Italy: it’s the one place that we travel to over and over and never tire of its joie de vivre. Italians have a passion for living the good life – for indulging in the gastronomical greatness and never apologizing for it, for going on endless adventures through the multitude of diverse landscapes, and for enjoying every moment of every day like it was his or her last. For our tenth trip to Italy, we wanted something different – an effortless amalgam of adventure, romance, and luxury. We wanted to climb to new heights, cycle through the majestic mountains like we were extras in the Sound of Music, explore a different culture, dine at Michelin-starred restaurants, and do it all hand in hand. That’s why we chose to explore The Dolomites with Backroads Travel for a week of adventure cycling, hiking, and eating our way through these magnificent Italian mountains.
The jagged peaks of The Dolomites possess a fairy-tale feeling that’s not found anywhere else in the world. It’s a place where time seems to stand still and the mountains take hold of you in a whole-hearted embrace. When the sun rises and sets on these limestone mountaintops, the jagged edges emblazon in a fiery scarlet color, stimulating the soul, invigorating the mind, and inspiring the body to take on new adventures. Benvenuti and Willkommen to Italy’s Dolomite Mountains and get ready to ascend into our greatest alpine adventure yet!
The Dolomites are located in the South Tyrol (südtirol) region of Northern Italy, a place where Austro-Hungarian and Italian influences intertwine to create a unique region different from any other in Europe. For thousands of years, this region was owned by Austria until World War One. When the Italians joined forces with France, Britain, and Russia, The Dolomites became home to some of bloodiest battles of the Great War. Unlike most regions of Italy that have Mediterranean homes, cypress trees, and traditional Italian foods, The Dolomites still possess a strong Austrian ambiance. The houses and hotels are all designed in Tyrolian architecture with flower filled window boxes, its local inhabitants speak both Italian and German, and the food is a mix of Austro-Hungarian with a touch of Italian.
While the Alps may be the most famous mountain range in Europe, Italy’s Dolomites are far older. The Dolomites were created 200 million years ago when Africa and Europe collided. The area of the Dolomites used to be a massive underwater coral reef. When the two continents collided, earthquakes occurred and lifted up the underwater mountains to create The Dolomites.
Our trip to the Dolomites was our third trip with Backroads and by far, one of our favorites. We first heard of Backroads when Collette’s parents fell in love with the company some 10+ years ago (and wouldn’t stop bugging us to go! Oh, parents!). Now, they’ve been on eight Backroads trips and they’ve converted us to Backroads vacationers for life! With Backroads, time seems to slow down and we’re able to enjoy our vacation at the perfect speed. By bicycling and hiking on the back roads, we were able to explore parts of the Dolomites that few get to see. And we were able to enjoy and explore the region at a more fulfilling pace than normal travel.
As travelers, we love the options that are offered on every Backroads trip. While Backroads trips are technically group trips with 15-20 people on each journey, every traveler is treated as though it is their own individual vacation. While there are always guidelines and options, there are never any mandatory activities on any Backroads trip. As athletes and adventurers, we love the challenges that Backroads offers. If we want to get a heart-pumping workout and push ourselves to new heights, we can choose the most intense hike or bike of the day. If we feel like enjoying one of the many five-star hotels, we can choose to forego the activity for the day and treat ourselves at the spa. The flexibility and freedom of Backroads keeps us coming back for more!
Hands down, the best part about Backroads is the people. The leaders of the trips are the kindest, most knowledgeable, and friendliest people we’ve ever come in contact with on all of our travels. And for good reason – rumor has it that it’s harder to become a Backroads leader than it is to be admitted as a student at Harvard! No matter where we travel with Backroads, we always go there without knowing a soul and we leave with lifelong friends. Backroads effortlessly attracts quality people that are kind-hearted, brilliant, and adventurous. I mean… we keep going back, right? Wink, wink.
The Dolomites used to be one of the most isolated places on earth; only accessible on mountain passes by foot. Century’s later, modern transportation has allowed planes, trains, buses, and automobiles reaching this epicenter of Alpine adventure. Most adventures through the Dolomites, including the Backroads Multi-Adventure trip commence in Bolzano. For flights, it’s easiest to fly into Innsbruck in Austria and take a train into Bolzano. For those traveling from the States or further away, you can also fly into Munich, Milan, Verona, or Venice and take a train or car service.
While it’s known as one of the top winter-ski destinations in the world, The Dolomites truly come alive in the summer months. On this multi-sport Backroads adventure, we were able to hike through monumental meadows filled with wildflowers, trek from rifugio to rifugio (mountain hut to mountain hut), cycle through fairy-tale montages of mountains, zip-line on Europe’s largest zip-line, and treat ourselves to divine spa treatments after it was all done.
The Backroads Multi-Adventure trip through the Dolomites is a premiere hotel trip, meaning that all of the hotels are completely five-star. We spent two nights at the Alpenroyal Grand Hotel in Selva, two nights at Hotel La Perla in Corvara in Badia, and one night at the Hotel Cristallo in Cortina d’Ampezzo. While every hotel was a luxurious wellness resort set in the mountains, they all possessed different décor and atmospheres.
The food in the Dolomites is different than any other Italian region we’ve ever visited. Originally designed to warm the bones and fill the stomach on a tight budget, the Dolomiti cuisine is typically heartier than other cuisines from Italy. Instead of Mediterranean olive oil, diners will find heavier butters. Instead of seafood pastas, guests will nosh on heavy game and buttery gnocchi. In place of Italian gelatos, visitors will nosh on apple strudel. With its bounty of mountainous farms, most of the food found in the Dolomites is truly farm to table.
Whether we were on the top of a mountain or staying at a 5-star hotel, the team at Backroads made sure that we were always well fed. Jokes flourished in the group stating that Backroads should change their name to “Snacksroads” because of the plentiful food found in every destination. Mornings started with an elegant breakfast at one of the many five-star hotels we stayed at, lunches were held at one of the various refiugi, or local mountain huts, we hiked and biked to. These huts, scattered on top of the mountain, are perfect restaurants for a respite and refuel on the mountain. On our trip with Backroads, we were lucky enough to dine at two Michelin-starred restaurants, Alpenroyal Gourmet Restaurant and AGA in Cortina D’Ampezzo. These two meals were high-end, multi-course meals housed in elegant yet unpretentious atmospheres.
Our adventure started in the capital of the Dolomites, Bolzano where we would cycle for three days and hike for three days. After an evening in Bolzano, we shuttled to the high alpine meadows of Compaccio, where we set off on a bike ride on the Selva Route, a cycle with 1,100’ gain and 2,100’ loss. We cycled through mountain switchbacks and enjoyed some of the most beautiful vistas we’ve ever seen in the world. We refueled with a hearty Tyrolean lunch prior to heading through the Gardena Valley and onto our five-star hotel, Alpenroyal Grand Hotel.
On day two, we set off for a trek on the Geisler route, a 7.1 mile 1,500’ gain hike that took us through the Geisler Odle mountain group in the heart of the Dolomites. After a gondola ride back down to the valley, we refueled with a Michelin-starred dinner at the Alpenroyal Grand Hotel. Day three was another hiking day where we enjoyed the 4.3 mile 600’ elevation gain on the Colfosco Route and concluded our day with spa treatments and a wine tasting at La Perla hotel in Corvara.
On day four, we shuttled to San Vigilio in Marebbe and hopped back on our bikes on the Pederu Route for an 8 mile, 1,100’ elevation gain. This was our favorite bike of our trip because the route took us through little villages, into a forest, and up to the stunning Rifugio Pederü where we dipped our toes in glacial fed water and drank Aperol Spritz’s with a view of the mountains. After this, we headed to the charming village of San Vigilio di Marebba, where we flew through the sky on Europe’s largest zip-line system.
For our final full day with Backroads, we hiked through World War I Memorial sites, through trenches, bunkers, and tunnels that were used in WW1. We packed our lunches and dined right next to a former WW1 hospital in the middle of the mountains with a perfect view of the Cinque Torri, a gorgeous grouping of five rock towers. After our hike, we headed to the ritzy town of Cortina d’Ampezzo where we stayed at our favorite hotel of the trip, Hotel Cristallo. That evening, we dined at the Michelin-starred organic restaurant, AGA. On day 6, we had the option to bike, but we chose to forego the adventure and instead pamper ourselves at the spa at Hotel Cristallo before we were shuttled to Venice, where our Backroads travel would officially come to an end. We had an incredible week cycling and hiking through the Dolomites and we can’t wait for our next Backroads trip!