The Dolomites, northern Italy’s expansive mountain range, are a UNESCO World Heritage site and an area of outstanding natural beauty worthy of being added to your autumn/next summer travel list. With a unique cultural heritage and immersive outdoor experiences, Val Gardena offers the perfect gateway to visitors seeking to experience the Dolomites for the first time.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine crystal clear rivers. Imagine lakes nestled amidst mountains with wooden huts nestled on their banks. Imagine wildflowers that come alive in spring and fresh mountain air that fills your lungs. Imagine tasting flavours as fresh as the landscape that surrounds you. Now, open your eyes. What you’ll see is Val Gardena and the Dolomites.
Continuing our theme of showcasing out-of-the-way destinations for your consideration (once you feel confident enough to travel again), Melan introduces you to Val Gardena, a valley region in northern Italy which offers the perfect gateway to the Dolomites.
Melan introduces you to Val Gardena, a valley region in northern Italy which offers the perfect gateway to the Dolomites.
Val Gardena sits in the autonomous South Tyrol province of Italy but was once part of the old Austro-Hungarian empire. The result is a local language and culture that is a mix of Italian and German. The region however continues to preserve its unique Ladin heritage.
Unheralded in the summer (when compared to the more tourist-heavy parts of Italy), this year-round destination gives visitors access to the South Tyrolean part of the Dolomites, one of Europe’s most spectacular mountain formations.
Note: Refer to the latest UK government Covid-19 travel guidance for Italy here.
Many reasons to visit Val Gardena and the Dolomites
The stark, ghostly, craggy and near vertical appearance of the Dolomites will leave a lasting impression on the first-time visitor. One local describes them as, “Mother Nature’s way of showing off.”
Driving is the best way to reach some of the notable peaks. The Sella range, in particular, is easily accessible from Val Gardena. An impressive network of bus routes, cable cars and ski lifts offers easy mobility between viewpoints.
For many, winter is the year’s travel highlight, attracting skiers and other seasonal sport enthusiasts to the Dolomites. However, in the summer, as in many parts of Europe’s alpine region, the mountains trade their snow-white blankets for lush green landscapes, silver lakes and rolling meadows teeming with colourful plant life.
Val Gardena serves as the perfect gateway to the Dolomites. Notable villages/towns in the region include Selva Val Gardena (Sëlva), St. Christina/Santa Cristina and St. Ulrich/Ortisei, each one beautifully presented with stunning alpine architecture and home to shops, cafes and restaurants.
In Val Gardena, you’ll experience an ancient culture called Ladin (over 80% of the local population consider Ladin to be their native tongue). Boasting its trilingual heritage, many of the street names in Val Gardena are labeled in Ladin, Italian and German.
Boasting its trilingual heritage, many of the street names in Val Gardena are labeled in Ladin, Italian and German.
This language diversity is reflected in the region’s gastronomy. Visiting Val Gardena offers the opportunity to experience local dishes influenced by the cultures which have called this region home for many centuries.
Things to do in Val Gardena and the Dolomites
Feeling curious enough to check out Val Gardena and the Dolomites? Here are a few ideas of things to do in the summer and early autumn (subject to local authority guidelines and restrictions and service provider availability).
Unleash your inner hiker
Visiting the Dolomites in the summer is all about spending quality time outdoors. If all you do during your visit is to aim to visit a different jagged mountain peak each day, it will be time well spent.
Team up with local herbal and flower experts to hike the colourful meadows of Val Gardena and learn about the flora of the Dolomites. The period between the end of May and mid-July is the best time to do this. There are multiple hiking trails suitable for people of all abilities.
In Autumn, a phenomenon called the ‘Burning Dolomites’ occurs. The setting sun plays tricks with the limestone crystals in the mountains, causing the Dolomites to exhibit a chameleon-like character and turning them into different shades of red, yellow and orange.
A must-see viewpoint in the Puez-Odle Nature Park commemorates the designation of the Dolomites as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tour Val Gardena on electric bikes
Electric bikes are now popular and available in many destinations and Val Gardena has wholeheartedly embraced them.
Ditch the hiking poles and hire an electric bike from one of many local shops. With your pedalling helped along by an electric boost, head to the Vallunga valley to explore the Puez Odle Nature Park. You’ll want to stop every few minutes for a photo of the stunning landscape around the Dolomites.
For the less adventurous, cycling routes (e.g., from Selva Val Gardena to Ortisei) pass through storybook perfect villages where you can stop to sample artisanal coffee and local pastries or go shopping.
Take a forest walk with a local wood carver
Wood carving traditions in Val Gardena (Ghërdeina in Ladin) date back to the 1600s. The work of artisans from this region is world renowned and has brought great prosperity to the region.
If you can arrange it (check with the local tourism office), you may be able to join a local wood carver on a relaxing forest walk where you’ll learn about different types of wood and marvel at the craftsman’s extraordinary ability to ‘read’ tree trunks and ancient roots.
If you’re lucky enough to be invited into a local woodcarver’s workshop, you will gain further insight into ancient wood carving techniques and see some of their astonishing work.
Taste the cuisine of the Dolomites
Turn your hiking or biking experience into a culinary adventure by including rifugis (mountain huts that serve food and drink) on your route. These homely, rustic alpine huts are an excellent opportunity to sample the gastronomy of the Dolomites.
Altitude can create a multisensory dining experience so head to Rifugio Toni Demetz (2,685m above sea level and reachable via the iconic Forcella al Sassolungo gondola) to sample a range of local savoury specialties including polenta and Canederli (dumplings), and sweet desserts such as Kaiserschmarrn.
Enjoy an excellent spa and sauna experience at any of the many facilities around Val Gardena.
Enjoy a lazy day of wellness
The attraction of the Dolomites is in getting as close to them as possible. However, after all that outdoor activity, you may want to simply relax and rejuvenate. Enjoy an excellent spa and sauna experience at any of the many facilities around Val Gardena.
When you’re done, take a leisurely walk into any of the local village squares (depending on where you’re staying) and enjoy a local aperitivo and local delicacies with the Dolomites as your backdrop. Après ski may be a winter highlight but a beautiful summer evening after a day of wellness in Val Gardena holds its own appeal.
How many days do I need?
The summer/autumn season runs from June to September. We recommend five to six days to get a good taste of Val Gardena and the Dolomites.
How to get there and around
Fly: Your options include flying into Bolzano (25 miles), Innsbruck (75 miles) or Verona (118 miles). Flights subject to availability due to pandemic disruptions.
Drive: Although airport transfer services and local buses are available, hiring a car and self-driving offers flexibility.
Cable cars/Ski lifts: The Gardena Card offers unlimited use of an extensive network of lifts and cableways in Val Gardena in the summer (subject to terms and conditions).
Where to stay in Val Gardena
Summer in Val Gardena and the Dolomites comes with great bargains on accommodation. Guests staying in Val Gardena Active member properties may have access to some free (or discounted) local events and activities.
Hotels: The 5-star Alpenroyal Grand Hotel is an excellent choice, offering well-presented rooms, a heated outdoor pool and a sophisticated restaurant. Half-board and full-board options are available.
Mountain inns and cabins can bring you even closer to the mountains and the culture that surrounds them. Check the local tourism website for listings.
Due to the disruptions to the hospitality industry caused by the pandemic, we recommend contacting properties directly to discuss pricing, availability and their safety procedures.
Writer’s note: The key word for us here at Melan Magazine is safety. While we want to help you visualise your travels, we also want to highlight the importance of following health and safety guidelines issued by your local authorities. It is important to keep yourself safe and to help others stay safe by following those guidelines.
Disclaimer: The writer’s press trip was organised by Visit Dolomites Val Gardena who offered complimentary hotel accommodation, meals, and activities during the trip. However, all photos and opinions expressed are the writers.
Omoruyi (Omo) Osagiede is a London-based writer, travel blogger and digital content creator. Omo’s work has been published in Lonely Planet, Culturs Magazine and House of Coco Magazine. As a blogger and digital content creator, his work can be found on heydipyourtoesin.com (travel, food and lifestyle) and protectme.blog (digital security).