Described by Le Corbusier as "the most beautiful work of architecture ever seen," the Dolomites are indeed undeniably striking. Often thought of as one of the greatest European mountain ranges for ski enthusiasts, the Dolomites are also one of the most beautiful – and unspoilt – areas for summer excursions and retreats.
Having just returned from her own trip, Carrier’s Product Manager for Ski and Snow and Europe - Liz Goodwin - reveals why the Dolomites are a year-round destination.
We began our adventure on the South Tyrolean Wine Road, which is to be found in the most southerly tip of South Tyrol, a magical province where Austrian and Italian influences coalesce. Here, 70% of South Tyroleans speak German, 25% speak Italian, and 5% have Ladin (a local dialect in the Dolomites) as their first language. Our first stop was in the small village of Magrè, at the southern end of the wine road; pretty, traditional and lined with cobbled streets and tiny houses, it looked and felt like a step back in time. Vineyards and apple trees surround the hamlet, while the oldest grapevine of South Tyrol has been growing up the walls of the facade of the Feichter residence on the Vicolo dei Conti alley since it was planted there in 1601. Keen to try the abundance of local wines, we settled on taking lunch at the Vineria Paradeis winery and, to sample the best of everything, ordered a selection of dishes including local cheeses, cured meats and miniature pasta entrées. The food was simple yet delicious, and we washed it all down with an assortment of crisp and refreshing white wine tasters.
After lunch we were given a tour of the winery, but tours of the many local vineyards are also possible. So many splendid wines are made here – almost two thirds of all of South Tyrol’s wine production comes from this area alone – and they are often served in romantic Weinstuben’s tucked away in the middle of the vineyards themselves. I would highly recommend exploring the wine route during the summer months. With 16 communities along the South Tyrolean Wine Road to discover, guests will find much more than just fine wine and irresistible food; they will find inviting villages, inspiring architecture and scenery to delight at.
Despite visiting in September, we awoke to fresh snowfall on our second day in the Dolomites. Beautiful as it was, it did mean our best-made plans to go e-biking had to be redesigned. However, the availability of electric bikes in the Dolomites is incredible – and is hugely popular both here and in the Alps. Looking like normal mountain bikes, they are semi-motorised to help ascend hills and can be hired for the entire day or for one-way use, meaning you can take the cable car up to a specially designed cycle trail and then leave it at the finishing point of your ride before taking the cable car back down. With numerous trails to suit all abilities, exploring the mountains has never been easier.
In the absence of snow and a pair of skis, the next best way to see the surroundings is on foot. The ski lifts are available even in the summer for visitors wanting to access various heights within the mountains. And the views are striking – the sheer limestone cliffs give off a reddish tint that appears to change colour with the rise and fall of the sun, and each valley you come to will provide you with a completely different, but equally breath-taking vista. While the Dolomites may not be able to compete with the popularity of the Alps, they surpass them with their offerings of diverse panoramic views.
The range of walks available is vast: from challenging hikes to flat alpine meadow walks, there is an amble to suit every individual. Regardless of whether hiking is your go-to outdoor activity or not, a trip to Ortisei and a cable car to the top of Alpe di Siusi is a must – here you will find yourself stepping out into an expansive grassy mountain meadow plateau at 2000m, something I never expected to find in the midst of the craggy peaks and towering rocky pinnacles. We took a lovely, leisurely walk from here to Sanon Hutte, which quite literally feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere. A sunset aperitif was on the agenda, but that quickly turned to mulled wine as the temperature dropped. A local dancing group dressed in lederhosen entertained us in the evening, before we settled down to Venison goulash with dumplings.
For me, the highlight of the trip was our drive over the pass from Val Gardena to Alta Badia. Not only were the views stunning, but it reminded me of the joy I have had skiing the Sella Ronda - a circular ski route leading round the mighty Sella Massif - in previous years. It’s a perfect ski circuit for intermediate to advanced skiers, allowing uninterrupted skiing on 40km of ski runs in a single day. When we arrived in San Cassiano, we took the Piz Sorega lift up to Las Vegas Lodge (which, fear not, is nothing like Las Vegas) and enjoyed coffee before walking an easy 30 minutes to Rifugio Utia de Bioch for lunch. It was here I discovered ‘kaiserschmarrn’ – sweet shredded pancakes which were the most delicious desert I have ever tasted. The standard of cuisine in the mountain huts in Alta Badia is unparalleled – they have built up a gourmet reputation over the last 10 years, and a number of gastro events are held here throughout the year.
In the summer months, hut-to-hut walks and guided tours of the local villages will work up an appetite for all the tasty local food, while adrenaline junkies can try their hand at Via Ferrata. It’s also an excellent choice for families, with playgrounds popping up on mountain plateaus, adventure parks hiding in trees and Silvretta Haflinger horses, known for their friendly and reliable nature, available to ride. In the winter months, keen skiers can ski from mountain hut to mountain hut, take a gourmet ski safari, and even arrange for a sommelier to join them on the slopes.
The Dolomites are definitely a destination that everyone should visit at least once.