36 HOURS IN THE DOLOMITES

For a week­end of epic scenery, fresh moun­tain air and Miche­lin star din­ing, head to the stun­ning ranges of north­east­ern Italy

Gulf Business - - TRAVEL -

A TRAVEL TIP FOR THE DOLOMITES:

You do not want to be the driver, ne­go­ti­at­ing steep hair­pin turns and bands of Ital­ian cy­clists ped­alling through dan­ger­ously nar­row moun­tain passes. You want to be the pas­sen­ger, the one hang­ing her head out the win­dow, mouth agape, trans­fixed on the moun­tain peaks and glo­ri­ously green val­leys.

This mon­u­men­tal moun­tain range in north­east­ern Italy is one of the world’s most beau­ti­ful play­grounds for out­door ad­ven­tur­ers, from win­ter skiers to sum­mer hik­ers, bik­ers, moun­tain climbers and more. But equally fas­ci­nat­ing is its cul­tural her­itage.

Much of the re­gion was Aus­trian un­til an­nex­a­tion by Italy af­ter the First World War, and the dis­tinc­tive lo­cal cui­sine re­flects these roots; ex­pect lots of speck, sauer­kraut, knödel and strudel. From val­ley to val­ley, vil­lage-to-vil­lage, you will still en­counter mostly Ger­man, some Ital­ian with a lilt­ing ac­cent, as well as Ladin, an um­laut-heavy lan­guage na­tive to this re­mote re­gion.

But though road signs are posted in two or three lan­guages, the oth­er­worldly beauty of the Dolomites needs no trans­la­tion.

FRI­DAY

3pm: War and peace To un­der­stand a place, one must un­der­stand its his­tory, so be­gin a visit to the Dolomites with a les­son on its war-torn past.

At the hill­side Bunker Mu­seum (ad­mis­sion, EUR5, or about $5.80), de­scend into a Cold War bunker where in­stal­la­tions trace the South Ty­rol re­gion’s his­tory through fas­cism and the fight for au­ton­omy. Delve fur­ther into the past at the Forte Tre Sassi (EUR7), a moun­tain­top mu­seum in a dis­used fort that

This moun­tain range in north­east­ern Italy is one of the world’s most beau­ti­ful play­grounds for out­door ad­ven­tur­ers

ex­am­ines the hard­ships that First World War soldiers faced, and the fierce bat­tles fought around the moun­tain passes.

Those with more time can also visit the area’s First World War open-air mu­se­ums to hike through the trenches and tun­nels used in tragic bat­tles be­tween the Ital­ian and Aus­troHun­gar­ian armies. Or, if driv­ing into the re­gion from the west, stop at the im­pos­ing Forte di Fortezza, a labyrinthine for­ti­fi­ca­tion span­ning nearly 50 acres that was con­structed by Aus­tria out of fear of the French in the 19th cen­tury and has now opened as a mu­seum (EUR7).

5.30pm: Great lake

A daz­zling spec­trum of blues and greens glim­mer from the chilly depths of Lago di Braies, an alpine lake nes­tled deep in the moun­tains. Hike the 2.5-mile trail that hugs the jewel-toned lake, where colours shift in the sun­light from milky emer­ald to bril­liant sap­phire, with an ev­er­chang­ing moun­tain back­drop be­yond. In the sum­mer months, pol­ished wooden row­boats are avail­able to rent (EUR25 an hour, June through Septem­ber, be­tween 10am and 5pm); win­ter vis­i­tors can snow­shoe through the snowy scene.

8pm: Dolomite din­ner

High above the town of Bru­neck, dine on tra­di­tional Ty­rolean cui­sine at Ober­raut, an alpine chalet with homey wood-pan­elled din­ing rooms and dirndl-clad servers. The

Road signs are posted in two or three lan­guages, but the oth­er­worldly beauty of the Dolomites needs no trans­la­tion

menu fea­tures dishes made with prod­ucts grown on the prop­erty; for in­stance, de­li­cious bread dumplings called caned­erli are made with meadow herbs and served with fresh greens from the gar­den (EUR12.50).

Or book a ta­ble at Os­te­ria Gar­sun, a fam­ily-run restau­rant with a hearty set menu of Ladin spe­cial­ties (EUR25), which re­cently in­cluded pani­cia, a veg­etable-and-bar­ley soup, and ca­sun­ziei, or house-made half­moon ravi­oli served with melted but­ter, ground poppy seeds and Parmi­giano cheese. Save room for two rounds of dessert, in­clud­ing warm ap­ple strudel and a brac­ing shot of grappa.

SATUR­DAY 8am: Triplet peaks

One of the most spec­tac­u­lar hikes to tackle in a half-day is the six-mile cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, three dis­tinc­tive moun­tain peaks that loom large along the en­tirety of the trail. The stony paths are rel­a­tively easy and well­marked, mak­ing this one of the most pop­u­lar (and crowded) Dolomite hikes. The trail be­gins at Rifu­gio Auronzo and loops around the rugged spires, past mead­ows of wild­flow­ers, small lakes and a few rifugi (moun­tain huts). There is am­ple park­ing at the trail­head, and a EUR30 road tar­iff per car.

12.30pm: Lo­cal lunch

When it is time to re­fuel, head to Pur Südtirol, a gro­cery shop and cafe where ev­ery­thing — from the yo­gurt and cheeses to ripe sum­mer peaches — comes from the sur­round­ing ter­ri­tory. Gather a se­lec­tion of pic­nic sup­plies, per­haps some speck, graukäse (a pungent Ty­rolean cheese named af­ter its gray rind), ap­ple cider and a loaf of crusty rye. Or or­der lunch at the cafe, which of­fers fresh sal­ads and daily spe­cials, like cheesy knödel on a bed of chopped cab­bage. Lunch, about EUR12.

2pm: Moun­tain high

Af­ter scal­ing his first sum­mit at the age of five, Reinhold Mess­ner went on to be­come a famed moun­taineer — the first to sum­mit ev­ery moun­tain over 8,000m (in­clud­ing Mount Ever­est, solo). Now in his 70s, Mess­ner has founded a se­ries of mu­se­ums in his na­tive Dolomites. The most re­cent, the Mess­ner Moun­tain Mu­seum Corones, is a pod­like com­plex de­signed by Zaha Ha­did atop Kron­platz, el­e­va­tion 7,500 feet.

Ride the rope­way to the sum­mit to ad­mire sky-high views, then tour the mu­seum’s exhibits ded­i­cated to the his­tory of moun­taineer­ing and its pi­o­neers (ad­mis­sion, EUR10). Af­ter­ward, me­an­der to the meadow where a herd of horses graze, or as­cend the peaks’ via fer­rata, one of the pro­tected ‘iron path’ climb­ing routes with steel ca­bles that aid rock climb­ing through­out the Alps.

8pm: Star sup­per

Miche­lin stars hang over the Alta Ba­dia, a beau­ti­ful val­ley dot­ted with pol­ished re­sort towns. In the well-heeled vil­lage of San Cas­siano, a fleet of Porsches park out­side the Ho­tel Rosa Alpina and its ac­claimed restau­rant, St Hu­ber­tus, which

last year earned a third Miche­lin star for Nor­bert Niederkofler’s haute moun­tain cui­sine (tast­ing menus from EUR200). Down the road at the Ci­asa Salares ho­tel, Mat­teo Me­tul­lio, a ris­ing star chef (and St Hu­ber­tus alum­nus), has caught the at­ten­tion of the culi­nary world. Not yet 30 years old, Me­tul­lio earned a sec­ond Miche­lin star last year for his game-fo­cused cui­sine at the ho­tel’s La Siri­ola restau­rant (tast­ing menus from EUR130).

SUN­DAY 9am: Fresco finds

The town of Brixen (Bres­sanone in Ital­ian) has deep roots as a re­li­gious and cul­tural cen­tre of the re­gion. In the cool morn­ing light, visit the cathe­dral, which dates to 980 and has an Aus­trian-Baroque fa­cade, beau­ti­ful fres­coes and a mar­ble-clad al­tar. Equally im­pres­sive is the ad­join­ing cloister, where Gothic fres­coes be­lieved to have been painted in the 14th and 15th cen­turies adorn Ro­manesque colon­nades around a con­tem­pla­tive gar­den.

11am: Flight plan

Launch your­self off a moun­tain­top with just a few run­ning steps, a har­ness fas­tened to your tan­dem paraglid­ing in­struc­tor and per­haps a quick prayer. Then sit back for a eu­phoric flight among the ma­jes­tic Dolomite peaks and down into the val­ley be­low. One of the most ex­pe­ri­enced out­fits is the Fly2 tan­dem paraglid­ing team, who have been fly­ing in the Val Gar­dena for over 20 years (var­i­ous launch lo­ca­tions and flight du­ra­tions, from EUR110).

1pm: Plateaus and pin­na­cles

Af­ter a smooth land­ing, ride the adren­a­line wave back into the moun­tains aboard a car­di­nal-red gon­dola that fer­ries riders from Or­ti­sei to the top of Mont Sëuc (round trip, about EUR19). This sum­mit, with an el­e­va­tion of over 6,500 feet, of­fers a sweep­ing panorama of the Alpe di Siusi, the largest alpine plateau in Europe. Be­yond the plateau’s mead­ows rises a spec­tac­u­lar se­ries of moun­tain peaks, in­clud­ing the rugged pin­na­cle of Sas­sol­ungo and the flat-topped Sasso Pi­atto. From here, you might hike or cy­cle through the green mead­ows (moun­tain bike rentals avail­able at the base). Or sim­ply set­tle in at Ris­torante Mont Sëuc, where the weiss­biers are cold, and ta­bles on the out­door ter­race of­fer front-row seats to one of the finest Dolomite views.

Clock­wise from top: A view across the Dolomites; white fish tartare at St Hu­ber­tus; the town of Bres­sanone

Clock­wise from right: Lago di Braies; Mess­ner Moun­tain Mu­seum Corones; San Cas­siano

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