Historically, records show that the name "Dolomites" is derived from the famous French mineralogist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu who was the first to describe this type of carbonate rock, ‘dolomite’. Previously called the "pallid mountains," it wasn’t until early in the nineteenth century that the name was French-ified.
Activities with height of sophistication
Well-known throughout the world is Cortina d’Ampezzo, and its enchanting surroundings. It offers travelers an overabundance of activities ranging from hiking to skiing and biking to cycling. The Cortina area encompasses two adventure parks, 13 lifts, 56 mountain huts, 400 km. of trails, and 11,200 Ha of nature park all of which make it a veritable paradise for skiers and nature lovers.
Cortina D’Ampezzo hit the world stage in 1956 as the host city for the Winter Olympics. Today, the Valle d’Ampezzo continues to be a preferred site for important national and international winter sports. If you want to feel the rush of Olympic fever, and are up to the challenge, you too can downhill ski on the Stratofana, or try the giant slalom on the Vitelli and the special slalom on the Col Druscie A. You may not be awarded a medal, but it will surely be a thrill for ski enthusiasts and experts.
However, you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy all that the area has to offer. Recognized for its superior ski amenities, Cortina offers 37 ski lifts, 115 km. of slopes and tracks, 39 ski huts, 13 ski and equipment rental stores and over 200 ski instructors. Mountain and nature guides are also available for cross country skiing, snow shoeing and mountain climbing. Snowboarding is also a popular pastime here.
In warmer weather, cyclists can rent bikes from any of the four rental stores, and get whatever they need at the 16 sport equipment shops. Once checked into one of 23 bike hotels, guests can avail themselves of suggestions and training from one of 20 instructors and then hit the road along a 500 km. route that also boasts 56 mountain huts that offer rest and assistance.
If your direction is “up”, climbers can choose from among 850 climbing itineraries that encompass around 1,000 climbing routes of which 6 peaks are taller than 3,000 metres (Marmolada is 3,348 metres of limestone spires and pinnacles). Around 50 mountain hits are also available for these thrill-seekers.
Nature lovers who visit the Queen of the Dolomites Park will be gifted not only with the enchanting mountainous panorama of Alpine flora and conifer and fir trees, but also a variety of fauna that include marmot, roe, deer, ibex and chamois and golden eagle. A total of 19 Alpine lodges and restaurants will satisfy your hunger and thirst, and provide suitable relaxation for weary bones.
Those who wish to immerse themselves in the Cortina culture scene can visit a variety of monuments, including the 18th century Santi Filippo church, the 17th century Chapel of the Holy Trinity, the Austro-Hungarian Tre Sassi Fort, and Botestagno Castle.
Shopping is a pleasure, especially along the pedestrian-only Corso Italia and its enticing high-end boutiques and small craft workshops. Visitors can round off the day with refreshments of hot chocolate and dessert at one of the numerous welcoming bars. By the way, don’t be surprised if you bump into one of the many celebrities who are known to visit Cortina throughout the year.
When all is said and done, Cortina D’Ampezzo is the epitome of a glamorous and luxurious lifestyle. For more information, visit www.cortinadolomiti.org or write email@example.com, www.lagazuoi5torri.colomiti.org.
Set in the heart of Cortina D’Ampezzo, this grand hotel is surrounded by the breathtaking Dolomites. Upon entering, to the right is the modern and comfortable Great Hall (lobby) while to the left are a number of areas especially designed to welcome guests with cocktails and refreshments.
This recently renovated 5-star hotel provides 117 comfort, superior and deluxe rooms, along with 5 junior and 8 suites. For your pleasure, there is fine dining at the Restaurant Savoy, refreshments at “Il giardino d’Inverno” (Winter Garden) bar, along with a Cigar Bar and a Piano Bar. The private garage accommodates 160 cars, and the Spa Wellness centre includes a heated swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam bath along with a spa. www.grandhotelsavoiacortina.com.
Our stay at the Grand Hotel Savoia coincided with the Coppa D’oro delle Dolomiti Cortina D’Ampezzo, a rally of more than 100 vintage cars. Whether or not one is into cars, you couldn’t help but be infected by the excitement generated by the drivers and onlookers. For details visit www.coppadorodelledolomiti.it.
We enjoyed the surrounding panorama in the comfort of our car, although I felt quite lazy when I saw so many visitors of all ages hiking and cycling along the streets and surrounding roads. Luckily, the moment of guilt quickly passed.
A motorcycle is an ideal way to enjoy the area, particularly if you welcome the challenge of winding roads at altitudes that can reach up to 2,800 metres. And you’ll have plenty of company, as it is more the norm than the exception to see packs of bikers.
For skiers, or those who want to climb the heights during the warmer seasons, you can get a lift pass by the day, week or month which can be used on all lifts in the Dolomites area. This is real value for your money.
Gastronomical Delights from the Dolomites
For those looking for unique culinary experiences, it is interesting to note that within less than a 30 km. radius there are four restaurants assigned Michelin stars: Tivoli in Cortina; St. Hubertus of the Rosa Alpina Hotel in the Val Badia area; La Siriola of Ciasa Salares; and La Stua de Michil. Surely this has to be gastronomical paradise!
IL MELONCINO AL CAMINETO
Situated at an altitude of 1600 metres in the locale of Rumerlo, approximately 10 km. from Cortina D’Ampezzo, this restaurant is off the beaten track, a fact that is more than made up by the spectacular views it affords diners. Now open five years, and under the direction of Lina Melon di Franchini and family, this establishment prides itself on high-quality food and service. The elegantly intimate setting is rustic in some aspects, but offers high-end service which is matched with similar prices.
The menu is imaginative and creative, with a variety that may not be found elsewhere. The restaurant’s forte is meat, especially the wild game variety, and all of the dishes are beautifully prepared and presented. A vast wine list, and tempting desserts, will complete your culinary experience.
We indulged in Spaghetti with arugula and cherry tomatoes, cooked al dente and delicately seasoned. The Paccheri (large rigatoni) were infused with a delicately and exquisite puree of peas and finished with small shrimps.
Given the seasonal nature of the location, the restaurant is closed during the months of May/June. For information, go to www.ilmeloncino.it.
About 3 km. from Cortina, proprietors Graziano and Mary Prest have established Ristorante Tivoli, an exemplary restaurant that will appeal to all who revere excellent food and wine. When they opened eight years ago, Graziano brought with him extensive experience gained at Michelin starred restaurants, including Venice.
It is possibly the only restaurant in the area that has dedicated its efforts to the preparation of fish dishes, instead of the traditional meat dishes for which the area is known. The menu, with dishes lovingly and exquisitely prepared using fresh ingredients, also includes their home-made breads and breadsticks. A vast wine list encompasses many prestigious and vintage wines from around the world. The intimate setting is a background for the attentive service by the knowledgeable staff in an establishment that has been recognized with a one-star Michelin, well deserved given the restaurant’s haute cuisine.
We were favoured with a sampling of a number of dishes, commencing with a perfectly cooked Cod salad dressed with olives, arugula, sundried tomatoes and tomato confit. A tray of tuna with soya sauce, fennel, breaded scallops and shrimp that surrounded a carpaccio concoction was enough to satisfy us, but there was more. Bite-sized Peas ravioli with prawns and scallops, and Lobster sauté with Venere rice and caramelized onion were heavenly dishes, and all prepared to perfection. These specialties, along with the light, fluffy and scrumptious Lemon crème and raspberry mousse, will remain in our memory.
The restaurant, located at Via Lacedel, 34, is closed from mid September to end of November. Call 0436 866400 for reservation and further information.
The Adventure continues
Located in the heart of the South Tyrolean Dolomites is what is known as the most beautiful mountain in the world.
Approximately 30 km. from Cortina D’Ampezzo, situated in one of the three zones of the Alto Adige region, is San Cassiano, population of 700. Once Austrian territory, the area was won by Italy at the end of the First World War. San Cassiano is a mere two-hour drive to Venice and Verona as well as Belluno and Bolzano which makes it possible to stay in the Dolomites and still take in an evening of opera in Verona. Unique in the world is the first language spoken here, Ladino, an ancient idiom that has its roots in retro-Roman. Residents learn to speak Ladino, Italian and German. In fact, all signs have names and directions in all three languages.
There are three areas in the Alto Adige region: Val Badia, Val Gardena and Val di Fassa. Each has its particular beauty, but they have one thing in common: incomparable beauty and a panorama that soothes the soul and makes your heart soar.
The motto is “leave the car at home: here, even the car has a holiday!” Even without a car, getting around is simple. A Mountain Pass in Alta Badia is your personal ticket to unlimited use of all the lifts in the area; public bus service SAD with Mobilcard (see www.mobilcard.it) as well as a link on the passes of the Dolomites and through the valleys of Val Badia, Val Gardena, Val Pusteria, Valle Isarco and on to Bolzano.
Many mountain huts provide the outdoor enthusiasts with nourishing yet tasty comfort foods. For finer cuisine, there is the Wine Bar Siriola at the Ciasa Salares and the Hotel Armentarola.
Rosa Alpina Hotel & Spa
This Relais & Chateaux property in San Cassiano, Val Badia is owned and managed by third-generation members of the Pizzinini family. A real jewel in a much sought-after area of the Dolomites, this hotel provides travellers with 28 rooms (that run from 250-750 euros/night); or 23 apartment suites at a cost that ranges from 450-1200 euros/night, depending on the season and accommodation desired. The décor is eclectic, either in solid pine furniture and flooring or a modern approach that blends rustic charm with contemporary flair. Amenities include a swimming pool, a world-renowned spa, beautifully manicured gardens, and free parking. A rich and filling daily breakfast buffet entices guests with made-to-order eggs, pancakes, crepes, and sliced cold cuts and cheeses. Freshly squeezed orange juice, a selection of other juices and even champagne on ice, along with seasonal fruits will captivate your senses.
Once you have walked along the street of this small town of 700 inhabitants, and absorbed the natural beauty of your surroundings, you can feed your body with lighter fare from the Wine Bar Grill (open seven days a week) at a cost of 35-60 euros.
For those special occasions, treat yourself to an exquisite dinner at the 2-star Michelin restaurant, St. Hubertus. The restaurant is designed according to small semi-private dining areas, thus creating an intimate setting. The knowledgeable staff is super attentive and describes each course and wine as it is being served.
Our own dinner, elegantly prepared by Executive Chef Norbert Niederkofler, was chosen from a six or eight-course menu. To complement the meal, wines can be selected from the impressive and extensive wine list, which proved to be a real treasure trove. The price of a bottle can range from 30 euros, to around 1300 euros for a magnum of ‘98 Pittarelli Amarone’. A 750 ml bottle of 2003 Chateau Lafitte, sells for around 1950 euros. We began with an aperitif of Cavaliere Franciaforte Sparkling. Our accompanying wines included AC Christmann 2008 Riesling Pfalz, and a superb Terminium 2007 Gerwurtraminer Tramin Late Harvest, that married beautifully with foie gras prepared in a variety of ways. The Opale 2007 Vermentino, Sardegna, offered green notes, fresh clean palate, lingering finish and high acidity.
The Terlan 2008 Quarz Sauvignon, Bolzano was a dream with mussels in a squid sauce. Sophie Chardonnay (Terlano) Manincor 2007, was delightful with penne in rabbit sauce. Shrimp, quail eggs and foam along with small ravioli was served with Cervaro 2008, Antinori Castello della Scala Chardonnay. Its aromatic, vanilla and beautiful golden colour is exemplary of Antinori wines.
St. Hubertus is only open for dinner during the summer and winter season, and is closed on Tuesday. The hotel is closed from April to mid-June, and October/November. Go to www.rosalpina.it for complete information on the hotel and St. Hubertus.
LA PERLA HOTEL
Located in Corvara, just 8 km. from San Cassiano, this hotel is very near lifts to four bays of ski area, and 1,100 km. of trail that is all connected. The hotel was established in 1954 with a humble 6 rooms, which have now been expanded to 52 rooms. The Spa area, with services such as Turkish bath, massage, etc. is for guests only, also includes a winding pool that is heated to 28oC. Modern features such as free WiFi are also available.
Its Michelin starred “La Stua de Michil” restaurant attracts diners who are looking for an exceptional meal. The family prides itself in using organic eco-sustainable products. The fresh flowers in the dining areas, small ‘stuben’ (rooms used for family meals) are changed daily. Each dining area lends itself to a particular ‘colour’ décor. In all, around 35 guests can be accommodated.
The bar is open from 10:00 a.m. to midnight. The hotel boasts 27,000 bottles of wine, and 1,200 labels, one of three largest in Europe. We were blown away by the wine cellar named “Mahatma” (loosely translated into "Soul of Wine”). This is not your ordinary wine cellar, but an odyssey into the essence and emotions of this nectar. At times it seemed like a science-fiction movie, with the maitre’d using the fireman pole to transport wine from the cellar to the restaurant, and psychedelic music and visuals. Yes, this one-of-a-kind wine cellar is a unique experience that utilizes music, visual effects and other means to impact all the senses. Your entire being becomes infused with the essence of wine and its effect on the life of man. The cellar has the largest collection of Sassicaia wines in the world, storing all vintages, for a total of 3,000 bottles. The oldest wine is a 1914 Chateau D’Kemp, and the highlight was a 1968 Sassicaia, the first ever produced, and which is revealed at the altar where the maitre’d offers a prayer.
More than offering entertainment, this moving experience,also has a philanthropic purpose. At visit’s end, guests are encouraged to make a donation to the Costa Family Foundation for Tibetan Children’s Village, founded by Miki Costa - certainly a worthy cause. The tour must be experienced to be believed!
Our dinner, in elegant and subdued surroundings with soft classical music in background, provided the right touch of sophistication for those seeking an evening of pleasure par excellence. The dinner can consist of five courses from a select menu, 70% of which are made with organic products. Our appetizer was a loin cut of smoked pork with radish sauce, followed with Ravioli with ragu of pork and swiss char, small chicken with mushrooms, and a zabaglione with grapes and strawberry sorbet.
The hotel is closed September 19th, re-opening for business from December 3rd until March 27. Visit www.hotel-laperla.it.
This chalet-style informal restaurant opened in 2004 at the top of the world, and can be reached by going towards Colfosco and taking a chair lift. Jimmi Schrott, and his family and staff, greet you with large portions of menu items that are both delicious and filling – exactly what is needed by hikers and skiers. You can choose antipasti, soups, pasta, main meat dishes, and dessert from this top of the world location.
If you are planning a trip to the Dolomites, be sure to go to www.dolomitemountains.com. Agustina Lagos Marmol, who is extremely knowledgeable about everything to do with the area – be it hiking, biking, mountain climbing and skiing, will be happy to answer all your inquiries.
For videos on the Dolomites, you can also visit: