Hiking Italy's Dolomites
From the American point of view, the Dolomites are perhaps Europe's most underappreciated mountain range. Despite their proximity to tourist-thronged Venice, virtually no Yanks go there. Too bad. These ramparts of white and pink limestone thrusting up to 10,000 feet from rolling green meadows are more dramatic and esthetic (albeit smaller) than the familiar movie-logo snow-capped peaks of the Alps just to the north. Three-thousand-foot walls attract hard-core rock climbers, while energetic hikers tread a vast network of superb foot trails serviced by a system of rifugiosovernight huts that are really more like small basic hotels, with food, wine, heat, electric lights, bunks, and sometimes even private rooms. The rifugios allow a hiker carrying only a modest pack to stay out on the trail for days or even weeks at a timean outdoor luxury virtually impossible on this side of the Atlantic.
The local culture in the Dolomites is more GermanicSwiss-style chalets, Mercedes taxis, lederhosen, sauerkrautthan Italian. The Dolomites were part of Austria for centuries, but after World War I the border was moved north to its present position. The Italian government at first tried to eradicate all vestiges of the German culture, but now Italian and German traditions and language exist side by side in a cordial apartheid. (Many Dolomite villages, in fact, have dual names.)
A number of U.S. outfitters offer Dolomite hiking trips. They typically range from 6-12 days and cost $150-$250 per day. Cost depends mostly on accommodations; the cheaper trips rely on rifugios, while the more expensive ones put clients up in full-service village inns and hotels. (If you want five-star digs, it's possible to spend up to $400 per day with ultra-upscale outfitters.)
It's also quite easy to hike independently and arrange your own village hotels and/or rifugiosexcept in August, when every vacation spot in Europe is mobbed and accommodations are difficult to find on short notice. (Dolomite trails are crowded as well; in fact, we'd advise skipping August altogether). Prices in Dolomite village hotels and guest houses run from $40 to $75 per person per night for a double room. Count on another $20-$50 a day for food.
Rifugios typically charge $8-10 per night for dormitory-style bunks. Those rifugios that have small private rooms (with cold running water and the bathroom down the hall) charge $20-30. Unfortunately, the basic rifugio food is relatively expensive because it must be packed or helicoptered in; figure $20-30 a day for breakfast and dinner, including some wine. Reservations are necessary only during August, or at the handful of most popular huts. But you won't be turned away in any case, even if it means sleeping on the dining room floor.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication