We spent the last ten days gallivanting through Northern Italy! We rowed in Venice, partied for nearly thirteen straight hours at a wedding in Padova, ritzed it up in Como and found ‘paradiso’ along Lake Maggiore. It was my first trip to Europe, and each stop was filled with enough sensation and memory-making to fill a tome. But, since this blog is primarily about hiking, I’ll zoom in now on our two alpine days in what many call the most beautiful mountains in the world – the Dolomites.
Comprised of carbonate sedimentary rock, the Dolomites have been slowly eroding since the Triassic, producing a landscape of upturned combs-teeth. Once puzzled by the discovery of marine fossils embedded in the peaks, it wasn’t until relatively recently that geologists understood the range to be a remnant of a tropical coral atoll, formerly undersea, but now in the sky. In the short scheme of human history, the mountains played host to treacherous WWI battles. Today, they host skiers and sunbathers.
We stayed in the elegant Chalet del Sogno in the resort town of Madonna di Campiglio, a popular ski destination in winter, but just as enthralling in the summer. The surrounding mountains felt more High Sierra than Sound of Music, but that didn’t stop us from bursting into song.
In European fashion, the Dolomites are speckled with Rifugi – mountain inns where you can kick off your boots, have a draft beer and a dynamite meal, or grab a bunk for the evening. We have a comparable system in the White Mountains here in the states, but the Rifugi seem far more numerous and almost absurdly well-stocked. Rounding a corner at 6,000 ft. and having the fog part to reveal plates of fresh tagliatelle and a full wine list? Makes even the most rugged hiker think, “Hm. I could probably get used to this.” To be fair, the Rifugi system isn’t all posh. It’s tough to pitch a tent among the crags, and the staff can heroically spring into action for search and rescue.
With limited time in Madonna, we still managed to get in some spectacular walking. On day one, we took the low road, following a gentle (if misleadingly-marked) trail system through the woods to two gorgeous waterfalls. Adjacent to Cascate Mezze we found (of course) a full-service rifugio with a lonely caretaker who likely has the grotto all to herself most of the time. The sun parted after a light drizzle to produce a misty rainbow.
For day two, we set our sights higher. Sogno’s informed and adventuresome Alberto (who, we later learned, was an Olympic snowboarder), insisted that we “touch the Dolomites” in our remaining time. He helped us devise a route that would give us the most bang for our buck: take a cable car up to Groste 2550, hike south to Rifugio Tuckett, have lunch and a beer, then descend to catch a shuttle bus back to town. I initially scoffed at the need for vehicles on the front and back ends, but, boy oh boy, he did not lead us astray. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
We lucked out weather-wise, getting sun when we needed it and just barely beating an afternoon thunderstorm. The next two days were monsoonish (our harrowing drive down from Madonna is another story for another time), which, as always, added to everyone’s feeling that we’d just experienced something really, really special.
You can see more of our photos from the trip at www.instagram.com/veggieandsquare.
A few of our Pacific Crest Trail classmates are exploring the Pyrenees as I write this post (jealous!). So, naturally, we can’t wait to get back to Europe for a more extensive trek.