Finding the Dolomites

For clients seeking adventure, try Northern Italy

By: Judy Koutsky

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Hikers in this undiscovered part of Italy
travel well-marked trails and visit
mountain outposts.
Italy has long been a favorite destination among Americans, and with Tuscany, Rome, Venice and the Amalfi Coast, there are no shortages of places to visit and sights to see. However, as I discovered on a recent trip, the northeastern-most part of Italy boasts a wonderful experience for those interested in adventure travel.

As an avid hiker, I have hiked most of South America, parts of Asia and Africa and areas all over the U.S. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the Dolomites, a chain of mountains located in the Italian Alps. The word Dolomites is a foreign one for many Americans. Hiking in the Alps usually conjures up images of Switzerland or Austria, perhaps Germany or France. But hiking in Northern Italy? The Italian Alps have received a lot less press than her Alpine sisters. However, in hiking circles, the Dolomites are often talked about, if not always experienced. Superlatives are inevitably used. Known for its amazing scenery, jagged peaks and pinkish-gray rock color, this region will not disappoint those interested in outdoor activities.

I flew from New York to Milan aboard Eurofly’s new private jet service. Seeking to compete with the business class of various carriers, Eurofly offers special business-class flights, direct from New York to Milan.

Once in Milan, we boarded a motorcoach and drove five hours to the Trentino province: home to the Dolomites.

Trentino, a region not immediately known among Americans, proved to be a very nice surprise. Carpets of vineyards lined the countryside. Kiwi plantations (Italy is the second largest exporter of the fruit behind New Zealand), as well as apple and plum orchards, are interspersed throughout the region. Medieval castles, perched on mountain tops, dot the landscape. The scenery is as beautiful as Tuscany, with a twist: the looming Dolomites in the background.

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The region’s many peaks and valleys offer
a variety of flora and fauna.
On the cultural front, the region differs dramatically from the rest of the country. In fact, it feels more German or Austrian than Italian. Alpine cottages built in the traditional A-line style with flower boxes bursting with colorful varieties could be seen everywhere. Signs are written in both German and Italian, with many locals speaking both languages. The food was definitely a surprise sauerkraut, dumplings and pork were the main bill of fare, with pasta appearing only occasionally. (Sauerkraut ravioli was one of the more creative dishes I tried.) Trentino also produces a nice array of local wine and cheese.

This region is visited mainly by Italians, with 75 percent of tourists coming from within the country. However, for those nature-loving Americans, the province of Trentino is a must, with 25 percent of the land within the province environmentally protected by national parks. Also, due to the stable climate of this area, it boasts a long tourist season from March through November.

I started my trip in the town of Madonna di Campiglio, nestled at the base of the Dolomites. This town is a very popular ski resort in the winter and a bustling hiking area in the summer. I stayed in the Alpen Suite Hotel, a lovely four-star property with a spa.

Hiking trails traverse the mountain range, offering expansive views of the beautiful craggy mountain peaks that look pink at dusk and dawn. The tourism board has comprehensive maps of the trails, with hikes broken down into levels of difficulty, and the paths are extremely well marked. Most hikers travel in groups of twos or threes on well-maintained trails that are also used by mountain bikers. I found most of my fellow hikers to be Italians and Germans, but almost everyone spoke English. The fact that there are so many trails means that no one trail is overcrowded.

Hikers pass fields of cows grazing in lush green pastures, their cowbells creating the music of the Alps. The varied terrain, consisting of peaks and valleys, means that there is a range of flora and fauna to be found.

Where the Dolomites differ from the other Alpine regions in bordering countries is that the Italians have a wonderful rifugio, or mountain lodge, system in place. This makes the mountain range not only unique, but extremely appealing. Instead of packing a lunch, most trekkers stop at a rifugio for a hot, inexpensive meal (we did this daily). Here, I talked to other hikers (debating the best trails and viewpoints) and had time to simply sit and take in the amazing views. The rifugios are also a great place to spend the night. (Accommodations are simple, not unlike a youth hostel.) The benefit to staying at a rifugio is that hikers can stay in the mountains for the duration of their stay in the Alps (be it days or weeks). That way, they can truly be one with nature as opposed to returning each night to the civilization of a small town.

Hiking here is some of the best in the Alps since the Dolomites boast taller peaks and more strenuous trails at a higher altitude. While the altitude did not bother me during the hike, several of my fellow American hikers were affected by it. Symptoms include dizziness and headaches, but they often disappear after a few days of acclimatizing.

After several wonderful treks and delicious and relaxing visits to mountain rifugios, I was convinced that Italy offered some of the most beautiful and enjoyable hiking terrains in Europe. For those Americans not in the know, the Dolomites, I was convinced, will not be a secret for long.


Alpen Suite Hotel
Commission: 10 percent

Commission on the all-business-class flight from New York to Milan is 5 percent if agents book via the Web site. CRS bookings do not receive commission. Bookings to Rome, Bologna, Naples or Palermo via Eurofly receive 8 percent commission.

Italian Tourist Board

Trentino Tourism Office