Lay of the Land
Located in the northeastern part of Italy, just two-and-a-half hours north of Venice, the Dolomites have long been a destination for active vacationers. The gorgeous limestone mountains punctuate the Italian countryside, creating a rather imposing yet elegant landscape. Mostly comprised of a carbonate rock called dolomite, this unique material is responsible for the dramatic peaks and vertical walls that differentiate the mountain range. The Enrosadira Phenomenon, which ignites the rock pigments with a soft pink glow at sunset, demonstrates the unique beauty of the Dolomites.
A region as well as a mountain range, the Dolomites were once the source of much turmoil despite the beautiful spectacle they are now. Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces were partially divided by the Dolomites in World War I, resulting in numerous wartime paths, tunnels and caves. Hitler and Mussolini then fought over southern Germany’s Tyrol region in the years preceding and during World War II, which is why a lot of the locals speak both Italian and German.
Nearly 11,000-ft. at its highest point, the mountain range was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009 and is known for excellent skiing and hiking. The area is also a popular spot for base-jumping, paragliding, hang gliding, mountain biking, rock climbing and free climbing.
Many would argue that the crown jewel of the Dolomites is the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, a small commune deep in an alpine valley and encircled by views of the Dolomites. The town is studded with luxury hotels and high-end boutiques, making is a glamorous tourist destination. The smaller but increasingly popular towns of San Cassiano and Badia are a short 40-minute drive away and part of the Alta Badia Region. This area, compromised of the municipalities of Corvara, Badia and La Val, has access to the Dolomiti Superski area with more than 745 continuous miles of skiable terrain and some of the region’s best accommodations.
The area connects more than 1,000 slopes: Cortina. Val di Fassa, Val Badia, Val Gardena, Arabba, Civetta, Marmolada, Pale di San Martino, Dolomiti di Sesto are some of the most well-known.
The most practical way to reach the Dolomites is by flying into either Venice or Innsbruck. From there you can rent a car (only suggested in the summer months as the roads are very windy) or arrange a transfer through your hotel.
From Venice: 2.5 to 3 hours
From Innsbruck: 1.5 hours
The tangled history of these valleys (the Dolomites include parts of the South Tyrol, Alto Adige and Veneto provinces) can still be heard in the mix of languages spoken here, including Ladino (a dialect based on Latin), German and Italian. Most importantly though, the mix of various cultures can also be tasted in the region’s delicious food and wine of which there are many prime (and Michelin-starred) examples.