Alpine Roadtrip Part #3 – Cortina & the Dolomites

The second half of our roadtrip after our 48-hours of rest was to be in the Dolomites, the Italian Alps. Rather than classic mountains however, the landscape of the Dolomites is even more dramatic, with soaring stacks of rock creating strange and otherworldy formations. Neither of us had been before, and our (rather limited) research led us to the town of Cortina D’Ampezzo. A hub for skiing in the winter, it’s a great place to stay if catering to a wealthier clientele than we’d anticipated.

Having been in Riva where buildings were more typically Italian – villas, bungalows, terracotta – as we got closer to Cortina, and close to the Austrian border, the architecture changed to picturesque chalets, rolling hills and plenty of cows. Then out of nowhere the stacks begin to loom and the roadsigns greet you in Italian, German and French – a little bewildering to say the least.

The main reason for us heading to the Dolomites was as the birthplace of via ferrata, having been developed in the First World War as a way for troops to more easily cross the mountains. I was admittedly feeling put off after my Ailefroide experience, however Italian via ferrata is (traditionally) about getting up a face easily and quickly, rather than pushing for athletic moves that were created in the French gorge. We headed for Pizes de Cir just off the Gardena Pass to the west of Cortina and Corvara, where there was a short and friendlier route to try out. Again despite only being around 2200m in altitude I found the walk to the base of the route difficult, unable to move fast or think particularly clearly. Nevertheless, this was a better experience and I felt much more comfortable on the wide ledges and well-travelled ladders to the top – the loose walk back down a gorge being more trying for my nerves. A gin and tonic at the Dantercepies Mountain Lounge made up for this…

Gardena Pass
Stunning views across the Gardena Pass

The following day, having sampled one of Cortina’s lovely restaurants and the hotel’s spa bath to relax, Simon wanted to try out the region’s hardest via ferrata route Sci Club 18. Knowing already that it wasn’t for me, we travelled together by cable car from Cortina to Faloria, with Simon getting off halfway to trek to the base of the climb. Once I was on top of the ridge at the cable car stop and Faloria Refugio (loving the mountain top bars), I took myself off down the newly created Dolomieu Panoramico route, a hike down to the Rio Gere Refugio. Being almost entirely downhill and knowing approximately how long Simon would take, I walked for an hour or so before retracing my steps. It’s rare that I go out for a walk on my own, and it was refreshing to travel at my own pace. Seeing no-one else on the trail I could enjoy the peace of the pine forest, and indulge in the views.

Dolomieu route
I’m not tired, I’m admiring the view…

I got to the top of the Sci Club 18 route just as Simon was topping out, and after some time to relax in the sun we then headed down the trail in search of the old cable car base. The 1993 film Cliffhanger with Sylvester Stallone was filmed in the dolomites, as its setting of the Rocky Mountains wasn’t dramatic enough. The emergency lodge in the film was an abandoned cable car base – now a disappointing concrete box, but still just about comparable to the film. It made for a pleasant twenty minute loop either way, and our beer and panini felt well-deserved before heading back down.

Cliffhanger Lodge
Simon feeling a little disappointed by the lodge

For our final day before our long journey home, we’d heard of the Lago di Sorapis, a gem in the Dolomites. Caused by floating glacial silt, the lake has a startling turquoise colour to it, unlike anything I’ve seen before. We’d hoped we may have been able to swim, but given its unique composition that isn’t found elsewhere needless to say this isn’t allowed. A pleasant two hour walk through pine forests along more civilised gravel paths leads to (you guessed it) a refugio, the lake revealing itself over a mound in the path. As a way to wind off our holiday, and take in the breath-taking views on last time, this walk is well recommended – as is the spaghetti bolognaise.

Taking the time out from life to be together and allow yourself space is extremely important. Not paying attention to the credit card, doing what you want when you feel like it and relieving the pressure of the everyday is an indulgence that is so often ignored. I came home from our two weeks away feeling completely reset – whilst the last two years have been amazing, exciting and life-changing, I feel like I’m back to the person I was before the house and before the wedding. No longer having to plan or worry about details has returned a sense of deep contentment, a confidence in myself and our life choices, and the knowledge that regardless of what happens, a bit of fresh air and a good mountain view will always make me smile.

Lago di Sorapis
Blue above and blue below



Read about Part 1 and Part 2.


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