Ski Safari, Italian Style
When thinking of Italy, dramatic mountains, hiking, biking, and skiing may not be the first things that come to mind. But for travelers whose idea of “la dolce vita” includes fresh air and a bit of a challenge (and let’s be honest, really good food), the Dolomites are heaven on Earth.
At the top of the boot, in a border province that has been the subject of a game of tug-of-war for hundreds of years, the Dolomites are one of Italy’s Unesco World Heritage site treasures. The region represents a unique cultural melting pot, where each valley speaks its own language and where you are more likely to find strudel than pomodoro. Homes in the Dolomites look like ginger bread houses dripping with frosting in the winter. In the summer months, deer, chamoix, and small black bears peek from trees and steppes as hikers, climbers, bikers, and cyclists enjoy the expansive trail system.
The Dolomites are home to the Dolomiti Superski, a “carousel” of 12 interconnected resorts with 1,200 kilometers (nearly 800 miles!) of perfectly groomed slopes. In the winter, adventurous travelers can ski for days from valley to valley, dining, sleeping, and sharing the stories of the day at alpine “rifugios.” In the summer months, visitors stay busy hiking, cycling, climbing and taking advantage of the via ferrata— “iron paths”—winding through the mountains—reminders of the significance of the area during WWII.
Most journeys begin in Cortina, a small town roughly 1.5 hours from Venice and 2 hours from Innsbruck, Austria. During peak seasons, the mountain town becomes a place for socializing, shopping, and warming up on the slopes. I recommend a few nights at Cristallo Resort & Spa, where guests can enjoy spacious alpine rooms, delicious dining, an indoor pool, spa, fitness center and excellent kids club before heading into the more remote areas of the region.
Traveling deeper into the mountain range, travelers have the opportunity to take part in a full “safari” experience. From their first stop, travelers strap on skis, pack for a few nights away, and wave goodbye as their belongings are bused to their final destination. The safari can last anywhere from a night or two to a full week depending on the interests of the travelers. After a full day of skiing (or hiking in the summer!), travelers refresh at local “rifugios,” or mountain huts. Here, travelers warm up over delicious dishes, hot sauna baths, and plenty of stories. Far from what you might imagine at the top of mountain, rifugios welcome visitors with smells of natural pine, mulled wine, and mountain air.
The ultimate safari ends with a tour around the Sella Ronda. The Sella Ronda Ski Tour is one of the most spectacular ski routes in the world, taking skiers on a day trip journey circumnavigating the Sella Massif.
Considered a “merry-go-round” for intermediate level skiers, this unique circular connection of lifts and runs was once the only way the ancient inhabitants of the Ladin—the unique ethnic group in the Dolomite Region—villages could maintain a connection with each other. Today, it is a fantastic loop that connects four Dolomite passes and four Ladin valleys (Val Gardena, Alta Badia, Val di Fassa, and Arabba).
After a few days in the mountains, a good safari ends in the quaint and quiet town of San Cassiano. Checking in at Rosa Alpina, now in its third-generation as a family-owned and run property, guests enjoy subdued luxury, excellent dining, sumptuous spa experiences, and easy access to the lifts for fun cool-down runs.
Although most commonly known for its skiing, the Dolomites are a year-round destination and dream for the adventurous traveler. The easiest way to get to the Dolomites is through Venice. In the summer months, travelers can also fly into Innsbruck, Austria and drive through a pass not accessible in the winter.
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