Rendezvous in Bolzano (flights from Rome or frequent trains from Milan, Venice and Florence), home of the 5000-year old Ice Man, the world's oldest naturally preserved body! Transfer to the picturesque village of San Vigilio, where the road signs are in three languages - Italian, German and Ladin - reflecting the valley’s mix of cultures. Our first walk is a 9 km (5.5 mile) loop through tiny villages bright with flowers and past lush green meadows where hay is still cut with a hand-hewn scythe. A welcome aperitivo and then a hearty dinner of Ladin specialties rounds out the day. We stay two nights in the beautifully restored Monte Sella inn that has been in the same family for generations, and is renowned for its welcoming proprietor. At night we snuggle under cozy down comforters as the sound of the nearby river lulls us to sleep.
Our host, Norberto, will accompany us on our walk today, and he stuffs his backpack with needed provisions, such as wine, sausages and a portable grill! Our 15 km (9 mile) walk begins with a long uphill through meadows filled with an extravagant array of wildflowers, with rugged mountain peaks crowning the horizon. We are all hungry for lunch as we unpack the fabulous picnic while Norberto, never short of breath, hauls the wood for the barbecue. After lunch we continue our walk to a farmhouse kitchen, where we snack on sweet furtaies, hot from the frying pan. Back to San Vigilio, where we may indulge in a sauna or massage at our hotel.
We drive to a quiet valley of idyllic farms, where happy cows are grazing in the green meadows. As we gradually gain altitude, the sound of cow bells gives way to clear rushing streams and we enter the Odles Regional Park. Picnic in a field of buttercups, snooze in a patch of forget-me-nots and just enjoy being far away from the world. Our 17 km (10.5 mile) walk zigzags up to a ridge with sweeping views stretching to the Austrian Alps! We descend through pleasant pinewoods to a small village where we find our luxurious Relais & Chateaux hotel Rosa Alpina, an elegant family-run oasis of fine service. We stay two nights here, and you may choose to dine in the elegant 2-star Michelin restaurant St. Hubertus, or try another of the excellent restaurants tucked into the gourmet Val Badia.
We take a cablecar up to 2000 meters (6500 feet) to begin our 10 km (6 mile) walk, one of the most spectacularly situated in the Dolomites. Choose from a variety of easy or more challenging routes, while savoring stupendous views of the glacier-covered Marmolada, the “Queen of the Dolomites.” We lunch on a sunny terrace, relishing a plate of creamy polenta with thick local cheese before returning to town. Relax on your private terrace or take time to be pampered in the hotel's top spa facilities.
We drive to the top of Passo Giau, where we begin our 16 km (10 mile) walk above the tree line with bright blue gentians dotting the green slopes. Lunch in a rifugio with one of the best views in the Dolomites is highly recommended—the walk to get there is worth it! This majestic place was marred by heavy fighting during World War I, and the hand-dug trenches are still visible in an outdoor museum. We then head to the lively town of Cortina where we stay in a lovely 4-diamond hotel in the center of the pedestrian zone. Free evening for exploring the town. .
Our final day of walking brings us to the amazing Tre Cime di Lavaredo, a classic Dolomites hike with truly awesome views. Surrounded by dramatic soaring peaks, we are up at 2400 meters (8000 feet), following a rocky trail punctuated by clusters of bright yellow alpine poppies. Tonight we drive up to a favorite restaurant above Cortina, in the best spot to appreciate the Dolomites at sunset, and sip prosecco as the mountains turn a soft hue of pink against the darkening sky. Feast on local dishes of fragrant roasted game and poppy-seed ravioli, and those brave enough can finish with a shot of potent alpine grappa.
Transfer to the Venice Mestre train station by noon. Arrivederci!