8- Day Hiking Trip in the Dolomites
I have heard a lot about the Dolomites which resembles Torres del Paine in Chile. As I had a gap between my Tour du Mont Blanc and trip to Portugal and Spain, I decided to go to the Dolomites. An Exodus hotel-based 8-day hiking trip from August 19 to 26 provides a perfect fit.
The Dolomites in northeastern Italy is a part of the Southern Limestone Alps, extending from the River Adige in the west to the Piave Valley in the east. The northern and southern borders are defined by the Puster Valley and the Sugana Valley. This mountain range has 18 peaks above 3000m and some 40 major passes over 1000m. Marmolada is the highest point at 3343m while the iconic symbol of the Dolomites is the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Chimneys) at 2999m. The Dolomites boasts some of the world’s most beautiful mountain scenery including towering peaks and pinnacles, spectacular rock formations, emerald lakes, deep-cut glacial valleys and verdant alpine meadows and picturesque villages with fairy-tale alpine wooden houses, colourful summer flowers on the balcony and wild flowers and cows in the meadow. The Dolomites has been declared a World Heritage Natural Property since 2009.
Day 1 Saturday: Venice – Villabassa
I had a leisure day and did not get up till 9am. I had a breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Afterward, I found a quiet corner to write my travel notes from 10am to 4pm. This is a fantastic way to relax and recall memorable moments of my journey (pleasant as well as unpleasant ones). I took a taxi to the airport (€15) and found Alex, our guide, who held up an Exodus sign board. The group from the UK arrived on schedule and our coach departed for Villabassa (1170m) shortly after 5pm. We had a 3-hour drive and did not arrive at Hotel Adler till 8pm.
At dinner, I met my 13 fellow hikers from the UK (Jo & Rupert, Vivif & Roy, Shela & Gavin, Becky, Mia, Petra, David, Odran, Richard and Steve and Richard). I am the second oldest and slowest person in the group. Becky a teacher was my roommate for the first four nights before I shared another room with Petra. The hotel is an excellent family-run hotel with some 40 rooms which are cozy and comfortable. I slept well during the entire stay.
Day 2 Sunday: Hike to Lago di Braies (15km; 1250m up & 650m down)
The breakfast is a feast with fresh bread, cereals, yogurt, fresh fruits, cheese, cake and biscuit spreading over five long tables. The most wonderful thing is to make my own juice! We sat off shortly after 8am and took two local buses before arriving at the starting point of today´s hike to the Lago di Braies 1489m. Alex told us about the horrific flash floods in the area which took place on August 5 and 6. As a result, tons of rocks crushed down and some of the roads were closed for five days. Our group was his first group to see the area after the catastrophe.
I discover during this trip some of the wonderful and well-maintained trails in the Dolomites. On our first day, we followed a gentle path which leads to Rossalmhütte with a nice hut offering great coffee and cakes at a rifugio. Around 11am, we continued but stopped soon for lunch. We had all been given a packed lunch with sandwich, biscuit and fruits.
After lunch, we began a 2hour-long steep descent to Lago di Braies. Here the forces of the flash floods are most evident: the original path had gone. The trail with fresh red paint on the rocks brought down during the recent floods was just reopened. We were lucky to be amongst the first group of hikers in the area.
I hate steep downhill hike which is bad for my knees. I walked terribly slowly. Luckily my hike mates are tolerant. We reached the hotel at Lago di Braies before 2:50pm. It was a sunny day and the lake was packed with families and hikes. Instead of having a drink, I spent half an hour walking around the lake before taking the 3:30pm bus with the group to return to the hotel.
We were back in the village around 4pm. The hotel hosted a welcome drink party for guests in the lobby at 6pm followed by a sumptuous 5-course dinner at 7pm. What a luxury especially after my camping tour!
Today, we had a comfortable private transfer to the Kreuzbergpass (1636m). The plan was to walk to Knieberg (2505m). But after the strenuous down-hill hike the day before, I decided to give my legs a rest and chose my own path. I followed the group for about two hours to Malga Rintreddo Alm (along trail 131 and then 149). After the coffee break, they went on and I made my way down trail 149 to Malga Coltrondo Alm (1879m) before following trail 156 to Malga Neme Alm (1877m). This is a popular place with superb views of alpine pastures while facing the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. I waited for almost three hours and had a wine and a coffee before the group arrived after 3:15pm.
After a break, we continued to walk downhill for an hour till we reached the car park at Kreuzbergpass. We were picked up by our coach at 4:45pm and were back to the hotel before 5:30pm. I had time for a swim in the indoor pool and sauna before dinner. A wonderful and relaxing day!
Day 4 Tuesday: Summit of Durrenstein (14km; 950m up & 950m down)
We were transferred to Platzweise (2000m) and set off at 9am to summit Durrenstein (2950m). The weather was excellent: cloudless blue sky and sunny. The path is well-trodden and there were hundreds of hikers of all ages and abilities. Some were moving along slowly: I was not alone!
We were facing Croda Rossa all the way to the summit. Views are stunning. I walked steadily without problem: the trial is well trodden and relatively easy. To reach the summit, one has to climb up and down with the assistance of an iron chain for about 10m (?). This short climb is nothing compared with long and tough climbs on GR20. I succeeded in reaching the summit without problem around noon. The 360 degree view at the summit is excellent. One can see Austrian Tyrol from here. But I was not sure as I was told to hurry up and leave with the group.
We had a lunch break around 1pm. Alex took us on a different path with distant views of Tre Cime di Lavaredo. I enjoyed this part which seemed deserted after the busy path in the morning. I completed the 950m descent by 3:30pm.
While the group had a drink at the end of the trail, I decided to walk all the way back to Platzweise first before having a drink. A wise decision for a slow walker like me! I had a glass of white wine while waiting for the group. Our coach picked us up at 4:45pm sharp. This was the best hiking day for me!
Day 5 Wednesday: Rest Day
The tour always provides a rest day so that one can do whatever he/she fancies. I took a train to Bruneck, (€4 one way/ €7,50 return) at 9am train. I strolled in this lovely medieval town. I first stopped at the Ursuline Church built at the beginning of the 15th century in Gothic style before entering the town through the gate. The main street with the air of an Austrian and Germanic town is lined with quaint shops and eateries.
My second stop was the Bruneck Castle perching on a hill top behind the main street. On my way up the hill, I passed by St Katherine’s Church with a picturesque onion shaped dome. The castle houses the Messner Mountain Museum, a private museum of Reinhold Messner, an Italian mountaineer, adventurer, explorer and author from the autonomous Italian province of South Tyrol. He is the first person to climb all 14 peaks over 8000m. In 2003, he started a project for a mountaineering museum and has now six museums. The newest one located on the top of Kronplatz Mountain (2275m) was opened in 201.
I paid an entrance fee of €9. This toy-like castle is like a maze. This theme of this museum is to reflect the religions and cultures of mountain peoples from Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. I watched two videos and looked at the displays in each room devoted to a different continent and region. I am impressed by his collections and above all his respect for and passionate nature and mountains and the mountain peoples and their way of life.
Next I walked to the Forest Cemetery a unique resting place of soldiers of different nationalities killed on the Dolomite front during the WWI as well as Bruneck citizens died during the WWII.
Finally I walked further up the hill to reach two peaceful two ponds. I headed back to the main street, had apple strudel and ice cream for lunch. I took the 3pm train back to Villabassa. A truly rest day!
Day 6 Thursday: Tre Cime di Lavaredo (14km; approx. 750m up & down)
Today´s highlight hike in the Tre Cime National Park. We set off early in a coach, passed Misurina before taking the toll road to the end of the paved road where the trail begins. The trail is not wide but comfortable and easy. During the walk for the next two hours, we had full view the north faces of the Tre Cime and Mount Paterno.
We had a long walk going up and down before reaching the pass and Dreizinnehutte. On the way, Alex pointed out Mt Piano, our destination for the following day. Views of soaring peaks all round and several lakes are spectacular.
We had a lunch break around 12:30pm after the pass. The next coffee stop was after 2pm in Rifugio Zsigmondy. The hike resumed around 2:45pm. The landscape and scenery are most stunning and impressive. But I had not taken down the names of the refuges and have yet to map out the trail of the day! I wish I were walking by myself at my own space. If so, I could have taken more photos with more time to soak in the atmosphere.
We walked almost non-stop till we reached the car park just before 5pm. I felt tired and went to the pool to relax my back and leg muscles before dinner.
Day 7 Friday: Exploring Mt Piano´s Summit at Leisure
I was fine but did not want to over-burden my hip, knees and legs. Given the walk up to Mt Piano (2324m) is demanding, I tried to find a way to visit it without excessive walking. Richard came to my rescue as he did not want to walk for three hours to reach the summit. As he had a car, he could drive and take a jeep to the top of the plateau. We set off at 9:30am and took a jeep from the car park (€12 return). The jeep took 20 minutes to climb the 5km-long steep paved road. Then we still had to walk a couple of kilometres to meet up with the group at 11:30am at the summit.
Mt Piano has a lot of history with some 14,000 persons killed during the WWI and later WWII. The site is an open air museum with remains of trenches, tunnels, wires, caves and bunkers. The crosses and bells remind us of the sad history and those who had died here.
We had lunch and headed downhill before 2pm. Richard and I took the jeep while the group walked. As the group would take over an hour to arrive at the bar near the car park, Richard drove around Misurina and stopped by the lake for the lovely views. We met ups with the group for a drive before heading back to Villabassa. I was back in the hotel shortly after 4pm and had a lazy time in the pool and steam bath before dinner. A wonderful and relaxing day!
Day 8 Saturday: – Villabassa – Venice Airport – END OF TOUR
I got up early to say good bye to Richard, Jo and Rupert who left after breakfast. Then I spent the morning on travel notes and packing. The bus departed at noon and arrived at Venice Airport after 3:30pm. My flight to Amsterdam departed on time around 5:30pm and I boarded my connecting flight to Lisbon around 8pm and landed in Lisbon after 11pm local time (GMT).
Remarks (To add)