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The Dolomites, Italy: Amongst the world's most beautiful mountain landscapes
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The site of the Dolomites comprises a mountain range in the northern Italian Alps, numbering 18 peaks which rise to above 3,000 metres and cover 141,903 hectres. It features some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes anywhere, with vertical walls, sheer cliffs and a high density of narrow, deep and long valleys.
Dolomites' intrinsic beauty derives from a variety of spectacular vertical forms such as pinnacles, spires and towers, with contrasting horizontal surfaces including ledges, crags and plateau, all of which rise abruptly above extensive talus deposits and more gentle foothills. A great diversity of colours is provided by the contrasts between the bare pale-coloured rock surfaces and the forests and meadows below. The mountains rise as peaks with intervening ravines, in some places standing isolated but in others forming sweeping panoramas. Some of the rock cliffs here rise more than 1,500 metres and are among the highest limestone walls found anywhere in the world.
To discover the Dolomites region, the town on Bolzano serves as a great gateway. We would be driving from Como to Bolzano which is about a 350 kms. drive. This was our 4th day of our Italian holiday.
Since we had a car on hand, we decided to visit Foxtown Outlet which was about 15 kms from Como, but in Switzerland. Crossing the border and back was a non-issue as we had a multiple-entry Schengen Visa. After spending couple of hours at the outlet, we turned back into Italy and drove towards Bolzano. Our next stop, enroute was at Brescia – another shopping outlet. I am not much of a shopper, but when you have females with you, such stops sure become important.
We reached our hotel, Four Points Sheraton in Bolzano, at about 7 PM. The hotel is little away from downtown therefore, free parking just across the street was availed of. Talking of parking and tolls, please be prepared with plenty of change or a credit card. Better, you opt for an electronic pass, allowing you to zip through the toll gates. Unfortunately, at the time I hired my car, Hertz didn’t have one. So be it. Credit card did the trick all along.
We had kept 2 full days with us to explore the region. As luck would have it, the weather forecast for the next morning was wet! With no other option on hand, we decided to drive out irrespective of the wrath of the weather Gods.
After breakfast we took the State Highway 242 and drove towards Selva di Val Gardena. On the way, we would be exploring the quaint and beautiful towns of Ortisei and Santa Cristina.
At Selva di Val Gardena, we had plans to take the cable car to the mountain tops. Unfortunately, the facilities were closed. The locals suggested that we take the cable car from Ortisei instead. We were also advised that the rain and mist would be a dampner. Well, we had to take our chances. Before turning back to Ortisei, we walked the town of Selva di Val Gardena.
Selva Gardena is situated at an altitude of 1563 metres above sea level and counts just about 2600 inhabitants. Surrounded by the mountains Sella and Sassolungo it’s one of the most famous and popular villages in the Alps. In summer and of course in winters too. Selva Gardena is located in an ideal position: starting from the village centre you can get in just a few minutes to the most beautiful slopes of the Dolomiti Superski ski carousel or ski the famous Sella Ronda.
Ortisei is situated at 1236 metres above sea level and is the biggest village of Val Gardena. It counts about 5750 inhabitants and has an inviting pedestrian area where to shop all year around.
Since it was bad weather (though it stopped raining; but was misty), there were no crowds to take the cable car Alpe di Siusi up to Mont Seuc. We parked our car at the base station and spent Euro 16.20 per head for a return trip – hoping that we would get our money’s worth!
We were at the top at about 1:30 PM. Nothing was in view. The Dolomites were covered with fog and mist. Having nothing else to do, we just waited. A restaurant up there served some good snacks, which we cherished.
As luck would have it, the fog began to move, giving us glimpses of the peaks. At times, the view was quite clear, both near and far… an outstanding panorama. We thanked ourselves in trusting our luck. It was all worth it. In hindsight, I think the fog added to the drama and variety. I was sure that clear skies would welcome us the next morning.
By the time we reached our hotel it was 5PM. There was time on hand to explore old town Bolzano. It was wise to take a taxi to old town. I was worried about the Italian ZTLs.
Bolzano (Italian) or Bozen (German), is the capital city of South Tyrol, the German speaking region in the northern part of Italy. Bolzano is the largest city in the region. Its archaeology museum is famous worldwide as the home of the alpine iceman "Otzi". It is also known as the Italian Capital of Christmas thanks to its characteristic Christmas market. Together with Innsbruck, Bolzano is officially the capital of the Alps because the seat of the Alpine Convention is there.
Bolzano has been a trading point since its foundation owing to its location between the two major cities of Venice and Augsburg. In 1262 it was elevated to a Stadt (city). In 1363 Bolzano became part of the Habsburg monarchy as part of the county of Tyrol. Four times a year a market was held and traders came from the south and the north. The mercantile magistrate was therefore founded in 1635. Every market season two Italian and two German officers (appointed from the traders who operated there) held this office. The city was a cultural crossroads at that time.
In 1919, after World War I, Bolzano was annexed by Italy against the will of the native population who had opted to join the new German Republic of Austria. Starting in 1926, after the rise of fascism, the region's ethnic Germans were subjected to a policy of forced Italianization. The fascist dictatorship encouraged the moving of many ethnic Italians to the city from other parts of Italy (primarily from Northern Italy) in an attempt to Italianize the whole region. After World War II Bolzano was once again assigned to Italy but this time the German-speaking population demanded self-determination and afterwards accepted the autonomy statute, which is ensured internationally. After decades of tension, particularly in the 1950s and the 1980s, Bolzano is now a multilingual European city. Bolzano is hoping to become European Capital of Culture in 2019.
We alighted at Walther Square. It is the most famous square of the city. The square is surrounded by buildings in Austrian style. At centre of the square is situated the statue of Walther von der Vogelweide. The square was built in 1808 during Bavaro-Napoleon's domination. The square changed name five times: Maximilan Square dedicated to the King of Bavaria (1808-1815), Johannes Square dedicated to the Kaiser's brother Archduke Johann (1815-1901), finally Walther Square (1901-1925). During the Fascist period the name was changed and the square took the name of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. In 1946 the name changed for the last time (Our Lady Square) before becoming Walther square in 1947.
From Walther Square we explored the many cobbled streets of the town, including a visit to the Fruit Market Square and Victory Square; not to forget ins and outs from shops lined along the streets!
Fruit market's square is one of the oldest squares of Bolzano and now like in the past holds the fruit market.
Victory Square is a controversial square behind the Victory Monument and its symbol for the Italian community. In 2002 the city administrators wanted to reconcile the population of the two ethnic groups by changing the name into Peace square. The majority of the Italians didn't appreciate the gesture and opposed. The Italian right wing parties (for the name dedicated to the Italian victory during WW1) wanted a popular referendum, which was won by the old name. Now the tables display the name Victory Square (formerly Peace square).
That evening we had dinner at an Indian restaurant near the railway station. We took a taxi back to the hotel to rest for the night. We would be in Mestre for 3 nights.
Instead of taking the Autostrada (the car GPS would opt for this route) we planned to take the state road that would take us through Cortina d’Ampezzo via Brunico. Trust me, the drive would certainly rank amongst the best you ever had. The landscape with the mighty Dolomites as background and lakes as foregrounds is a photographer’s delight. The distance to Mestre from Bolzano through this route was about 190 kms.
Cortina d'Ampezzo is a town and commune in the southern (Dolomitic) Alps located in Veneto, a region in Northern Italy. Located in the heart of the Dolomites in an alpine valley, it is a popular winter sport resort known for its ski-ranges, scenery, accommodations, shops and aprčs-ski scene. The slopes around are popular with Hollywood. Many films have been shot here.
From our perspective and more importantly, the town also serves as a gateway to 5 Torri or Cinque Torri (the five towers / peaks). Look for the brown sign for Passo Falzarego, officially highway SR48. After negotiating 14 kms of hairpin bends we reached Passo Falzarego — one of the many bases of the Dolomites. It was about 2 PM.
From here, every 10 minutes a cable car (costs Euro 14.20 per head, return) takes you up to Rifugio Lagazuoi. It is located on the summit of Mount Lagazuoi, above Passo Falzarego, half way between Cortina d’Ampezzo and Val Badia, along the Dolomite High Routes 1 and 9, between the Fannes and Senes Natural Park and the Ampezzo Dolomites Park. The route is trekkers’ delight.
The mountain top has an open air museum that shows the rock tunnel, a former battlefield between the former wartime enemies of Austria and Italy. It has now become a symbol for peace and mutual understanding, a meeting point of the history of the province. Demanding trails, about 2 to 3 hour long, wind their way through the perfectly reconstructed battle positions. The tunnel is accessible from both the top and bottom; it can be reached in 10 minutes from the summit station of the cable car. During World War I, the Lagazuoi Mountains set the scene for hard-fought battles between Italian and Austrian alpine troops. The base for the artillery of the highest ranking Italian forces on the Front was located below the peaks of the mountain, along the large ridge of rocks, for two years.
I spent about an hour walking at the summit. The view from up above was simply mesmerizing. I will let the pictures do the talking.
Around 4 PM we began our journey towards Mestre, our next destination. Making a few photo stops on the way was only natural. We were booked at Hotel Metropole, located just across Mestre railway station.
Bolzano Image Gallery Photo viewer
Ortisei Image Gallery Photo viewer
Selva Di Val Gardena Image Gallery Photo viewer
Passo Falzarego Image Gallery Photo viewer
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