The spectacular Dolomites and traversing the famous Alta Via 1 is one of the most outstanding ways to experience this region of Italian, best known for the fashionable ski town of Cortina d'Ampezzo.
The Dolomites, the peerless craggy peaks Le Corbusier called “The most beautiful work of architecture ever seen” are at their most exquisite at dusk, when the last rays of sun paint the rockface a pink hue that gradually mutates into purple in a miracle of nature that the locals call the ‘enrosadira’. It is a stunning display of nature that is completely free and best enjoyed on the terrace of a mountain rifugio with a well-earned glass of ‘weissbier’ or local ‘tinto’.
Here, high in the mountains, breathing crystal clear air, your spirit is truly set free. Your senses are overwhelmed by the force and beauty of nature; in every direction the views are stunning and all you can do is to admire, soak it up and photograph it indelibly into your memory.
By day, the mountains have the pale, almost anaemic colour of limestone and appear delicate, friable; indeed, the feeling is that these mountains are slowly crumbling into a heap of rubble. These strange, craggy pinnacles of rock consists of fossilised coral reefs formed 250 million years ago at the bottom of the ancient Tethys Ocean. When the African and European tectonic plates collided the impact forced the rocks skyward and the Dolomites became mountains. Perhaps their coral past is why the rock crumbles so easily; they are the geological equivalent of a beloved but aged auntie who used to be a society beauty.
These elegant mountains were sorely tested during the First World War when they became the front line between Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces who dug tunnels and trenches, created supply routes and bases whilst they struggled to survive the worst of winter and the enemies various efforts to kill them. In 2009, the Dolomites became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its majesty and historical significance. This honour has brought international awareness and a greater number of visitors of every type to the Dolomites, many on wheels with the classic mountain roads play host to vintage cars, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, push bikes as well as day visitors.
However, to properly enjoy the Dolomites you have to walk, so if you really want to experience these unique peaks, there is nothing that can beat strapping on a good pair of walking boots and spending several days hiking in the mountains. There are a number of long distance footpaths that run along the Dolomites which are called ‘alto vie’ (high paths). These long trails, which can take anything from a couple of days to at least a week to complete, are served by a number of rifugi (mountain huts). The first and the most renowned of these paths is the ‘Alta Via 1’.
It is not for nothing that the Alta Via 1 is considered one of the world’s premier treks. You will embrace the strange, craggy pinnacles that jut straight into the blue skies as if pointing a finger toward heaven. Below the peaks, babbling rivers, whose waters glint and gleam in the sunlight, run away to green valleys dotted with peaceful villages and still lakes that mirror the majesty of the mountains. On the hillsides, small clusters of pine trees, like sentries, watch over meadows of wild flower and bumbling marmot. This is nature at its spectacular finest. And the best thing? The entertainment comes for free!
Our Trekking guide and expert to the Alta Via 1 was Anne Foulkes, Director and International Mountain Leader. Ann is English but lives in Italy and speaks Italian. She has led this trip many times, and rates it as one of her two top favourite treks anywhere in the world. Anne would love to share the mountains with you. You can reach Anne at trekMountains.