The Italian Dolomites in South Tyrol are a unique region in northern Italy. Once part of Austria, South Tyrol was annexed by Italy after World War I. What has emerged since is an area that is unique in both its people and culture. I like to think about it as taking the best from both, the Austrians and the Italians. Delicious food with an emphasis on local and fresh ingredients, fantastic wines, wonderful craftsmanship in architecture and accommodations, and very friendly and inviting people. Many of the locals who live in the major valleys in the Dolomites speak Ladin, a rare language which some consider part of a unitary Rhaeto-Romance language. Most of them also speak Italian and German. In fact, school children are being taught alternating in all 3 languages. And, if that were not enough, almost everybody speaks English (greatly appreciated on my part). But I forgot to mention the coffee. Yes, it is up to the high standards that one is used to in the rest of Italy. I am so amazed by how much the quality of coffee often suffers when I leave Italy. I can just hop over the border and order a cappuccino, the taste of which immediately makes me wish I were back in Italy. Very mysterious!
But let me not forget to mention the most important aspect of the Dolomites: the vertical aspect. Of course I am talking about the mountains. They are not the highest in the world but they are rugged, breathtaking, and very, very accessible. Those same chair lifts and gondolas that whisk skiers up the mountain in the winter are a dream in the summer and fall. They offer effortless entry into an alpine world that is usually reserved for the fittest of the fit.
On the day that I captured this scene of the Gruppo Le Odle range, Magrit and I took the gondola out of Val Gardena, arriving at the top at 9:30 am. After spending a bit of time working with this fantastic scene, we then spent the next 4 hours descending through alpine meadows photographing wildflowers, mountain huts, mountains, mountains, and more mountains. This area is famous for hiking and almost each peak comes with a “refugio” that one can spend the night in or just pause at for a delightful lunch followed by a (great) espresso and apple strudel.
From my vantage point for the above image of the mountain and clouds, I was able to look down into the valley to the north, the Val di Funes, which is where the legendary climber Reinhold Messner was raised and started his ascent to stardom. The classic image below is of the little Church of Santa Maddalena, which is located at the head of the valley.
South Tyrol is a great area to spend a week or two basing out of one village. We stayed in the Val Badia near Corvara, which is very central for exploring the other valleys. We also had the great experience of spending two nights up on the Alpi di Siusi, the largest alpine plateau in Europe. This alpine meadow, sitting at just under 4,000 ft., is crisscrossed with walking paths, shepherds huts, and jagged mountain peaks in every direction. A few small hotels and lodges are sprinkled over the plateau. The area is closed to vehicle traffic, so once you arrive at your hotel you must keep your car parked for the duration of your stay. This makes for a unique car-free experience and allows for a peaceful and quiet exploration of the plateau by foot or bicycle. The hotels are wonderful and most include fantastic breakfasts and dinners. After dinner many of the guests take to the paths for a digestive stroll under a vast sunset sky with “alpenglow.”
For Magrit and me, being adherents to the Slow Travel concept and serious photographers, the Dolomites are a perfect fit. Next time you are thinking about an alpine vacation you might want to skip the Swiss Alps and head to this region. I think that you will be pleased (and spend a fraction of your vacation dollars).
We will be leading a seven day photography tour/workshop to this wonderful area, June 18-26, 2014. You can view the details here. http://photographytraveltours.com/italy-photo-tour-dolomites-2015/