Some of the best Dolomite experiences are at higher altitudes, head up for the full experience, especially in summer.
We all think Alps = Winter Holiday but consider Summer in the Dolomites for your next Italian break with jaw-dropping views, summer sports activities and food like you've never tasted before in Italy, the Dolomites await you!
As most major ski-lifts run all year round, there's no more scrambling with ski-passes, snowboards and poles to get up to the top, it's peaceful, sunny and roomy with only a mountain bike or two.
The ski pass becomes the summer pass and the slopes become mountain bike trails crisscrossing over the Alps in a network designed from gentle family outings to pro-biker routes. Want to know the best bit? The more popular peaks have MTB rental stations at the top too! So you can leave your plans at the bottom of the mountain and decide what to do when you reach the top.
Something for everyone
If you're after sunshine, good food and down-time, rest assured, this is also the place for you.
Early-morning adrenaline junkie, keen hiker or simply wishing for a crystalline lake to dip your toes into with a good book, the Dolomites has something for everyone offering a snazzy website that can even plan your itinerary for you! At every lift station, there are maps, guides and routes available to refer to; unless you're a seasoned regular, it's a good idea to ask the staff for advice on what's open and accessible before you catch your ride.
Lifts run on summer timetables starting sometime in May/June and running into September/October/November, check every individual timetable here for exact opening dates, times and prices according to the lift. Most cost between 20 and 40 euros up and a little more up and down but have all kinds of family offers, day pass discounts and children under 12 ride free with an adult, dogs are free too.
It's a magical ride with your legs swinging in a chair lift (we do take the dog) or sitting comfortably in a glass pod gliding over the greenest of pastures towards another world of wild-flower fields, wooden cabins, walking trails and deckchairs, yes, deckchairs!
They're always on the grass beside mountain rifugi because up here, you're encouraged to put your bike or your backpack down and take 10... close your eyes to birdsong, pinewood breeze and the distant tinkle of coffee cups, forget your worries and just relax.
What goes up must come down and in the Dolomites you have some choices - hike down, take the lift back or coaster down! Bobs on rail racks make some great family fun, they do have brakes but honestly, who ever uses them? These can be booked from the lift station at the bottom.
TOP TIP: Always wear suitable footwear no matter what your day has planned - you're in the Alps after all and there are too many gorgeous scenic trails to miss, much like packing a swimming costume in your rucksack while walking the Cinque Terre.
What's at the top?
'Rifugio' huts with rooms and restaurants, biking trails, hiking trails, mountain lakes, traditional malghe, the odd museum (see Lagazuoi) and depending on the altitude, wild-flower fields. Most lifts have a rifugio or baita (hut) at the top where you can find shelter and stay over. Rifugi range from precarious-looking wooden cabins perched on cliff edges to luxury structures with fine dining, deluxe accommodation and glass terraced seating equipped with fur blankets in case you catch a chill. A bit of googling before setting off will provide you with all the options as these are extremely well- organised and maintained (no messing about at 2000m) with heaps of online information.
TOP TIP: Book in advance if you're planning to stay the night. Rifugi rooms tend to book up long before the season starts. If you're heading up for lunch or a coffee, there's no need to reserve a table in advance, you'll be put on a waiting list when you arrive - perfect time for that deck chair or to explore!
We naturally think of Italy as pastel, seaside villages, marbled piazze and pretty pizzerie but this is Italy just as much! To experience the contrast in a country where every region is unique, dip into the Grotta Azzurra, order 'caprese' in Capri and then peak high in the Dolomites where snow covers the cracks even in summer.
And while you're there tuck into some fine mountain food - canederli, tagliatelle ai porcini, formaggio cotto (grilled Dobbiaco cheese) and polenta are some of the most typical north Italian foods on mountain menus, varied according to every region. You'll find Austrian dishes like Spätzle (rolled wheat dumplings) and strudel in the Bolzano Dolomites, for example, and capretto in umido (mountain buck stew) in the Bellunese peaks. Food for thought or thought for food? In a blog post of its own, coming soon.
Some of the best:
If the Dolomites are your oyster and you're keen to head upwards, here are a few iconic lifts to experience:
Lagazuoi cable car on the Passo Falzarego near Cortina d'Ampezzo, takes you up to the Rifugio Lagazuoi at 2752m. From here you can explore wartime tunnels dug into the rock, the Via Ferrata and even take a leisurely stroll up to the summit after a drink at the beautiful Terrace Bar. No pastures at these altitudes, this is windswept, barren rock and traces of snow where you'll feel like you're on top of the very top. Views at 360 degrees that stretch for miles make this a good lift to take with a fascinating museum and if you do have a night spare, stay over for an unforgettable Alpine experience topped with Lagazuoi's Finish sauna in a wooden barrel perched in the snow at 2750m.
Seceda is an Alpine peak of 2518m on the sunny side of a jagged pale mountain. There's incredible skiing up here in the winter but to get to the top takes two cable cars from Ortisei in Val Gardena. Pass over flowery meadows and the greenest fields you'll ever see to reach bare rockface and billowing cliff clouds. Yes, there's a baita up here too with hikes and view points and many a mountain bike trail (you can rent bikes too) as well as the famous paragliding base where even the inexperienced can have a go gliding tandem!
Punta Rocca of the famous Marmolada group, is the highest peak of the Dolomites at 3342m. To reach its famous 'panoramic terrace' one must jump off at the last cable car stop of the Funivia Pordoi, at 3252m. As dramatic as it seems, the route itself is easy enough for everyone to access, it's just a bit of a trek but a breath-taking one at that. If the journey up takes your breath away, wait till you behold the white-tipped mountain ranges spread out before you. Lagazuoi may feel like the top of the very top, but Punta Rocca floats you upwards and holds you somewhere in the sky. Start in the valley at the lift station and catch one of two lifts up, making sure you're taking the bring-your-bike one if you plan to mountain bike.
Lastly, some may say the cable car up to Renon from Bolzano is not spectacular or dramatic enough to mention but the views from the high plains at 1221m are still stunningly scenic and then, there's so much to do up there! If you're visiting the bustling city of Bolzano this makes a favoloso break. As part of the public transport system, it's also the best priced of all Alpine cable car trips at only 6 euros.
Renon, from 'The Bustling City of Bolzano'
Jaw-dropping visuals over the Adige valley, vine-strewn hills and dramatic, snowy peaks make the most incredible panorama and then there's the old "Rittner Bahn" (old Renon train) to rattle you around high green pastures between traditional picturesque villages and gothic churches. For hikers and bikers the trails are immaculate and pretty special. In awe of the scenery, you'll forget you're in Italy - quaint wooden log cabins and lush green forests take you faraway into an Alpine dreamland but guess what? We're only above Bolzano-Bozen."