The Dolomites is the general name for the mountain range covering much of northern Italy along the Austrian border. The Dolomites are named for the massive spires of dolomite rock, a beautiful and often luxuriously textured limestone.
The mountains are also characterized by bustling and charming villages nestled beneath the imposing mountains, often accompanied by alpine lakes that are popular summer destinations for vacationers from all over Italy’s lower country. The Italian Dolomites are culturally diverse with German being the de facto language in the Italian Tyrol, the region directly bordering the Austrian Tyrol. In the separate Dolomite group, the Brenta, as well as surrounding the artistic and chic Italian town of Cortina, the Italian language and culture are more prominent. Finally, the incredibly unique and isolated Alta Badia houses the only region in Italy where the ancient Ladin Romansch language and culture are preserved. Across the Dolomites world-class ski resorts flourish, as well as many outdoor opportunities for climbers and fans of the intense “via ferrata”, exposed hiking ascending originally WW1 ironmongery. Despite these exciting events the valleys below offer a luxurious getaway, trails pass by sparkling alpine lakes, over mountain passes with conveniently located rifugii that serve hot lunches, and beneath the severe limestone faces that make the region so unique.
The food in the Italian Dolomites is as eclectic as the region’s languages. Every valley has its own regional specialties. While southern Italian food such as the classic Italian pasta and pizzas are still widely enjoyed, a Germanic twist can be expected in much of the Dolomites. This cultural fusion leads to a variety of delicious gnocchi, ravioli, venison, and dumpling dishes. The Alta Badia region even has its own unique Ladin cuisine that focuses heavily and meats and vegetables as bread and grains were historically extremely hard to cultivate in these mountainous regions.
The Italian Tyrol is characterized by a multitude of quiet and unique villages, dotted with charming bars where lifelong residents drink espresso and Weissbier late into the afternoon. In these villages, the locals congregate in the public spaces to enjoy the sunny weather often wearing traditional clothing such as wool hats and jackets as well as the classic lederhosen. In these villages, it’s not uncommon to see much of the population gathering to enjoy open-air flea markets where art and antiques are sold. The mountains in the Tyrol are reminiscent of the Alps, with large meadows and dense forests covering the steppes below the Dolomite peaks. Our Italian Dolomites trek and Via Ladinia pass through this region, which has remained a Ryder-Walker favorite for both guides and clients for hiking tours in the Dolomites.
The Alta Badia, home to the Ladin people, is the location of many unique destinations such as the ski village of Corvara and the famous Col di Lana or Bloody Mountain, a sight of many conflicts during World War One, where old military installations are still visible. The region is dotted with old churches and castles as well as lonely villages inhabited by only a handful of residents still living in the long-standing wood and stone farm buildings. The Alta Badia is the heart of our Via Ladinia trek, which takes you over multiple glorious mountain passes, as well as through alpine agricultural areas where farmers still herd their cows up into the high alpine pastures to feast on the plentiful alpine grasses.
The Brenta Dolomites are separated from the dominant and more northerly Dolomite groups by the massive Lake Garda and the lowlands that travel south towards the city of Venice. The Brenta Dolomites themselves are home to the famous Via Della Bocchetta, a multi-day via ferrata which traverses the jagged summits of the entire Brenta mountain range. While this thrilling climb attracts many skilled alpinists, our Brenta Dolomite tour follows a circular path circumnavigating the Brenta group, between the villages of Madonna di Campiglio and Molveno. Madonna di Campiglio is a popular winter destination that is home to one of our favorite hotels in the entire region, the Chalet del Sogno, a five-star hotel with gorgeous hand-carved interiors and a kitchen serving some of the best food in northern Italy. Madonna di Campiglio also provides access to the stunning Groste lift, a cable car that transports us up out of the valley and into the heart of the Brenta mountains. Molveno is a remarkably cosmopolitan village with a bustling promenade and red brick roofs clustered around the steep shores of the gorgeous lake Molveno. From the village, a dramatic panorama of the Brenta is visible high above the valley. The Brenta Dolomites also boasts the most well-preserved forests in the entire region which are home to some of the last remaining bears in Italy. The charm of the Brenta lies in the region’s accessibility, as it is possible over a few days of hiking in the Dolomites to have traversed the complete Brenta group, allowing guests to explore the entire region and feel at home in its dramatic landscape.