The scale and grandeur of the Dolomite Alps appear to make everything else insignificant. The Dolomites comprise 90,000 acres of mountainous terrain the geology of which dates back some 230 million years. The Dolomites stretch east and west between Italy and Austria and are a natural haven of rocks, woods and meadows. Noted for their pale coloured dolomite, their shape and beauty distinguishes them as the most spectacular mountain ranges among the Alps. The Dolomites are well known for hiking, skiing and rock climbing and the alpine climate means short cool summers and long snowy winters.
Although the Dolomites have been in entirely Italian possession since WWI, following the collapse of the Austrian Hungarian empire, the culture remains a blend of Tyrolean and Italian influences, with 60% of the population speaking German as well as Italian and with 4% of the population speaking the well preserved dialect known as 'Ladin'. South Tyrol was annexed by the Italians in 1918 following the defeat of the Central Powers in WWI, and remains an autonomous province in northern Italy. In the picturesque villages and rolling pastures the language and streets signs are very much German and Italian and the culture to this day remains distinctly German. During WWI the Dolomites became a war zone and several open air museums can be found commemorating the hard fought battles such as the 'Museo Della Grande Guerra 1914-1918' in what was The Sassi Fort, built by the Austrians found along Pazzo Valparola, not far from Cortina D'Ampezzo.
Our visit to the region was an initial exploratory one as we knew that to cover the vastness of the area would require a significant amount of time and we plan to return for an extended period of time. Thus, we based ourselves in the eastern Dolomites in Cortina d'Ampezzo for two nights and in the western Dolomites in Castelrotto for two nights providing us the opportunity to explore the key areas within the vicinity of these central and varied locations.
Cortina d'Ampezzo is surrounded by majestic peaks in the southern part of the Alps and became a well known skiing destination following the 1956 Winter Olympics which were held there. It is located in the Veneto region of Italy approximately 2 hours by car from Venice. The mountain ranges around Cortina d'Ampezzo are nothing short of staggering. The towering peaks appear as a protective fort as if sheltering the valley below. Downtown Cortina is essentially one street lined with small cafes, luxury shops and restaurants. The centre point of the main street is the 18th century church: The Basilica Minore dei Santi Filippo and Giacomo.
The mountains outside our hotel windows were nothing short of overpowering. Everything else is dwarfed by comparison.
The miles and miles of stunning natural beauty surrounding Cortina d'Ampezzo are impossible to describe or capture on the sensor of a camera. It is breathtaking and one feels being transported to another world.
Bruneck is located approximately one hour by car north of Cortina d'Ampezzo in the predominating German speaking Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol Region of Italy. The town dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries and is situated in the center of the Pusteria Valley. Bruneck is inviting and alludes much charm and serenity, where the main street (Via Centrale) is lined with colourfully painted homes, many with balconies and flower displays. Here you see all generations of families going about their daily lives. It is one of my favourite alpine towns.
At one end of Via Centrale you will find the Bruneck Parish Church: The Church of the Assumption of Mary. "The neo-Romanesque Parish Church is built on the foundations of three earlier churches that have preceded it over the centuries. Of the gothic church, which was destroyed by fire in 1850, the walls of the sanctuary remain standing, incorporated into the new construction. The church frescoes by Georg Mader (1824-1881, an Austrian painter) depict the life of the Virgin Mary. The altarpieces were painted by the Austrian painter Franz Hellweger (1812-1880) while the bronze relief known as 'Epitaph of Kempter' in the atrium of the church is attributed to Hans Reichle of Brixen (c.1570-1642)."
Alta Badia is located in a basin, the Ladin Valley, at the bottom of spectacular Dolomite peaks, an oasis of natural beauty and ancient traditions. Here the Ladin language and culture has survived from one generation to the next. Alta Badia incorpartes the six villages of Corvara, Colfosco, San Cassiano, Badia, La Villa and La Val.
South of Alta Badia lies Marmolada, an idyllic location for cyclists, hikers etc., and of course skiers in winter. The mountain ranges surrounding Marmolada extend across the Veneto and Trentino regions and are truly splendid. Driving through these majestic mountains east towards Cortina d'Ampesso one encounters many cyclists and hikers. The cyclists make climbing these step mountain ranges look effortless.....their endurance and tenacity is to be truely admired. The sheer magnitude of these mountains is evident in the images below; the cyclist and the automobile are mere specks in comparison.
Navigating from Cortina d'Ampezzo to Castelrotto saw us travel via Val Gardena. High in the Dolomites at Selva di Val Gardena there is the Cappella Di San Maurizio. The small chapel is dedicated to Saint Maurice, patron saint of the alpine troops. The Alpini Corps was established in 1872 with the aim of preparing military troops for mountain warfare, which was most prevalent during WW1. The Association of Nationale Alpini founded in 1919 serves to preserve the history of the Alpini soldiers.
Castelrotto (Kastelruth) is located beneath the high alpine plateau of Alpe di Siusi. The symbol of the village is the majestic Baroque church steeple of the Parish Church of St Peter & Paul which rises to a height of 88 meters. Inside the steeple you will find a small chapel. The steeple is separated from the church itself which sits across a courtyard.
As the day turns to night the town takes on a fairytale feel.
The village of Santa Maddalena in the Funes Valley with the Odle mountains in the background is where you find the much photographed Church of Santa Maddalena. The church with the adjacent sacristy, the old school and farmstead form a unique assemblage in the foreground. St Maddalena is an idyllic alpine village quiet and charming town. Green slopes dominate the landscapes along with traditional alpine housing.
The artistic South Tyrolean city of Chuisa is located in the Valle Isarco. A charming medieval city guarded by Castel Sabbiona and typically South Tyrolean.