looks like you are having a wonderful time and taking great pictures, Luann.
    Since you missed that via ferrata in Italy, then a return to Banff is in order as they also have one at Norquay Mt.

  • This looks absolutely gorgeous LuAnn! Seems I have totally missed out on your European trip so I will have to scroll down through your previous posts. And I just have to say, judging from your photos you seem to have had excellent weather for hiking in the Dolomites:)

  • Fabulous post and photos LuAnn. It looks like you and Terry have found your perfect spot: unparalleled beauty, unlimited hiking, attractive villages, and good food. I love the section on Ötzi (yes, I did a cut and paste on the name); an amazing discovery. Please tell me that the food photo in that shot was his last meal. 🙂 ~James

    • It was fascinating to be able to see an actually corpse from 5,300 years ago, still with flesh. They have to keep his body under such precise conditions. I wonder how long they will be able to maintain this. As for the meal, I am embarrassed to say that it was my German lunch, although I shared with Terry. It was absolutely yummy!

  • Stunning! The skies, the mountains, the flowers,, the architecture, the wood carvings, the architecture and towers … I could go on and on and I can only thank you for taking me along on this amazing journey, LuAnn. I loved your description of the Alpe di Siusi and I could almost picture and hear the scene with the cowbells clanking in time and in tune to your yodel! And now I’m off to do some reading about Ötzi! Anita

    • The Dolomites were a great place to spend a week away from most of the crowds, and get some fresh air and hiking in as well. It was beautiful!

  • Thanks so much for sharing this. We are planning on doing a hiking holiday in The Dolomites this summer so it has been very useful to read your blog. I have just started a poetry blog here on WordPress in case you have time to look? Sam 🙂

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