Once known as the Pale Mountains, the dramatic dolomite rock formations crowning the top of Italy seem to erupt skyward from the region's verdant alpine meadows.
Best known for its snow sports, the Dolomites mountain range is particularly popular during the winter, when travelers flock to the powdery slopes for downhill skiing and, afterward, unwinding in thermal baths. But with modern luxury resorts opening in the mountains and a piqued interest in the region's incredible hiking and biking trails, the Dolomites are quickly becoming an equally worthy summer destination.
Even during the busiest times, however, the Dolomites remain one of the least-traveled areas in Italy. It's blissfully crowd-free and undeveloped and, as a result, the area's unique culture — a distinct blend of German and Italian that is similar to both but decidedly neither — is stubbornly preserved, along with a language and cuisine all its own.
From where to stay and what to do when you arrive, consider this your complete guide to traveling to the Dolomites.
Where are the Dolomites?
The Dolomites are in northern Italy, slung across the border of Austria between the two Italian provinces of Trentino and Alto Adige. They cover some 350,000 acres. It’s an expansive region, encompassing 18 major peaks and a number of charming mountain towns.
The Dolomites, Italy Weather
No matter what time of year you’re traveling to the Italian Dolomites, you’ll find the air is always invitingly cool and crisp. For hiking, the best time to travel to the Dolomites is between June and September, when the temperatures are comfortably warm. Earlier, in the springtime, hikes will be perfumed by wildflower blooms (crocuses, Daphne, rhododendrons). Winter can be quite cold, but is perfect for downhill skiing (and après ski).
The Dolomites, Italy Airport
Travelers heading to the Dolomites will not find an airport nestled at the base of the striking mountain range. Instead, trips to the Dolomites begin in either Venice or Innsbruck, Austria. Venice to the Dolomites is a two and a half hour drive north, while the Dolomites are two hours south from the airport in Innsbruck.
Hotels in the Dolomites, Italy
Luxury Hotels in the Dolomites
The only way to reach Vigilius Mountain Resort is by ascending Monte San Vigilio in a cable car. Guests will enjoy sleek, modern interiors with balconies overlooking South Tyrol — and there are no televisions to distract from the mountain views. Spend the day in the Dolomites, or unwinding in the property’s bubbling hot springs.
From your room at the Rosa Alpina Hotel & Spa, in Alta Badia, you can watch the sun rise over the craggy Dolomites and feast on classic Tyrolean fare (focaccia with Burrata from Puglia, kaiserschmarrn caramelized pancakes, risotto with Graukäse) at one of the many on-site restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Restaurant St. Hubertus.
The design-driven Adler Mountain Lodge features 18 guest rooms, crafted from spruce using centuries-old woodworking traditions. Curl up in a cozy wool throw while admiring the Dolomites from your picture window, or mingle with other guests in the resort’s heated pool.
Affordable Hotels in the Dolomites
One of the best-value hotels in the region is Rifugio Fanes, a family-run mountain outpost in the shadows of the Dolomites. Rooms are modest and rustic, and offer a mix of shared and private set-ups, some with en-suite bathrooms. Guests can sample Ladin cuisine served with local wines, grappa, and house-made Schnapps.
The Dolomites, Italy Skiing
Skiing in the Dolomites is an experience every traveler should have in Italy. Head straight to Campitello di Fassa, a charming European ski town a stone’s throw from Belvedere-Col Rodella-Pordoi Pass, the most scenic (and tourist-friendly) ski area. Skiers may also consider the resort town of Cortina d’Ampezzo — the site of the 1956 Olympics.
Another popular ski spot is Funivie Madonna di Campiglio, which welcomes skiers and snowboarders, and also has a modern snowpark.
The Dolomites, Italy Hiking
Adventure-seekers interested in conquering the Dolomites’ via ferrate (assisted climbs up sheer rock faces using steel cables) should hire a guide from Dolomite Mountains, a local adventure travel company specializing in the region.
For a self-guided hike, consider the moderate Sentiero Ivano Dibona trail, near the village of Cortina d’Ampezzo, which offers a number of viewpoints from rocky outcroppings.
There's also an excellent day hike to Lago di Braies: a green-hued mountain lake flanked by white sand. Hikers can follow an easy, well-marked footpath to the lake and spend the afternoon picnicking or sunbathing on the beach — a truly unusual mountain activity.
Other Things to Do in the Dolomites
History buffs and culture hounds should not be deterred from traveling to this region of Italy. The mountains are home to an extraordinary trove of artifacts, like tunnels carved by World War I soldiers and a 15th-century castle, Reifenstein.
The locals that live in certain mountain valleys are something remarkable, too, as they are neither Italian nor Austrian. They speak a language derived from Latin (though each valley has its own dialect) and consider themselves Ladin. Their unique and somewhat remote existence remains largely unaffected by international influence. Seek out toy shops and hand-made woodcarvings — something the people are particularly well-known for.
To experience it all, rent a peppy car and embark on a scenic mountain drive, like the stretch known as Great Dolomite Road, from Venice to Bolzano.