By Gary P. Scott (GPS) – Award-winning Walking & Travel Guide www.rightpathadventures.com
Boy, where do I start?
It was pretty much on my first day hiking in the Dolomites that I understood the magic of the place. I had flown into Munich the night before after a long trip from Park City, Utah (another beautiful place), and drove four hours to a little town I stumbled upon while spending a few months researching where to go and what to do in the area. The small and very quaint Italian village was right above a beautiful turquoise alpine lake and nestled below some very impressive cliffs and peaks that were part of the Adamello-Brenta Nature Park (the equivalent of a National park in the U.S. or Australia).
I lucked out and had booked a very nice four-star family-run hotel where I quickly became friends with the owners and they told me I was their first Australian guest which was pretty cool. The owner Allessandro spoke a little English and he gave me a suggestion for a great hike for the next day and we have remained good friends ever since.
After an amazing buffet breakfast including eggs cooked to my liking, I headed off and after a short walk through the village, I took the stand-up chairlift/cable car up a few thousand feet with an incredible view of the lake below to start my hike. After 20 minutes in a beautiful forest, I broke out onto a trail cut into the cliffside (which was still easy, wide and safe, and fairly flat), and was greeted by a spectacular view of soaring cliffs and spires rising thousands of feet above me. After a great cappuccino and a pit-stop at a quaint mountain lodge, the trail ascended for a few hundred feet after which I was able to have a very nice traditional lunch on a sun-drenched terrace while enjoying the 360-degree view. The rest of the hike was just as spectacular and I ended up walking along the edge of the lake before braving a very quick dip in the very cold water.
On my way back to the hotel I wandered through the main street of the village and enjoyed looking into the few shops that I could find and one shopkeeper I met told me it was the first time he had spoken to an English person in 30 years! The village was very Italian, very authentic, very charming and it did not have ANY tourists except for local Italians, and a few German tourists, who knew about it – a true treasure of a place.
I then thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the hotel’s expansive wellness/spa area which included a large indoor pool and various steam rooms and saunas of varying temperatures. That was followed by a very refreshing Aperol spritz (a very popular Italian drink with prosecco, Aperol mixer, sparkling water, and a slice of orange) on the hotel terrace watching the sun go behind the mountains and I headed into the dining room for an amazing five-course dinner which did not disappoint.
And that was my first day in the Dolomites…
I spent a month exploring the Dolomites that first summer and knew I had found my new home. After 30 years of trekking and climbing peaks in the Himalayas and around the world I was ready for some “no stress” walking – and some creature comforts – and I knew this was the place to do it! I had had more than my share of cold nights sleeping in tents, stomach problems that had me bend over double for hours, freezing toilet tents (or no tent), altitude sickness and the stress and effort needed to acclimatize properly, deadly storms, and the disappointment of not getting over a pass or not getting up a peak you had planned for months or years due to bad weather. I could go on and on…I loved all that, and would not change any of the amazing experiences I have had, but I was ready for something different. I also realized that all my mountaineering and mountain guiding had prepared me for whatever might arise in the future.
The Dolomites are very, very unique. The scenery is world-class, the people are friendly, the place is super safe with basically no crime outside of the cities that fringe the west and south of the Dolomites, there is over 10,000km of trails that run the gamut from easy strolls along flat trails to steep cliff-hanging trails that require clipping into cables for protection and everything in between – there is truly something for everyone of any level.
The people who travel to the Dolomites seem very like minded – they love the mountains and nature, and above all walking. There isn’t the competitiveness you find in the Himalaya where everyone is comparing how they are doing and where they are going and what they have done. In the Dolomites, people are just there to enjoy themselves no matter that level of hiker they are or how far or fast they are going. I felt a real calm and peace in the Dolomites and interestingly enough later I read that Dolomite rock is supposed to make people feel more calm and peaceful and tranquil. AND, the weather is better than anywhere else in the Alps.
A super popular skiing area with easy access from neighboring countries, the Dolomites were awarded U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage Nature Site status in 2009, just a few months before I first arrived. In the award they were described as “the world’s most beautiful natural architecture”. Italy has more U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage sites than any other country in the world but only a handful of “Nature” sites. Back then there were many European walkers visiting the Dolomites – but few westerners had even heard of it. Now, with the help of the internet and Instagram people can see how spectacular it is and many more western travelers can be found there – though it still is off the main tourist routes thank Goodness.
It is now known as a world-class destination for walkers, hikers, climbers, cyclists, mountain bikers, and anyone that loves natural beauty. Combine that with a fascinating Ladin culture, Tyrolean traditions, World War I history you can walk through, friendly people, clean air, clean water, no trash, no crime, no bugs, incredible gourmet food, local Italian wines, and German beers, immaculate well run family style hotels and fascinating and charming villages in picturesque settings – what isn’t to love…
The Dolomites though are a very complicated place to navigate, and to know where to stay and where to hike. With nine separate Nature Parks, dozens of valleys, hundreds of villages, thousands of hotels, and 10,000km of hiking trails that resemble a giant spider web of interconnected trails and one of the world’s largest cable car systems interconnecting them all. I have hiked in all of the parks and all of the valleys and stayed in dozens of villages and dozens of hotels and hiked many of the trails and it has taken me years to perfect where I take people. There are few “set” trails like to the top of a peak in Colorado, you have to piece together one trail to another to get the best views and have the best experience and avoid hiking all day uphill in a forest seeing very little. I now have my favorite hotels and villages and hikes and I’d love to share them with you while telling you about the local history, culture, and traditions while introducing you to some amazing food in some incredible places – it’s what I love to do.
I missed being in the Dolomites in 2020 due to COVID19 but can’t wait to head back there in 2021 and sure hope I get the chance to show you around on one of my six-day Dolomite Walking Tours and show you the best of what the Dolomites has to offer. And don’t worry, with over 100 group tours under my belt I am an expert at knowing the “right path” to take you on. I have many tour dates you can choose from between mid-June and late September which is the hiking season in the area, and I also help people plan self-guided trips.