Most Americans who travel to Italy don’t think about hiking here, but they should. Italy has more than 30 National Parks and even more regional parks — all with miles of hiking trails. Each time we visit this amazing country, we include an area with good hiking. We always try to explore a new region, but sometimes we just have to return to a favorite spot. For a wide variety of easy, medium or challenging hikes, it’s hard to beat the Val Gardena, in the Dolomite Mountains. Here are a few reasons to check out this amazing valley.
Beautifully maintained and well-marked hiking trails
The distances are marked in minutes and hours, which is quite helpful. They also include the time it will take to get to the next Hutte/Rifugio for a bite to eat or a refreshing drink.
Get your free hiking map from the TI or at any of the Funicular Stations. Some trails are wide enough for mountain bikes—others are steep and narrow.
Local scenery and charming architecture
Alpe di Suisi, one of the largest Alpine Meadows in Europe, is a harmonious mix of private farms, family run Huttes-Rifugios and lovely trails. During the height of the season, there are small busses that help hikers cover more territory. But a lift or funicular is not far away.
Funiculars & lifts that provide scenic rides & access to more trails
During the hiking season, you have access to almost all of the ski lifts and funiculars that are used during the ski season. You can even buy a pass for several days or one week.
Most hotels provide a Val Gardena card that provides free bus connections from the various towns in the area. So, you can take a funicular ride up to a beautiful area, hike around and maybe take a bus back to your base town. Sometimes we even walk back down into the valley on one of the lovely trails that wind through the forests. There are also lovely trails that connect the three main towns of Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva.
Rifugios-Huttes along the trail
When hiking in the Dolomites, you are never far from a mountain restaurant called a Hutte , Baita or Rifugio. Some of the best food can be found at these family run establishments. There is a nice mix of German or Italian dishes, including a warm soup with dumplings or a hearty dish of eggs, speck and potatoes. They also have the best beer around.
The locals speak at least four languages quite fluently—Ladino, German, Italian and English. So you will often find a menu that includes the English versions of their specialties. If not, the wait staff almost always speak enough English to help out.
Along with the wonderful food, the Huttes have tables inside or out, with the most amazing views anywhere. They also provide comfortable lounging chairs so you can stay awhile and enjoy the views. These family oriented rest stops almost always have a playground and some farm animals for everyone to enjoy.
Clean, modern and even Beautiful Bathrooms
Our U.S. National Parks are amazing, but they sure don’t provide facilities like these! Instead of cold, musty outhouses, you almost always find a modern and immaculately clean restroom at any of the family-run Huttes. The thick wooden doors are nicer than anything you’ll find in my house! This restroom even had a fireplace in it.
Views that never stop
At the top of the Col Raiser funicular ride, we found some snow. But the trails were groomed for walking and we had some fantastic views. Late in the season (mid September) you can run into a bit of snow and colder evenings.
The hiking season starts mid June and lasts until the end of September, weather permitting. The valley is busiest in August, when the Italians escape the heat and vacation here. Early September is a good time, but it’s also popular with the neighboring Germans, who love to hike.
There are three major towns in the valley, Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva. All three have great access to trails & good bus service. If you like winter sports, this valley must be paradise for skiers.
For other stories about the Dolomites, click here.
Whenever you decide to visit, check out the Val Gardena website for more information.