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The Dolomites, Italy

Italian Dolomites Travel Guide

The Dolomites are nine mountain groups in northeastern Italy stretching across the regions of Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia Giulia. In 2009, these mountains were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering a total area of 142,000 hectares. 

The unique coloration of the peaks is perhaps the most striking feature of the Italian Dolomites. The light and time of day reveal different shades of crimson, peach, rose, white and violet in the rock. The color is further dramatized by the sculpturesque shapes of the pinnacles.

Nestled between the cliffs, you’ll find high alpine pastures and meadows dotted with rifugios (mountain huts), cows and horses. During high season, rifugios serve food and drink. So, when you’re hiking in the Dolomites, you don’t need to pack a lunch, as there’s usually a delicious meal waiting for you on the mountain.

 

Where to Stay in the Italian Dolomites

The Dolomites are made up of 15 different massifs and stretch across three Italian regions. This is a huge alpine region. When you start to plan your Dolomites trip, it can quickly get overwhelming. After three independent trips to the Dolomites, we’ve narrowed down the best places to stay in summer and early Fall: Val Gardena, Alta Badia, Cortina d’Ampezzo, and Eggental. Read Best Places to Stay in the Dolomites for more info.

 
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Italian Dolomites Travel Guide - where to stay, where to go, where to hike, what to eat

Dolomites Travel Guide Overview

  • Best Time to Visit the Dolomites
  • Languages Spoken in the Dolomites
  • Dolomites Accommodation 
  • Where to Go in the Dolomites (Interactive Map)
  • How to get to the Dolomites
  • What to Experience in the Dolomites
  • Where to Hike in the Dolomites
  • What to Eat & Drink in the Dolomites
Need help planning your trip to the Dolomites? Read these Dolomites travel blogs next:
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Dolomites Travel Guide - where to stay, accommodation, where to go, what to see

Best Time to Visit the Dolomites

Best Time for Hiking in the Dolomites

The best time to hike in the Dolomites is from end of June until the end of September. 

That’s when the mountain huts (hütte, rifugio) are open for overnights and food. It’s also when most cable cars are in operation. Many hikes in the Dolomites begin or end with an aerial cableway (chairlift, gondola etc…). And, if you’re planning on getting around by bus, there are more connections and buses running during high season. 

August is a very busy month in the Dolomites. Italians are on vacation, and there are lots of families on popular trails. Weather is generally excellent with the occassional thunderstorm.

September is a wonderful month to hike in the Dolomites. It’s still busy, but not as packed as August. We spent 3 weeks hiking in September, and the weather was great 90% of the time. That other 10% involved a snow blizzard and some rain. Mountain huts are open, cable cars are running, and busses are frequent. Read Next: Hiking in the Dolomites in September.

October is also a promising month to travel to the Dolomites, especially for fall colors. If you decide to travel to the Dolomites in October, we recommend renting a car. Many huts will already be closed for the season, though not all. And, many chairlfits and gondolas will also be closed (by end of September). So, October promises quiet trails, beautiful colors, but less convenience.

Read Next: Best Day Hikes in the Dolomites

 

Best Time for Skiing in the Dolomites

If your aim is to ski, the season begins in December and ends in April.  In November 2019, the ski slopes already opened up in Alta Badia. However, if you’re planning an international trip, stick to January and February to be safe. 

 

When You Shouldn’t Travel to the Dolomites

Early Spring. Traveling to the Dolomites in May is hit or miss since the weather is unpredictable. It can still snow, but it’s not “ski season.” Because the region’s many chairlifts aren’t in operation, hiking is limited. Also, many hotels and restaurants are closed, making it difficult to find places to eat. 

 
Dolomites Travel Guide - Everything you need to know about visiting the Dolomites, Italy

What Languages are Spoken in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are located in 5 different provinces (within 3 regions) in Northeastern Italy. One province, South Tyrol (in German: Südtirol; in Italian: Alto Adige), was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to World War I. German continues to be the primary language spoken in this region. When traveling and hiking through South Tyrol, every street, advertisement, natural area, mountain hut, etc… is written in both German and Italian. Throughout this guide, we will use both names to avoid any confusion.

Another language that you may encounter is Ladin, a romance language spoken in the provinces of South Tyrol, Trentino, and Belluno, by the Ladin people. In Alta Badia, you’ll see signage and names (e.g. towns, mountain huts) in three languages: Ladin, German, and Italian. 

 
Dolomites Travel Guide - types of accommodation in the Dolomites / Ciasa Soleil in Alta Badia

Dolomites Accommodation

farm stays, hotels, mountain huts

There are many ways to experience the Dolomites. For those that want to experience the culture of the valleys and the towns, we recommend staying in farm stays. For those seeking a luxurious getaway, look no further than the region’s 5-star spa hotels. And for hikers who want to stay in the mountains, we recommend sleeping in mountain huts (rifugio, Hütte).

 

Roter Hahn Farm Stays (South Tyrol Only)

Roter Hahn (Red Rooster) is a trademark given to farmhouses in South Tyrol that provide quality holiday accommodations. There are 1,600 Roter Hahn farms in the region. The goal of Roter Hahn is to put people in touch with the rural world of South Tyrol. Another objective is to help farmers establish another occupation and stream of income.

We stayed in three Roter Hahn Farms and had outstanding experiences each time. The hosts were hospitable, the rooms were clean, and overall the prices were cheaper than other accommodation options.

To look for farm stays, use the Roter Hahn website. There’s a form, next to each farmhouse page, that lets you reach out and request a reservation. If the farmhouse has availability for the date(s) given, they’ll reach out to you via email.

 

Wellness Hotels

If farm stays sound too rustic, and you’re in the mood for a real treat, check out some of these superb wellness hotels. Each hotel has an outstanding breakfast buffet and a half-board offering. Based on our personal experience, we can highly recommend:

Dorfhotel Beludei in Santa Cristina, Val Gardena is for the epicureans. The food is simply exquisite here, teetering into the realm of high art. Other highlights include the lovely wellness area and the bedroom views of Langkofel. Guests of Beludai can join guided hikes for free.

Hotel Col Alto in Corvara, Alta Badia is for the spa lovers. The integrated sauna and wellness area is lavish. Guests are spoiled with five saunas, an indoor swimming pool, a whirlpool, and relaxation rooms with waterbeds and heated lounge chairs. Rooms are divinely comfortable as well.

Hotel Ciasa Soleil in La Villa, Alta Badia is for the sunset enthusiasts. This thoughtfully designed hotel gifts you with spectacular sunsets, which you can enjoy from either the dining room, or the outdoor hot tub and terrace. Also, Ciasa Soleil offers weekly hiking tours, which you can join for free.

 

Mountain Huts

One of the best things about hiking in the Dolomites is that you can sleep in rifugios (Schutzhaus, Hütte). These mountain huts are located directly on the trails and enable you to stay on the mountain, without having to carry camping gear. Whether you want to break up a longer trek, or simply wake up in the Dolomites, sleeping in a charming Hütte is a rewarding experience. The Dolomites have a vast network of rifugios, which allows you to hike from one hut to another. It’s important to make reservations in advance. Here are some hut to hut itineraries for inspiration:

 
Seceda, Fermeda Peaks, Dolomites Travel Guide

Where to Go in the Dolomites - Italian Dolomites Map

Click the dots on the map to explore specific destinations.
Dolomites Travel Destinations
Lago di Sorapiss, Dolomites

How to Get to the Dolomites

Traveling to the Dolomites with a Car

Getting to the Italian Dolomites usually requires a multi-leg journey. Internationaly travelers typically fly to the Venice Airport, pick up their rental car, and drive to the Dolomites.

Here are all the closest airports to the Dolomites. Depending on where you land, it can take anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours to reach the Dolomites.

  • Munich International Airport – Germany: 3.5 hours
  • Malpensa Airport  – Milan, Italy: 4 hours
  • Marco Polo International Airport – Venice, Italy: 3 – 4 hours
  • Valerio Catullo Airport – Verona, Italy: 2.25 hours
  • Innsbruck Airport – Austria: 2.5 hours

 

Traveling to the Dolomites without a Car

We’ve traveled to the Dolomites with and without a car. A car affords more flexibility, but you can definitely travel to the Dolomites without renting a car. If you’re flying to the Venice Airport, take the Express Bus from the airport to Cortina D’Ampezzo. From here, you can rely on buses to get to major Dolomites destinations like Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Cinque Torri, Alta Badia, etc…

If you’re traveling to the Dolomites from neighboring countries, you should take a train to Bolzano (Bozen). From Bolzano, it’s really easy to get to Eggental and Val Gardena with public transit. Use these sites to help plan your trip:

  • Dolomiti Bus –  transit schedules for the province of Belluno (Veneto Region)
  • SAD bus site – transit schedules for South Tyrol (Alto Adige)
 
Tre Cime di Laveredo, Drei Zinnen, Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

What to Experience in the Dolomites

Our favorite things to see and do
Dolomites Travel Guide - Tierser Alpl, Rosengarten Dolomites
Tierser Alpl Hütte (Rifugio Alpe di Tires)

Staying the Night in a Rifugio

One of the best things about hiking in the Dolomites is that you can sleep in a mountain refuge (hütte, rifugio). Sleeping in a mountain hut, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, is a wonderful experience in and of itself. However, it’s also very practical, if you want to break up a longer trek like this 3 Day Catinaccio Rosengarten hut to hut hike.

We love the atmosphere of rifugios in the Dolomites. People play cards, read books, examine trail maps, and drink Schnaps. And because you’re seated with other hikers at dinner, you get to connect with new people and share your experiences.

Another benefit of staying in a hut is seeing how the colors of the mountains change with the time of day. When we arrived at the mountain hut Tierser Alpl (Rifugio Alpe di Tires) in the late afternoon, the mountains looked purple. In the morning, they looked yellow.

Read Next: Hiking to Tierser Alpl Schutzhaus from Seiser Alm

 
Tre Cime di Lavaredo Loop Trail, Dolomites Travel Guide
Tre Cime di Lavaredo Loop Trail

Hiking the Loop Trail around Tre Cime di Lavaredo

This hike upstages all others. The views are mind-blowing. You might even think that you don’t deserve them, after barely breaking a sweat on the trail. Well, you deserve them. And, we hope you go.

In a nutshell, the hike circumnavigates the iconic Three Peaks (Drei Zinnen in German, Tre Cime di Lavaredo in Italian). It takes about 4 hours to do the whole loop, which is 9.4 km in length. The most impressive view of the peaks is from Dreizinnenhütte, which is a mountain hut facing the north side of Tre Cime di Lavaredo. It’s also a great place to have lunch. 

Where to start. If you’re coming to Naturpark Drei Zinnen (Tre Cime Natural Park) for the day, then drive to Rifugio Auronzo. There is a 30 EUR toll to drive up to the hut. Alternatively, if you’re staying in a mountain hut, you can start the hike at Fischleintal in Sexten, where there’s a parking lot. It will take 3.5 hours to reach Dreizinnenhütte from Fischleintal.

Read Next: Tre Cime di Lavaredo Hiking Guide.

 
Seceda, Val Gardena, Dolomites Day Hike | Moon & Honey Travel

Hiking around Val Gardena

Val Gardena (Grödnertal) is a valley in South Tyrol that encompasses the towns St. Ulrich (Ortisei), St. Christina (Santa Cristina) and Wolkenstein (Selva Gardena). From these towns, you can hop on an aerial cableway to various plateaus and summits in the Val Gardena Dolomites.

We spent a day hiking in Val Gardena from the mountain station Seceda to Regensburger Hütte. This breathtaking hike starts with views of the Geisler (Odle) peaks which look like an open swiss-army knife. The trail then descends and winds through the farm Pieralongia. This magical spot looks like a sacred pagan place of worship and sacrifice. It’s UNREAL. You have to see it!!  Next, the trail cuts across Cisles Alm (Alpe di Cisles), a meadow with stunning views of the Geisler (Odle) Group and uncountable peaks.

Another fantastic (and not as well know) approach to Seceda is from Resciesa. Read about the superb Resciesa to Seceda day hike here

Read about the Best Hiking Trails in Val Gardena.

 
Pragser Wildsee, Dolomites | Moon & Honey Travel
Pragser Wildsee

Lago di Braies

Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee in German) is called the Pearl of the Dolomites. There are a few ways to enjoy this beautiful lake: (1) hiking around the lake (takes one hour), (2) renting a rowboat, and (3) having lunch at the lakeside hotel,  Hotel Lago di Braies.

What time to visit. This lake isn’t a secret. We arrived at 9:00 a.m., which we thought was early enough to beat the crowds. It wasn’t. We recommend coming as early as 7 a.m. to enjoy the serenity of the lake without the heavy foot traffic.

 
Adolf Munkel Trail, Geisler (Odle) Peaks, Dolomites | Moon & Honey Travel
Adolf Munkel Trail

Hiking at the foot of the Geisler Peaks

The Adolf Munkel Trail in Villnöß (Val di Funes) is an easy 8.8 km hike that takes you to the foot of the Geisler (Odle) Peaks. As you ascend along a small stream to the peaks, you’ll quickly understand why the Dolomites are called the Pale Mountains.

After hiking beneath these impressive pinnacles, the trail leads you to a high alpine pasture. Cows, donkeys, and horses might greet you as you hike to the mountain hut Gschnagenhardt Alm (Malga Casnago), elevation 2,006 meters. You can relax outside, order lunch, drink a beer, and interact with the animals.

Read Hiking the Adolf Munkel Trail for trail directions and a trail map.

 
Büllelejochhütte hiking trail, Tre Cime Natural Park, Dolomites Travel Guide

Discovering World War I Trails and Tunnels

During World War I, the front between Austria-Hungary and Italy ran through the Dolomites. A bitter mountain war was waged between the opposing sides from 1915 to 1917. Both armies built tunnels, trails, and trenches to secure the border and protect themselves. The reason why there is such a great network of trails today is due to the efforts of these WWI soldiers.

During the course of the war, the greatest threat to both armies was the extreme weather. In December 1916, avalanches buried 10,000 Italian and Austrian troops in just two days.

Though it’s impossible to imagine how a war could be fought in such unforgiving terrain, there is plenty of evidence pointing to this region’s inglorious past.

To see trenches, tunnels and trails from the war, visit the open-air museum at Cinque Torri, Lagazuoi Tunnels, and Monte Piano.

 
Lago di Sorapiss, Dolomites Travel Guide
Lago di Sorapiss

Lago di Sorapiss

Lago di Sorapiss is a glacial lake within the region Veneto. The lake takes its name from the mountain Sorapiss. Framed by trees, Lago di Sorapiss is one of the most stunning places you’ll see in the Dolomites. Apart from the mountain backdrop, the most spectacular feature of the lake is its unique turquoise color. The water also has a milky quality due to suspended powdered rock. You might think you’re looking at an enchantress’ pool filled with a magic potion.

To get to the lake, start at Passo Tre Croci. The hike takes 1.5 – 2 hours, one-way.  You’ll take Trail no. 215 towards Rifugio Vandelli, which is a mountain hut closely located to the lake. The first-half of the trail is flat, but the second-half is steep. There are ropes and stairs that will aid you in your ascent. We saw people of all ages on this trail.

 

Guided Tours in the Dolomites

 

Dolomites Travel Guide - Hiking in Tre Cime Natural Park

Where to hike in the Dolomites

Dolomites Hikes Starting in Alta Badia

 

Dolomites Hikes Starting in Val Gardena

 

Dolomites Hikes Starting in Val Di Funes

 

Dolomites Hikes Starting in Carezza and Nova Levante

 

Dolomites Hikes Starting near Cortina d’Ampezzo

  • Day Hike: The glacier lake Lago di Sorapiss

 

Dolomites Hikes Starting Near Sexten / Misurina


There are 10 major parks in the Dolomites. Some hikes traverse through several parks. There’s no fee to enter these areas. You can concentrate your time in a single area, or easily explore several parks like we did. If you’re interested in buying trail maps, we recommend Tappeiner. 

  1. Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park
  2. Dolomiti D’Ampezzo Natural Park
  3. Dolomiti Friulane Natural Park
  4. Naturpark Fanes – Sennes – Prags (Fanes – Senes – Braies Natural Park)
  5. Naturpark Drei Zinnen, aka Sexten Dolomites (Tre Cime Natural Park)
  6. Naturpark Puez – Geisler (Puez – Odle Natural Park)
  7. Naturpark Schlern – Rosengarten (Sciliar – Catinaccio Natural Park)
  8. Bletterbach Natural Monument
  9. Paneveggio – Pale di San Martino Natural Park
  10. Adamello Brenta Natural Park
 
Geisler (Odle) Group, Regensburger Hütte, Dolomites | Moon & Honey Travel

What to Eat & Drink in the Dolomites

Italian Custom: Coperto

Coperto means cover charge. It’s the fee you pay to sit at a table in a restaurant. Generally, the fee is somewhere between 1 EUR and 5 EUR. This may, or may not be advertised on the menu. You generally won’t pay a coperto in this region of Italy. During our trip, the only place a coperto was added to the bill was in the city of Bolzano.

 

Austrian Etiquette

Prost (Cheers) – In Austrian culture, it’s really important to make purposeful eye contact when you toast.  Say “Prost” or “Zum Wohl.” You should tap glasses with everyone within reach.

Mahlzeit (Bon appetite) – You say Mahlzeit right before anyone at your table begins to eat. It means “enjoy your meal.”

 

South Tyrolean Gastronomy

Schlutzkrapfen (ravioli tirolesi in Italian) – These are similar to Italian ravioli and traditionally filled with curd cheese and spinach. Because we visited during Eierschwammerl (chanterelle mushroom) season, we ate Schlutzkrapfen prepared with delicious mushrooms. 

 

Knödel (dumplings) – The most common dumplings are made with either Speck (bacon), Käse (cheese) or Spinat (spinach). They are often served in a soup, or as a side dish. You can also order the Knödel-Trilogie, which is one of each, garnished with butter and parmesan.

 

Südtiroler Speck (smoked ham) –  South Tyrolean ham is often served on an Aufschnittplatte, which is a cold meat and cheese platter. 

 

South Tyrolean Beverages

White Wine  – South Tyrol is a major wine producer. And, 60% of their total harvest is white wine. They make excellent Gewürztraminer, Weissburgunder, and Chardonnays.  

 

Schnaps – “Ein Schnapserl in Ehren kann niemand verwehren!”  Translation: “No One can refuse a cherished schnaps.” This toast perfectly suits the culture in South Tyrol. After dinner, many people opt for a fruity Schnaps, as opposed to an espresso, as a digestif. 

 
Tre Cime Natural Park, Drei Zinnen, Dolomites Travel Guide, Italy

Dolomites Travel Guide Resources

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Italian Dolomites Travel Guide - where to stay, where to go, where to hike, what to eat
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