The Dolomites, a commonly overlooked region of Italy for Americans when it comes to planning a vacation, is by far our favorite place in this amazing country. We spent four days driving incredibly winding roads, up and down through mountainous territory, enjoying some of Italy’s best views. Our first hike, the Lagazuoi Tunnels, really showed us just how beautiful this area is.
Falling in love with the Dolomites
This part of the country is almost more Austrian than Italian. German is just as widely spoken as Italian, and we heard hardly any English at all. My knowledge of German and Italian is miniscule, as I only know the necessities, such as counting to ten and asking for a glass of wine. Still, we were able to get by.
The towns looked like they were plucked out of Bavaria, with quaint hotels decorated with masses of petunias and other colorful flowers, ski chalets, and the occasional biergarten. We saw chair lifts and gondolas everywhere, used for skiing in the winter, but were now taking vacationers like ourselves to the mountaintops for some of the highest views over Italy.
The hiking was the best we have had yet; challenging, not overly crowded, with rewarding vistas. At the end of the day we would return to Selva di Cadore, our home base, and enjoy pizza, pasta, and wine. This is our kind of paradise.
Our Home Base: Selva di Cadore
To get to the Dolomites, we rented a car in Venice, driving almost two hours north to the town of Selva di Cadore. We made a pitstop on the way, since Kara got carsick again. Crazy! She has never had a problem with carsickness until this trip. So much for my plans of homeschooling while driving through Africa…I guess we will figure that out once we get there.
Selva di Cadore is a quiet, little town located in the mountains, about a half hour away from Cortina D’Ampezzo. It is a somewhat central location for reaching most of the hiking trails. Plus, we were located away from the main touristy towns; it was wonderful getting away from the masses of tourists in Italy in July.
In Selva di Cadore we stayed at Hotel Garni Ongaro. We stayed in the quadruple room which had bunk beds for Tyler and Kara and a queen-sized bed for Tim and I. The rooms are basic but clean and breakfast each morning was very good. We loved staying in this small town, a nice break from the bigger cities we just visited in Italy.
Hiking the Lagazuoi Tunnels
Today we did our shortest of three hikes, since it was already 2 pm once we got started. A half hour north of Selva di Cadore is the Falzarego Pass and the Lagazuoi Tunnels. The roads here are insane! I don’t think there is a straight section of road in the Dolomites longer than 100 meters long, and some mountain climbs would entail driving 36 hairpin turns. We know this because there were signs counting them down during these climbs.
We parked in a car park on a mountaintop, and just when we thought we couldn’t go any higher, there was a cable car to take us to 2800 meters of altitude at the mountain peak. The cable car went so high that we couldn’t even see the top…it was covered in clouds.
It was a very smooth, very fast ride to the top. We emerged from the cable car into much cooler weather. The four of us were wearing shorts, T-shirts, and rain jackets, which was not enough clothing. If you plan on doing this hike, make sure you are prepared for the cooler temperatures on the mountain top.
After photos with an incredible backdrop, we set off down the mountain. This area of Italy was the site of many World War I battles. We could see tunnels and bunkers carved out of the mountains, remnants from the war.
On this hike we were planning on hiking 1 km down one of these tunnels. In order to do this good footwear and flashlights are a must. We came prepared, but could never find the tunnel!! I think Italians periodically flip signs backwards just to confuse people.
In a way, we were glad we missed the tunnel. By hiking through a dark tunnel we would have missed some of the best views.
Halfway down the mountain we found the bottom entrance to the tunnel. We walked through the tunnel part of the way. It was dark, chilly, and slippery. Those flashlights are a must!!
We finished our last descent, ending our first hike in the Dolomites. The scenery is amazing here. We are really looking forward to taking a much longer hike tomorrow.
Facts About the Lagazuoi Tunnels Hike
Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 650 meters (mostly downhill; a cable car takes you to the highest point)
Length of time: 3 to 4 hours
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Map: You can purchase a map of this hike at the tourist offices, souvenir shops, and outdoor suppliers in the Dolomites. For this hike, you need the Tabacco #3 or #7. Purchasing the map is not necessary. The hiking trail is well marked and easy to follow. You can also reference the book Shorter Walks in the Dolomites, which we mention below.
When to go: This hike is best during the summer months.
Bring: Hiking shoes, water, snacks or lunch, a jacket and long pants (it is chilly at the higher elevations), and of course, your camera.
For More Information on Hiking in the Dolomites
Looking for more hikes in the Dolomites? We also hiked the spectular Puez-Odle Altopiano (one of our favorite hikes of all time) and The Tre Cime di Lavaredo Loop, an easy hike around giant pinnacles of stone, one of the iconic views of the Dolomites.
The book Shorter Walks in the Dolomites by Gillian Price was a huge asset to us planning our time in the Dolomites. This book covers 50 one-day hikes in the Dolomites, complete with maps, directions, photographs, and wonderful descriptions of the hikes. If you are considering hiking the Dolomites, we highly recommend this book.
More Information for Your Trip to Italy:
- Hiking the Cinque Terre: What You Need to Know
- One Perfect Day in Siena, Italy
- Where to Stay in Venice: Best Hotels and Neighborhoods for Your Budget
- 9 Must-Have Experiences in Venice
- 10 Best Things to do on Your First Visit to Florence
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- Slovenia: Hiking the Julian Alps of Slovenia: Vrsic Pass to Slemenova Spica
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