Visit the Dolomites – Gardena Valley
Visit the Dolomites – Gardena Valley (Val Gardena) is one of the most popular spots in the Dolomites. The Gardena Valley is only a few miles off the Great Road over the Sella Pass. Chairlifts and gondolas along the valley floor that head up the slopes on either side of the valley at towns such as Ortisei, Cristina and Selva. From Ortesei a gondola also reaches the Alpe di Siusi plateau, which provides an option to return through Kastelruth.
Visit the Dolomites – Kastelruth
Visit the Dolomites – Kastelruth is in a small valley adjoining the Gardena Valley. From the town there is bus service on Route 10 to Compatsch on the Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm) plateau. Alternately, head the opposite direction on Route 10 to nearby Siusi (Seis) and catch the Alpe di Siusi Cable Car to Compatsch. On the plateau there are hiking trails and two shuttle bus routes to numerous chair lifts and gondolas up into the surrounding mountains. From Compatsch, the Almbus Route 11 travels to Saltria and the Bus Piz on Route 14 goes to Piz. There is also a chairlift at Piz beside the Sporthotel Sonne, which connects riders to a cabin lift down off the plateau to Ortisei in the Gardena Valley. From there, local bus service makes it possible to complete a full circle return to Kastelruth.
Fassa Valley (Val di Fassa)
The Fassa Valley (Val di Fassa) is part of the Great Dolomite Road. There are several towns in the valley and an extensive series of chairlifts and gondolas. The best known town is Canazei. The gondola at Pordoi Pass is a favorite of tourists for its views, but there is no skiing or hiking at its summit. The Fassa Valley (Val di Fassa) joins the Gardena Valley at the Sella Pass.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is at the eastern end of the Great Dolomite Road. This city is often referred to as Cortina. It is easy to reach Cortina by train or rental car from Venice. To travel the Great Dolomite Road west from Cortina requires a rental car, as there are no trains and only small local buses over the route. The Cortina d’Ampezzo region was taken over from Austria by Italy in World War I. Cortina became well known in 1956 as the host of the Olympics. Many chairlifts and gondolas originating in the valley, taking summer hikers and winter skiers to the mountains surrounding the town.
Bolzano (Bozen) marks the western edge of the Great Dolomite Road. The town is home to Otzi the Ice Man at the South Tyrol Archaeology Museum. This 5,300 year old mummy was discovered in 1998, frozen in the ice of the Dolomites. Bolzano has excellent train access from Verona and Innsbruck, but a rental car will be necessary to travel to the popular sites in the Dolomites.
Visit the Dolomites – Hotels
- Kastelruth Hotels.
- Val de Gardena Hotels in Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva.
- Val di Fassa Hotels in Canazei.
- Cortina d’Ampezzo Hotels.
- Bolzano Hotels.
Visit the Dolomites – Other Valleys
- Funes Valley – reached in about an hour from the Gardena Valley. The view of the Church of Santa Maddalena (St Magdalena) is one of the signature landscapes of the Dolomites. Hike toward the Puez Geisler (Puez Odle) Nature Park, which borders the Alta Badia region.
- Fodom Valley (Livinallongo Valley) is on the Great Dolomite Road at the base of the Sella Group. The village of Arabba is here. The Fodom valley is located between Pordoi Pass and Falzarego Pass and is another premier ski area of the Dolomites.
- Alta Badia – The Alta Badia is located near the Gardena Valley and just off the Great Dolomite Road. The Alta Badia includes several small villages with a strong Ladin heritage. There are numerous chairlifts and gondolas for hiking and skiing in the Alta Badia.
Visit the Dolomites – Chairlifts and Gondolas
Dolomiti Super Summer is a great source for information on the many tickets for chairlifts and gondolas when you visit the Dolomites. Locals often refer to the Dolomites as the Südtirol, which translates to the South Tyrol. Each valley has different combinations of days that can be purchased and most include valley bus passes as well. Valleys don’t overlap their tickets, so if you take a gondola from Ortisei to the Alpe di Siusi, you’ll need a different valley pass if you descend to Kastelruth on your return trip.
Weather in the Dolomites
The weather in the Dolomites creates two separate tourist seasons. Chairlifts are gondolas are filled with skiers in the winter. In the summer the alpine hikers take over. During spring and fall, the tourists abandon the area and the lifts do not operate. The best alpine months are July and August, but these are also the busiest. So, September can be a good month for alpine hiking and trekking. Precipitation is highest in the summer, which makes a short visit a gamble for the best weather in the Dolomites.
Once the ski lifts open in winter, the valleys in the Dolomites are even busier than in the summer. Expect summer highs in July and August of 70 F (21 C) and lows of 50 F (10 C). Average winter highs in November and December are 32 F (0 C) and lows average 18 F (-8 C). The deciding factor in a visit will not be the weather in the Dolomites, but the options on accommodation, which need to be booked far in advance.
Get to the Dolomites
You will find it is a bit of a challenge to get to the Dolomites, but that’s part of the charm when you visit the Dolomites. The Great Dolomite Road runs from Bolzano to Cortina d’Ampezzo. The road twists and turns over multiple passes, which makes it a popular route for motorcycles and private vehicles. Smaller public buses travel the valleys and passes, but large tour buses and trains are not a travel option through the region.
You can get to the Dolomites by Bolzano. Regular train service to Bolzano arrives from Innsbruck in Austria to the north and Verano in Italy to the south. At the eastern end of the Great Dolomite Road, Cortina d’Ampezzo can be accessed by train from Venice, but a rental car starting in Venice is probably a better option to get to the Dolomites from Venice.
Many local lift areas, such as Gardena Valley, the Fassa Valley and Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm) include local bus service in the price of lift ticket passages. This makes for efficient alpine day hikes. You can bus to cable car gondola stations, hike and then return by alternate gondolas and alternate bus routes. You can easily spend a week exploring and hiking a single valley without the need of a vehicle.
Languages of the Dolomites
The Italian Alps became part of Italy after fierce battles with Austria in World War I. Italian and German are both official languages in the Dolomite area, but locally Ladin (not Latin) is spoken in many valleys. Tourists seem to opt for the name that’s easier to say, regardless of language. It is easy to get confused by the languages of the Dolomites. Here are some common local places, which all mean the same thing:
- Bolzano, Bozen, Balsan
- Alpe di Siusi, Seiser Alm, Mont Seuc
- Kastelruth, Castelrotto, Ciastel
- Gardena Valley, Val Gardena, Groden, Gherdeina
- Ortisei, Sankt Ulrich, Urtijei
- Sassolungo, Langkofel, Saslonch
- Fassa Valley, Val di Fassa, Fassatal, Val de Fascia
- Cortina, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Hayden, Anpezo
- Sella Pass, Passo Sella, Sellajoch, Jeuf de Sela
Visit the Dolomites – Great Dolomite Road
The 5 main valleys of the Dolomites are Val Gardena, Alta Badia, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Fodom and Val di Fassa. The Great Dolomite Road traverses the most popular section of the Dolomites limestone formation. Heading east from Bolzano, the route takes travelers through the Fassa Valley, over Pordoi Pass, through the Fodom Valley at Arraba and on to Cortina d’Ampezzo. An alternate route travels through the popular Gardena Valley and the towns of Kastelruth, Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva. From the Gardena Valley you have the option to continue over the Gardena pass to the Alta Badia Valley & Arabba or rejoin the Great Dolomite Road over the Sella Pass.