Italy’s Dolomite region has a well-earned reputation as a winter destination, but don’t sleep on this UNESCO World Heritage site during the rest of the year. Each season offers its own unique surprises, from seasonal lakes to the peaks and meadows bursting with color. Here you’ll find hiking, climbing, mountain biking, and trekking opportunities paired with world-class hospitality.
This story was created in partnership with Val Gardena.
A year-round playground
Located in Italy’s far north, the Val Gardena valley is comprised of three villages situated in the heart of the Dolomites: Selva Val Gardena, Santa Cristina, and Ortisei. With cable cars leading into the mountains and free bus routes, traveling between each village and to hiking destinations is a breeze.
These villages share a unique cultural identity as Ladin-speaking people, a Romance language of its own that’s distinct from Italian. Ladin influence is strong here, especially when it comes to food, arts, and crafts, and even its own flag. From agricultural practices to cultural traditions and architecture, the Ladin people have forged a deep relationship with their natural surroundings that is an integral part of their identity.
discover the ‘secret dolomites’
Beginning in April, the landscape undergoes a stunning transformation from a winter wonderland into one full of surprise lakes and wildflowers. As the snow begins to melt, it collects in the meadows below, forming crystal-clear lakes. These lakes, however, are only temporary– act fast, as they tend to disappear nearly as quickly as they appear. For the best chance of sighting one of these mysterious lakes, hire a guide who knows which ones are still around. If you’re lucky, you might catch the Lech de Ciampedel, a turquoise lake at the base of a craggy peak.
Not to overstay their welcome, the lakes vanish by early summer. In their place, however, comes a new surprise: meadows bursting with wildflowers. These seasonal blooms can be found nearly everywhere in the valley, but Alpe di Siusi is particularly well-known. Accessed by road or cable car, this is the largest high alpine meadow in Europe. Wherever you go chasing wildflowers, keep in mind that they are incredibly fragile– stay on marked trails and practice Leave No Trace principles.
Summer is also a busy time with events, from farmers’ markets to mountain bike races and concerts. This is also a great time to visit the artisans’ markets, where you can find traditional wood carved art pieces.
fire on the mountains
Just as ephemeral as the lakes, the wildflowers begin to fade by late summer. And just as the departure of the lakes brought a new surprise, fall has its own tricks up its sleeve.
With the onset of fall, the lush green forests light up a different color as the larches turn to yellow and bright orange before shedding their needles. This, along with the lower angle of the sun turning the mountains orange around sunset, contribute to what’s known as the “burning Dolomites.”
One of the best ways to take in this phenomenon is to join one of the ongoing guided hikes, which are offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from September until early November.
For a more laid-back experience, kick back at one of the many mountain huts for Italy’s take on happy hour, aperitivo lungo. One of the best spots to catch the sunset while sampling the local fare is from the Seiser Alm mountain station, accessed by cable car from the village of Ortisei.
With endless miles of trails, rugged mountain peaks, and a unique cultural identity, Val Gardena checks all the boxes for a bucket-list destination. No matter the season, the Dolomites are guaranteed to deliver an unforgettable experience.