My profound romance with mountains started well before I actually had a chance to climb one, and it was well before I had a chance to see one with my own eyes. Just like with travelling and surfing, it was through the pages of beautifully written mountain books and hair tingling adventure stories that I was introduced to all things mountaineering.
Over the years, I stormed through dozens and dozens of books. First, I combed through the shelves of my local library, excitingly rushing home after each find. Later, I started my own little collection that by now has grown in size and weight.
Some of the books that I read were written with very detailed descriptions of climbing, some of them described remarkable survival experiences yet every single one spoke of deep-rooted determination, mortality, friendship and never-ending love for mountains.
The very first paperback I picked up and read from cover to cover was Into Thin Air, which in my humble opinion is one of the absolute masterpieces of mountaineering, written by my favourite author and mountaineer, John Krauker.
His way of describing and detailing the disastrous 1996 expedition to the Earth’s most prominent peak left me forever in awe of majestic mountains and a world itself. I was so intrigued by the efforts of determined mountaineers devoted to high altitude climbing that I was ready to give it a go too!
My first summiting experience was fueled by nothing but curiosity.
The first mountain I tackled in Ireland was Croagh Patrick, nicknamed the Reef, and since that day everything changed. I fell in love with the physical challenge as well as with open space, big sky and buzzing insects.
As it was expected, over the years, my appetite for more impressive summits and challenging hikes grew bigger. And, my burning desire to visit The Dolomites increased stronger; they may not be Europes highest peaks, yet for me personally, they are the most memorable ones.
I often think of words to describe what hiking and climbing adventures mean to me, but all I know it’s so much more than standing on the summit.
Alfred Wainwright, known for his famous Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells couldn’t have said it better:
“I was to find spiritual and physical satisfaction in climbing mountains – and a tranquil mind upon reaching their summits, as though I had escaped from the disappointments and unkindnesses of life and emerged above them into a new world, a better world.”
The Dolomites: Your guide to visiting beautiful Val Gardena Valley
Getting up before the sunrise amid thundering Dolomite’s and witnessing its distinctive white rock respond to first morning light by changing colours from pink to orange and purple, was a real dream come true moment for us.
Did you know there’s even a specific word that describes this unique phenomenon in the native Ladin language – ‘enrosadira’ meaning becoming pink?
If you are planning on travelling to the Val Gardena valley in the Dolomites, we created a quick guide and added a bunch of useful tips you can use to plan your journey.
Why you should visit the Dolomites also called “Monti Pallidi” in Italian.
As if anyone needs an actual convincing to visit the Dolomites! Stretching across the northern part of Italy, Dolomites is pure magic for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike, with more than 18 peaks hitting above 3000 metres.
Spending time in a place surrounded by asymmetrical limestone spires, broad valleys, mountain lakes and beautiful pastures will allow you to backpedal and step away from your active life.
After a week in the mountains, we emerged more relaxed and more enriched with a definite sense about the world around us.
It’s not hard to grasp why this place attracts thousands of hikers, mountain climbers and mountain bikers from all around the world.
A remarkable display of beautiful Alpine flowers, best viewed from mid-June, trills, and challenge of long-distance hiking on top of alluring scenery and infinite network of fantastic trails can effortlessly ignite the desire to make the most of our time on Planet Earth.
How to get to Val Gardena
We found that getting to Val Gardena is a real adventure itself and it takes a little bit of planning to come up with the best option, especially visiting during the shoulder season. Hiring a car and driving in Italy ain’t all rainbows but public transport, on the other hand, would not be able to take us to the most scenic spots.
We flew from Dublin to Bergamo, rented a car and drove 275 kilometres to Santa Cristina village located in Val Gardena. If you are travelling from the North, then follow the Innsbruck – Brennero – Chiusa route.
If you plan on visiting the Dolomites and wanna travel by car and be on your own schedule, it’s actually much cheaper to rent one in Germany. If we had to do it all again, we would fly into Munich and then drive to the Dolomites from there using the Brenner Motorway (A22).
Three Italian cities well connected to The Dolomites are Venice, Verona and Milan. CortinaExpress bus service (direct one) operates from Venice Marco Polo airport and Venice Mestre train station, while ATVO airport service provides Venice – Mestre railway station – Venice Marco Polo Airport – Treviso – Cortina route.
Where to stay in Val Gardena
The whole territory of The Dolomites is so vast it can be overwhelming to pick only one place. We took our time deciding between Tres Crimes and Cortina and at the end chose Santa Christina village, located in the Ladin speaking Val Gardena valley, as our base for exploring The Dolomites just because of the nearby Puez-Odle nature park.
We stayed for six nights in a budget-friendly Smart Hotel Saslong with stunning views of surrounding mountains. We kick-started our early mornings with a hearty Tyrolean breakfast followed by long walks in postcard-worthy settings.
Our en-suite room was decorated with local wood and had minimalism decor, just the way we like it! Having arrived very late on Saturday evening, we spent the first day settling in, planning hikes and sampling the local cuisine.
If we had to make this hiking trip again, and I hope one day we will return to the famous Italian peaks, we would spend few nights in a mountain huts, also known as rifugios, set high up in the Dolomites to get even closer to nature and mountains. They offer meals and sleeping facilities with endless views of the peaks all around you. Can you imagine waking up to such panorama while the rest of the world still sleeps?
Best time to go to Val Gardena
Who wouldn’t want to visit the Dolomites in the summer when the weather is warmer and the days are longer, but that also means crowded trails, more extended ques and a significant increase in prices.
For a truly relaxing hiking holiday, try to go early or late in summer to avoid crowds.
In autumn you get to see an explosion of colour when Larch trees change from bright red to amber and light yellow.
Winter offers a great variety of outdoor activities from snowboarding, ice skating to snowshoeing and skiing. Surrounded by snow-capped summits and beautiful winter scenery, you’ll love this part of Italy even more. In Val Gardena, ski lifts can take you all the way to Dolomiti Superski with 12 skiing areas and 1,200km of slopes.
We visited mid-June, had great weather, except for one foggy and overcast day and place all to ourselves. Some of the high altitude trails were still closed, and we had to turn back on one of the walks as the ice made it impossible to descend, yet we had a memorable time.
Hiking in the Dolomites
When it comes to walks, as you can guess, the choice here is endless. We only had a week to soak up the area of ravishing hiking trails, and I was ready to unleash my preoccupied mind and prepared to change gears.
Before the trip, we purchased and read A Cicerone guide written by Gillian Price ”Walking in The Dolomites” and found it to be beneficial with planning our trip, but Tourist Offices in the Dolomites provide maps and loads of other useful information about hiking and trails.
Our first hike started in S.Cristina, where Col Raiser cable car brought us to expansive trails in a matter of minutes. The moment we jumped out of the cable car, crisp mountain air and layers of dark green colours cheerfully awaited us. Bright yellow buttercups scattered alpine pastures as we approached Juac-Hütte mountain hut. The trail from here towards razor-sharp peaks was very steep, exposed and demanded a lot of effort.
As we quietly walked across a grassy clearing back to our village, I realised hiking offers more than just beautiful horizons. Being exposed to nature and pushing hard for that snow-capped mountaintop, I found myself more content and happy.
The most memorable was an unhurried, albeit slightly vigorous, 6.5-hour hike around misty peaks of Sassolungo. We embarked in S.Cristina(Monte Pana) and made our way towards Passo Sella.
To reach Toni Demetz hut located in the middle of an ancient coral reef where Tethys Sea used to flow 220 million years ago, we relied on somewhat outdated cablecar (we actually had to sprint after it as this one didn’t slow down passing through the station).
The rocky mountain pass was still covered with ankle-deep snow. From here we followed path 525 to the Rifugio Vicenza and continued on 526 back to Passo Sella.
How much does one week in Val Gardena cost?
• Transport. Return tickets from Dublin Bergamo for a couple – EUR 320, 1-week car rental + insurance – EUR 288, tolls and parking fees EUR 22. When it comes to car rental, don’t rent for more than you need and always check the car for scrapes before you drive off (take pictures if needed).
• Fuel. In total, we spent 70 euros on fuel.
• Accommodation. Double room for 6 nights in A Smart Hotel Saslong – 220 euros. As we booked accommodation well in advance and travelled to the Dolomites in the middle of June, we managed to get a real bargain.
• Ski lifts. We paid 130 euros for two people and had unlimited access to all the ski lifts in the area.
• Food. Breakfast at the hotel – EUR 54 for two people. The best 54 euros we spent that week as the buffet breakfast was nothing short of amazing with fresh bread, local delicatessen and loads of cakes to choose from. Eating out – 120 euros. Eating out was affordable in the Val Gardena area with pasta and pizza dishes costing around 10 euros.
TOTAL COST: EUR 1,154 for two people
Tips, hints, and things to do in Val Gardena
- If renting a car, make sure it’s as small as possible. Narrow roads, hairpin bends and steep drops create driving in the mountains very challenging. Always book before your trip and once on the way, mind the speed limit.
- In Val Gardena, get Val Gardena card, offering unlimited use of all lifts and gondolas open in summer (89 euro for six and 67 euro for three consecutive days).
- Stay hydrated, bring extra food and a light jacket. The weather in the Dolomites mountains is very irregular and can change quickly, even in the summer.
- Experience culture and tradition by visiting nearby villages and churches (St Johann Church also known as San Giovanni, is a must!) Three charming villages within Val Gardena Valley are Santa Christina, Ortisei and Selva di Val Gardena.
- Enjoy local cuisine like spinach and ricotta filled ravioli called Schlutzkrapfen, cheese and, of course, apple strudel, all served with a view.
- Don’t take any risks, check the weather forecast before you go hiking and always carry your identification.
- Because of the location, almost every town in The Dolomites has two names – German and Italian. For example, Val Gardena or Gröden, Ortisei or Sankt Ulrich, Carbonin or Schluderbach.
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Now, over to you!
Have you been to the Dolomites? What is your favourite hike in the area? Let us know in the comments!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to the Dolomites and have travel-related questions!