Our trip begins in Venice, Italy. Meet the trip leader at 1pm at the Venice Airport. Transfer to our first night’s hotel in San Candido-Innichen, Italy, near the Austrian border. We are in the Upper Pusteria Valley, which belonged to Imperial Austria until 1918, and whose residents consider themselves to be Tyrolese first and foremost. Upon arrival, we’ll have some time on our own to admire this charming town’s Romanesque and Baroque-style churches or simply relax at a café in the village piazza which features the towering Baranci chain of mountains as a dramatic backdrop. We will meet our guides in the hotel lounge for an apéritif and a trip briefing at 7pm, followed by a welcome dinner where we get acquainted with our traveling companions and guides. Overnight in San Candido for two nights. Dinner included.
Transfer: 2.5 hours.
Following breakfast we have a short transfer to Auronzo Rifugio to begin our first day of hiking around the spectacular massif of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. The “Three Peaks” are some of the most dramatic formations in the Dolomites due to their extraordinary spike-like shape. We hike beneath their imposing rock faces, noticing subtle color changes as the sun traverses the sky and bathes them in a constantly changing light. The Cima Grande (Big Peak) is the highest (9,836’), followed by Cima Ovest (Western Peak) and Cima Piccola (Small Peak). Lunch is enjoyed at a Tyrolese mountain hut located at 7,300 feet with fantastic views of the fairy tale mountain landscape. A hot bowl of nourishing barley soup is a local favorite, followed by a platter of regional cold cuts and cheeses. We make our way back to Auronzo, passing tunnels and bunkers left over from the battles of World War I. Overnight in San Candido. Breakfast and dinner included.
Transfer: 45 minutes; Hiking: 9.6 miles; 5.5 hours; Terrain: hard-packed dirt trails, rock and scree; Elevation gain: 2,940’; Elevation loss: 1,870’.
Please note that hiking distances and elevation gain/loss are estimates for all days.
Today is the start of our grand traverse. The next three nights will be spent in rifugios along our route allowing us to stay high up in the mountains and truly experience what life in this rugged yet breathtaking region is all about. Our luggage is transferred for us to the rifugio; we carry only our personal daypacks with water and other essentials needed for the day’s hike. A short transfer brings us to the Fanes-Sennes-Braies Natural Park and the beautiful emerald green waters of Lake Braies, surrounded on three sides by Dolomite peaks. We start to climb on a well-defined path past dwarf mountain pines, which we soon leave behind, eventually cresting a high saddle. The view back looks over the ice blue waters of Lake Braies, and ahead to the almost lunar expanses of exposed, weather beaten slabs of rock that characterize this cauldron-like expanse between the massifs of the Croda del Becco and Croda Rossa. Soon we see a square dot amongst this vast panorama. This is Biella hut, where we stop for a well earned hot lunch. Choose from many options including the local favorite of canederli (delicious dumplings of bread, cheese, and spinach sautéed in butter and sage) and of course strudel for dessert! We continue our hike and reach our cozy rifugio by late afternoon. Our hut is nestled into a high alpine meadow where cows’ bells chime as they meander amongst the mountains. There is time to shower and change before we join our group members in the dining room for a hearty South Tyrolean dinner. Breakfast and dinner included.
Transfer: 30 minutes; Hiking: 8.5 miles; 5-6 hours; Terrain: hard packed dirt trails, rock and scree; Elevation gain: 3450’, Elevation loss: 210’
We have an easy start this morning as the trail follows a broad meadow before descending switchbacks to Pederu hut where we can stop for a welcome coffee and fresh made pastry. Here you will see a collection of baita, or small huts that local shepherds use when bringing their livestock up to the meadows for summertime grazing. The trail dips and climbs amongst alpine clearings and sparse pine woods to the Forcella de Medesc. We enter the Fanes Plateau, which features a karst landscape dotted with stubby green pines that soften the otherwise barren sheets of rock. A small stream meanders through the plateau where horses and cream colored cows graze. It is amongst this gentle yet harsh landscape where we overnight at the Rifugio Lavarella (6725’) or Rifugio Fanes (6725’).
There is an optional two- to three-hour hike in the afternoon to Passo di Sant'Antonio, a grassy saddle offering rewarding views of Monte Antelao, the "King of the Dolomites". At the end of the day we enjoy a hearty meal in the cozy wood paneled dining room. Choose from a wonderful mix of Austrian, Ladin, and Italian cuisine accompanied by a surprisingly good wine list. Tonight we might try the “cajinci”, also known as “Schlutzkrapfen" in South Tyrol and as "ravioli with ricotta and spinach" in Italy. Breakfast and dinner included.
Hiking: 6.5 miles; 3.5 hours; Terrain: hard-packed dirt trails, one section involving a long and steep descent; Elevation gain: 2300’, Elevation loss: 1475’
Optional hike: 5 miles; 2-3 hours; Terrain: hard-packed dirt trails, rock and scree; Elevation gain: 1,300’; Elevation loss: 1,300’
This morning we pack our daypack with what we need for one overnight. Our luggage will be transported to Cortina where we will arrive tomorrow afternoon. After a hearty breakfast we set off on a beautifully serene hike that features a gentle descent along a wide valley lined by majestic peaks for the first two hours. We take an amazing trail that climbs steeply out of the valley, hugging the broad flanks of Monte Cavallo, before threading its way through spires and then plunging back down to rejoin the principal trail to Lagazuoi. It features a truly impressive series of switchbacks that descend steeply towards Lagacio Lake where we will take a break for a picnic lunch. Following lunch we have our epic climb to Rifugio Laqazuoi, which sits perched on a ledge overlooking the strategic Passo Falzarego. A starkly beautiful mountain landscape is made more dramatic by the visible remnants of the terrible struggle that occurred here between 1915 and 1917. Twisted bits of barb wire, trenches, and bunkers line our route up to Lagazuoi, which at 2,752 meters (9,029’) is one of the highest huts in the Italian Dolomites. Our efforts are rewarded by a truly awesome 360° view of the surrounding mountains and distant green valleys. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Hiking: 8.5 miles; 5-6 hours; Terrain: hard-packed dirt trails, rock and scree, very steep downhill and one section with slight exposure; Elevation gain: 3500’; Elevation loss: 1230’
Note: In case of challenging weather, we have an alternative route which features Rifugio Scontoni, a fairytale mountain hut that serves up the best strudel in the Dolomites!
Early risers won’t want to miss the dramatic sunrise over the mountains to the east. We make our way towards Cortina with the high peaks of the Tofane group to our left and the Cinque Torri (Five Towers) on the far side of the valley. Our trail stays high above the valley, following the rocky sides of the Tofanes massif, before arriving for lunch at Rifugio Pomedes, whose terrace offers one of the most breathtaking views over the Ampezzo Valley. After lunch we take several chair lift and gondola rides to descend into Cortina d’Ampezzo, a charming alpine resort town surrounded by the stunning peaks of the Monte Cristallo Group. There is free time this afternoon to explore this bustling town and its shopping, regional museum, open-air cafes and galleries, and enjoy a delicious gelato or a cold frothy beer. Breakfast and dinner included.
Hiking: 5.5 miles; 3.5-4.5 hours; Terrain: hard-packed dirt trails with some rocky and exposed sections, scree; Elevation gain: 1900’; Elevation loss: 3780’
Our last day hike features fabulous panoramic views, a jewel-like alpine lake, and the Dolomites signature spire-like rock formations. The hike begins with a gradual two hour climb to reach the Rifugio Croda da Lago for a coffee and strudel break. We pass by the enchanting Lake Federa, whose blue—green waters reflect the surrounding peaks. Continuing our climb, we reach the Ambrizzola crest, revealing unparalleled views of Monte Pelmo and "La Marmolada". The path then crosses a gently rolling alpine plateau until ending at 7,335' Passo Giau, the second highest road pass in the Dolomites. Enjoy a well-deserved beer at the rifugio here before transferring back to Cortina.
For those wanting to experience the famous Via Ferrata or "Iron Way" (weather permitting) we will opt out of the hike and head off with a local alpine guide (supplement applies) to summit Punta Fiames. The Via Ferrata is a network of protected iron ladders and cables that enable hikers to ascend vertical or exposed sections of trail without the need to rock climb.
There is some free time to enjoy Cortina before gathering for dinner, where we toast and celebrate our successful grand traverse with newfound friends. Breakfast and dinner included.
Transfers: 50 minutes; Hiking: 8.7 miles; 5-6 hours; Terrain: hard-packed dirt trails; Elevation gain: 3225', Elevation loss: 850’. Optional Via Ferrata Activity: 5 hours; Transfer: 20 minutes.
Our adventure ends with a private two-hour van transfer to the Venice Airport. We plan to arrive by 11am in time for flights departing at 1pm. Breakfast included.