There’s More to the Dolomites than Mountains
October 23rd, 2017 by Tom Kerswill

This mountainous region in the north east of Italy covers 548 square miles (1,419 kilometres square), and includes nine mountain ranges. At least 18 of its peaks are higher than 9,800 feet (3,000 metres), making it an obvious place to go for climbers and hikers.

However, the Dolomites is also home to a wide range of attractions, activities and picturesque scenery, making it a great destination, and a base, for a self-catering villa holiday.

Scenic Belluno

Walking in the Dolomites provides spectacular scenic views, and tracts of natural beauty. Belluno is the main centre of the region, with its historic centre built on a plateau.

From Belluno, there are views over the Piave Valley, and its surrounding hills and mountains. While Belluno is often viewed as a base from which to explore the mountainous region surrounding it, the town itself is an attraction.

Most of its architecture dates from the 16th century, at the time it was under Venetian state control.

A good starting point is the main square, the Piazza del Duomo, surrounded by various villas and grand palazzos. Dominating the square is the Cathedral of San Martino, with its prominent belltower. Climb this, and you’re rewarded with great views across the surrounding countryside.

Around another square, the Piazza dei Martiri, you’ll find plenty of cafés to relax at, and watch the passersby.

At the town’s 12th century gateway, Porta Ruga, at the end of the Via Mezzaterra, there are more spectacular views of the mountainous surroundings.

As a hub, from which to explore the Dolomites, Belluno is ideal, with plenty of marked trails, and cycle routes, emanating from it. It’s also convenient for the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park, a wild, untamed area on the southernmost fringes of the Dolomites.

This is a largely unvisited part of the region, with a real wilderness feel about it, though only two hours’ drive from Venice itself.

It’s a vast haven for wild Alpine flowers, including some rare species, and the park also contains notable areas of natural beauty. These include the limestone range of Monte Pavione, and the dramatic, towering peaks of Monte Pizzocco.


Cortina d’Ampezzo

Often known by the shortened name Cortina, this resort offers plenty of activities whether you visit in the winter or summer months.

In the winter, Cortina is a magnet for skiers and snowboarders, and a useful base for various ski tours. The Ice Stadium dates from the 1956 Winter Olympics held in the resort, and there are plenty of ski slopes nearby – Cortina d’Ampezzo is part of the Dolomiti Superski area.

In the summer, it’s great for trail running, hiking, and mountain biking, and for family-friendly activities such as visiting the Adrenalin Centre, for a wide variety of adventure climbs and swings. And the Little Train service ferries visitors form the centre of Cortina to Campo di Sotto and the Pierosa adventure playground.

There is also the extensive, immersive, open air Museum of the Great War, with its reconstructed tunnels, barracks and trenches.


Views from the Sass Pordoi

Marking the border between the provinces of Trento and Belluno, this pass has 28 hairpin bends, but is worth braving by car for some spectacular views. It’s the highest surfaced road pass in the Dolomites, at 7,346 feet.

If you want to take things further, then experience the cable car ride up from the pass to the peak of Sass Pordoi. Within a few minutes, you’ll have a magnificent, 360-degree Alpine view.


When to Visit the Dolomites

Timing your visit is important in terms of what you want to do, and to experience in the region.

In summer, it’s great for hiking, climbing and cycling, including mountain biking. There are also plenty of music festivals going on throughout the Dolomites throughout the summer months.

The autumn is still good for hiking, with the added attraction of golden-yellow larch trees, and generally less visitors out and about.

Winter is, naturally, the time for skiing and snowboarding, with the advantage of sunshine eight out of ten days. As a winter sports destination, the Dolomites are great for all levels of ability, providing you choose the appropriate location.

Things begin to thaw in spring, with cyclists and hikers returning; and there’s a wine festival running from late May into June, which the 15 wine-growing districts on the South Tyrolean Wine Road host.


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