Italy: Wandering in Pieve di Cadore

At the end of my big week hiking in the Italian Dolomite Mountains I landed in Pieve di Cadore, a tiny town at the head of the Lago di Cadore in the province of Belluno.

My first priority on arrival in Pieve di Cadore was taking off my hot hiking boots, having a loooong shower, enjoying the crisp clean linen on a soft bed, and eating Italian pizza.

But I did have time to wander around this little gem of an Italian town. Because it’s not just the finishing point of the Alta Via 4 hike!

In medieval times this stronghold was heavily fortified and its magnificent Palazzo della Magnifica Comunita boasts a crenellated tower built in the later half of the 15th century.

Most of all, Pieve di Cadore is famous for being the birthplace of the Italian painter Tiziano Vecellio (Titian), who made an indelible mark on the history of art as the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian School.

He was the son of of the castle superintendent in Pieve di Cadore. Gregorio Vecelli and his family were well established in the area. Although we don’t know exactly when Titian was born (probably around 1488), we know that he lived here until he was sent to Venice at about 10 years old to be apprenticed to a painter.

He maintained a relationship with his hometown despite his immense success in Venice. He had timber business interests here and in 1565 he visited to organise the fresco work in the apse of St Maria Nascente, a 15th century church. He did the preliminary drawings for these frescoes.

Titian's birthplace Pieve di Cadore Italy

 

His birthplace is now a museum, and has been restored as much as possible to remove various alterations over the centuries. Casa del Tiziano was clearly owned by important people in the context of a small town, with its stone door frames and portals, as well as a heated room with a chimney.

“Pieve” means “Parish church” so unsurprisingly it has a beautiful church. The only surviving structure of the old church is the 16th-century bell tower. However, the present church does have some of the ornaments from the original, including an altarpiece by Titan in which he included the faces of his older brother Francesco and his daughter Lavinia. There is also an altarpiece thought to be painted by Francesco.

This charming town also has some nice hotels and restaurants, as well as beautiful paths setting off into the landscape surrounding the lake, with the stunning Dolomiti as a backdrop. Just another lovely area of Italy to enjoy!

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you been to Pieve di Cadore?

Austria: The ultimate Sound of Music tour of Salzburg

This summer Wandering Kiwi Jr and I fulfilled a dream. We are both huge Sound of Music fans – me from childhood and, well, she is a child – so we decided to indulge our inner von Trapp and experience the ultimate Sound of Music trip to Salzburg.

I’ve been to Salzburg several times before and enjoyed the many delights of this exquisite, cultural Austrian city including Christmas markets and foodie delights. But this time it was all about this legendary film. To my surprise Mr Wandering Kiwi wanted to join us. He is a latecomer to the delights of the Sound of Music but declared himself enough of a fan to want to tour Salzburg… singing.

One thing you need to realise before you embark on the ultimate Sound of Music experience in Salzburg is that Austrians aren’t really that into the Sound of Music. In fact you might notice that local people tend to roll their eyes when you mention the film and grumble about the coach tours blocking traffic.

However, in more recent years Salzburgers have got more on board with the phenomenon and in 2016 there were even a few events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sound of Music.

Funnily enough Germans know a lot more about it because there were two German films made a few years before the Rogers and Hammerstein created their Broadway show and Hollywood film.

It’s certainly a fact that people from all over the world come here to experience a little of the magic of the von Trapp story.

A self-guided Sound of Music walking tour

I have outlined my favourite walking tour of Salzburg before but here I will focus on the famous sites used as locations in the film. The best place to start is the Mirabell Gardens and I recommend getting there earlier in the day, before the tourist numbers build up. This where Maria and the children jumped up the steps between the Unicorn statues and tramped around the Pegasus fountain singing “Doh-a-deer etc”.

The Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg

Take a quick side step into the oddly unique Zwerglgarten or ‘Dwarf Garden’, which was created in 1715 by one of Salzburg’s powerful Prince Archbishops. The sculptures were apparently modelled after dwarves who worked as entertainers in the court. Can you find the dwarf statue that the children patted on the head during the Doh-re-mi song?

Dwarf garden Mirabell Salzburg Austria

Next walk return through the gardens to Schwarzstrasse and walk along (or catch a bus) to the Mozart Bridge, a pedestrian bridge across the Salzach River. Remember in the film where the children cross the bridge as they skip off to their picnic?

Mozart Bridge Salzburg Austria

Once you have crossed it’s only a few steps to Mozartplatz and then a few minutes to the cable car up to the Hohenzalzburg Fortress. From the fortress take the path along the Mönchsberg. This ridgeline runs high above the city, with regular views across the beautiful old town, which is of course a Unesco World Heritage Site. Follow the pretty trails through woods to the Museum of Modern Art. The terrace of the M32 restaurant here has a wonderful vantage point for a coffee stop. Maria and the children spent some time looking out from the balcony here.

View from M32 terrace, Salzburg (2)

If you have time catch the lift in the museum down to the town level to see the famous early 17th-century Horse Pond in Herbert von Karajan Square, where paraded horses from the prince-archbishops’ stables used to be washed off and groomed. The children and Maria paraded beside this fountain.

Nearby is the Felsenreitschule or Summer Riding School, which is built into the Mönchsberg itself. This is where the von Trapp family performed at the Salzburg Festival before fleeing from the Nazis. The Felsenreitschule was created in the early 17th century in the space where rock had been quarried to build the cathedral. It has been one of Salzburg’s most important concert venues since 1926. its stage as well as arcades hewn out of the rock. Able to accommodate an audience of as many as 1,437 people, it is one of Salzburg’s most important concert venues. You need to arrange a guided tour to see the 96 arcades of this theatre, unless you attend a performance of course.

Nonnburg Abbey, Salzburg - Maria's convent

Now return the way you have come up the lift and back along the Mönchsberg past the Hohensalzburg  taking the path signposted to Nonnburg. The Nonnberg is a Benedictine monastery that served as Maria’s abbey in the film. Here under the shadow of the castle the outlook is over the city, green woods and fields, and towards the Untersberg town mountain. You can look into the same gates the von Trapp children did when they were asking after Maria.

View of Hohensalzburg from behind

Carry on down Nonnberggasse, past the charming villas and drop down to the grassy parkland below. At the crossroads of this park is a lonely cottage – once the home of the castle executioner. Don’t forget to look behind you … at the view of the magnificent Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Schloss Leopoldskron and Hohensalzburg Castle

On the far side of the park cross the road and follow a path beside a small canal through trees to Schloss Leopoldskron. This rococo palace was built in the late 1730s by a Salzburg Prince-Archbishop. Now it is probably more famous as the von Trapp family house in the movie… but you can’t go in it unless you are something to do with the American educational institution that runs it. However, a wander around the willow-fringed shores of the lake is an idyllic way to spend some time and from the opposite side of the lake you get a great view of the terrace where so many key scenes are set.

Climb every mountain on the Untersberg

You can add this on to your Sound of Music walk through Salzburg or do the trip on a separate day. The Untersberg cable car ferries you up to 2,000 metres – often into the clouds – on Salzburg’s beloved town mountain. The views from the top are dramatic, taking in the lovely city and its surrounding green meadows, craggy mountains and limpid blue lakes.

In the film Maria describes the Untersberg as her home mountain and the final scenes of the von Trapp family escaping over the mountains were filmed here. The opening “Hills are Alive” scenes were filmed on the meadows on the German side of the mountain.

Of course, crossing the Untersberg gets you into Germany rather than Switzerland and the family more sensibly caught the train to Italy and ultimately safety in the United States. But it’s a great finale so I’m not complaining.

Untersberg view Salzburg Austria

We spent a few hours up on top, walking and enjoying the views. Take care of the Untersberg’s sensitve ecosystem by staying on the paths. You can also hike up and/or down the Untersberg but it is a steep climb so make sure the weather conditions are good and wear good hiking boots.

It is easy to get to the village of Grodig, where the Untersberg cable car is situated. Just catch the No. 25 bus from the rail station or as it passes through the city.

The bus also passes Hellbrunn Palace so you could stop there on the way back to see the Trick Fountains and enjoy the beautiful parkland. As well as the famous summer house from the film, near Hellbrunn you can also see the house that was used for the facade shots of the von Trapp mansion in combination with the Leopoldskron terrace. It’s just along the avenue of trees, which also featured in the movie as the children rode their bikes.

Sound of Music tree-lined road Salzburg

Take a Sound of Music bus tour

There are a few different types of Sound of Music coach tour in Salzburg. There is the original Panorama tour, one with Grey Lines, and also a Hop-on-hop-off tour. In some ways it is more satisfying to do your own walking tour of Sound of Music sites, with time to take photographs and get up close to the sights. On the bus it is often just a drive-by experience.

However, I also wanted a bit of ‘cheese’. I wanted singing and laughter and inside information. The best way to get that is on a coach tour. You should note there is a line of small print (in German) on the Panorama advertisement that states there will be singing on this tour. Just so you know what to expect.

I recommend getting there early to make sure you get a good seat. We were glad to be sitting at the front where the energy and sense of fun was riding high! Our guide’s name was Anna but she also answers to “Maria” or “Julie”.

The first half of the tour stopped at or passed various sights and was full of interesting information about the filming, the actors and the original story. There are screens on the bus on which we watched relevant clips from the film as well as some amazing footage of the actual shoot. Particularly the boating scene, but I won’t be a spoiler.

Hellbrun summer house Sound of Music Salzburg

The tour heads out to Hellbrunn Palace to see the summer house that set the scene for Liesl and Rolf’s “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” number and the “Something Good” duet between Maria and Georg von Trapp. It used to be in the grounds of Leopoldskron but was moved out here a few years ago.  If you want to tour the palace and grounds of Hellbrunn properly (highly recommended) you’ll have to visit separately.

One of the big bonuses of doing the coach tour is that it is an easy way to see the beautiful landscape of lakes and mountains outside Salzburg, especially if you have limited time. The tour travels out through the countryside past the gorgeous lakes Fuschl and Mondsee.

St Michael's church Mondsee Sound of Music wedding church Austria

In the lakeside town of Mondsee there is a half-hour stop to enjoy the surroundings and take a look inside the fabulous yellow church of St Michael’s, where the wedding scene was filmed. There are some equally fabulous cafes and bakeries.

Apfel strudel in Austria

I was starting to feel that the tour was a little bit staid but things brightened up significantly in the second half. That’s when the singing started, which really made it for Wandering Kiwi Jr and I. Anna turned out to be an excellent singer and we raised the roof with renditions of our favourite things/songs.

So how did Mr Wandering Kiwi feel about the tour? He wasn’t the only husband/father joining the tour with varying degrees of enthusiasm. He was a bit taken aback to hear the tour is four hours long… But as Anna pointed out, it’s only four hours of your whole life and a happy wife equals a happy life… Sadly, he felt it spoilt his warm feelings about the film to find out all the background information. It shattered the dream a little. Aaawwww!

See the Sound of Music at the Salzburg Marionette Theatre

To cap off your Sound of Music experience in Salzburg, make sure you see a show at the historic Salzburg Marionette Theatre, which has recently been inscribed on the Unesco world heritage list. This beautiful theatre on Schwarzstrasse has a range of productions which bring to mind the ‘Lonely Goatherd’ puppet play in the film and we were lucky enough to see their fabulous production of the Sound of Music.

Until only five years ago the Salzburg Marionette Theatre was guided by the Aicher family, who put on their first show in 1913. That’s 100 years of incredible tradition and artistic expression and the current directors are passionate about carrying their vision of what is truly a unique artistic language.

Salzburg Marionette Theatre in Austria

The performance is in English but there are subtitles on a screen in several different languages. In the lobby are displays of puppets and scenes from past performances and if you get a chance have a look at the Marionette Museum in the Hohensalzberg Fortress, where the theatre regularly sends puppets for display. These handmade works of art are created in workshops right here in the theatre.

Sound of Music Marionette Museum Hohensalzburg Salzburg

I loved it that at the end of the show the curtains fall back to reveal the puppeteers above the stage, looking strangely enormous and quite exhausted from their efforts (although still smiling). It is incredible to think of all the skill and sweat that go into this quality marionette theatre.

The Salzburg Marrionette Theatre offers a wonderful mix of child-like fairytale with a proper (grown-up) theatre experience and I hope that combination continues to share its wisdom for hundreds of years to come. I recommend getting a little dressed up and making a special night of it.

Buy a Salzburg Card

City discount cards are not always worthwhile but because everything in Salzburg is quite close and easy to get to, you do end up using the Salzburg Card a lot. It’s easy to order online or pick up at the tourist information office in Mozartplatz.

The Wandering Kiwi family used it for the Untersberg cable car (as well as the bus to the base station), The Hohensalzberg Fortress (and the funicular up the hill), Hellbrunn Palace (and the bus there and back), the Mozart House, the Modern Art Museum,as well as a few other random bus rides that saved tired little legs during our time in Salzburg. The card also got us a 10% discount on the Panorama Sound of Music tour (this isn’t official but ask) and part of the bus fare to Lake Fuschl.

A quick calculation shows that we would have spent a total of at least 100 Euros per adult on the above, whereas the 72-hour Salzburg card only cost 42 Euros. That’s a no-brainer.

We could probably have fitted in a few more included attractions but we were too busy singing!

Now go and watch the film again and be inspired to visit beautiful Salzburg!

By Natasha von Geldern

For more tips on visiting Salzburg and its beautiful surrounds read my other posts:

Top places to eat and drink in Salzburg

A Walking Tour of Salzburg

A Beautiful Day Trip from Salzburg

A Ski Holiday in Zell am See

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The Ultimate Sound of Music Guide to Salzburg Austria

Italy: Hiking the Alta Via 4 in the Dolomite Mountains

I’ve just got back from hiking the Alta Via 4 long distance hiking route in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy. Gorgeous scenery, challenging hiking, exciting via ferrata, delicious food in cosy mountain refuges… hiking in the Dolomites is fantastic!

I used the Cicerone guide to Trekking in the Dolomites  to do the Alta Via 4 (it also covers Alta Vias 1-3, 5 and 6) and you can find loads of advice about how to plan a hiking trip in the Dolomites, including packing tips and more in this post.

And now, here is a blow by blow account of hiking the Alta Via 4 in the Dolomites:

Day 1 – San Candido to Tre Scarperi

This isn’t a day’s hike but only a couple of hours, so you can get to the first rifugio on the same day as you fly in to Innsbruck. It was easy to get a train from Innsbruck central station to San Candido/Innichen, changing at Fortezza. There was a train delay at Fortezza but it didn’t affect the timing of my planned day too much.

San Candido is a charming little town with lovely restaurants and hotels and churches. If you have time stop for lunch!

Set off on the road out of town south and find the path to the left side of the road following the river. You can get a bus quite a long way up this road but as I had time and wanted to start getting my legs hiking fit, I walked. Once you leave the road behind the trail passes through conifer forest until the first peaks of Tre Scarperi can be seen.

RIfugio Tre Scarperi Dolomite Mountains Italy

The rifugio is in a stunning valley surrounded by soaring rock faces. Sitting on the sun terrace, draught weiss beer in hand, listening to the bells of a herd of young cattle, watching chaffinches and wagtails play, boded well for my Dolomites hiking experience.

Rifugio Tre Scarperi dinner Dolomites Italy

Once the sun had dropped it was time for a restaurant-quality meal at a fraction of the price, there was even table service! The starter was either lasagne or tomato consomme with basilico noodles, followed by a tasty cheese patty with cabbage salad and then a cream cheese cake. The continental breakfast was excellent (like a hotel)!

Day 2 – Tre Scarperi to Rifugio Locatelli

Follow the milky stream along the white rock path that winds through the valley, bright in sunshine and in shadow. Then it’s a long pull up to the pass, at first cool and quiet through larch trees then hot and quiet over the rocky trails, beside which blue trumpet gentians are bright decoration.

Crossing in to the valley of the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo and only photos can do justice of how spectacular the scenery is here.

Tre Cime di Lavaredo - hike in the Dolomites

I had lunch near Rifugio Locatelli, a hut in a stunning location that is thronged with day walkers due to being the meeting point of no less than ten different hiking paths! After the quiet morning it was a bit of a shock to see so many people and this was the only day on the AV4 that was busy.

Hiking Dolomites Tre Cime di Lavaredo Italy

Make sure you turn aside to spend some time beside the little lakes at the base of the Tre Cime. It’s stunning and you can escape the crowds for awhile.

The destination on Day two was Rifugio Auronzo, a large modern hut with new bathrooms and generous, hearty meals (I couldn’t even fit in any dessert). Views from the big windows of the dining room are across to   and down to the turquoise waters of Auronzo di Cadore.

Day 3 – Rifugio Auronzo to Rifugio Col de Varda

I set off early to beat the approaching bad weather and hiked along the beautiful ridgeline in the peaceful morning. Path 117 traverses around the Ciadin de le Bisse and de Rinbianco far above green valleys, following via ferrata lines built by soldiers in the First World War (this track is called Sentiero Bonacossa) with hand-cut caves and a tunnel.

Dolomite Mountains WW1 remnants

This is a very easy via ferrata route and after starting off clipping in to every wire, I soon became more picky about where I clipped in on such easy terrain to save time. After the climb to the Forc de Rinbianco I made my way up to Rifugio Fonda Savio and, after a rain shower, tackled the toughest climb of the day up to Forcella Diavalo.

Via Ferrata Alta Via 4 Dolomites Sentiero Bonacasso

The black rocks and blasted landscape without a scrap of colour makes the name very appropriate. I slid on the scree quite a lot and would have appreciated a via ferrata line here. The steep drop on the other side of the pass is also quite loose, with only one ladder.

I found that there are more via ferrata sections than indicated on the map. Not indicated in the guidebook but clear from the map, there are a number of variants to get from Fondo Savio to Col de Varda, avoiding the direct route across Forcella Diavolo if you’re wanting to take it a bit easier.

Alta Via 4 Dolomite Mountains Italy

The final climb is a zig zag up to Forc de Misurina, followed by a gentle traverse to the rifugio. The white rock here is scattered with clumps of bright yellow Rhaetian poppies.

Rifugio Col de Varda is a lovely year-round chalet with a traditional tiled stove and views down to pretty Lake Misurina and across the to Cristallo range. It rained on and off for the rest of the afternoon and I watched castles of cloud float through the valley.

Rifugio Col de Varda Dolomite Mountains Italy

I had an outstanding a la carte meal here, with melt-in-the-mouth gnocci, local roe deer and the best tiramisu. Polenta is a staple in this part of Italy and was part of almost every meal I ate in the Dolomites. The breakfast was also good, with toasted bread and proscuitto and cheese. It is an extra 4 Euros for a shower but there’s no time limit and I got to wash my hair (in the world’s smallest shower cubicle).

Day 4 – Rifugio Col de Varda to Rifugio Vandelli

There’s a little 2-person chair lift than whisks you down to the lakeshore in minutes, although I left early and walked 20 minutes down the path. Then you get a bus (from the bus stop at the beginning of the village) along the road to the village of Passo Tre Croci (costs about 4 Euros) where the trail starts.

The walk to Rifugio Vandelli is very pleasant, with lovely views and when I got to the jewel-like turquoise waters of Lake Sorapiss in its bowl in the mountains I was just delighted and spent an hour or two walking around the lake, taking photos and enjoying myself. The area around the lake is a garden of wildflowers, particular the delicate primula tyrolensis.

Lago di Sorapiss hike in the Dolomite mountains

This is a very short day of hiking (only three hours) and it would be possible to cut out a day by carrying on directly from Col de Varda and get to Vandelli on the same day. I would have had time to do this as I arrived at Col de Varda at 3pm but it started to rain and the rifugio was so cosy… and had beer… and I would have missed that meal….

Rifugio Vandelli and Cristallo Dolomite Mountains Italy

Plus I then had good weather to see the amazing Lake Sorapiss, whereas in the afternoon the rain and thunder rolled in again. The lesson is that you can be flexible about your hiking days in the Dolomites. Just call ahead to tell the rifugios if you are changing your plans. Vandelli is a proper mountain hut with no showers and no phone reception, great food (homemade tortellini, pork steaks and apple pie) and a friendly atmosphere.

Rifugio Vandelli dinner Dolomite Mountains AV4 Italy

Day 5 – Rifugio Vandelli to Rifugio San Marco

This is where I ran out of luck with the weather on my Dolomites hiking week. The AV4 now follows a spectacular via ferrata route that I was very keen to undertake. But you really don’t want to be clipped onto a metal wire on a mountain in an electrical storm. I got up early and consulted with the rifugio guardians – they said no.

There are two routes from here to the next refuge, both involving extremely long days and only to be attempted in acceptable weather. One is via the bivouac Comici and one the Bivouac Slapata variante. The first has extensive via ferrata – no good in a thunderstorm. The other also has some via ferrata and becomes dangerously loose underfoot after a lot of rain (it had rained heavily since the previous afternoon).

To avoid retracing my steps I walked back to the road via Forcella Marcoira (path 216), which is a nice trail traversing the mountains and then winding through moss-draped trees. It was very quiet and I saw no people but a pheasant with chicks and a marmot in an alpine valley and would have great views if it wasn’t completely clagged in (it stayed relatively dry though).

Wildflowers Dolomite Mountains Italy

From Tre Croce we got a bus via Cortina to Vito San Cadore (this cost around 7 Euros), where there is a trail head up to Rifugio San Marco. The three hour slog up through conifer and beech woods was tediously hard work, straight up and with no views this was the only section of my week’s hiking in the Dolomites I did not enjoy. Altogether I walked about 6 hours on this day, compared to the 9 hours it would have taken through the mountains.

However I would not have missed staying at San Marco for the world! This old-fashioned, family-run rifugio was built 122 years ago by the Italian Alpine Club and it’s sturdy walls are half a metre thick. It is set on a green promontory on the side of a mountain and there is even a little pavilion for even better views of Monte Antelao with a beer in hand.

Rifugio San Marco Italian Dolomites

It is run in the summer months by a family, including two children, Oma and Opa, and Pongo the dog. This family have been doing this for no less than 28 years – since the guardian Tanja was four years old!

Pongo Rifugio San Marco Dolomite Mountains Italy

There were a couple of choices for dinner and it was beautifully served in the dining room. There was a vegetable souop or spaghetti with pork ragu, a stiffato or a bacon/potato/cheese dish and green salad grown in the vegetable garden outside.

Day 6 – Rifugio San Marco to Pieve di Cadore

On the last day I decided (perhaps foolishly) to ignore the weather forecast and set off in sunshine to attempt the Mt Antelao route to Pieve di Cadore. The day starts with a pleasant traverse from San Marco, followed by some scrambling to get over the pass. Make sure you turn right up the hill from Rifugio Galassi (rather than left down the valley as I did, wasting 40 minutes!)

The next time I see “tiring moraine” in a guide book I will think twice about taking the route. However, I felt proud of my route finding (from cairn to faded paint mark) slowly crossing the moraine below the glacier, which looked amazing and I crossed several patches of old snow.

Alta Via 4 Mt Antelao glacier Dolomite Mountains Italy

Unfortunately, as I neared the base of the via ferrata it started to rain, which quickly turned to frozen rain and I had to retreat to shelter under a large (not entirely dry) rock. The steep slab up which the ferrata wires could be seen was sheeting with water and everything looked very slippery as huddled in my coat munching my sandwich (provided by Tanja at San Marco).

The rain eased by the mountains ahead were entirely covered with dark clouds so it was time to back off in frustration. I often had to take alternative scrambles as the slabs were so slippery with rain. Once off the glacier, the views on the way down were epic-ally epic, with pink alpen rose forming a brilliant foreground to the mountain scene.

Alta Via 4 Dolomite Mountains Italy

When I got back to Rifugio Galassi I was glad of a cup of tea and of a kind guardian who phoned a taxi service for me. It was a good couple of hours to walk down the valley and I was very happy to spend 40 Euros to have a 4X4 meet me atthe bottom to avoid another three or four hours back to Pieve di Cadore.

Lago di Cadore Dolomite Mountains Italy

It was also a great pleasure to see the above view of Lago di Cadore from my hotel window before I had a long shower, collapsed on the soft bed with crisp linen, and ate a very large pizza!

Rifugios on the Alta Via 4

Here are the rifugios I stayed at on the Alta Via 4 and how to contact them:

Rifugio Tre Scarperi – has a website with a contact phone number if you want to reserve.

Rifugio Auronzo – I emailed [email protected] and had to transfer a 10 Euro deposit to reserve.

Rifugio Vandelli – I emailed [email protected] to reserve.

I wasn’t able to contact Rifugio Col de Varda by email or by phone but it was no problem to just turn up.

Rifugio San Marco – I emailed [email protected] to reserve, which is recommended as this is a small refuge.

Overall, I did the best I could with the unstable weather conditions during the week and every day had its incredible highlights. Walking in the Dolomites, it is possible to be flexible with your route depending on the weather, which is a great advantage.

For the opportunity to hike in solitude amidst awesome beauty the Dolomite mountains are highly recommended. Plan an Alta Via hiking adventure in the Dolomites!

By Natasha von Geldern

If you’re into hiking, read more about how to plan a European hiking adventure and about my amazing trip hiking the Tour du Mt Blanc. Further afield, you’ll also find posts on my blog about hiking in New Zealand, walking holidays in Mallorcahiking the Great Ocean Walk in Australia, an amazing Slovenia hiking trip, and even hiking in Namibia. In the UK I’ve got great ideas for day walks in the Lake District, hiking in the Peak District, the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge, and walking the South Downs Way.

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Alta Via 4 Hiking in the Dolomite Mountains Italy

Italy: Planning a hike in the Dolomites

After two amazing hiking trips in the Italian Dolomite Mountains, I want to share some thoughts, tips and ideas for planning a hike in the Dolomites, one of Europe’s best hiking destinations.

Hiking in the Dolomites

So why go hiking in the Dolomite mountains of Italy? This area has been on the Unesco World Heritage Site list since 2009, due to its geomorphologic significance and because it is absolutely gorgeous.

As John Murray wrote in 1840:

“They are unlike any other mountains, and are to be seen nowhere else among the Alps. They arrest the attention by the singularity and picturesqueness of their forms, by their sharp peaks or horns, sometimes rising up in pinnacles and obelisks, at others extending in serrated ridges, toothed like the jaw of an alligator.”

Hiking in the Dolomite Mountains Italy

They are also called the Monti Pallidi – the Pale Mountains – and its all because of the unique dolomitic limestone, or calcium magnesium carbonate if you’re that way inclined. They are famed for the phenomena of “en rosadica”, where the rock goes an orangey-pink colour in the light of the setting sun.

According to legend, the rock is covered in white gossamer woven from the rays of the moon, so that its soft shine would comfort a princess bride pining for the landscape of her homeland.

This area is prime hiking country, whether you want to do day walks or tackle longer, multi-day treks. There is a network of well-marked trails and rifugios, or mountain huts where you can stay, and it is famous for its ‘Alta Via’ or high routes.

Hiking in the Dolomites Italy Way Marking

The Alta Via routes of the Dolomites

Alta Via 1 and 2 are very popular, while Alta Via 3 through 6 are little known and even less walked. The great thing about them is how they allow hikers to explore the wilder ranges of the Dolomites, crossing valleys and passing traditional villages and hamlets. The Alta Via routes vary in length and difficulty. Some of them include sections of Via Ferrata.

You can read more about my experience hiking the Alta Via 4 in this post.

Italian Dolomites mountain and lake landscapeItalian Dolomites mountain and lake landscape

Via Ferrata in the Dolomite Mountains

Via Ferrata (iron way in Italian) is essentially an aided climbing route, where steel cables (and sometimes ladders and bridges) are fixed to the mountainside. You wear a rock climbing harness and use a special via ferrata lanyard to attach yourself to the cable, making it safe for non-climbers to tackle alpine routes that would otherwise require special skills. Via ferrata add an element of extra excitement to many hiking routes. They often require some strength and definitely a head for heights.

Via ferrata equipment

The Dolomites are famous for their ‘Via Ferrata’ (iron way in Italian) routes and although this increasingly popular sport can now be found in many parts of the world, this is where it all started. In the First World War these mountains formed a frontline in a bitter military campaign between Italian and Austrian armies. The soldiers built paths and fixed ways in the mountains to aid the movement of troops and for survival in a warzone that saw more fatalities from cold and avalanche than bullets.

Via ferrata ladder in the Dolomites

Planning an Alta Via hike

Start with a guidebook or two. Cicerone publishes a guide to Trekking in the Dolomites that describes Alta Via 1 and 2 in detail, as well as an outline of Alta Via routes 3-6. Also useful are Cicerone guides Via Ferratas in the Italian Dolomites (Vols 1 & 2) and Walking in the Dolomites. A perusal of these guidebooks will help you plan a route, particularly if you want to be more flexible in your hiking rather than sticking to an Alta Via route. This may be necessary if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Combine one or two of these guidebooks with the appropriate map or maps from the Tabacco 1:25,000 carta topografica per escursionisti series. The Dolomites is a particularly well mapped area and you will probably need more than one sheet. I got mine at Stanfords in London and you can order them online.

Dinner at Rifugio San Marco - hiking in the Dolomites

Rifugios of the Italian Dolomites

Half board at the rifugios in the Dolomites costs 50 euros and the standard of food and (dormitory) accommodation is excellent. It is also possible to pay 20 Euros for a bed only and then order a cheaper/smaller meal and bring your own breakfast. But it’s pretty tempting to take the half-board option!

I stayed at a variety of rifugios and enjoyed meeting the guardians and refuelling on the excellent food after a day of hiking.

In the high season (July and August) you need to reserve a bed at least a few days in advance. I hiked in the last week of June and found it very quiet so I probably didn’t need to reserve (although I did for peace of mind).

Although I was hiking a particular route (the Alta Via 4), it would be very easy to plan your own hiking week in the Dolomites, walking from rifugio to rifugio.

Rifugios of the Italian Dolomites

Packing for hiking in the Dolomites

The rule for packing for a long-distance hiking trip is keep it light. Your loaded rucksack should weigh no more than 10kg, preferably less. I wish I had been more ruthless in my packing and I definitely didn’t need the large extra screwgate carabiner recommended by the BMC! Pack thin, warm layers and good waterproofs as you need to be prepared for any kind of weather in the mountains. You can download my Via Ferrata Dolomites Gear Packing Check List here.

Happy trip planning and I hope you enjoy your time hiking in the Dolomites as much as I did!

By Natasha von Geldern

Do you fancy a hike in the Dolomites? Why not pin this post to help you plan!

Tips for Hiking in the Dolomite Mountains Italy

Sponsored video: Japan highlights – Chugoku+ShikokuxTokyo

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With an easy jump from Tokyo on Japan’s excellent transport system, you can be enjoying the serene charm of the real Japan.

Japan is a land of exquisite gardens, designed to wander through, peacefully immersing yourself in the natural and man-made beauty of the landscape. The six aspects of a traditional Japanese garden are scenery, spaciousness, venerability, serenity, subtle design and coolness.

Find serenity in Tokyo

You can find this serenity in the midst of noisy Tokyo. Once you have seen the view from the Tokyo Tower, visited the impressive Meiji Shinto Shrine and Imperial Palace, and had a drink at the Robot Cafe, it’s time to unwind in Tokyo.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a huge park that dates back to the Edo period and is now a public oasis for picnics and walks. It is famous for its cherry blossoms in season but with over 20,000 native and exotic trees it is beautiful all year around. Spend an afternoon enjoying the parkland of Shinjuku.

Japan travel

Get back to nature in Chugoku

A short flight from Tokyo, the Chugoku region is in the west of Japan’s biggest island, Honshu. One particularly charming prefecture of Chugoku is Okayama. Travellers come to see the elegant Okayama castle but the biggest drawcard is another garden.

Japanese gardens are so beautiful that I’m not sure how you could identify one garden as being the most beautiful. In fact three gardens are traditionally the most treasured in Japan.

One of these is Korakuen, a garden in Okayama and is an absolute must-visit during your trip to Japan. It was established in 1700 by a great lord and is famed for its lush and intricate beauty. Promenade through Korakuen and enjoy the many different viewpoints, from lawns and koi-filled ponds to tea houses and streams.

Another lovely prefecture in Chugoku is Yamaguchi, where the local capital was built in the 14th century and is often described as “the Kyoto of the West”. Don’t miss the historic Ruriko-ji Temple in Kozan Park, with its pagoda-shaped roof.

Japan temple roof

Unspoilt beauty in Shikoku

Next it’s time to really get off the beaten track and visit Shikoku, which is the smallest of Japan’s main islands, to the south of Honshu.

More sparsely populated than other parts of Japan, Shikoku is particularly rich in pilgrimage sites and temples. There is even a 1,200-kilometre pilgrimage trail circling the island that visits no fewer than 88 temples.

As well as the cultural highlights, Shikoku is rich in hiking opportunities thanks to its stunning, mountainous interior. Walk through sighing bamboo forests and hike up to the summits of three mysterious peaks – Mt Iino, Mt Ishizuchi and Mt Tsurugi.

Japan street food

So if you are planning a vacation in Japan, consider combining Tokyo with Chugoku and Shikoku, two must-see regions of this fascinating country. That way you will experience the rich culture and beautiful countryside of Japan.

By Natasha von Geldern

This post has been sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, but all opinions remain my own.