The Dolomites are a group of mountains in northeastern Italy, and they rank as some of the most stunning mountain ranges in the world, up there with Patagonia, the Rockies, and the Swiss Alps. Unsurprisingly, UNESCO proclaimed the Dolomites as one of the world's most attractive mountain landscapes.
The Dolomites in Italy are known for their dramatic peaks, picturesque villages, and world-class skiing. The air is clean and crisp, and there is a sense of peace and stillness here that can't be found in a city.
So Why Are the Dolomites Often Overlooked?
First is the difficulty. People think these mountains are too difficult to hike. And to be fair, if you look at the google pictures to judge, it is easy to see why. The second is world geography. People don't know where they are and therefore have a misguided perception that they are challenging to get to. The third is awareness. They're not as famous as the Swiss Alps or other equally impressive mountain ranges that have traditionally received more press or marketed to tourists as a vacation destination.
10 Things I Learned From My Summer in the Dolomites, Italy
I have always loved being in the mountains, and the Dolomites have won my heart this summer. I spent a month exploring most of the valleys and learned a few things. Bottom line, when I am in the Dolomites, I feel like I can breathe more deeply and live more slowly. And that makes it my favorite place in all of Italy to visit!
1. Hiking Difficulty: Easy & Medium
The Dolomites are a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers from Europe, but not so much Americans. The Dolomites offer some of Europe's most scenic hiking trails, so why are Americans staying away?
Many people don't realize that these majestic mountains are pretty easy to hike. Unlike other mountainous regions, the Dolomites have a few well-marked trails of varying difficulty levels, so it's easy to find one that fits your ability. My favorite easy/medium hikes are:
- Adolf Munkel Hike to Geisler Alm Hike (Medium)
- Cadini di Misurina Ridge Hike (Easy)
- Seceda Ridgeline Hike (Easy)
So whether you're a seasoned hiker or a first-time visitor, the Dolomites in Italy are an ideal destination for a hiking adventure. Just be sure to bring your camera. The views from around these towering peaks are breathtaking.
2. Instagram Ain't Got Nothing on These Views
The other day, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a stunning photo of the Italian Dolomites. It looked so perfect like it had been Photoshopped. And the truth is, even the most stunning images don't do justice.
In reality, the mountains take over your entire view. Everything surrounds you; the peaks, the trees, the wildflowers, and even the mountain cows lend to the experience. There's just no way to capture that feeling on camera. No filter or app comes close to the natural beauty of these mountains.
3. Bang for Your Buck Compared to the Swiss Alps
Budget is my favorite b-word. If you compare hiking and staying in and around the top mountain destinations in Europe, the Italian Dolomites are comparatively cheap!
I'm talking about comparisons like the French Vosges, Spanish Pyrenees, the Swiss Alps, the Austrian Alps, Norwegian Mountains, and even the hikes in Iceland. While all of those are beautiful in their own right, so are the Italian Dolomites. And the Dolomites, have pizza!
It is possible to spend two weeks in Italy and Switzerland on a road trip for under $4,000, just like we did.
4. Planning Is Absolutely Essential
Any trip with mountains needs to be planned out because things always take longer than you think, are more sold out than you think, or the weather messes with you more than you think. I learned that booking a month ahead is best in the Dolomites, even in the peak summer season.
There are so many Hidden Gems in Northern Italy around the Dolomites if you have time to check out a few of the surrounding valleys.
5. Hut to Hut & via Ferratas for the Brave
When it comes to hiking, I prioritize scenic views and adventure. However, the Italian Dolomites have plenty of easy, medium, and hard-rated hikes and Via Ferratas. This mountain range has hikes for all skill and comfort levels.
Hut to Hut hiking is a multi-day hiking adventure with a pack. You are effectively walking from peak to peak, lodging overnight at the different mountain huts where most day hikers have dinner and beer before returning to the parking lot. The huts are super cute and worth a night's stay even if you don't choose Hut to Hut.
For those who love a good adventure, a Via Ferrata is the perfect way to get your heart pumping while enjoying some stunning scenery. Via Ferratas, “iron ways” in Italian, are routes outfitted with metal cables and ladders to help climbers make their way up cliffs and cliffsides.
While they originated in the Italian Dolomites during WWI, today, there are via ferratas all over the world, ranging from easy to highly challenging. My favorite medium-level Via Ferrata was Tridentina al Pisciadu.
6. It's Both Italian and German
There is nowhere else in the world where the seemingly clashing cultures of German and Italian come together better than with pizza and beer! The region of Sud Tyrol where the Dolomites are located in this exact intersection.
People here speak both Italian and German, or a dialect of both. But, of course, they also speak English, so you'll be able to communicate. German and Italian cuisine is served readily – pizza and pasta, bangers and beer, and a special little German dessert called Kaisersmarn! It was all delicious.
7. Choose Your Airport Carefully
The Dolomites and Sud Tyrol, my favorite region to stay in, have three international airport options. : Munich, Germany (3 hours away), Innsbruck, Austria (2 hours away), and Venice, Italy (2 hours away). We opted for Munich airport simply because it offered the best connections from the United States, and the rental cost of the car was cheaper than the other options. Make sure to compare and contrast all the options as they can vary.
8. You'll Want to Rent a Car
While there is an extensive network of busses around the mountain to do things at your leisure generally, you'll want to rent a car. Add to that the Italian version of schedules and time, and relying on the bus schedule can potentially be a frustrating endeavor for Americans.
We rented a small automatic car from the nearby airport in Munich for two weeks at just about $500, and we were okay. Make sure to read the fine print for all the required documentation to rent a car. Driving in Europe as an American can be a bit wonky, especially in Italy, but if you go in with expectations understood and a good stomach for winding mountain roads, you will be fine!
9. Visit in the Summer
The Dolomites are known for great skiing, excellent summer hiking, and wildflowers. Of course, they are pretty every season, but gondolas and funiculars to get to some of the hikes are not open till early summer.
Additionally, restaurants and towns are primarily active during summer or winter but less so in the Spring and Fall. The fall season is beautiful, but it's also peak season for European tourists and will be packed.
10. Don't Fully Trust the Weather Apps
Mountain weather has a mind of its own. Clouds or the sun move in and out quickly, no matter where you are. We did our best following our iPhone weather app, but it was unreliable. Every day showed rain, but it rained hard for 30 minutes and then back to stunning July sunshine.
The main lesson here is to go to the hike you've planned for the day and make a call from there. If the weather conditions are poor, you shouldn't go on the hike but instead hit up a local wine and cheese restaurant. Instead, you can enjoy a slow day and the smell of rain in the mountains.
If your whole trip looks rained out in the mountains, consider re-routing to the Italian Coastal Towns nearby for a bit of sunshine!
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This article was produced by Planner at Heart and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Featured Image Courtesy: Mariana Barbuceanu.
After 10 years in corporate America, I decided to hit the road and adventure. I'm a full-time travel blogger, a citizen of both the US and the EU, and an all-out digital nomad focusing on road trips in Europe. I've traveled to over 30 countries, half of which have been in Europe in the past couple of years. I love a good itinerary, local markets, folklore from different countries, a strong espresso, and an even stronger Negroni!