Peak Experiences: The Dolomites

By Susan Farewell

Little fills the soul like surrounding yourself with intensely beautiful scenery.

One destination that never fails to satisfy that longing is the Dolomite Mountains, in northeastern Italy.

Right now, in the high altitudes, these rugged peaks are already getting snow and it won’t be long before the slopes are alive with skiers and snowboarders. But I’m looking ahead to 2019, when the snows melt and these mountains come alive with wildflowers. In the late spring, summer and fall, the Dolomites are a hiker’s paradise, ideal for active families with older kids, couples and solo travelers. In 2009, these mountains—which have 18 peaks rising above 9,800 feet—were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you’ll find some of the most spectacular alpine scenery in the world.

Below is a sampling of what we love about the Dolomites.


What a Welcome!

When you first lay eyes on these bare and austere mountains with sharply serrated peaks, solitary pinnacles and towers all around, you can’t help but be awestruck. The most magnificent approach is by helicopter, soaring above the macho peaks and rocky outcrops with expansive foothills and long green valleys as far as the eye can see. That’s not to say driving up is anything less – serpentine roads switchback through the wilderness, with almost continuous write-home-about views. The Dolomites are within easy reach of Venice, about 3 hours by car or under an hour by helicopter.

Charm and Comfort

San Cassiano



San Cassiano is a small mountain village in Alta Badia, the heart of the Dolomites and a great place to call home while exploring the area.

Before WW I, this area was part of Austria and today, still looks and feels like its Tyrolian neighbor—in terms of architecture, food and language. It’s home to a handful of truly fabulous hotels, as well as Michelin star restaurants and many shops.

While in the region, however, you also have the opportunity to stay in the mountains in charming rifugios that you hike to. These are rustic, but wonderfully comfortable accommodations complete with hearty mountain meals that are a blend of Ladin (the local cuisine), Austrian and Italian flavors. And after a long day of hiking, a simple shower in one of these can feel like a spiritual experience.






Heavenly Hiking

Unlike some hikes where the ultimate reward is a phenomenal view, with just about every step you take in the Dolomites, you are rewarded with amazing views.


At One With the Mountain: Via Ferrata

One of the things that so distinguishes the Dolomites are the via ferrata routes where you are literally following the footsteps of the Italian and Austro-Hungarian Armies of WW I. When soldiers were crossing the alps, they constructed “iron paths’ with metal ladders to navigate the mountains. Today, the routes they used in the Alps offer completely protected climbing whereby you are attached to a system of anchored cables.

via ferrata

From the moment you start up a via ferrata course, you are forced to live in the moment, putting one hand, one foot in front of the other. Scary at times, but the rewards are unmatchable. When you reach the top—well, you’re on top of the world.





The Food!

St. Hubertus

Foodies or not, you’ll be in food heaven here. San Cassiano is home to a number of outstanding restaurants including 3-star Michelin restaurant St. Hubertus, headed up by Chef Norbert Niederkofler.

Pictured here is a beetroot gnocchi dish, a whitefish tartine and a tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream.


Also in San Cassiano is 2-star Michelin restaurant La Siriola at Ciasa Salares, which includes being let lose in a “Chocolate Room” for dessert whereby you can take your pick of fine chocolates.

But some of the most memorable food experiences in these mountains can also be found in the mountain rifugios whereby you feast on stews, pastas and Tyrolian specialties outside on a deck in the fresh mountain air.

St. Hubertus








A Bit of Bubbly and Biking


On route to or from the Dolomites, in the foothills of the mountains, you’ll find the rolling vineyards that are home to the grape varietal the famed Italian sparkling wine, Prosecco, is made from. This area is ideal for biking (or e-biking for those who want a little help). You can pedal along Roman roads through ancient hamlets passing millennium-old churches, visiting winemakers and Palladian Villas from the 16th century along the way. This is a dreamy part of the world to stay on its own—in inns or private villas–or paired with the Alta Badia region.

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