The 3,343-meter-high Dolomites are a mountain of Alps in northern Italy. It originates via Ferrata and is a paradise for hiking and cycling. Its countryside covers an area of 15,942 km2. The group is 150 km long and 191 km wide. It is considered by many to be the most beautiful part of the mountain chain in Europe.
It was named after the French geologist (chemist and mineral researcher) Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu, who conducted limestone research in the region. He discovered that the rocks contain magnesium (calcium-magnesium carbonate - CaMg(C03)2). That is why the mountain and its rock, dolomite, were named after him.
|Regions||Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia|
|Location||Alps, South Tyrol|
|Highest point||Punta Penia (3343 m)|
|Most popular hiking trail||Alta Via|
|Popular programs||Hiking, climbing, via Ferrata, cycling, MTB, skiing|
|Summer season||June - October|
|Winter season||December - end of March|
|Distance from Venice||180 km (3 hours)|
|Distance from Bolzano (Bozen)||70 km (1 hour)|
|Nearest airport||Marco Polo International Airport, Venice|
|Names||Dolomiti (German), Dolomiten (Italian)|
Its boundaries are not easy to determine since several versions are accepted. The strict border extends to the Adige river and the Piave valley. But there is also a definition that considers the parts beyond the river and the valley as the Dolomites. Additional names were given to these areas:
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- Dolomiti d'Oltrepiave (Piaven Dolomites)
- Western Dolomites or Brenta Dolomites
- Piccole Dolomiti (Little Dolomites)
Where are the Dolomites?
The Dolomites are part of the Southern Limestone Alps and the Eastern Alps. Its entire area is located within Italy, a significant amount of which is also in the Veneto region. It is also part of the famous region, South Tyrol. The closest major city is Venice in Italy and Innsbruck in Austria.
- Distance from Bolzano: 1.5 hours / 70 km
- Distance from Venice: 2.5 hours / 170 km
- Distance from Lake Garda: 2.5 hours / 150 km
- Distance from Milan: 4.5 hours / 330 km
- Distance from Innsbruck (Austria): 3.5 hours / 180 km
The Dolomites are made of sedimentary rock, which is made up of sea debris. The land surface rose roughly 65 million years ago. The raised area was presumably a continuous flat plateau, splitting apart later by glaciers during the Ice Age. Then, rivers and streams' slow but persistent work carved valleys between the mountains.
The initially insignificant mountains were later shaped by external erosion (e.g. wind) into today's "Dolomites" shape. This is evidenced by the many rocks at the mountains' foot.
Its main unique feature is its geological structure. It mainly consists of two types of rock: volcanic and dolomite rock. Volcanic rock is metamorphosed rock, very hard and resistant to weather conditions. Dolomite rock is a type of limestone with very high magnesium levels.
- The geological processes that created the Dolomites occurred during the Permian-Triassic period (200-265 million years ago). They remained undisturbed under the tremendous marine sedimentary layer for over 100 million years.
- In the Tertiary period (60 and 5 million years ago), the collision of the African continent (tectonic plate) pushing northward and the European continent deformed the earth's crust. Vast mountains of sediment pushed up into the European Alps. The Alps, including the Dolomites, were created during this Tertiary period of mountain building.
Fossils are often found in the rocks of the Dolomites - as most of the stones are covered by many meters of marine sediment.
Fortunately, there is no accommodation shortage, as many locals support themselves through tourism. You can stay in tourist houses, apartments, farmhouses and hotels. It is worth booking several months in advance, even at the beginning of the season, because good accommodations in terms of location and price fill up quickly (especially the mountain cottages).
Some of the highest peaks of the Dolomites can be found in the mountain group called Marmolada (Queen of the Dolomites). Five of the ten highest peaks are here - including the 3344-meter-high Punta Penia.
In addition to mountain peaks, mountain passes are famous in the countryside. The highest of the innumerable passes is the 2,738-meter Ombretta. Most of them can be reached on foot, but several well-known passes can be used by car or bicycle.
Established in 1988, the national park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009. Its area is relatively small, as it covers only 32 km2. It mainly includes mountainous and highland parts. Accordingly, its wildlife is mostly animals living in the mountains. You will also find lakes, rivers, pastures, and pine forest areas.
Nature conservation areas
In addition to the national park, there are eight nature conservation areas in the mountain range. The size and geographical characteristics of these areas differ:
- Ampezzo Dolomites Nature Conservation Park
- Fanes - Sennes e Braies Nature Reserve
- Paneveggio - Pale di San Martino Nature Reserve
- Sciliar Nature Park
- Sesto Dolomites Nature Conservation Park
- Puez Odle Nature Reserve
- Adamello-Brenta Regional Nature Conservation Park
- Friuli-Dolomites Nature Conservation Park
One of the surprising features of dolomite rock is its ability to reflect different light effects. That is why the term Alpenglühen (enrosadira in Italian) is used, which means "the glow of the mountains". The name refers to the fact that the mountain range is sometimes red, sometimes white, and occasionally pink - according to the current sunlight conditions. At sunset, the peaks are not uncommon to reflect pinkish-orange colours.
Alta Via Hiking Trail
Alta Via is the best-known multi-day hiking trail in the mountains. The tour of several days, totalling 150 km, starts at Lake Braies (Alta via 1). It would take approximately 9-12 days to complete the hut-to-hut trek. Of course, many hikers shorten the trail and hike only part of it due to lack of time.
You can find parking lots near almost all of the top attractions. It would be best to have euros in cash because practically all of these are not free. Daily tickets range from 10 to 50 euros.
Things to see
The Dolomites are a genuine jewel box; you realize countless attractions everywhere you go when you open them. Due to the significant distances, it is pretty unlikely that you will be able to see all the "big guns" during a one-week trip, so it is worth knowing what the most iconic points of the park are.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Drei Zinnen (Three peaks)
Tre Cime di Lavaredo is probably the Dolomites' most famous peak(s) and the entire Alps. It is an iconic, unmissable sight that can be admired as part of an easy hike. The whole hike is about 10 km and takes about 3 hours. Different routes can be followed, but the most scenic is from Rifugio Auronzo to the Dreizinnen hut. The next stop is in Malga Langalm, then back to the parking lot.
Lago di Braies, Pragser Wildsee (Lake Braies)
The most famous lake in the Dolomites is Lake Braies, which thousands of tourists visit every year in winter and summer. The turquoise-coloured glacial lake has now become a symbol of the area. It is a fabulous world in an outstanding environment. Lago di Braise is a real gem between high mountains and valleys studded with lakes. If you are in the area, visit this blueish treasure.
Lago di Carezzo, Karersee (Lake Karer)
Karersee is another popular and well-known glacial lake. Although it is not as popular as the previously presented Lago di Braies, it is perhaps a little more peaceful in the high season because fewer tourists visit it.
Alpe di Suisi, Seiser Alm
The Alpe di Suisi is Europe's largest high mountain meadow, covering an area of about 56 km². An endless alpine pasture where you can wander without overcoming huge elevation differences. That is why it is one of the favourite destinations for those coming with children. During our trip, you will see alpine farmhouses, pine trees, and grazing cows. You can approach it by cable car during the day, as the road is closed to vehicles between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. If you want to come in your car, arrive after 5 p.m. and wait for the sunset.
Passo Giau, Giau Pass
Being able to drive up to the top of the pass quickly made Passo Giau famous. Of course, no one would make the winding road if the view didn't make up for it at the end. Today, it is one of the most visited passes in the range.
Like the Three Peaks, most people have already seen photos of Seceda. The 2,519-meter-high mountain can be approached by cable car. The popular viewpoint is just a 15-minute walk from the Ortisei upper station.
Val Di Funes, Villnössertal (Funes)
The Val di Funes is a valley fit for a fairy tale, joined by gigantic mountains. The most popular settlement in the region is Santa Maddalena, where you can walk around the valley following the panoramic path behind the church.
Here comes a lesser-known sight, the Cinque Torri rock formation belonging to the 2361 m high Nuvolao mountain range. The unique shape stands out alone, offering a sumptuous view.
Lago di Sorapis (Lake Sorapis)
This breathtaking lake lies deep in the Sorapis mountains of the Dolomites. It became known for its fabulous colour. The melting waters of the nearby glacier of the same name created it. You can only reach it on foot.
Lago d'Antorno (Lake Antorno)
Lake Antorno is a tiny jewel box not far from the Three Peaks. You can walk on the short tourist trail along the coast, but don't expect a long hike — a relaxing, pleasant sight among the vast, dramatic mountain peaks.
Passo Gardena, Grödner Joch (Gerdena Pass)
The 2,136-meter Gardena in South Tyrol is another famous pass that connects Val Gardena with Val Badia. It can be used by car, bicycle and on foot. Plenty of accommodations along the pass, so the area is an excellent starting point for those who like hiking.
- Val Fiscalina valley
- Val Venegia valley
- Baita Segantini Valley
- Prato Piazza Plateau
- Altopiano delle Pale di San Martino plateau
- Mondeval Plateau
- Passo delle Erbe pass
- Prati dell'Armentara meadow
- Lake Lago Federa
- Lake Lago Di Dobbiaco
- Lake Lago Limedes
- Lake Lago Di Landro
- Cadini di Misurina mountains
Popular via ferrata routes
- Innerkofler/De Luca
- Torre Di Toblin
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