If someone would have told me that in 2020 I will only get to travel to Italy (and my home country Austria), I would have declared them crazy. But like for so many other people around the world, corona crashed my travel plans and dreams of the year and left me feeling thankful for anything that was possible at all. So in September, that meant spending our yearly 3-week vacation in Italy.
One of the only countries that was letting us in without issues and not struggling with corona too much at that time. Well, we could have chosen worse! Our plan was to spend a bit more than half of our holiday in the Dolomites in the North of Italy and to have some relax time later on Sardinia. We flew into Verona, rented a car and drove up to famous Cortina d’Ampezzo. Most of the drive was unspectacular, but the closer we got to Cortina, the better the views became. And, wow, Cortina is located spectacularly between the mountains! We immediately fell in love with it.
Setting up our tent at a campsite a bit outside of Cortina, we decided to spend the next couple of days exploring the surroundings. Our first day hike brought us to Lago di Sorapiss, a turquoise-coloured lake beautifully surrounded by the mountains. We started our hike early in order to escape the crowds and experience the pretty morning light.
After a couple of hours, we reached Lago di Sorapiss. And yes, I get what all the hype is about! Look at these colours…
In order to avoid the crowds on the way back, we chose the long route back across another mountain pass which offered some more spectacular views. Not a bad choice!
For our second day, we decided to try a via ferrata at Passo Giau. Actually, not just one, but a series of three via ferratas! First up to the summit of Ra Gusela, then on to Monte Nuvolau and last but not least we added on the via ferrata up to Monte Averau. A bit much? Not really, as they were all very short and apart from the latter wouldn’t even have required via ferrata equipment. The day started off with some beautiful morning light again… waking up early in the mountains is a must, not just to avoid crowds but for views like this:
After a bit of a hike, we climbed up the first via ferrata part and were rewarded with views of the Cinque Torri and of course all the other surrounding mountain chains. Not too bad!
The via ferrata then brought us up to Monte Nuvolau with its spectacularly located mountain hut. Not too bad either and a good spot for a break!
We were a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t really have needed the (expensive) via ferrata equipment until then though. Hence, down the mountain and up Monte Averau we went. This time, there was actually a real climb involved, which was fun! Also, the summit felt more like a real summit.
All in all a great second day and we were hungry for more adventures. On day 3 we had to wake up super early and go for a bit of a drive to Fischleintal where we met up with my dad bright and early, to hike the famous Tre Cime. We decided for a different and longer option again, which kept us busy the whole day and (mostly) away from the crowds. Starting off in Fischleintal, we approached the towers of Tre Cime…
Wow! What a view again. No matter what you have seen in your life, no matter if you (like us) have done some stunning treks around the world. These towers will wow you.
The rest f the hike was beautiful too though and brought us to some more spectacular views and cute mountain huts. It was a long hike back down to Fischleintal, and the dinner was more than well deserved I would say!
Yet another day in the surroundings of Cortina, but weather forecast didn’t look too promising and made us op for the safe option: we were gonna do the via ferrata at Kaiserjägersteig on the way up and descend the mountain through the Lagazuoi tunnels – a tunnel system that was set up during WW2. This time, the via ferrata was a little bit more challenging, but still not difficult. The views from the top were of course pretty again, but the clouds on the horizon made us pack up quickly.
As mentioned, the descent was almost entirely inside the mountain, which was super special but also a little strange. There were of course lookouts along the way and I suppose it was a good option in case it had started raining earlier.
In the end, we probably would have been able to do a proper via ferrata and a full day tour somewhere, as the thunderstorm only came in the late afternoon. But in the mountains it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to thunder and lightning!
After so many active days, we needed some rest. And so we spent the next day road-tripping. From Cortina, we drove the following route which is very much recommended: Passo Falzarego – Arabba – Passo Pordoi – Passo Sella – Passo Gardena – Colfosco. The most beautiful parts were Passo Pordoi and Passo Sella, but Passo Gardena was not too shabby either… If anyone would ask me, I would do the panoramic drive the exact same way again and not leave out a single one of those mountain passes!
One rest day had to be enough, because we still had some active ideas in our head and the weather wasn’t going to stay sunny forever… As we were still missing that ‚proper‘ via ferrata experience, we decided to rent sets again in Colfosco and planned two via ferratas for the next two days. We started off with one of the most famous via ferratas of the Dolomites: Brigata Alpina Tridentina at Pisciadú. As we heard that it can get pretty crowded, we were off to yet another super early start and managed to dodge the crowds very well once again. And what’s more: we loved it!!! This finally was a proper via ferrata, lots of nice climbing, some more challenging parts (especially for me) and not too short either. Beautiful views all the way up…
At the end of the via ferrata, there was the option to continue with a hike up to the summit of Cima Pisciadù. We were a bit doubtful about whether to do it since it was going to add significant time to our hike – but in the end decided for it. Was it worth it? Judge for yourselves…
The descent back into the valley took much longer than somehow expected – of course we had also chosen the longer one of the two routes again as it was supposed to be more beautiful… Not sure if I would make that choice again as we arrived rather tired back at our car.
Recovery time was short: next day, next via ferrata! This time we drove back to Arabba where we had decided to tackle via ferrata delle Trincee. Something completely different to the day before! The via ferrata is set on volcanic rock and leads along a mountain ridge, climbing up and down. The beginning was super challenging and in between there were certainly some tricky parts.
But all in all it was super awesome with panoramic 360° views all around us with the glacier of Marmolada right next to us the whole time and beautiful weather… Couldn’t have asked for more!!
After so much action, even we needed a rest day again, so we decided to go for yet another scenic drive. Nothing can top the panoramic road-tripping day where we drove across all these different mountain passes… but on that day we explored Val Gardena and Val di Funes a bit and that was also pretty nice. Lots of green, little villages, quite an Austrian feel for me. As with so many places in the Dolomites.
Looking at the weather forecast, we realized that our luck was slowly coming to an end. We still wanted to hike around the Sassolungo massif, but we soon realized that we would have to power hike in order to make it!
Loads of beautiful views, but we were a bit rushed. Clouds started accumulating more and more and surely enough, at one point it started to rain. Fortunately not too heavily and due to our high hiking speed we had already reached the end of the hike by that time. Phewww…made it, just before the rain came pouring down!
After so much good weather, we really can’t complain… but couldn’t it have stayed sunny just for another 2 days or so!? When we drove to Val di Fassa after our power hike, mood was a bit down. It was grey, rainy and miserable. We didn’t feel like camping and struggled to find an affordable alternative. Our detour to Lago di Carezza was beautiful despite the grey weather but we could only think about how amazing it must look on a sunny day…
Our last major hike in the Dolomites was supposed to have been the Vajolet Towers hike – but it really did not look good at all in terms of the weather forecast. Basically, between 10am and 11am it was going to start raining and stay rainy and cloudy for the rest of the day. Even though we didn’t feel like it, this meant another (super!!) early morning with our hike starting at 6am, trying to power hike once again and maybe being lucky to still reach the main viewpoints before the clouds did…
So the plan. And while our weather luck had come to an end, we got really, really lucky in a very different, unexpected way. The first part of the hike would have been a 1.5h long slog on a perfectly paved road, just because you are not allowed to drive on there as a tourist. So we parked our car as close as possible to where the private road starts and started walking. 1.5h of dullness in the dark awaiting us. 15min into the hike, we hear a car approaching and I joked about hitching a ride. Surely, no one would pick us up in the dark and with corona and all!? Guess we were wrong (and super duper lucky!): the guy stopped and not just took us all the way on the paved road, but even quite far on the gravel road that followed afterwards. Turned out he had to fix some parts of that road and ended up saving us about 2h of our hike! I honestly felt like hugging him 😀
Once we actually started hiking, it wasn’t all that far anymore. Which was good. We reached the main mountain hut at the foot of the Vajolet Towers (Rifugio Re Alberto) around 9am and were rewarded with a beautiful view. We quickly hiked up to Santner Pass for views from even higher up.
After a couple of minutes, the first clouds started coming in… we went into the hut for some well-deserved (early wake-up, hey!) hot chocolate and when we came out again, the towers were gone. Gone, disappeared into the clouds. They sometimes opened up in between, but mostly there were just no views anymore.
Happy and very thankful to our savior we made our way back down the mountain knowing that without him, we would have had a long, miserable hike without getting any views…
And that was it for the Dolomites! Next day, it was even cloudier and rainier, so we drove straight to Verona. Luckily, the closer we got to Verona, the more the sun came out again – so we ended up exploring Verona in nice and warm summer weather.
A cute little town that is obviously famous for the story of Romeo and Julia, but which has a lot more to offer than a love story which did not actually happen there. We quite enjoyed a relaxed afternoon of walking around the city, feeling like arriving back in civilization after all our mountain adventures. Good times!
We loved the Dolomites and were positively surprised by the beautiful landscapes, great hikes and awesome via ferratas. We’ll be back soon for sure for some more via ferrata action! Up next: Sardinia…