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St Magdalena, Geisler, Dolomites
St Magdalena, © Can Stock Photo / pljvv

The Dolomites are an extensive limestone formation in the Italian Alps.  The 5 main valleys of the Dolomites are Val Gardena, Alta Badia, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Fodom and Val di Fassa.  The Great Dolomite Road traverses the most popular section of the Dolomites.  Heading east from Bolzano, the route take travelers through the Fassa Valley, over Pordoi Pass, through the Fodom Valley at Arraba and on to Cortina d'Ampezzo.  An alternate route travels through the popular Gardena Valley and the towns of Kastelruth, Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva.  From the Gardena Valley you have the option to continue over the Gardena pass to the Alta Badia Valley & Arabba or rejoin the Great Dolomite Road over the Sella Pass.  Check out our map of the Dolomites.


The Italian Alps became part of Italy after fierce battles with Austria in World War I.  Italian and German are both official languages in the Dolomite area, but German is more prevalent.  Tourists seem to opt for the name that's easier to say, regardless of language.  It is easy to get confused, especially when a small part of the population speaks a local language called Ladin.  Here are some common names:

English Italian German Ladin
Dolomites Dolomiti Dolomiten Dolomites
Bolzano Bozen Balsan
Castelrotto Kastelruth Ciastel
Ortisei Sankt Ulrich Urtijei
Gardena Valley Val Gardena Groden Gherdeina
Fassa Valley Val di Fassa Fassatal Val de Fascia
Cortina Cortina d'Ampezzo Hayden Anpezo
Sassolungo Langkofel Saslonch
Alpe di Siusi Seiser Alm Mont Seuc
Sella Pass Passo Sella Sellajoch Jeuf de Sela

Schlern, Alpe di Siusi, Dolomites

Schlern, Alpe di Siusi, © Can Stock Photo / hardyuno


The Dolomites have two separate tourist seasons.  In winter the gondolas and lifts are filled with skiers.  In the summer the alpine hikers take over.  In spring and fall, the tourists abandon the area and the lifts do not operate.  The best alpine months are July and August, but these are also the busiest, which can make September a good option.  Precipitation is highest in the summer, which makes a short visit a gamble for optimum conditions.  Once the ski lifts open in winter, the valleys in the Dolomites are even busier than in the summer.  Expect summer highs in July and August of 70 F (21 C) and lows of 50 F (10 C).  Average winter highs in November and December are 32 F (0 C) and lows average 18 F (-8 C).  The deciding factor in a visit will not be the weather, but the options on accommodation, which needs to be booked about a year in advance.


The Dolomites are a bit of a challenge to get to and through, which is part of their charm.  The Great Dolomite Road runs from Bolzano to Cortina d'Ampezzo.  The twists and turns over multiple passes make this a popular route for motorcycles and private vehicles.  Smaller public buses travel the valleys and passes, but large tour buses and trains are not a travel option through the region.

Bolzano can be accessed by regular train service from Innsbruck in Austria to the north and Verano in Italy to the south.  At the eastern end of the Great Dolomite Road, Cortina d'Ampezzo can be accessed by train from Venice, but a rental car starting in Venice is probably a better option.

Many local lift areas, such as Val Gardena, Val di Fassa and Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm) include local bus service in the price of lift ticket passages.  This makes for efficient alpine day hikes that allow you to bus to gondola stations, hike and then return by alternate gondolas and bus routes.  It's easy to spend a week exploring and hiking a single valley without the need of a vehicle.

Sassolungo Group, Dolomites

Sassolungo Group, © Can Stock Photo / fisfra

Chairlifts and Gondolas:

Dolomiti Super Summer is a great source for information on the myriad of valley tickets that are available in the Dolomites.  Each valley has different combinations of days that can be purchased and most include valley bus passes as well.  Valleys don't overlap their tickets, so if you take a gondola from Ortisei to the Alpe di Siusi, you'll need a different valley pass if you decide to descend to Kastelruth on your return trip.

The Val Gardena web site offers a great pdf file showing all the lifts and gondolas in their valley.  The Dolomiti Super Ski map of Val di Fassa is also worthwhile.

Val Gardena Italy Gondola and Chairlift Map

Things to see and do in the Dolomites:

Kastelruth - Kastelruth is in a small valley adjoining the Gardena Valley.  From the town there is bus service on Route 10 to Compatsch on the Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm) plateau. Alternately, head the opposite direction on Route 10 to nearby Siusi (Seis) and catch the Alpe di Siusi Cable Car to Compatsch.  On the plateau there are hiking trails and two shuttle bus routes to numerous gondolas and chair lifts, allowing many access points to the surrounding mountains. From Compatsch, the Almbus Route 11 travels to Saltria and the Bus Piz on Route 14 goes to Piz. There is also a chairlift at Piz beside the Sporthotel Sonne, which connects riders to a cabin lift down off the plateau to Ortisei. From there, local bus service makes it possible to complete a full circle return to Kastelruth. 

Val Gardena - The Gardena Valley is one of the most popular spots in the Dolomites.  It is only a few miles off the Great Road over the Sella Pass.  There are gondolas along the valley floor that head up the slopes on either side of the valley at towns such as Ortisei, Cristina and Selva.  From Ortesei a gondola also reaches the Alpe di Siusi plateau, which provides an option to return through Kastelruth.

Val di Fassa - The Fassa Valley is part of the Great Dolomite Road.  There are several towns in the valley and an extensive series of lifts and gondolas.  The best known town is Canazei.  The gondola at Pordoi Pass is a favorite of tourists for its views, but there is no skiing or hiking at its summit.  The Fassa Valley adjoins the Gardena Valley at the Sella Pass. 

Funes Valley - This valley can be reached in about an hour from the Gardena Valley.  The view of the Church of Santa Maddalena (St Magdalena) is one of the signature landscapes of the Dolomites.

Fodom Valley - The Fodom (Livinallongo) Valley is located on the Great Dolomite Road at the base of the Sella Group and it includes the village of Arabba.  The valley is located between Pordoi Pass and Falzarego Pass and is another premier ski area of the Dolomites. 

Alta Badia - The Alta Badia is located north of Arabba and just off the Great Dolomite Road. The Alta Badia includes the villages of Corvara, Colfosco, San Cassiano, Badia, La Villa and La Val. There are numerous lifts for hiking and skiing in the Alta Badia. The Gardena Valley is immediately to its west over a pass between Colfosco and Selva. The area has a Ladin cultural presence. 

Cortina d'Ampezzo, Dolomites

Cortina d'Ampezzo, © Can Stock Photo / emicristea

Cortina d'Ampezzo - Cortina d'Ampezzo is situated at the eastern end of the Great Dolomite Road.  It is easily accessible by train or rental car from Venice.  To travel the Great Dolomite Road west from Cortina requires a rental car, as there are no trains and only small local buses over the route.  This region was taken over from Austria by Italy in World War I.  Cortina became well known in 1956 as the host of the Olympics.  There are many gondolas originating in the valley, taking summer hikers and winter skiers to the mountains surrounding the town.

Bolzano - Bolzano marks the western edge of the Great Dolomite Road.  The town is home to Otzi the Ice Man at the South Tyrol Archaeology Museum.  This 5,300 year old mummy was discovered in 1998, frozen in the ice of the Dolomites.  Bolzano has excellent train access from Verona and Innsbruck, but a rental car will be necessary to travel to the popular sites in the Dolomites.

Cortina d'Ampezzo Tours:

Hotels in the Dolomites:

View Dolomites map

View Dolomites Pics