Driving up the motorway from Venice to the Dolomites, my heart always lifts as the plains give way to deep green forests and steep limestone gorges. When I reach Calalzo, the start and end point of our Dolomites circuit, I can be sure of a warm welcome from the family who run the Hotel Ferrovia; and if I’m lucky there will be home-made ice cream for dessert tonight!
Having met this week’s RAW Travel clients at the welcome meeting, there’s just enough time to do some last-minute equipment shopping before our first night dinner, where we can get to know each other better.
One question I always ask at the meeting is “what are you most wanting to see or do on this trip?” The more I know about my clients’ passions – be they photography, history, local culture, food and drink, or physical challenges – the more I can make sure I provide the information and experience they are hoping for.
Photography? – I know a fabulous shot for group trekking photos reflected in blue lake water. History? – perhaps you want to know more about the exploits of the Italian and Austrian soldiers during WWI. Local culture? – let me tell you some of the colourful local Ladin legends. Wine? – pass the wine list, let’s decide on a good option for you to try.
Every day on this trip has a different feel. The first day’s trekking is a big day, mostly in mixed forests but with great views once we emerge from the treeline. The second is shorter and less physically demanding but high up above the tree line and more technical, with narrow rocky paths and steep scree slopes. The views on this day are second to none!
Then we have two long days, as we walk into the Fanes-Senes-Braies nature park and our fabulous refuge stay. The first day takes us past spectacular rivers and gorges then up to high mountain meadows with grazing cattle (you can personally thank the cows who provide your breakfast yoghurt, if you wish!).
The second day crosses stark, almost lunar landscapes of limestone, with superb views of imposing rock mountains and the added bonus of edelweiss growing alongside the path. Eventually we reach our delightful family-run hotel in the pretty small town of San Cassiano – even with tired legs, I recommend you take the opportunity for a stroll around town with a camera. You’ll need to use up as many calories as possible anyway, to tackle tonight’s delicious 5-course dinner!
The fifth day’s trekking takes us high again, into the Nuvolau-Averau-Cinque Torri area. After a superb high-level trek around the sheer northern wall of Averau mountain, we will visit the WWI trenches. This was the Italian side and, with helpful photos of life in 1915–18 which are displayed here, and superb views across the valley to where the Austrian forces were, I will try to bring the experiences of the soldiers to life. We can picnic by the Cinque Torri (“Five Towers”) and watch the climbers in their quest to reach the top of the towers as we eat.
Day 6 is slightly shorter but no less beautiful, as we ascend through mixed forest to eventually emerge at a small lake with spectacular rock cliffs behind it. There will be time for a quick dip in the lake if you wish (weather permitting of course!) before we enjoy a delicious refuge lunch. After lunch it’s a short walk downhill to where we are picked up by our private transport to whisk us back to Calalzo and the lure of a proper wood-fired pizza!
The trek is, of course, a physical challenge; and you can expect to be proud of yourself for having overcome the steep rocky paths and dizzying views! It is quieter than the Tour du Mont Blanc and, as RAW’s most challenging European trek, it is a great trek to tackle afterwards.
It’s not just the trekking and the views that amaze and delight people in the Dolomites. Trekkers are blown away by the intriguing local culture and language of the Ladin people, which is very much alive and well, and by the distinctive and delicious local foods and wines – some of which you’ve probably never heard of before, but are almost certainly destined to leave you with fond memories and expanded waistlines!
Add in the local legends of witches, dwarves and talking marmots (yes, really!) and the tales of hardship and bravery from WWI, and you will leave with a treasure trove of experiences. The Dolomites truly are very special mountains, in so many ways. Why not join me, and see for yourselves?
Find out more
RAW Travel’s 8-day guided Dolomites Circuit Trek costs $2785 pp (twin share). Trips depart in June, July and September and include a qualified and experienced International Mountain Leader; all meals, including midday picnics; luggage transfers and private rooms; and more! Groups are limited to 12 people (max.) and are guaranteed to depart with just 4 people.