South Tyrol, known by the Italians as Alto Adige and German-speakers as the Südtirol, is a picturesque, tranquil region in northern Italy and home to the Dolomites mountain range. The Dolomites, also known as the ‘Pale Mountains’ for their limestone hue, are a UNESCO World Heritage site and the South Tyrol’s truly unique natural wonder. It’s no exaggeration to say that the forests and mountains here are widely regarded as being among the most attractive landscapes in the world. Indeed, the recognition given by the protected status of UNESCO since June 2009 is testimony to just how well preserved and unspoilt the natural environment remains.
This region of the Alps originated from the collision of two tectonic plates, forcing the rocks to soar skyward and create the dramatic limestone vertical walls, sheer cliffs, ridges and narrow, deep valleys for which the Dolomites are known. The mountain range in fact took its name from another Francophone, the geologist Deodat de Dolomieu, who spent much of his career exploring the region. In 1788 he identified the composition of the calcium magnesium carbonate that is found in varying proportions in the whitish-grey sedimentary limestone rock. Within the Dolomites, which extend across nearly 142,000 hectares, there are eighteen peaks that rise above 3,000 metres, while some of the cliffs here rise upwards more than a kilometre and are amongst the highest limestone walls found anywhere. In fact, the remarkable geology of the landscape is such that the Swiss-French architect and painter Le Corbusier once described the Dolomites as the world’s finest example of natural architecture!
The mountains here were first settled in the Iron Age, after which the territory was inhabited in turn by the Rhaetians, Romans and Lombards, who first brought the Tyrol its distinctive Germanic influence. During the First World War, Italy joined the Allies and the front line during the conflict ran through the Dolomites from May 1915 to November 1917: the Austrians on one side, the Italians on the other. Nowadays the via ferrata (or ‘Iron Way’), made up of steel cables and ladders used by the Italian soldiers and partisans to carry supplies through across along the cliffs and through the valleys, are used instead by climbers with a head for heights! Thankfully the rich cultural legacy, including the beautiful architecture of the Habsburg era in the Tyrollean towns from the period of Austro-Hungarian rule, was left unblemished for future generations to enjoy.
Today the unique cultural diversity of the province matches the two traditions that prove perfect compliments: a harmony of Austrian Alpine custom with the Italian dolce vita (and passion for great food!). The local way of life has been well-preserved and the traditional hospitality is very much alive and well in South Tyrol's inns (gasthaus) and is handed down through the generations. The Tyrol is truly renowned for the unforgettable warmth and friendliness of the local people. The area is also blessed with fertile valleys in the southern part of the region which are well-known for winemaking, fruits, cheeses and other alpine dairy products: these staples of the Tyrollean cuisine are a great attraction for hikers and runners with a good appetite!
We’ve scheduled 4 week-long hiking trips on which to discover the exceptional beauty of the Dolomites this summer and hike the Alta Via. For trail runners we’ve also created Alta Via running weeks to experience this amazing high altitude trail: read more on our dedicated trip page to the Alta Via Run. Along its 120km length we’ll explore the wild alpine meadows, scenic valleys and villages and dramatic vertical peaks that make this trail such a memorable experience. Choose from one of the scheduled departures to hike or run the trail in either July or September - contact us if you’d like help choosing your dates!
Do get in touch if you’ve any questions!
For the last 10 days I've been lucky enough to be in Italy. First off the lovely the Ferret & Cogne valleys with our Italian Ski Weekend (ISW) who were learning/freshing their cross country skiing skills. We enjoyed great food, excellent snow, tried both classic and skating styles and ended with great apres ski in Courmayeur.
Next stop the Dolomites! Two of the ISW team combined their trips and came with me. We base our Dolomites Track Explorer in the lovely family run Hotel Zanon - more amazing food! Good thing we are skiing everyday to keep up with the 4 courses in the evening. Our week 'explored' different ski areas, different ski styles & ski types, developing technique, visiting local villages and day ski tours. The icing on the cake for many though was entering the 22k Classic Ski Race the 'Lavazeloppet'. The Tracks and Trails team entered the event the day before once having skied the course and felt confident that they could do it. So a nervous 24hrs followed whilst they planned what to wear, to eat & to carry and whether it was now such a good idea! On the race morning of the race they were joined by some 150 other skiers at the start line at Passo Lavaze. As the sun rose to another blue sky day I stood on the hill side and enjoyed great views of the skiers leaving the starting pen and making their way around the very hilly/challenging course. I proudly watching all of the T&T's ski team complete the event all in good time - they were given 3h30 to complete. So well done to them all as their results were: Nick:1h40 - Caroline:2h00 - Gill:2h20 - Sue:2h58.
My final day in the Dolomites took me to the start line of the Italian 70k classic race known 'Marcialonga'! This amazing event is like the London Marathon on skis. Joined by 7500 other skiers from all over the world the course takes you up the Val di Fiemme and Fassa valleys. The views and ambience are incredible. This race i've wanted to take part in for many years and is seen as the 'classic of all classic events'. And it was for me too. Although a little fatigued in the legs I was happy to complete the course in 6h23 minutes.