I am standing on top of a gnarly pinnacle overlooking the series of S-shaped bends that make up the spectacular Passo Gardena mountain pass. My heart is pumping, partly due to the exertion of climbing up the via ferrata that I’ve been on the last few hours in the glorious late-afternoon light, and partly because of the exposure.
I’m safely clipped into the last section of via ferrata cable, but there are pretty big drops all around me. This is not a place for those without a head for heights. However, the views that this lofty perch offers are breathtaking, with lush verdant valleys and jagged mountain tops as far as the eye can see.
This is Alta Badia in the heart of the Dolomites and if these are not the most beautiful mountains in the world then I’ve yet to visit them.
The Dolomites form part of the eastern section of the Alps and are situated in north-eastern Italy across the provinces or Belluno, Trentino, and the South Tyrol, the northern part of which extends into Austria.
Alta Badia consists of a number of small, picturesque villages and valleys that are typically alpine in style, with Italian and Austrian influences evident in the food, drink, and the multilingual abilities of the people.
Alta Badia is also home to the indigenous Ladin people who bring their culture, history, fairy tales, and, most importantly, fabulous Ladin cuisine for visitors to enjoy.
For outdoor adventure enthusiasts this place is hard to beat. It’s a theme park for those with a sense of adventure and, over the years I have been coming here, the infrastructure continues to improve, especially for those visiting in the summer months.
The winter ski season is huge here and attracts significantly more tourists than the summer season, but the network of ski lifts and mountain huts are largely open from June to late September and allow access to, and more importantly back from, some fabulous high-level areas.
I’ve visited this part of the Dolomites on several occasions, and these are some of my top things to do when visiting Alta Badia and the neighbouring areas.
The walking is great here and although there are some lovely low-level routes through the meadows and wooded areas of Val Badia, most of the best walks start at the top of ski lifts that give you access to high level routes.
Another feature of the area is the network of mountain huts which provide great food in often dramatic locations. There is nothing more rewarding after a strenuous uphill trek than a coffee and an apple strudel before heading back down via the lift.
I was averaging a strudel a day on my last trip, but I think this is acceptable practice in this part of the world.
You can buy summer lift passes at the lift stations or from the Dolomiti Superski website individually, although multi-day cards that you can use 3 out 4 days, or 5 out of 7 offer better value. A 3 out of 4 day pass for Alta Badia only will cost around 55 euros, but it’s money well spent to save your legs and allow you to get the most of your time in the mountains.
Passes covering multiple valley regions are more expensive, so it’s worth planning out your week in advance so you can make the right decision when it comes to purchasing lift passes.
A good introductory walk would be to get high up on the Sella Massif to survey the area. You could start in Corvara and use the Boe and Vallon lifts to leave a 45-minute walk to the Franz Kostner hut and have some morning coffee overlooking Marmolada, the highest peak in the Dolomites.
From there you can amble back down to the Boe lift and back down to Corvara. Alternatively, take the lift from Passo Pordoi on the south side of the Sella, and then follow paths 627 and 638 to reach the Piz Boe Peak.
For hiking in the area use Tobacco Maps which can be purchased online (Map 07 covers Alta Badia). Shorter Walks in the Dolomites published by Cicerone is a useful guide to walks across the region.
Top 3 Walks
- Santa Croce and the snow cave. 2 hours. Easy.
Visit the iconic Santa Croce rifugio and explore a natural snow cave formed via the thaw running off the mighty Sas dla Crusc through spring and summer.
Starting in Badia take the 2 ski lifts up to the beautiful Santa Croce rifugio – also known as La Crusc. From here, follow path 15b through the pines until a large shale area opens up and the track leads up to the snow cave directly below the Piza dales Diesc peak.
From here, loop back around via the Armentara meadows and grab some lunch at Santa Croce. Then either walk back to Badia or use the lifts to save your legs.
- Seceda. 3 1/2 hours. Medium.
A lovely walk through the meadows of Col Raiser and exploring the serrated edge of the Seceda and the views to the Odle National Park, and the sharp peaks of the Sassolungo.
From the Col Raiser lift, follow path 1a to the excellent Baite Sofie Hutte – one of the more upmarket mountain huts in the dolomites that has its own wine cellar. From here, walk by the Furnes – Seceda cable car station, before skirting the edge of the Seceda peak and then meandering back down to Col Raiser on one of the paths which you can extend to suit your preferred length of walk.
- Sassongher. 4 hours. Hard
If you stay in Corvara then you will spend a lot of time looking up a huge column of limestone which is the Sassongher.
Starting at the top of the Col Pradat lift, this is a strenuous uphill walk with a short section of scrambling near the top. There are via ferrata cables in place for protection, but anyone with some scrambling experience will not need to use them.
The reward for the effort is topping out on the Sassongher peak, 2665m, and the amazing panorama on offer from there. It’s the same path back to the start.
Hut to Hut Trekking
Spending a night or two high up in a mountain hut and watching the sunset over the Dolomites is an unforgettable experience. Watching the ‘enrosadira’ from Rifugio Nuvolau is one of the most magical moments I’ve experienced in the mountains.
The enrosadira is the name given to the phenomena by which the walls and peaks of the Dolomites act as a dynamic limestone canvas that turns from pink to red and then violet at sunset and in reverse at sunrise. Doing that with a beer in your hand after a hard day’s walk lingers long in the memory.
The rifugios are relatively cheap, around 70 euros for dinner, bed, and breakfast, but need to be booked in advance. The next nearest one will usually be 3 hours away if they are full, so getting turned away is not recommended.
They usually serve big plates of tasty food and provide breakfast the next morning. Packed lunches are also usually available. Rooms are typically dorms with bunk beds, although some do have smaller rooms. Bookings can be made online, and in summer this needs to be done well in advance of your trip as they do get busy.
We did a 3-night/4-day route starting at Passo Falzarego, and heading past Averau to the Nuvolau rifugio, which, as you approach it from a distance, looks like it is precariously perched on Nuvolau peak.
After a stunning sunset and night there we headed into the wilderness of the Fanes Natural Park, spending a night at the Scotoni hut before spending our final night at beautiful Santa Croce where we ate the most fabulous food and, once again, caught a marvellous sunset light show.
There are lots of multi-day routes that can be put together across the region, but spending a night in one of the more remote locations and the isolation this gives you is an experience you will not forget.
One piece of advice: if you do stay in a dorm, do not forget your ear plugs. Snorers always sleep well!
The Dolomites is the home of via ferrata; the network of wired climbing routes that allow those with an adventurous spirit the opportunity to experience routes that would usually only be the territory of rock climbers.
We have in depth article on via ferrata here on BaldHiker, but a great route for beginners is Piz da Cir V near the top of Passo Gardena.
This and the Grand Cir are two great starter routes that will allow you to test the kit and techniques and, maybe more importantly, see if the exposure pumps you with adrenaline or turns your legs to jelly.
Via Ferrata gear can be hired relatively cheaply from most local sports shops.
Mountain Biking and E-Biking
As mountain biking has increased in popularity so has the infrastructure and accessibility across the region. There are mountain bike hire shops in most villages; chair lifts allow you to take bikes uphill, and e-bikes make mountain terrain accessible to those who may not want to work so hard getting up the hills, or wish to take a longer journey.
Purists may turn their noses up at the thought of using a battery to power you uphill, but for inexperienced mountain bikers it allows them to do long days over hilly terrain and to get the most out of their time in the mountains.
Piz Sorega has technical mountain bike trails of varying levels, and simpler mountain bike paths run across the gentler mountain terrain. There are plenty of mountain huts in which to enjoy coffee and cake while enjoying the views of the Alta Badia mountains.
For the more ambitious, the Sella Ronda is a monster 60km circular route of the Sella massive that can be done in a day in either direction with a combination of ski lifts taking you up the mountains and passes around the Sella and allowing you to enjoy the downhills without too much uphill pain. It’s a demanding day but a brilliant way of exploring the area.
Your natural life preserving instincts may tell you that strapping yourself to a stranger and jumping off the side of a mountain is not a good idea.
However, those who have had the pleasure of doing tandem paragliding before will tell you what a relaxing experience it can be, and there is no better place to do this than the Dolomites.
Getting a bird’s-eye view of the mountains around you and the villages below as you slowly circle high above the valley floor before gently descending is a very relaxing and rewarding experience.
There are several companies across the region offering tandem paragliding experiences such as Tandem Flights in Corvara.
How to Get There and Where to Stay
Alta Badia and the South Tyrol is an accessible place, only a few hours’ drive from Venice, Treviso, Verona, or Innsbruck to the north.
There are a number of mountain villages that are all well serviced across the region, but Corvara is my recommendation to use as a base.
There are plenty of great restaurants such as Adler Keller which serves delicious Tyrolean cuisine, bakeries that will provide you with morning bread and readymade sandwiches, and a supermarket for all your other needs.
However, the best thing about using Corvara as a base is that you can access many of the activities mentioned above straight from your door. As I have mentioned, the network of mountain huts are great places to stop off for day time refreshment or for a nightly sleep, but you will need to book ahead.
There are lots of private apartments that can be rented, hotel rooms of all standards, and alpine style B&Bs. Many of the hotels have spa and wellness offerings for those looking to unwind after a few days of adventure.
The British mountain holiday company Collett’s also specialises in walking holidays to the region which include guided walks and via ferratas which may be a good option for those wanting to walk in groups. Wherever you end up in the Dolomites, if you love the outdoors and the mountains, then you will find yourself in the very best place.