With 18 peals of more than 3,000 meters (9,834 feet), the Dolomites form an impressive range of mountains. It is not so much their height, however, as their jagged profiles and spire-like towers that leave a lasting impression.
Just 35 minutes’ drive northeast of Bolzano, capital of Alto Adige/Südtirol, the Alpe di Siusi is Europe’s largest high-alpine meadow. It measures about seven miles by three and separates the Val Gardena and the Val di Fassa, two of the region’s principal skiing valleys. The improbable 10,000-foot spires of the Sassolungo mountains, which resemble something straight out of Tolkien, provide an unforgettable backdrop.
A half-hour drive northwest of Bolzano, nestled in a prolific apple- and grape-growing valley, the market town of Lana is the gateway to Vigiljoch, or St. Vigilius mountain. Winding routes of varying difficulty lead you to pine and larch forests, alpine lakes, mountain pastures and expansive panoramas. Of particular note are Vigiljoch’s 14 mountain springs, whose waters are bottled as meraner spring water, supply the famed merano thermal spas, and are used to make Südtirol’s Forst beer.
A seven-mile, five-hour hike beginning at the Rifugio Malga Ra Stua, six miles north of Cortina d’Ampezzo, and reaching an altitude of 6,942 feet.
An eight-mile, six-hour hike ascending to 8,200 feet. The route passes beneath three iconic limestone spires, the tallest of which, Cima Grande, rises to 9,839 feet.
A nine-mile, six-hour hike beneath the south face of the Sella Massif. The trail ascends to the Rifugio Franz Kostner at 8,366 feet.
A seven-mile, six-hour hike beginning in corvara and ending in San Cassiano. The trail passes picturesque medieval hamlets and climbs to the sanctuary at 6,710 feet.
There are numerous long-distance paths in the Dolomites, some of which require you to use the famous via ferrata, or fixed metal cables. The best-known, and one of the easiest, is the Alta Via 1, a 95-mile trail from Pragser Wildsee to Belluno. The route is open from July to September and takes a minimum of 10 days.