No one who knows me would ever mistake me for a mountaineer. Though I’ve happily met all manner of challenges on flat ground (including Patagonian glaciers, Australian desert, and Costa Rican rainforest), high-altitude adventures have always set me whimpering.
So recently, I decided to test my fear of heights in the cushiest possible way: with a customized, weeklong guided foray into the Italian Dolomites.
My trip, put together by newly minted tour operator Dolomite Mountains SRL (website coming soon; for now, email: firstname.lastname@example.org), guaranteed plenty of sky-high action among the region’s Alpine hiking trails and vie ferrate (climbs up sheer rock faces, aided by steel cables sunk into the cliffs). But it also promised a fascinating dose of high culture (the area boasts a unique confluence of Italian, Austrian, and ancient Ladin traditions), and high luxury (in the form of chic boutique hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants).
And, caspita! (that’s “wow!” in Italian): The Dolomites delivered. Not only did I get to prove my mettle with all-day treks among jaggedly spectacular mountain passes (with wildflower-strewn meadows, grazing horses, and tunnels originally made by soldiers during World War I); with the assistance of my highly trained mountain guides, I also experienced the thrill/terror of hauling myself up an actual via ferrata.
In between, I was brought to mountaintop refugios (private inns) for fabulous Tyrolean-Italian lunches—always accompanied by fresh-baked bread and pints of beer—and allowed to recover by night at intimate, elegant hotels (like the extraordinary Rosa Alpina, run by the same family for three generations in the town of San Cassiano).
Dolomite Mountains SRL founder Agustina Lagos Marmol, who spent a decade organizing Dolomites trips for Mountain Travel Sobek before setting out on her own this year, focuses on creating highly individual itineraries for each tour group (which can be as small as two people or as many as a dozen). Which means that, though intrepid souls might rather design a trip filled with hair-raising climbs, plunging ski runs and mountain-bike trails, fraidy cats like me can have the time of our lives, too.
Guest blogger Sarah Gold is a regular contributor to Travelandleisure.com.