Get high on life with a walking holiday in the Dolomites

A wonderful week hiking and goodeating in the Alpine region just madeNan Spowart yearn to return.

When I was little and we went on holiday to the East Neuk of Fife, we used to climb a spiky rock my dad dubbed the Dolomites.

It seemed like a magical name to me and for a long time I thought he’d made it up. Now having visited the real thing they still seem like a figment of the imagination.

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Stunning, breathtaking, awe-inspiring – they are all words that could be used to describe these majestic peaks but even then it wouldn’t be enough to convey their sheer magnificence.

The hiking opportunities are spectacular in the DolomitesThe hiking opportunities are spectacular in the Dolomites
The hiking opportunities are spectacular in the Dolomites

They are part of the Alps but rightly have their own name because of their unique beauty. Although many of the other mountains in the Alps are impressive, they are surrounded by others so don’t stand out as much as the Dolomites, where each peak has its own distinctive grandeur.

An inevitable confirmation of their appeal in this modern age is that views of the mountains have gone viral on TikTok and Instagram and certain places do attract the crowds. However it is easy to escape the social media poseurs and wander in peace along paths beside the mountain meadows or hike up to the tops as there are a myriad of paths to suit all ages and abilities, as well as mountain bike routes and a freeride park.

Our base was Val Gardena, which comprises three pretty villages in the valley and our hotel, the Hotel Pralong was in Selva, the highest village at 1,563m and dominated by the imposing Sassalungo peak.

The lovely family run hotel is at the top of the village and those who stay here benefit from the local knowledge of owner Christian, an experienced climber and former mountain guide. The food the hotel provides is stupendous – buffet breakfasts with a range of cereals, cheeses, fruit, hams, eggs, croissants and cakes and four course dinners which are just sublime. Christian’s philosophy is that if people are out on the hills all day long they need to be well fed and they certainly are at this hotel.

Some of the other guests told me they skip lunch to leave room for dinner but we had no such compunction as the hillsides are dotted with fantastic mountain restaurants serving a mix of Italian and Tyrolean delights. Sometimes we tried to keep our lunches simple by having goulash soup only to find we were served mouth-watering bowlfuls stuffed with tender bits of meat. Our offspring usually went for homemade pasta dishes which were equally generous and tasty platefuls priced at between 13 and 16 euros.

There are a few eateries more reminiscent of a typical French refuge with perhaps just soup, one pasta dish and cold platters on offer but despite being more basic, the food, without exception, was excellent. And there can’t be anything much nicer than sitting outside at a scenic refugio on a sunny day, listening to the sound of the bells on cows grazing on the meadows and knowing there is a lovely hike ahead to work up an appetite for dinner.

As the Dolomites are in the north of Italy, near Austria, it is not only the food that is a mix of cultures. The people of Val Gardena’s local language is Ladin, an old Rhaeto-Romanic language that dates back more than 2000 years. Sadly it is at risk of dying out as it is spoken now by only 35,000 people although it is still an obligatory subject in all Val Gardena’s schools. The locals also speak German and Italian with many also fluent in English.

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Buildings are typically Tyrolean and each village – Sevla, San Christina and Ortisei is lovely, with Ortisei in particular looking like it could be a pristine set for a Hollywood movie. Buses connect the three and visitors staying in Selva are given a free bus pass which is useful for accessing the lifts at each village. The passes can also be used for buses travelling to neighbouring valleys.

It is possible to hike extensively without using the lifts but we took the advice of a Scots couple, who have holidayed in the Dolomites for ten years in a row, and bought a six day lift pass which costs just over 100 euros (much less for children). The six or three day passes are bargains as one ride on a cable car can be costly.

Our Scottish friends told us to buy the pass and use it as much as possible. It was good advice as it meant we could access the more stunning trails without having a hard slog up a mountain to get to them. It also means you can reach the cooler air quickly when it’s hot in the valley.

Val Gardena and its surrounding areas have a vast choice of walks and hikes, varying from the flat to the very steep. This means that there is something for everyone here, no matter what their ability may be.

The walks and hikes are mostly signposted and marked with times rather than distances. The main routes are numbered and correspond to the numbers on the maps. The lower routes are very well signposted but, once you are higher than 2,000m, they are generally marked with red and white paint on the rocks.

Selva also offers a gold/silver/bronze award scheme, where badges can be obtained by walking to the different peaks and huts throughout the area.

There are so many routes that it can be confusing at first but Inghams Walking Holidays offer guided hikes which are a great way to get to know the area, as well as other guests. The guides are local and very knowledgeable and tailor the hikes according to weather conditions and guests’ abilities.

For a change from walking we hired electric mountain bikes and had an epic day tour from Selva to Monte Pana and Saltria where we biked up to the Eidelweiss hutte on the Seiser Alm, a fantastic rustic refuge with a limited but excellent menu and amazing views of the Le Odle Geisler and Sassalungo peaks, as well as pet rabbits and alpacas. Then it was down through a beautiful gorge to Ortiesei where we took the gondola and cable car to Secada and then back down to Selva for some cold beers at our “local” , the friendly Saltos bar.

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Holidays in the Dolomites need not be just about hiking or mountain biking however. There is a swimming pool in Ortisei with a flume, water rapids, spa area and indoor and outdoor pools and a leisure centre in Selva offering a range of activities. The villages all have a market day and the tourist board lays on an extensive programme of events, many free of charge, throughout the summer.

The official Val Gardena Guestinfo App gives guests the chance to get to know Val Gardena even better. This is an innovative information system for all visitors to Val Gardena giving plenty of local information, including weather, events, webcams, lifts, activities, shopping, restaurants and bus schedules.

When we first arrived we were surprised that the Scots couple in our hotel had been on holiday to the Dolomites for ten years in a row but we found one week wasn’t nearly enough. As with that spiky rock in Fife, I think I will have to return again and again.

Inghams Walking offer 7 nights at the Hotel Pralong in Selva - Val Gardena half board from £1053pp, including two guided walks, flights and transfers;, 01483

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