Escape to the Dolomites
Mountains are meant to be explored. If not, why would they be there? The Dolomites, straddling the border between Italy and Austria, are like paradise on earth for those who feel the need to stretch their wings and (try) to fly. Here in Northeastern Italy, everywhere you turn there’s a breathtaking view that puts other mountain ranges to shame. It’s all accessible via immaculately curated trail systems connecting idyllic villages and mountain meadows straight out of the set of “The Sound of Music”. If you’re like us, you won’t be able to resist running, biking, or hiking the extra mile just to see what’s on the other side of the mountain. Careful… you might just leave everything behind and stay here.
We chose San Vigilio di Marebbe as our home base for our stay in the Dolomites as it is in the heart of the region and off the beaten path and right next to countless miles of hiking, cycling, and running trails. What a better way to have out the door access a UNESCO Heritage Site than to be nestled high amongst Dolomite peaks and pine forests? We went to San Vigilio di Marebbe in late summer, when temperatures are warm enough to be comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt for most of the day, but also cool enough to sleep very well at night. In winter, San Vigilio di Marebbe is a hotspot for skiing given its location at the foot of the famous Plan de Corones, and a host of other ski runs if winter sports are your game.
Where to stay
Winter or summer, the family run Spaces Hotel, situated 2-3km above San Vigilio on a ski run not only has a beautiful view of the surrounding mountain peaks, but also out the door access to running, hiking, and mountain bike trails. This location, though seemingly tailor made for hiking, skiing, and mountain bike enthusiasts is actually a family run hotel that was once a tiny mountain hut on the side of the mountain. The family has taken great care to modernize and expand the hotel into the modern, luxurious oasis that it is today. The remodeling and expansion has taken the woodworking traditions of the region and combined it with a modern twist, with spacious hotel rooms overlooking mountain peaks and an ideal space for intimate pre and post dinner drinks in a spacious bar, restaurant, and balcony to enjoy the view of the mountain playground mere steps from the door. Knowing that most guests will have worked up an appetite hiking, skiing or cycling, a locally-sourced menu at the restaurant serves up not only traditional dishes, but also those with a flair, taking seasonal ingredients from the region and creating dishes inspired by Northern Italian cuisines fused with those from around the world. Being at Spaces is the perfect way to relax in your own personal luxurious space without ever really shutting out the mountains around you. With Dolomite peaks and pine forest surrounding you, why would you ever need anything else?
What to Do
Being there in summer, the first thing that comes to mind is hiking. With so many trails around, trail choice seemed a bit daunting - strange given that pretty much everything in the Dolomites is 100 times more beautiful than you can find on Instagram, so it’s really impossible to go wrong. However, given our limited time, we wanted to make sure to see the best spots. With the help of the San Vigilio Tourism Board, we decided on taking the trail from Ücia Pederù just outside of San Vigilio di Marebbe to Lêch Vért, which means Green Lake in the local Ladin language. For those who are super fit, you can get on the trail straight out of town for around a 6-8 hour hike. The more popular option is driving to Ücia Pederù (Pederu mountain hut/refuge) and picking up the trail from there to make the hike to Ücia di Fanes (Fanes mountain hut/refuge) at 2060m above sea level and the Lêch Vért and Lêch Limo which is about 3-5 hours round trip. We couldn’t recommend this trail enough. It’s much calmer than the extremely popular Lago di Braies, which has even been shut to automobile traffic at peak times due to high numbers of selfie taking visitors - yep, Instagram has overcrowded even a lake buried in the forest almost 2000m high in the Dolomites.
For those who enjoy exploring at a faster pace, mountain running and mountain biking are very popular activities and it’s easy to see why. The ideal summer mountain climate, fresh air, and variety of trails make it an ideal place to explore on two wheels or your own two feet. If competition runs in your veins, there are races, events, and training camps set up here throughout the summer months. The lower temperatures make for an ideal run or ride when the rest of Italy is scorching in July and August. For a brief look into hiking, running, and mountain bike trails in the area, have a look at the film Below.
Watch the video below:
Tips on the area
Being high in the mountains, the weather can change rapidly. It’s not uncommon to leave your hotel with blue skies and a toasty sunshine only to be caught out by dark clouds rolling in as you are high up the mountain. While the sun can be very strong in the summer (don’t forget sunscreen), the shade is much cooler and the higher you go, the lower the temperature, so don’t get caught out. Always have at least a light jacket or windbreaker with you.
While out on the trails, there’s no reason to carry all of your food unless you plan on going really far. A Malga is a mountain hut and a defining cultural feature of the Northern Italian mountain regions. You’ll find them all around the area and are ideal places for a traditionally cooked meal that will not only leave your stomach full and happy, but also give you a goal to get to and cultural experience along the way. Make sure to have cash handy as most will not accept cards due to lack of reception. The people are very friendly and used to tourists, so if you have questions or want a local’s advice on what to eat or where to go next, don’t be afraid to ask!
Unlike many places in the US, the trails are shared by all users, mountain bikes, runners, and hikers all get to enjoy the same trails. It works very well because users are generally very respectful to one another. As a general rule, if you are a faster trail user, slow down and make space for slower trail users when passing. Anticipate that others will be using the trail, especially in the summer when there are more users, so be prudent when visibility is low. Pretend everyone you meet is a family member, friend, or co-worker that you’ll be seeing again soon. Treat them with the respect you’d like to be treated with, no matter your preferred method of exploration. Remember, saying “hello”, “thanks”, and “enjoy the hike” don’t take much effort and make everyone’s day more enjoyable! Also, it goes without saying, take your garbage with you. Don’t leave anything behind!
The Dolomites really are the place of dreams, made for dreamers, for those who prefer to explore under their own power and let their minds wander with them. Each mountain pass, trail, view is an inspiration to go further, just for the sake of seeing what lies beyond. Here, you’ll find peace of mind and satisfy the need to move and live free.