Prior to my trip to the Italian Dolomites last month I honestly thought the Alps were just in Switzerland. Somewhere my former geography teacher just keeled over. Actually, I don’t think I ever had a geography teacher. And therein lies the problem. Google Maps and Wikipedia are my geography teachers now. Oh great, I just googled it and the Alps stretch along eight Alpine countries in Europe. Honestly, I blame the Swiss for my misunderstanding. They might be politically neutral but they are definitely biased towards their Swiss Alps and can afford to advertise them to the rest of the world.
Now that I’ve exposed my ironic ineptitude for geography, let me tell you what I do know. First of all, Italy’s Alps are undeniably beautiful. Case in point:
Destination Dolomites was the first group trip I’ve taken unless I count studying abroad in college. I usually prefer to make my own travel plans, but this opportunity couldn’t be missed. One week of leadership training led by my favorite former grad school professor PLUS hiking in the Alps with other like-minded people? Sign me up. Not to mention planning a trip like this to small towns in a region where German and Italian languages are used interchangeably takes extra effort, so I was happy to leave the planning to someone else and simply show up. This was the best decision for me but I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage Y-O-U to plan a solo trip to the Dolomites. With a little research and planning it’s much more accessible than I imagined.
Our homebase for the week was Seis (also called Seis am Schlern in German or Siusi al Sciliar in Italian) pictured above. Locals speak both German and Italian because of the tumultuous history of the South Tyrol region where Seis is situated. Cliff Notes version: North Tyrol is part of Austria and South is part of Italy but due to centuries of borders being redrawn in post-war treaties the mix of Austrian and Italian cultures are so intertwined all signs and official documents are written in both languages. Selfishly this also means us tourists can enjoy authentic pasta + wine and wiener schnitzel + beer at any restaurant. And the views aren’t bad either.
We arrived in Seis after flying to Verona and taking a train to Bolzano Bozen (~2.5 hours) then a bus up the mountain to Seis (~50 minutes). It sounds much more confusing than it was, I promise. Here’s proof, I’m still smiling after our plane-bus-train-bus-walk to Seis:
The first half of the week was spent exploring the hiking trails from Seis which could keep a traveler plenty busy. My favorite hike was the route to Castelruth/Castelrotto just a mile or so from Seis. Castelruth is a bigger town than Seis, but I use “bigger” loosely. It’s another small, adorable village which my travel mentor Rick Steves recommends as his choice for a homebase in the Dolomites in this guide. These are some of the views en route to Castelruth from Seis:
Mid-week we parted ways with Seis temporarily to hike further up into the mountains and spend a few nights at the Tierser Alpl Hütte. Look at this shack:
To reach it entailed a 15 minute gondola ride from 3,000ft in Seis to 6,000ft and another 2,000ft uphill on foot. The day was epic, plain and simple. Smiling with anticipation after the gondola ride, pre-hike:
Nature provided insane views in all directions throughout the entire hike:
And a victory shot at our top elevation just steps from the lodge and a steaming cup of mulled cider:
The Dolomites are no doubt one of the most beautiful natural wonders I’ve ever experienced. Right up there with the Great Barrier Reef and Plitvice Lakes National Park. Even better than the views was cementing my lifelong friendship status with this little lady, fellow travel buddy and American in London, Miss Shirley. We experienced more ups and downs in a week than we have over the entire course of our friendship, mostly due to a nasty norovirus outbreak in the group that led to me spending the night in an Italian hospital while Shirley stayed by my side. This girl is the real deal. We won’t ever forget this trip! Here is a before and after norovirus comparison, smiling in both:
When a medical evacuation from a mountain can’t even ruin a trip for me, I know it was a good trip. I hope you have the opportunity to experience the Dolomites, sans hospital stay!
Know Before You Go:
- We spent 7 days (including travel time) here. You could do a version of this trip over a long weekend and stick to the trails surrounding Seis.
- Bolzano Bozen is your starting point for the Dolomites. The closest major airports are Verona, Italy or Innsbruck, Austria. From these, take the train to Bolzano. Once you get to the train station in Bolzano, walk to the Bolzano bus station. Then take a 50 minute bus trip to the Seis bus station in the center of Seis. Alternatively, you could rent a car.
- Languages include both German and Italian. Fortunately, English is also common.
- Currency is the euro.
- Ski lifts speckled the hillsides where we hiked. If you can’t travel here during hiking season, consider a ski/snowboard getaway.
Where to Stay:
- Rick Steves recommends Castelruth/Castelrotto which is just a mile or so from Seis. Both towns are incredibly quaint and have plenty of lodging options.
- We stayed in Seis at Hotel Seiserhof which was reasonably priced with nice basic rooms and good customer service.
- The lodge we stayed in at 8,000ft is the Tierser Alpl Hütte. It’s accessible only on foot and their site shows the various hiking routes to reach it.
- Map pointing out the general area of the Dolomites and our route from Verona to Seis: