Following the trail of the Austrian Alps south from Lofer, we soon entered Italian territory. Crossing the international boundary line the scenery seemed to change almost instantly, as the smooth forested peaks of Hohe Tauern National Park made way for the jagged rock pinnacles of The Dolomite Mountains.
After a few hours of driving and a small dose of explorative horseplay we arrived in the finely named town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, where we secured a space at a local campground. While setting up camp amongst the affluent surrounds of Cortina (one of Italy’s most illustrious and expensive ski towns) is a departure from our regular travel haunts, hangouts and refuges, we really enjoyed our stay. The town proved to be a great base for exploring the areas jaw-dropping scenery and is actually reasonably inexpensive once you get away from the bourgeoisie orientated town centre.
Over the next four days the sun shined a radiant yellow and painted the cloudless sky a pastel blue. This was a huge relief as we have re-routed our six-week road trip three times because of bad weather forecasts in northeast Italy. While four days is nowhere near enough time to explore an area so rich in natural beauty, we managed to stay active throughout our entire stay and explored a small amount of the surrounding areas. The undeniable highlight of our activities in Cortina d’Ampezzo was our hike around The Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
We commenced the hike form the picturesque Refugio Auronzo, which we accessed via a highly priced but visually spectacular toll road. Unprepared for the frigid autumn temperatures that awaited us at the Refugio, we adorned layer after layer of summer attire and set out on the 9.5 kilometre trek. Knowing “The Tre” was the most iconic peak in The Dolomites, our expectations were high but what we experienced on our hike around the gigantic tri-peaked summit simply blew our minds.
Elevated more than 2,500 metres above sea level we circled “The Tre” anticlockwise and looked down upon pristine mountain lakes, forested valleys and quaint mountain villages. The views above us consisted of towering mountain peaks linked by narrow scree paths that cut into the rocky mountain tundra. At eye level we gazed out upon scenic alpine highlands into a sea of jumbled mountain peaks. Towards the end of the hike we reached a large alpine meadow where we sat, relaxed and took in the most spectacular 360-degree view we have ever witnessed. With the sun setting we arrived back to our campervan to commence our vehicular descent to Cortina and with the winds-a-howling and temperatures-a-dropping, we were delighted to see small snow flurries fall from the sky and land softly on our windscreen.
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo is undoubtedly one of the most visually spectacular hikes we have ever been on and the crazy thing is, it is just one of thousands of hiking trails on offer in The Dolomite Mountains. So if you a mountain lover or hiking enthusiast and are anywhere near northeast Italy, YOU MUST VISIT THE DOLOMITES! While they might not be as well known as their northerly counterparts in Switzerland and Austria they are without hesitation the most spectacular mountain range we have encountered in Europe.