Exploring Italy’s Dolomites: A Beginner’s Guide to the Val Gardena
As a nature lover and aspiring hiker, visiting the Dolomites, a mountain range in Northern Italy, has been on my travel bucket list for years. This past summer, my family and I spent nearly a week exploring one of the most popular and accessible areas of the Dolomites, the Val Gardena.
Here are my top tips if you are planning a trip to this stunning, unspoiled region.
Top Tips for Hiking Val Gardena in the Dolomites
Tip 1: Visit early or late in the summer season
We visited in mid-June, right at the beginning of the summer season. Another great time for hiking in Val Gardena is early Fall. The weather in the mountains is unpredictable at best. During our stay, we had rain, thunderstorms, hail and sunshine! For the most accurate forecast, visit local web sites like the weather section of the official tourist page of Val Gardena.
Tip 2: Look for local hiking or biking programs
The array of hiking and biking trails can be overwhelming. During our trip, we went on three guided hikes and two hikes on our own. One of our two independent hikes ended up taking twice as long as we expected because the map we were using was not drawn to scale. If you are relying on gondolas or chair lifts, make sure you know when they stop running. I managed to scale a mountain at quite an impressive speed because I was afraid of missing the last lift! The Val Gardena website offers maps and information about hikes and local guides.
Tip 3: Do not miss lunch at a traditional refuggio
The hiking trails in the Dolomites are dotted with mountain huts that serve delicious food and drinks. In Italian, these huts are called refuggios. The German word is hutte. Look out for specialties like speck (a type of cured ham), spinach and ricotta filled ravioli called schlutzkrapfen, giant dumplings called knodel and of course, apple strudel. The huts serve coffee, soft drinks and a full range of adult beverages, including tap beer and local wines.
Tip 4: Brush up on your German
You can get away with speaking English, but try and learn some words in one of the three languages spoken in the Dolomites: German (the majority language), Italian and the local dialect, Ladin.
Tip 5: Rent a car, but also use public transportation
If you are visiting the Dolomites and plan to do a lot of hiking, you will likely use the extensive system of gondolas and chair lifts. Do some research and decide if it makes sense to buy a Gardena Card that offers unlimited use of lifts for 3 or 6 days with special pricing for kids up to age 16. Our hotel provided us with a free Val Gardena Mobil Card that offered 7 days of free buses in Val Gardena, which comprises the three main villages of Ortisei, Santa Christina and Selva. Taxis are also widely available, but not cheap.
Tip 6: Getting to the Dolomites
We flew into one of Milan’s two airports, which was about 4 hours away from Bolzano, the largest city in the Dolomites, about 40 minutes from the three main villages of the Val Gardena. Other convenient access points are Venice or Verona, Italy; Innsbruck, Austria; or Munich, Germany. Renting a car in Milan is easy and the comfortable, and the well-situated Hilton Milan has an on-site Europcar office where you can pick up or drop off your rental vehicle.
You may also enjoy:
- Exploring Milan with Kids
- Top Four Things to Do in Venice With Kids
- Fun Things to do in Innsbruck, Austria with Kids
- Adrenaline Overload: Canyoning in the Southern Swiss Alps
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A self-proclaimed Jersey Girl (with a soft spot for Jon Bon Jovi), Amy currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and 11-year old daughter. She picked…