Things to see & do in
the Dolomites, Italy

There’s no mistaking the Dolomites – these shark’s-tooth mountains splinter the border that northeast Italy shares with Austria and Switzerland. The best winter vacations tread lightly on the landscape. You could go cross country skiing around the 300 ice rink lakes, or snowshoeing into forests straight out of Narnia. Or swan up in summer, when the snow is swapped for edelweiss meadows, Prosecco hills and cycling routes once used by WWI troops.

Culture-wise, you’ve got a mishmash of heritages, so you’re more likely to be chowing down on salt-cured speck than spaghetti, and your German phrase book is just as useful as your Italian. Plus, mountain towns like Bolzano dish out medieval turrets and spires that wouldn’t look out of place in Bavaria; after all, the region was only absorbed into Italy in 1918.

Winter wonders

Ask what time of year to visit, and the local response is pretty unequivocal: winter. South Tyroleans learn to ski before they can walk. Strike out on a guided, cross country skiing vacation to see the snow-heaped mountains at their very best. Small groups, no ski run scars, no snow cannons, no churning chair lifts – it’s how ski vacations should be.

Most small group ski vacations set up shop in a mountain village like Dobbiaco. From there, you’ll set out in the morning to explore the local hills and return back to base to warm up with a glühwein. Tours usually welcome everyone from beginners to advanced; some even lay on two guides so that skiers at either end of the ability spectrum can go their own ways. These guides are experts in their craft, changing the routes depending on daily snow conditions. Families with kids over 14 are welcome, too; littler legs might struggle to keep up with the group.

There’s another way to escape the one-size-fits-all ski resorts. Strap on a pair of snowshoes, and you can explore snow globe spruce forests inaccessible to even the sneakiest of off-piste skiers. Local guides tend to be up on the region’s fraught feudal history, so you’ll learn about the military tracks and trenches hibernating beneath the powder.

Summer strolls

Come spring, the heaviest snow slips away, uncloaking wildflower meadows and de-icing lakes. Most walking vacations pay their respects to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Chimneys) that stick out like a stegosaurus spine above a looking glass lake.

Some vacations base themselves in Villabassa, a resort squished between sharp peaks. It’s the starting line for a spider web of walking paths, including the Braies Valley, where saffron, blue gentians and edelweiss freckle the meadows. The nearby loop around Lake Braies is the stuff of fairytales; the ethnic Ladin people reckon the southern end is the gateway to the mythical Kingdom of Fanes. Flat-capped Monte Piana is another great hiking circuit. It’s more open-air museum than mountain, laying out paths over century-old trenches and shell craters.
Up for a challenge? Stamp on your hardiest hiking boots and follow your leader to the Via Ferrata (Iron Way). You’ll haul yourself to the top of the Dolomites via a series of cables and metal ladders once used by troops of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who had the unfortunate task of shinning over the Dolomites during WWI.

Don’t worry, though – every walk comes with its rewards. The best tour guides know exactly which mountain huts to catch your breath in. Plum pancakes and apfelstrudel, anyone?

Cycling the Dolomites

Smooth, purpose-built cycle paths, quiet alpine lanes, quite frankly ridiculous scenery – it’s like the Dolomites in summertime was made for cyclists. Some of our best cycling vacations duck and dive around the South Tyrol region.

Fly through mountain-hugged Trento – with its Renaissance buildings and arty student population, it’s about as cosmopolitan as the Dolomites gets – before turning your back on the city for alpine village life. Market towns like San Candido star 8th century abbeys. Or you could glide down the Rienz River to Teodone, where the Folklore Museum walks you through rural living over the centuries.
Most cycling vacations can’t resist nipping over the Austrian border into Lienz. The route is blissfully traffic-free and shows just how little changes as you cross the border. Or you could follow a tour south, where orchards and vineyards line the Adige. Veer southwest a little, and you’ll roll to a stop at the northern edge of Lake Garda.

Small group vacations are the theme when cycling in the Dolomites. Your tour guide will know the region like the back of their hand, whisking you from hotel to hotel and covering a good amount of ground while you’re at it. Thanks to all those hills, cycling in the Dolomites tends to be moderately challenging – but hopping on a small group tour eases the way, with luggage transfers always included.

Our top Italy Vacation

Cross country skiing vacation in the Dolomites, Italy

Cross country skiing vacation in the Dolomites, Italy

A famously beautiful range of jagged peaks

From US $1679 to US $2049 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2019: 21 Dec, 28 Dec
2020: 4 Jan, 1 Feb, 8 Feb, 15 Feb, 22 Feb, 29 Feb
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Italy or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Welcome to wine country

South Tyrol must be one of the least visited wine regions in the world. A real surprise, considering that Italy’s Prosecco region rolls out from the base of the Dolomites. Sparkling wine has been cultivated in these parts for centuries, and now it’s seeing something of a renaissance – yet tourists rarely come to meet the makers.

The vineyards never sit in isolation, either. Your guide can point out the churches and abbeys that sit (suspiciously) close to the wineries. Cison di Valmarino is one of the most meticulously preserved villages, where a Cistercian monastery comes closeted by woodlands and waterways.

Visit Lake Garda, Veneto & Venice

Many vacations to the Dolomites finish things off with a flourish. You could end up where the northern edge of Lake Garda bumps up against the Dolomites. From the little multi-coloured town of Riva del Garda, you can catch the ferry that leapfrogs around the lakeside towns. Or there’s always the train. Some Dolomites vacations wind up in the distinctly Germanic medieval town of Bolzano. The trains from here run directly to Verona and Venice – the twin romance cities of Veneto. Tempting? Make sure you factor in at least a week to wring the most out of your vacation.
Photo credits: [Page banner: richardfrank] [Intro: Son of Groucho] [Winter wonders: Umberto Salvagnin] [Summer strolls: AD 04] [Cycling the Dolomites: Sjaak Kempe] [Visit Lake Garda, Veneto & Venice: meineresterampe]
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