Sassolungo in the Dolomites. (Source: Roberto Ferrari)
If you were put on the spot and asked to conjure up iconic “must do” experiences of the Veneto, what might you come up with?
Venice, naturally, would top the list with its fading palatial grandeur, myriad of bustling waterways peppered with garish gondolas and a seemingly indefatigable throng of eager visitors.
Verona might be another. Who wouldn’t want to take a closer look at the scene set by two of the world’s most renowned lovers in a town famed for its aristocratic musical heritage?
Wonderfully varied wines from Valpolicella, cicchetti, risotto, polenta, radicchio trevisano… more good reasons to go.
But what if you wanted to get away from crowds, to leave the well-trodden path in search of the heart of what this rich and verdant slice of Northern Italy really has to offer?
With its green pastures and clusters of pine forests, not to mention the distinctly alpine architecture, one could be forgiven for thinking one was just over the border in Austria or Switzerland. The Veneto has a markedly un-Italian feel many say, very organised, pristine, neat and clean. More influence from across the border, no doubt!
To the far north of the region, the Dolomites are known for their bizarre forms and spectacular colouration, the result of 250 million years of ice, wind and water corrosion. Their colours change spectacularly with the path of the sun, with purple melting into silver, gold and terracotta, and sharp peaks like daggers or jagged fangs soaring into the sky.
The Dolomites have become synonymous with skiing over the years, think Cortina, Val Gardena and Alta Badia, famous for their picture postcard villages, deliciously robust mountain food and glittering social lives, but the truth is that these mountains are far more magical and mystical than their reputation paints them to be.
The Dolomites are equally shared between the provinces of Belluno, South Tyrol and Trentino, though where the latter two count only 10% of their surface area as mountainous, Belluno is more than two thirds covered by these mountains.
Alta Via Trails
If you want to explore this breathtaking area of the Veneto on foot you could do a lot worse than taking to the Alta Via trails which criss-cross the Dolomites from North to South and from East to West.
The “streets of the peaks”, these long distance routes wind their way across the mountain range, perfect for multi-day, hut to hut alpine touring, taking in stunning panoramas and challenging terrain. There’s no need to pack a tent, sleeping bag, food or stove, because wherever you go you will find abundant rifugi (refuges) offering comfy bunks and hearty, delicious meals prepared by the innkeeper.
The beauty of being in Italy! Ranging from easy hikes to challenging via ferrata, there are 8 Alta Via in all varying in length from 6 to 13 days. Each trail traverses a section of the Dolomites from top to bottom, north to south, maintaining medium-high altitude and exploring spectacular angles of the different mountainous groups of the range.
Belluno is easily accessible from Venice by train or car. Experience the difference by spending time in Venice and then heading for the hills to truly appreciate how varied and contrasting this stunning part of Northern Italy can be.