We had heard from various people that the Dolomites were beautiful and decided to check out one area that was reasonably accessible – Cortina d’Amprezzo. We thought we had a campground sorted but when we checked it out it was full of scruffy caravans with various add ons on crowded permanent pitches. We try to avoid these if possible – the atmosphere and environs often leave much to be desired. Luckily we spied another much more spacious campground across the fence and ended up spending 8 nights there. It was set in a large spacious meadow with great views and good facilities yet we hadn’t found it when we searched for a campsite on the internet. An Italian we subsequently met described the first campground as a ghetto- an apt description.
Cortina is located in a valley surrounded by huge mountains – a beautiful setting. It is apparently a popular ski destination with the wealthiest families of Italy and is well supplied with 5 star accommodation. It is also a fantastic base for hiking – there are trails everywhere. The weather was mixed during our stay – several major thunderstorms and rain – which limited our options some days as we didn’t want to be caught out on high open passes in thunderstorms.
Our first trip was up the cable car to the top of Tofana. Perfect weather and amazing views.
One day we drove up to a nearby lake (Misurina) and found a very popular agriturismo restaurant- complete with geese and hens wandering around the tables. The rain had cleared earlier so we were able to eat outside – good simple food typical of the area. One thing we love about the mountains in Europe are all the mountain huts and restaurants where you can get a great meal.
Clear weather the next day meant we could go hiking at a place called Cinque Torri (5 towers) although one has partly fallen down. It is popular for rock climbing and the towers of rock are impressive close up – vertical walls of rock- as well as a significant landmark. The area was also the Italian front line in World War I and the area has been turned into an open air museum so sometimes you are walking in the trenches they constructed passing by old gun emplacements. The Austrian front line (the enemy) was across the valley and you could imagine being there on the receiving end in freezing cold conditions.
After another wet day we hiked out to a waterfall north of Cortina only to find that the track we had taken didn’t link up with the easier route back unless you had “via ferrata” gear. This means helmet, safety harness and special clips to attach to the steel cables along the difficult part of the route. Viewing the waterfall and route from above we decided to return by the route we had already walked! Via ferrata are very common in the Dolomites and you need to check your route carefully to make sure you can reach your destination if you don’t have the gear.
The path to the via ferrata route did tight zigzags down the cliff. The river is the light brown between the 2 small trees- vertically down! And that was the easy part. Richard explored down the first part- a group of semi professional photographers arrived as as he came back up and were very impressed, thinking he had been all the way to the bottom!
For lunch, we found an excellent restaurant just up the road in a tiny village where I tried one of the local specialties – ravioli filled with beetroot.
We found another hike nearby – perfect for the afternoon – so drove up this little road to a rifugio and started out. Twenty minutes later we started hearing thunder and beat a hasty retreat back down when it got louder and came from all sides with some very black clouds coming our way. Just in time as it was one heck of a storm.
On our last day we drove up to Rifugio Auronzo and did a superb hike to another refuge on a pass and back around by another track. The weather wasn’t so great – low cloud obscured the peaks around us and it rained from time to time but the scenery was still spectacular with what we could see.
Lunch at the refuge was excellent too! Especially the apple strudel served with lashings of homemade vanilla crème – the best we have had. It is a local speciality and usually made with pine nuts and various spices. Shared of course!
After 8 nights at Cortina we reluctantly moved on – we could easily have spent another week hiking there. The Dolomites are well worth visiting if you enjoy hiking – the scenery is quite different from the Alps with jagged spires of rock topping most mountain ridges and huge scree slopes below but above the tree line – in many ways more spectacular. We might just make a detour to visit another part of the Dolomites next year!
Next stop – Slovenia