I signed up for the Guided Classic Dolomites Traverse because I wanted a challenge. In fact, I needed a challenge! My only child was graduating high school in June and heading off to college in the fall. With this empty-nester status knocking at my door and my 55th birthday approaching, I decided to mark the occasion by booking a trip with Alpinehikers – a perfect distraction and opportunity to set my fitness goals for the summer.
I suspect I am not the first whose desired training and fitness regime didn’t work out as intended. The summer months flew by and I found myself a week out from my late-August departure with only one (yes, ONE), strenuous hike completed. I hoped that I wasn’t the only one with lofty summer goals that fell short. In the end, I discovered my trip to the Dolomites wasn’t about the physical challenge after all, and in fact, many of my happiest memories and moments happened when my boots were off. Beyond hiking, I committed to exploring the culture, people, music, and food of South Tyrol.
Here are some of my off-the-trail highlights that any visitor to the Dolomites can enjoy with just a bit of initiative. For me, these experiences were the perfect complement to the long days on the trail.
Music and Culture
In Ortisei, while out for a short stroll after dinner when I came across a group of 20 adults dressed in ornate traditional costumes. The group moved into the town square, where they energetically started to dance and hoot, accompanied by two accordion players. I later learned the Folk Dance Group Ortisei was founded in 1963 and recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary. These traditional folk dancers have a rich history, carefully demonstrating dances from long ago in their sartorial splendor. How fortuitous that I stumbled
upon this impromptu performance when I could have easily retired to my room after dinner and missed this.
Music was a special theme throughout the trip. At the alpine huts, it is not unusual for guests to gather in the evening to play instruments and sing traditional folk songs. At Rifugio Sasso Piatto, a group of guests gathered to sing together in every language from the local language called Ladin, to German and Italian, and even English. I especially loved this evening, as it felt wonderful to be a part of a group of travelers from all over the world singing together while enjoying a late-night glass of grappa or pint of beer.
Alpine Wellness & Pampering
While half of our group did the strenuous out and back hike on our fifth day, I strolled a few blocks to the nearby Savinela Spa at the Granbaita Dolomites Hotel, where I scheduled a deep tissue massage and foot treatment designed for hikers.
The Dolomites have a lot of great spas. This indulgent facility features treatments inspired by the alpine rituals, including sauna rooms featuring mountain hay and forest pine plus several steam rooms. They also have a unique salt grotto pool and cave with warmed Himalayan salt beds known for their healing properties. At the end of a sauna session, it is possible to enter a special ice cave with actual snow for cooling down! After my three-hour visit, I felt completely refreshed and restored.
Local Food & Drink
In San Cassiano, I was told the three Michelin-starred Restaurant St. Hubertus shouldn’t be missed. I wasn’t interested in separating from our group and dining alone, so instead, I stopped in for a proper cocktail before dinner.
The hotel bar was warm and welcoming with live piano music. I enjoyed a perfectly stirred and poured Manhattan cocktail, prepared by Matteo, a seasoned bartender. In Italy, pre-dinner drinks are called aperitivo and served with complimentary snacks, called cicchetti. I was offered a lovely selection of tiny tacos, local melon wrapped in prosciutto and other small nibbles. It was a glorious way to spend an hour before our group gathered for dinner.
A final highlight was exploring the many local bakeries and specialty markets to seek out the perfect pastry or special box of locally produced Loacker chocolates. My personal favorite is called Gardena, which is best described as a Nutella-filled Kit Kat. Besides the usual South Tyrolean favorites such as apple strudel and freshly baked pretzels, another popular must-try treat is the Krapfen, a German-style donut that is filled with cream or jam. These are crazy delicious and well-earned after long hours on the trail!
I absolutely loved my time in the Dolomites. Alpinehikers curates wonderful itineraries for both hiking and experiencing the best of this region. While the staggering beauty of the hikes was the backbone of the journey, the spontaneous and unique moments discovered off the trail will stay with me as I reflect on this incredible time in the Italian Alps.
Photography by Kecia Welt