In June 2016, we spent a week hiking in the Dolomites in Italy. For our hiking days, we split our time between staying in Cortina D’Ampezzo and Selva di Val Gardena. This post discusses logistics: where we stayed, some decisions about transportation, and resources we found helpful in planning the trip.
I cover the details of our hikes and other explorations in the mountains in two posts, one on each of these areas:
- Prelude: Venice
- Dolomites Hiking part 1: Cortina D’Ampezzo
- Dolomites Hiking part 2: Selva di Val Gardena
In addition to the posts, you can view my complete Flickr photo album for this trip.
Resources we found helpful for planning our trip
For planning our trip, we relied heavily on two books in the Cicerone series, both by Gillian Price:
- Shorter Walks in the Dolomites – mostly day hikes
- Walking in the Dolomites: 25 multi-day routes in Italy’s Dolomites – mostly 2-3 day routes with stops at rifugios.
Both feature good route descriptions and maps of each route. The route descriptions helped us figure out how excited we were about each hike, and they include variations and ways to connect to other routes in the same book. The maps are good enough to get an overview but not a substitute for topographic maps, though we did carry them with us while hiking. The publisher’s website also includes updates, such as trail closures or errors.
We didn’t have a topographic map for our planning. In hindsight, an overview map would have helped us a lot with understanding our options and how all of the possible routes connect. If I were to go back, I’d get the relevant maps. People we met were using and recommended Kompass maps. They have maps of the Cortina d’Ampezzo and the Val Gardena areas. We have not used these, though, so we can only pass along others’ recommendations.
Transportation: Rental car or not?
Compared to the Pacific Northwest, I love the ease of using public transportation to get to many trailheads in Europe. We started planning our trip to the Dolomites with a tentative plan to rely on public transportation for this trip.
Reality somewhat thwarted these plans. It was possible to get to our first town, Cortina D’Ampezzo, by bus from the Venice airport. However, in shoulder season, the timing of the buses meant we would lose part of a day. Buses also ran between Cortina and our next stop, Selva di Val Gardena and looked fairly reasonable. The route back from Selva di Val Gardena to Venice was even more of a problem. We could spend about five hours on a combination of buses and trains to get back to Venice or we could bus to Cortina and then back to Venice. Both options appeared to require being on our way by 1:00pm. Driving, in contrast, was 3hrs, and we could leave when we wanted.
We also wanted flexibility in our hikes and timing and to not have to time our views to coincide with bus schedules. Because we were traveling in shoulder season, the bus schedule was a bit reduced, and we started to think that would over-constrain our planning.
Meanwhile, using Autoslash to track rates, we found a fairly cheap car rental. For our trip, which would consist of mostly day hikes, this became clearly the better option.
As I note in the posts, the roads are well-maintained and beautifully built, but they are also narrow and steep up and down the many mountain passes. There were also a lot of cyclists and fast-moving motorcycles on the road, so despite overall enjoying driving, there were times when I was white-knuckling it over a pass. If this does not sound right for you, consider public transportation.
If we went back and did more rifugio-to-rifugio hiking, we’d probably look harder at the public transportation options. These two sites helped our planning, but they tend not to post summer schedules until a couple of months in advance:
Where to Stay
We flew in and out of Venice on our way to the Dolomites, stayed in one rifugio, and had hotels in Cortina D’Ampezzo and Selva di Val Gardena. Note: when possible, we use affiliate links that earn a commission below.
Hotel Natale (Cortina D’Ampezzo). Smaller hotel, with some rooms featuring good views. The rooms we rented were spacious enough to spread out our gear and repack. The hotel offered a decent breakfast and helpfully held our luggage while we spent a night at a rifugio, with it waiting in our new room on our return. (Booking.com | Hotels.com)
Hotel Antares (Selva di Val Gardena). This was a larger hotel with lots of families. The room was huge. We did not take much advantage of this space on our short stay, but it would have been great for a longer stay. The breakfast buffet was good and offered a wide selection of items. Dinner had a more modest selection and was fine — we appreciated it most for its convenience and low price when included with our room. (Booking.com | Hotels.com)
Rifugio Lagazuoi (Lagazuoi / Passo Falzarego). Wow. This large refugio has a spectacular view of much of the Dolomites, including the Tofane, Monte Pelmo, Sorapiss, and west to the Marmolada and Sella groups. Though clouds shrouded the hut for sunset, we awoke to the most beautiful sunrise panorama I have ever seen. We stayed here after a long day hike. This rifugio is also accessible via the fairly short (but steep!) hike through the Lagazuoi wartime tunnel or the quick cable car ride from Passo Falzarego. Meals are served in a large dining room with great views. Dinner featured multiple courses, and the rifugio laid out a large buffet for breakfast. The rifugio has a few 2 to 4 bed rooms, as well as 56 beds in 6 to 14 person dormitory rooms.