Table of Contents
The jagged Dolomites are the crown jewel when it comes to all things alpine in Europe. Unapologetically beautiful landscape etches the mountains and valleys in Italy’s most northeastern corner.
Refined resorts, elevated cuisine, and postcard towns make the Dolomites one of the most exciting destinations in northern Italy. Whether you kick back at a posh resort in Alta Badia or find yourself summiting the Seceda Ridgeline, the adventure in the Dolomites is as relaxed or as thrilling as you choose. But nothing comes at the sacrifice of beauty — everywhere you turn there are sights to admire, from alpine mountains to green meadows.
Plan a few days of road-tripping through the provinces of Trentino and South Tyrol to discover all it has to offer and read on for why you should plan to visit the Dolomites.
Why visit the Dolomites?
Adventure and culinary-seeking travelers zero in on the Dolomites for a few reasons. The first is access to nature as many of the incredible views and experiences are easily reachable. Yes, there is strenuous climbing and hiking for those who want to summit legendary peaks but also there are plenty of short hikes and cable car rides yielding big rewards.
The second reason is thanks to its remote setting — at high altitude in the northeast of the country — the Dolomites feel a world away from the ordinary. This is evident with Ladin, an ancient language that is spoken widely in the area (Italian, Friulan, and German are the next most spoken languages).
Alpine living has not only had its hand in shaping the area’s history and culture but also its cuisine. The Tyrolean culinary landscape is based on the land but also reflects the region’s multicultural roots. Along with historic inns serving traditional food, you’ll find several innovative Michelin-starred restaurants to try it all.
Where are the Dolomites?
The Dolomites are predominantly in South Tyrol, the northeastern Italy region that sits east of Milan and north of the Veneto. They sit directly north of Trentino in the northern Italian Alps and brush up against the Austrian border. The Dolomites run through the provinces of Belluno, Alto Adige (South Tyrol), and Trentino.
The Dolomites are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a mountain range comprised of 18 peaks over 350,000 acres. The highest peaks here reach well over 10,000 feet with Marmolada being the highest mountain. The landscape is vast and dense with valleys, towns, and mountains. It’s the perfect playground for nature enthusiasts and thrill-seeking adventurers.
How Do I Reach The Dolomites?
The easiest way to reach the Dolomites is to fly into one of the nearby airports and then rent a car. The closest and most convenient airport to the Dolomites is the international Venice Marco Polo Airport near Venice Italy. You can also fly into regional airports like Verona or Bolzano or even Innsbruck, Austria, and cross the border.
For those who are in-country already, consider taking an Italian train to the closest major station and then renting a car. Bolzano train station is one of the best options for public transportation access.
When is the best time to visit?
If you want to hike the trails sans the crowds, the periods of late May until early June and then September through early October are best. Most of the trails have had all the snow melted off which gives hikers a chance to adventure. If you’re more interested in winter activities, visit from January to early March when the snow is typically its best.
The Italian Dolomites are a mountain range located in northeast Italy within the Italian Alps. These mountains run across the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia Giulia and are renowned for their dramatic cliffs, vertical walls, idyllic valleys, and unique alpine landscapes. In 2009, the Dolomites were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The best time to hike in the Dolomites is from June until the end of September. This is when most trails are free of snow, mountain huts are open, and seasonal buses and cableways operate. For skiing, the Dolomites winter season begins in earnest in early January and ends in early April.
There are several popular areas to stay in the Dolomites, including:
- Cortina d’Ampezzo: Known for attractions like Lake Sorapis and Tofana di Rozes.
- Val Gardena: Accessible even without a car and close to attractions like Seceda and Alpe di Siusi.
- Alta Badia: Known for its luxury hotels and Michelin star restaurants.
- San Martino di Castrozza: A base for hiking in the Pale di San Martino mountain group.
- Val di Funes: A picturesque destination at the base of the Odle/Geisler Group.
Things To Do In The Dolomites
Start by simply taking in the scenery. Jagged peaks drenched in sunlight, sheer cliffs, and intimate valleys adorn the landscape. Soak it all in, whether it’s from an adventurous hike through the mountains, a casual lakeside stroll, a cable car ride, or even just from your hotel room terrace.
The outdoor adventure in the Dolomites is year-round. As the snow melts off the summits in the summertime, it makes way for world-class hiking and mountaineering. Come winter, the mountains are blanketed in snow. The combined ski resorts of the Dolomiti Superski (home to the Sella Ronda route) comprise one of the largest ski areas in all of Europe.
See it all via a postcard-worthy road trip that winds in and out of the 2,000+ mountains. The region is dotted with hilltop towns, castles, and historical sights dating back thousands of years, so there are endless discoveries to be had. You’ll also find wellness resorts, luxury chalets, and rustic mountain huts to hang your hat at the end of the day. The Dolomites gladly offer a little bit of everything for everyone.
And, if you’re headed to the Fassa Valley, be sure to plan on watching a sunrise or sunset when the Dolomites famously turn pink.
What are the food and wine like?
The food is unapologetically alpine — but majorly refined. With influences from Italian, Ladin, Tyrolean, Austrian, and German cultures, the food here is always exciting.
Farm-to-table is how they do things in the Dolomites thanks to easy access to local produce, meats, and cheeses. A few Tyrolean classics include handmade dumplings (knödel), beet-filled pasta known as casunziei, smoked meat speck, and rich alpine cheeses.
There’s even wine to match! The Trentino-Alto Adige region is known for its crisp, refreshing whites like sparkling Trentino DOC or the light-bodied Lagrein. What better way to reward yourself after a hike than with a crisp glass of white wine paired with local delicacies like speck and South Tyrolean cheeses?
What is the best area to stay in?
One way to think of the Dolomites is to think of it by its western and eastern sides. In the west, you have areas like the Alta Badia on the border which reaches Alpe di Siusi to the west and Val di Funes to the north. On the eastern side, the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo is a central location providing access to nearby sites of Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee) and Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
Cortina d’Ampezzo| bustling town surrounded by sights
One of the best places to stay in the Dolomites for easy access to iconic peaks, incredible dining, and a vibrant town is Cortina d’Ampezzo. Located in the heart of the Ampezzo Valley in the Belluno Province, it’s a straight shot north of Venice.
The bustling town is one of the largest in terms of amenities like dining, accommodations, and services. It’s completely surrounded by epic mountain peaks like the Sorapiss Group (the famous Lago di Sorapis is here), Cristallo Group, Croda da Lago chain, and the Tofane Group. All of these provide a spectacular playground for hiking and large slopes for winter sports.
Alta Badia | storybook scenes and culinary pursuits
For those seeking the best hub for luxury resorts and elevated cuisine, with access to unparalleled views, the Val Badia area is the first choice. It’s home to several of the best resorts and mountain chalets in the entire region, boasting a plethora of Michelin-starred dining.
Out of the doors of the hotels are incredible hiking trails through several mountain ranges like the Sella Group and Puez Mountains. There are 6 scenic villages here: Corvara, San Cassiano, La Valle, La Villa, Colfosco, and Badia.
Val Gardena | easy hiking and breathtaking views
Set in South Tyrol, Val Gardena is one of the largest valleys that descend from the mountain passes of Gardena Pass to Sella Pass. It’s home to several iconic sights in the Dolomites like Alpe di Siusi, the Seceda Ridgeline, and Val di Funes.
The two main towns here to consider staying in are Selva di Val Gardena which is one of the most picturesque towns with several amenities like restaurants, and hotels. The second is Ortisei which is a wonderful home base for those who plan to be out exploring a lot. While it’s not as charming as some of the other mountain towns, it does provide incredible access and budget accommodations.
Consider a Dolomites Road Trip
One of the best ways to experience the Dolomites is by embarking on a road trip. This part of Italy beckons a scenic drive through the mountain passes and into the hilltop villages. It’s an opportune time to travel at your own speed. The best way to do so is by picking up that rental car from your arriving airport or train station.
Need help planning your Dolomites adventure?
We can even help you plan an entire road trip around visiting the wine-growing region in the Italian Alps. Lean on our travel planning experts here at Salt & Wind to help plan your trip to the Dolomites.
Photo Credit: All photos by Jessica Wright