On UNESCO’s list of World Natural Heritage sites, the Dolomites is the name of the mountain range that stretches from close to Lake Garda in northern Italy to the Austrian border.
The unusual geology and colour of the Dolomites is what distinguishes them from other mountain ranges in Europe. Sunlight shining on the limestone makes the mountains appear pink and their craggy peaks, developed over millions of years, makes them quite unique. With more than 20 peaks above 3,000 metres, the tallest being the Marmolada which reaches 3,343 metres (10,968 feet), the Dolomites are a spectacular sight.
Skiers flock to the slopes in winter where they can find over 1500 kilometres of groomed runs at numerous resorts: Alta Badia, Cortina d’Ampezzo and Madonna di Campiglio, to name a few. In summer the mountains are alive with hikers and mountain climbers enjoying the stunning scenery, alpine pastures and fresh mountain air.
I’m fortunate to have visited the northern Dolomites region of Alto Adige on numerous occasions as my husband’s family are from this part of Italy but there is still so much of the area that I’d like to explore. My visits have usually been restricted to the area immediately around Bolzano (where family live) but this year I’ll be staying in Selva, in the Val Gardena region in the heart of the Dolomites, which I’m really looking forward to.
Two other villages I’ve heard a lot about are Cortina d’Ampezzo and Belluno. Cortina is Italy’s most famous ski resort and is popular with royalty and celebrities. In winter, it’s alive with skiers and snowboarders, either taking to the slopes or enjoying themselves apres-ski. Cortina hosts numerous World and European Championship events each year and is home to the 'Olympia in the Tofane', one of the most famous international ski runs in the world.
In summer time, Cortina is a paradise for hikers, climbers and mountain-bikers, with excellent facilities and trails. Those not so keen on active pursuits can get their fix of retail therapy (or window shopping) along Corso Italia, the trendy shopping strip.
In contrast, Belluno is less well known (at least to those outside Italy). Belluno stands in a beautiful area surrounded by the Dolomites, but only about 100 kilometres north of Venice. It’s the capital of the Belluno province and the most important town in the region, with a population of around 35,000.
Belluno’s main drawcard is the tranquility of its streets and its beautiful squares with fountains spilling out pure mountain water. It’s also home to numerous 16th century churches, including the Duomo, as well as the Bishop’s Palace which dates back to 1190.
With its location in a secluded valley, it’s not only the mountains themselves that draw visitors to Belluno and the surrounding province. Thick woods, crystal clear lakes and bubbling streams make this an appealing region to visit year round.
I wonder if I can squeeze a visit to these two towns into my next visit to The Dolomites!
A car is essential to explore the Dolomites. Why not drive La Grande Strada delle Dolomiti (the Great Dolomites Road) which stretches 105 kilometres from Bolzano to Cortina?