Top of Col Raiser
For a change of pace, and some hikes with different vistas, we took the Col Raiser funicular on the north side of the (Val Gardena) valley. This funicular is a pleasant walk just east of Santa Cristina, on the edge of town. Once we arrived at the end of our ride, at 6,900 feet altitude, there were several easy, medium and more challenging hikes to chose from. There also was a big sign that showed which refuges were open, so you could plan your lunch or an overnight stay.
All of the hikes we did were quite easy to follow using the maps provided at each Tourist Information office. We also used the excellent maps provided by each lift we used. However, these are not topo maps and more detailed maps would be wise for longer hikes. There are also many excellent guides in this valley. We met a few on the trails and they all spoke several languages and were very knowledgeable and fun.
Our refuge for espresso
We headed east and within twenty minutes reached the small cafe at the Firenze refuge, which was a perfect place for an espresso and pit stop. Then, we headed uphill and climbed some easy trails with more spectacular views of our favorite mountain, Sassolungo, and the Gruppo Del Sella. This side of the valley gets more sun in most parts, but there were some shady sections that still had snow covering the trail this first week of June. We didn’t see as many green valleys, like on the south side and we walked among more boulders and hard-packed dirt. I kept hoping we’s see some big horn sheep or more birds of prey, but we only heard the happy chirping of birds and the wind. On our way back, when we returned to the woods, we heard the distinctive call of the Common Cuckoo of Europe, which sounds just like the family cuckoo clock. These birds are very shy and stop singing as soon as you get close by. We heard them frequently while hiking these mountains.
Along the Trail
Although we chose a three hour trail for a day hike, we could see that many longer hikes would be possible. As we ventured up higher, we could see many larger refuges (with swimming pools and playgrounds) dotting the hillsides. It’s also possible to take other lifts to go up even higher into the mountains towards the Austrian border or back down towards the town of Ortisei. But, we were happy to stop for lunch at the Baita Troier Huette refuge, which made delicious Tyrollean soups. The bacon and egg dish looked awfully, good, too. The views from the expansive deck made our lunch break a special treat.
Happy Horses before the season starts
After lunch, it’s an easy hike downhill to the Col Raiser funicular, or for more exercise, it’s a somewhat steep hike downhill into Santa Cristina. But the trail offers some shade as you return through the pine forest and hug the hills. We also got close enough to admire the distinctive horses that are found in this valley. Almost all that we saw have the lighter mane and the dark muzzles. They seem to be a calm and content breed.
The last hike we managed to fit in our schedule was above Ortisei, towards the northwest. We took a very steep ride up the mountain on the large Raisciesa funicular, which also climbs to 6,900 feet. We chose an easy hike that led us up to a small church, called Santa Croce then it went a bit higher to the Croce, a large wooden crucifix. It was worth the extra twenty minute climb to reach the stunning, panoramic view. From this spot, we could look north towards the snow-capped mountains that form the border between Italy and Austria. We could also look down into a beautiful, green valley with farms and villages in the distance. Near the cross, we found a few shy goats who kept their distance anytime we tried to get a good picture.
Mom and kids
We decided we had enough time and energy to walk down the trail into Ortisei. For the first part, we used a dirt road that the forest rangers use. Soon, we came upon a hiker’s trail that was well maintained and easy to follow. But the last third of the trail was paved in stones for the faithful who walk the stations of the cross. Although the cobblestone path and the carved artwork were beautiful, it wasn’t the easiest way to end a hike.
One of the Stations of the Cross
Once in Orisei, it’s easy to find a bus or there’s another passeggiata trail back to Santa Cristina. However, going back up the valley to Santa Cristina is a gradual climb until you reach the edge of town. The last quarter mile is a rather steep climb that even challenged the cyclists we saw. But, with our favorite gelato shop, Café Calés, just past the church, we knew we had a tasty reward waiting for our efforts.
This map is showing about half of the hikes in Val Gardena
A good time to hike the Dolomites is mid June through July and early September. Once the hiking season is in full operation, there is a Val Gardena card which offers a package price for the many lifts and all shuttle bus transportation. If you’re staying for several days or a week, this could be a great savings