A traveler who has visited all the other mountain-regions of Europe, and remains ignorant of the scenery of the Dolomite Alps, has yet to make acquaintance with Nature in one of her loveliest and most fascinating aspects.

John Ball, Guide to the Eastern Alps, 1968

John Ball, Guide to the Eastern Alps, 1968

I’ll admit it. I was looking forward to seeing the Italian Dolomites, but having previously spent a week walking around the Swiss Alps, I was prepared to be a little underwhelmed. I was expecting my reaction to be somewhere between “well that was nice” and “wasn’t that pleasant;” a bit like when someone asks you what you thought of their roast lamb with the not-quite crispy roast potatoes and the bag-goes-in-the-microwave steamed vegetables – it did the job, it was nice enough but I’m not exactly effusive about the whole experience. But, I was wrong.

The Italian Dolomites are a stunning combination of beautiful, expansive alpine meadows dotted with colourful alpine flowers; all framed by spectacular craggy mountain tops, like perfectly crisp roast potatoes. Unlike their sister Alps in neighbouring countries, you can actually walk to the top of many of the Dolomite mountains. These rugged peaks offer spectacular views, a moderate amount of exercise, plus a smug sense of satisfaction. This is a walking itinerary with a couple of days containing 6+ hour walks, however, all of them have a number of well-equipped huts (rifugios) along the way, serving good food, a refreshing beer, and a view good enough to heal any aching limbs.

Trip Overview

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Cortina and the picture perfect Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Great Dolomite Way to Selva di Val Gardena
Circumnavigating Sassolungo on foot
The mighty Vajolet Towers walk
Beautiful Trento Valley and Trento
Exploring Rifugio Tucket and Rifugio Brentei
Five lakes walk and Val Genova

Beautiful scenery with dramatic limestone cliffs and alpine meadows
Quality rifugios with great food and stunning mountain views
World class walks with breathtaking photo opportunities in every direction
Great value for money compared to other alpine areas

Why we loved this trip

Trip Overview

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Cortina and the picture perfect Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Great Dolomite Way to Selva di Val Gardena
Circumnavigating Sassolungo on foot
The mighty Vajolet Towers walk
Beautiful Trento Valley and Trento
Exploring Rifugio Tucket and Rifugio Brentei
Five lakes walk and Val Genova

Why we loved this trip

Getting up close and personal with amazing wildlife
Dramatic coastal mountain scenery, mixed with semi-arid deserts
Sampling South Africa’s world class food and wines
Beautiful walks overlooking spectacular scenery
Understanding the political and cultural context of South Africa
Great value for money

Spectacular walking scenes in the Italian Dolomites.

Day 1 | Cortina and the picture perfect Tre Cime di Lavaredo

Day 1 is a stunning and relatively flat walk around one of the most photographed mountain peaks in the Italian Dolomites, Tre Cime di Lavaredo, which you can read more about here.  Drive from Cortina to Tre Cime di Lavaredo taking the southern loop of the SR48 via Lake Misurina – a picturesque lake with great photo opportunities across both sides – then on to Largo Antorno.  After a quick stop at the lake of your choice, follow the signs to Rifugio Auronzo – within the boundaries of the National Park – where you can park the car and start the walk.  At the time of our visit, the fee to take the car into the park was €25.

Start the walk in the direction of Rifugio Lavaredo.  As you come over the ridge towards Rifugio Locatelli, the 3 slender peaks of Tre Cime rise like giant sand castles from the gravel beneath them, slowly morphing into their well-photographed perspective. The views over to the mountain range now in front of you, frame the whole picture into a perfect panorama. Have lunch at Rifugio Locatelli, then continue on past Forcello Col di Mezzo as more great views open out in front of you. When you arrive back at Rifugio Auronzo, you might feel like a refreshing beer, however as they have no outdoor seating, heading back to either Lake Misurino or Lago Antorno might be a better option.

Finish the loop by driving back to Cortina on the northern loop (SP49 and SS51) with a small detour up to Lago di Landro for some more beautiful scenery and photo opportunities.

If you started the walk in the morning, you will have time take the cable car up Tofane, the impressive mountain group which towers over Cortina. After taking in the views while you recover from the days walking, head back to Cortina for the evening.

STAY
DRIVING
WALKING
Cortina
1 hour, 20 minutes: Cortina to Tre Cime return
4 hours, 30 minutes: Total time including stops

Day 2 | Great Dolomite Way to Selva di Val Gardena

Today, take the Great Dolomite Road from Cortina to Selva di Val Gardena experiencing the majestic grandeur of the Italian Dolomites on one of the most photographic alpine roads you will ever see.

Construction on the Great Dolomite Road commenced in 1901 and was originally intended as a military road. A lot of the road you will travel on today is within the former Austro-Hungarian empire and was the frontline during World War I between the Italian and Austrian troops. The present Italian / Austrian border has only been where it is today since 1919. Thankfully, the troops on the road have been replaced with motorcyclists getting their kicks on the tight mountain curves. It’s a popular road, so a little patience is required.

Stop at Arabba for lunch on your way, a cute little hill town with some good food options. We can recommend Bar Ristorante Pizzeria Al Table, which – despite the unpromising name – left us satisfied with a hearty pasta and very content with the excellent value for money. After lunch drive on to Canazei, an alpine resort-cum-biker hang out, then to Campitello di Fassa to take the cable car up to Col Rodena. The late afternoon sun from the top of Col Rodella lights up Sassolungo across the way for inspiring photo opportunities and a sneak peek at tomorrow’s walk.

After collecting some winning photos, have a beer on the roof of the panorama bar. The spectacular views in every direction are a perfect partner to a late afternoon sundowner. Drive to Selva di Val Gardena (around 1h) where you’ll be staying for the next three nights.

STAY
DRIVING
HIGHLIGHT
Selva di Val Gardena
3 hours, 15 minutes: Cortina – Arabba – Canazei – Campitello – Selva di Val Gardena
Stunning alpine scenery along the Great Dolomite Road

Day 3 | Circumnavigating Sassolungo on foot

Today is an addition to the all time best walks with a spectacular hike around Sassolungo, a relatively flat but moderately long walk (around 11 miles) that serves up unbelievably good views at every turn. A cable car isn’t required to start this walk which means you can get going whenever the mood takes you. Drive to Passo Sella (around 20 min from Selva) and park in the large public car park (€5 per day). From the carpark, head southwest to intercept path 557 where the walk begins.

Take an early stop at Rifugio Friedrich August, a cool alpine hut with comfy chairs overlooking spectacular views. As with many of the rifugios in the area, breakfast isn’t something they deem too important, so bring your own pastries from Selva to go with a coffee from the rifugio.

Follow the path from Rifugio Friedrich August towards Rifugio Sassopiatto, and head DOWN to path 9 (not up towards the top of the mountain), this quickly meets path 527 towards Rifugio Vicenza. As you come around the corner on path 527 towards Puez Odle outcrop, the views open up to beautiful alpine meadows, with strategically placed cows perfectly framing your Instagram friendly travel photos. Once you’ve soaked up the scene, head up to Rifugio Vicenza.  It’s a bit of a slog but it’s definitely worth it.  The steep cliffs dwarfing the rifugio and the stunning view out to the meadows in the background are landscape perfection.  Reward yourself with a beer or two to wash down lunch, before heading back down the way you came, then towards Rifugio Comici.

The walk along the high rubble path to Rifugio Comici has more dramatic yet changing scenery – watch out for the cyclists carrying their bike over the more tricky sections.  Rifugio Comici is close to where a very popular cable car arrives, and as a result, is inundated with day trippers looking fresh and spritely having avoided the 4-5 hours you’ve just walked. There is a restaurant there but it probably won’t tempt you being packed with said day-trippers. Instead, continue back to Passo Sella to complete the circuit.

After the walk, drive to Sasso Pardoi (30m), take the cable car up and enjoy the spectacular vistas. The west side gives you great views of Sella and the Sassolungo Massif, the east side gives you a barren look at Piz Boe and the moonscape of the top of the Sella Group. It’s very dramatic scenery and if you started the Sassolungo walk around 8 am, you should be here at about the right time for some great late afternoon photos over the mountains.

STAY
DRIVING
WALKING
Selva di Val Gardena
1 hour, 20 minutes: Selva – Passo Sella – Sasso Pardoi – Selva
6 hours, 30 minutes: Total time including stops
FOLLOW US

Day 4 | The mighty Vajolet Towers walk

Start early and drive to Vigo di Fassa (1 hr) and then take the cable car up to Rifugio Ciampedie.  A number of places will be open for a morning coffee, however, in this part of the world, breakfast is for wimps.  So as per yesterday, have some pastries on hand if you think you might need a mid morning snack.

Take the walk up to Rifugio Vajolet, which takes around 1h 30 min.  The next leg is a bit of a climb so stop for a refuel at Rifugio Preuss (next to Rifugio Vajolet), a small hut perched on the edge of a cliff with beautiful views from their outdoor deck. While you’re sipping your beer at Preuss, watch the steady stream of people making their way up the rocky path to Rifugio Re Alberto, nestled under the Vajolet Towers. Down your beer and start the walk up to Rifugio Re Alberto. It’s a stunning path, steep and rocky with the occasional rope to grab on to, but the effort is well worth it and still not as much hard work as our hike to Hörnlihütte. It’s a different world up there, the Vajolet towers rise above you, sleek and elegant, and the views off to the valley below are breathtaking. Once you get to the top, spend a moment appreciating your hard work, then continue up to Rifugio Passo Santer which is a further 10 minutes.

After enjoying the fresh Alpine air, come back down and have lunch at Rifugio Preuss before finishing the rest of the walk back to Rifugio Ciampedie. Have a rest on the grass meadows while you flick through your envy generating photos of the day, which will include beautiful forests, steep limestone crags, wide open valley vistas, and rocky desolate landscapes.

STAY
DRIVING
WALKING
Selva di Val Garden
2 hours: Selva – Vigo di Fassa return
5 hours, 30 minutes: total time including stops

Day 5 | Beautiful Trento Valley and Trento

Today, drive from Selva di Val Gardena to Trento (1h 30min) stopping off at Alpe di Siusi, a large alpine meadow that rolls effortlessly into jagged limestone cliffs – perfect with early morning light dancing off the well-maintained fields. As the scenery doesn’t change too much, plan for a fairly short leisurely stroll. To get here, take the cable car from Siusi (opens at 8 am) and connect to the Panorama cable car which takes you directly up to the meadow. Enjoy a flat and easy stroll from Panorama to Rifugio Spitbuhel.

Sptizbuhel serves food and coffee with great views of Sciliar.  You can paraglide from here for an alternative way back down to Siusi if you were organised in advance.  But, if you’re going back on foot instead, the whole walk will take about 1h 20min plus 45 minutes on the cable cars.

After Alpe di Suisi, drive around the west side of Rosengarten, which is a fantastically picturesque road. Take SP24 up to Presule – a slightly narrow tricky road, but not for too long – then head through Tires (Tiers in German) to get up behind the Catinaccio. Take some time stopping along the way, as good photo opportunities present themselves regularly.

As you approach Carezza turn right on the SS241 heading west towards the Trento Valley. If you’re in the mood, Lago de Carezzo is a great place for some wild swimming in a beautiful blue lake. After that, take the route through the mountains (not via Bolzano) on SS620 and SP72. This takes you directly to the Trento Valley, a beautiful broad flat valley with steep sides, filled with vineyards and fruit orchards. The changes in scenery are dramatic on this drive and as you come into the valley you would be forgiven for thinking you’ve driven directly into a cute little French village.

Have lunch in the valley at Alois Lageder, a family vineyard run on biodynamic principles, serving up a delicious take on modern Italian cooking in a beautiful sunny courtyard. Following lunch, take the short drive to Trento and spent the rest of the day exploring the town on foot.

STAY
DRIVING
WALKING
Trento
3 hours: Selva – Alp di Suisi – Tiers – Trento
1 hour, 20 minutes

Day 6 | Exploring Rifugio Tucket and Rifugio Brentei

Leave Trento this morning to do a walk in Brenta, another sensational walking area in the Italian Dolomites. Drive from Trento to Madonna di Campiglio (1h30) then on to the Groste Gondola lift that goes up from the northern end of town near Campo Carlo Magno. Take the cable car up to the final stop, Passo del Groste to start the walk.

Take path 316 in the direction of Rifugio Tuckett (1h20), paying careful attention to the markers on the rocks until you intersect path 328. This is a stunning part of the walk, perched high on the cliffs, path 328 has beautiful views across the steep limestone crags and valley floor below. Turn left when you hit path 318 to head up to Rifugio Brentei (1h30), which is nothing short of spectacular: an alpine refuge carved into a deep amphitheatre high above the valley.

After lunch and a well-earned beer, head back down back the way you came via 318 to Rifugio Casinei and then down to Rifugio Vallesinella. This last part – a workout for the knees – is all downhill but the pine forest provides welcome shade after the long walk. At Vallesinella you can either a) walk back to the car on a track that starts from just behind the rifugio (1h 15 m); b) take a bus back to the car park at the base of Groste Gondola lift (every 20/30 min); c) walk down to the Cascata di Mezzo waterfall, then either walk into town or come back to Vallesinella to get the bus.

STAY
DRIVING
WALKING
Madonna di Campiglio
1 hour, 30 minutes
6 hours, 30 minutes: total time including stops

Day 7 | Five lakes walk and Val Genova

This morning take the cable car up to Pradalgo from near the centre of Madonna di Campiglio and follow the five lakes walk, a relatively easy 3-hour meander across the mountain tops. The views of Lago Ritorto are impressive, and it’s a nice walk, however, the scenery doesn’t change that much. Walk north to south to maximise the views of the Brenta Dolomites you walked yesterday. Take path 226 then 232 from Lago Serodoli that passes Lago Lambin, this drops down to Lago Ritorto and ends at the 5 Laghi cableway which takes you back down to Madonna di Campiglio.

After lunch in Madonna di Campiglio, drive down to Pinzolo and take the ski lift up to Doss del Sabion, another spectacular spot to have a beer with staggeringly good 360-degree views.  If you’re feeling daring you can hire a mountain bike to go back down, or return on the more leisurely ski lift again.

For a final late afternoon Dolomite experience, drive to Val di Genova (valley of the waterfalls) and pay the small fee to drive up to Cascata di Lares. You’ll see a small tribe of amateur photographers snapping at the first waterfall – Cascate di Nardis – which end right by the road. Get back in the car and drive further along the road to Cascata di Lares. If you are here between 5 pm and 6 pm in summer, your photographs as the sun starts to set will be sublime.  A perfectly tranquil way to end your Italian Dolomites experience.

STAY
DRIVING
WALKING
Madonna di Campiglio
30 minutes: Madonna – Pinzolo – Madonna
3 hours, 30 minutes: Total time including stops
FOLLOW US
Follow
Share this article
Itinerary Amendments

  • An alternative to this itinerary would be to remove the last day in Madonna di Campiglio and add a day in Val di Funes, which has excellent photo opportunities of cute churches in front of the Puez Odle Massif.
  • Alternatively, there is ample walking opportunities for another day in Cortina.
Guide Books & Reading

The Lonely Planet Italy Guidebook is very good, as usual, for restaurant recommendations and information about attractions. Shorter Walks in the Dolomites has detailed maps and direction for each of the walks in this itinerary and can be very handy for extra navigation tips.

      

Booking Tips & Checklist

  • We flew in and out of Innsbruck which was a 2-hour drive to Cortina, and a 3-hour drive from Madonna di Campiglio for the return.   You could also fly into Verona or Venice.
  • Ideally, pick-up and drop-off the hire car from the same airport to avoid the extra fees for returning to a different location.
  • The season for this holiday is relatively short, from June to September.  Check the times of the cable cars – most of which only operate for a few months over summer – generally running from about 8.30am to 5 pm.
  • Some cable cars also stop for an hour over lunch so check in advance if you will be using them around lunchtime.
Hotels to Book

On a holiday like this, when we tend to be out of the hotel for most of the day, we look for relatively cost-effective hotels in the right locations. Each of these hotels offered good value for money accommodation, with helpful staff who were very knowledgeable about the local area. Click on the hotel link for booking details.

2 nights Cortina | Hotel Al Larin
3 nights Selva di Val Gardena | Residence Antares
1 night Trento | Hotel Grand Trento
2 nights Madonna di Campiglio | Hotel Alpina