I wasted no time getting to the Dolomites! I arrived in Venice at 5pm, jumped in the rental car and headed north on the Autostrada in a tiny Fiat (first time driving in a foreign country – eek!) arriving in Cortina just in time to watch the full moon rise over the mountains. Then up an over the dizzyingly high and windy mountain pass of Passo Falzarego down to the cutest little mountain inn, Al Pini, where I was greeted so kindly with a few glasses of Proseco. Then pizza and early sleeps… hiking tomorrow.
I woke early and downed a croissant and cappuccino and headed back up to Passo Falzarego and out onto the trails. I was so excited to start hiking that I honestly just picked a trail sans maps and started walking. After not even a kilometer of trail I struck up a conversation with Lorenzo, an oral surgeon from near Milano, who happily gave me a brief WW1 history lesson and a crash course in Italian. He oriented me to the peaks and pointed out all the hikes I needed to do – I couldn’t have paid for a better introduction to the Dolomites! We hiked a few hours together and shared a beer at the Rifugio Nuvolau, which was already rocking out (to Johnny Cash!) at 10am.
The Rifugio Nuvolau has the most incredible panoramic views of the Dolomites with 360 degree views stretching from the Marmolada to the Tofana Mountains and all the way to the Austrian Glaciers. The rifugio itself is perched on the edge of a cliff and is a destination in itself! The Nuvolau hut can be easily reached from many tourist lifts and trails, but the last steep climb up to the hut can only be done by foot. The Nuvolau was founded in 1883 making it one of the oldest huts in all of the Dolomites and my new favorite place in the world!
Lorenzo and I parted ways and I looped all the way around the Nuvolau mountain and down to Passo Giau to pick up a map. I then headed back up the way I came and veered off onto the main Alta Via route to head toward the Cinque Torri, which along with Tre Cime di Lavaredo were the Dolomite sites I was most excited to see. Around the 8 mile mark the jet lag finally hit and I crashed hard and took a nap break under a tree waking up with the views of the Cinque Torri. I’ve spent the last few years gawking at photos of the Dolomites and I honestly couldn’t believe I was here!
The Cinque Torri literally means five towers and the area was a headquarters for the mountain artillery unit during World War. I was too tired to tour the trenches and canons in the open air museum, plus I wanted to wait for Fritz and he doesn’t arrive for a few more days. Plus I still had a good thousand feet of climbing to get back to Passo Falzarego and a cappuccino and my tiny car.
This loop was about the best introductory hike in the Dolomites I could have hoped for – several mountain passes, a beer at the Rifugio Nuvolau, views down to Cortina, an intro to the Cinque Torri, and a history lesson with Lorenzo. The loop was close to 12 miles with 3,484 feet of climbing and took me just under 7 hours including the beer and nap.
Hiking solo in the Dolomites was not problem at all. The trails were very clearly marked and there were so many people out and about. To quote Lorenzo, “Traveling solo is good, you can think…and cry.” No crying yet, thank goodness, but this is only day 1 of my Dolomiti Adventure!