Trade The Amalfi Coast's Tourists For The Dolomite Mountains' Solitude

Discover the gems that lie north of the boot

By Christine Wilson

3 August 2018

If you've already made the trip to Europe, chances are you made sure to stop by Italy. Your stay likely included at least one, or all of, the following classic stomping grounds: Rome, Florence, Venice and a seaside stay in the Amalfi Coast.

But tucked away in Northeastern Italy lies an Alpine land, where structured Germanic roots combine with gregarious food-oriented Italians to create a harmonious hybrid of cultures. Officially named Trentino-Alto Adige, but it's better known as the Dolomites or the "Pale Mountains". It's a region relatively untouched by the North American market and begging to be discovered.

Lago di Braies. | Amazing Places.

The slate grey of the Dolomite rock that lends the mountain range its name absorbs the color of the sun, turning pinkish-orange hues at dusk. Azure blue, highly Instagrammable lakes glisten between the peaks.

And the spirit of living well radiates from the people who reside in its valleys; polyglots who speak both German and Italian (and some even still speaking the traditional local language, Ladin) with a love for the outdoors and exploring all it has to offer. They end their days by restoring, relaxing and enjoying a good meal with a glass of wine.

Sound up your alley? Pack your hiking boots and a healthy appetite and read on for more about how to plan your adventure, where to stay and what to eat.

The view over Bolzano. | Bolzano Tourist Board.

How To Arrive In The Capital City Of Bolzano

There are a few different options to get to Bolzano, depending on your point of entry. From Venice, it's approximately a three and a half hour train ride on Italy's Frecciarossa train which will include a transfer in Verona. There are also direct trains from Innsbruck, Austria that take only two hours, as well as direct trains from Munich that take four hours, both on the German rail line, Deutsche Bahn.

Once you arrive in Bolzano, renting a car is your best (and only) option for getting around the region. You'll find a number of agencies you can pick up from at the station, but book in advance.

Opt to spend a night in Bolzano and visit their local museums (the most famous being the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, home to the preserved body of Otzi the Iceman). Or, go gaze at the Gothic Cathedral of Bolzano and hang out in the city's historic Walther square. As for a place to rest your head, the Parklaurin is a four stat hotel and your best option, conveniently located close to the station.

READ MORE: Italy With Kids: A Complete Guide

Cabin at Rosa Alpina. | Original Travel.

Continue Your Stay With Luxurious Alpine Accommodation

A bare minimum to really make your trip worthwhile is three nights.  Head an hour and a half east of Bolzano to the Rosa Alpina, located in the town of San Cassiano in the Alta Badia area (which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site). This family-run hotel boasts a Michelin-star restaurant plus three more dining options to choose from, including a fondue restaurant and a wine bar and grill.

On the ground floor, you'll find a newly renovated spa complete with Finnish sauna, steam bath, yoga studio and a full menu of treatments . They also offer chalet rentals that are the perfect combination of rustic (as in, no hot water) and splendor (as in, have a gourmet dinner delivered to you in time for sunset) for you and your travel companion to spend in a night in the alpine.

If you are an avid skier, make the trek to  Cortina d'Ampezzo (a town in Belluno) - known as the "Pearl of the Dolomites" and the host of the 2021 Alpine Ski World Cup. Once a host to the 1954 Olympic Winter Games, you will be able to experience the slopes at Dolomiti Superski.

Climbing the Via Ferrata. | Dolomite Mountains.

The Land Is Your Outdoor Playground

Mountainous terrain, varied hiking trails, biking roads and glacial lakes allow for a variety of ways to have fun in nature. Winter is about downhill skiing and Trentino is where many Europeans flock for their ski holiday.

North Americans can take advantage of better hotel rates and less crowds in the summer when the area is quieter, but still full of activities to keep your sense of adventure piqued.

READ MORE: How To Plan Your Multi-City Dream Trip To Italy

Trail running in the Dolomites. | Dolomite Mountains.

If you're the thrill-seeking type, consider zip-lining through the trees, overlooking the peaks and valleys. Or hire a local mountain guide to trek one of the many mountain groups or sellas in these beautiful Italian Alps. If you are ready for a challenge, climb the highest peak Marmolada or if you are looking for a more hiker-friendly option, visit Via Ferrata, which are iron ladders worked into mountain paths with different levels of difficulty depending on how much of a challenge you seek.

For those looking to take it easy, can stick to the trails or valleys like Val Gardena and enjoy taking in the natural beauty that surrounds you. Your hotel concierge can hook you up with maps and you'll easily be able to navigate the well-marked paths.

Inside a rifugio. | Dolomite Mountains.

You'll Never Go Hungry (Or Thirsty)

The region has taken the best food from both cultures that have left their mark on the land, making for phenomenal cuisine: gamey meats, rich pastries and of course, pasta. With a high density of Michelin-starred restaurants, chefs compete amongst themselves for the region's top culinary honors making the real winner the palate of anyone fortunate enough to dine here.

Wash down your meal with some local vino: whites in particular are of top-quality here, most notably Kerner and Gewürztraminer.

Rifugi in the mountains. | Dolomite Mountains.

You'll notice adorable mountain huts, known as rifugi, dotted along the trails. These cabins act similar to B&Bs with rooms you can bunker down in for the night, but more importantly they serve up delicious local fare for you to indulge.

Best part? You won't even need to feel guilty, knowing that you'll have a trek back to your hotel. A vacation spot that's equal parts enjoyable activity and stuffing your face? Sounds like a win-win.