The big picture
When it comes to popular travel destinations, Italy offers the best of the best. There are breathtaking sights to see and thrilling activities to join. The landscape has something for everyone; from the sparkling Sicilian beaches down south to the rolling Tuscan steppes in the centre. To the north, the Dolomites – a mountain range in the Alps, taking its name from the carbonate rock dolomite – is the perfect getaway, whether you are looking for a winter ski, a seasonal hike, or a backdrop to take gorgeous photos.
Neighbouring Austria, the Dolomites, also known as the Pale Mountains, was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2009. The area is split into three provinces: Alto Adige aka Sudtirol (South Tyrol in English); Trentino; and Belluno. South Tyrol is still new to the country; along with the western Austrian state of Tyrol, it used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the first world war.
There, you can find the most beautiful mountain landscapes, from steep cliffs to Alpine meadows.
The common languages in the area are Italian (duh) and German; every place and sign is named in both languages, which may be a bit of a hassle for tourists. It’s a good idea to check that your two must-go places are not the same place with just a different name.
Aside from being bilingual, staff in hotels, restaurants and tourism offices speak basic English. Also, keep your ears open for some less familiar languages, as some ancient villages still use Ladin – a Romance language and distant descendant of Latin.
When booking accommodation, try to book something within walking distance of the mountain views because you will want to catch a glimpse of the magical sunset, regardless of whether you’re a sunset kind of person or not. When illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun, the Dolomites change from a yellow tinge to a beautiful pink.
Top photo spot
The Dolomites is packed with dazzling gems. It’s impossible to hit them all up in one trip, let alone narrow it down to just one top spot.
You simply cannot miss the Val di Funes, or the Funes Valley. Just around the small village of St Magdalena, there are two iconic panoramas to check out, both with the Puez – Odle/Geisler peaks in the background. One features the village church at the centre of the valley and the other is Chiesetta di San Giovanni, an ancient church. The weather can be unstable, but don’t get upset if your trek falls on a rainy day because, at the end of a heavy downpour, the valley looks like something from a fairytale.
A hike or mountain-biking tour up the 2,500 metre-high Seceda mountains gives you the chance to see jagged cliffs resembling serrated blades.
At Tre Cime di Lavaredo, you’ll find the most majestic view of three distinctive battlement-like peaks. It takes hours of hiking to reach a good viewpoint, but it’s worth it.
How to get there
Hong Kong is well connected to major cities in northern Italy. You can easily fly to Milan or Venice and take it from there. On land, driving is the best option, as it’ll allow you to stop whenever there’s a stunning scene ... and trust me, there are plenty of times you’ll want to stop – it’s almost a guarantee that you won’t make it to your hotel on time.
If none of your travel buddies drive, there is excellent public transport. The trains, buses and even cable cars ensure you’ll be well-connected throughout. In some places, you’ll find that “taking a cable car to lunch” is as normal as “hopping on the MTR to lunch” for us Hongkongers.
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In Italy, it’s always easy to fall back on pizza and pasta; they never disappoint. But the food in the Dolomites combines both the Italian flair and German freshness.
The locals are very proud of their apples, but the must-try list swiftly moves on to canederli – giant meatball-shaped bread dumplings with different sauces – and a range of salami. Fresh milk and cheese are also easy to get, especially on Seiser Alm (also known as Alpe di Siusi), the largest high-altitude Alpine meadow in Europe.
Look for high-elevation lodges if you want good food with fantastic mountain views – the perfect combo.
The Dolomites, especially South Tyrol, is a very resourceful area for travellers. South Tyrol and Trentino each have their own tourism website where you can find everything you need to know about locations, accommodation and travel. The South Tyrol website offers a 24/7 live-stream across the province, so you can predict the weather and get an idea of the breathtaking views you may want to see.
If you’re up for some exercise, the South Tyrol Trekking Guide app guides you through the area’s most beautiful hiking and trekking spots.