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The Allure of the Dolomites. Italy’s mountainous landscapes conceal a multitude of jewels, none shining brighter than the captivating town of Cortina d’Ampezzo. As the summer sun caresses the snow-capped peaks of the Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo unveils its unique charm, effortlessly marrying natural grandeur with quintessential Italian style.
Encrusted in the heart of the Dolomites, this range’s ethereal beauty forms a kaleidoscopic backdrop that is both daunting and enchanting. The Dolomites, elevated to the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site, captivate with their stark cliffs, deep valleys, and the pink hues they borrow from the setting sun—a phenomenon aptly named Enrosadira.
Alpine Summer in Italy’s Mountain Jewel: Unique Experiences in Cortina d’Ampezzo
In this dramatic landscape, Cortina d’Ampezzo reigns as a queen, her crown glittering with the snow from the surrounding peaks. Originally a quiet mining town, Cortina gradually evolved into a sophisticated hub, the so-called “Queen of the Dolomites.” It’s a town where Italian flair meets alpine simplicity, creating an ambience rich in culture, class, glitz and glamour.
As winter’s white cloak recedes, Cortina’s alpine summer emerges in a burst of colour. It’s a season painted with the green of sprawling meadows, the azure of clear skies, and the vibrant hues of alpine flowers. Outdoor enthusiasts find a paradise where horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing adventures wait at every turn. Treks lead to towering peaks, offering panoramas that stretch across the horizon, while cycling routes wind through lush valleys and past crystal-clear lakes.
Electrifying the Terrain: E-Biking in Cortina d’Ampezzo
For those seeking to explore the majestic landscape in a unique and exhilarating way, e-biking in Cortina d’Ampezzo offers an unparalleled experience. Navigating routes like the challenging “Fanes – 5 High Huts,” which spans under 48km and presents an elevation gain of 1500m, becomes more accessible with the assistance of an e-bike.
Alternatively, the “Pian de Loa” track provides a moderate challenge with its 300m elevation gain and 21km length, offering cyclists awe-inspiring views as they traverse through verdant meadows and rocky terrains. E-biking offers an eco-friendly, fun, and flexible way to uncover the region’s scenic beauty, adding a dash of adventure to the tranquil alpine summer.
Ascending Alpine Heights: The Thrill of Via Ferrata in Cortina d’Ampezzo
Cortina d’Ampezzo’s challenging vertical playground offers over 30 Via Ferrata routes, leading both amateur and seasoned climbers to conquer the stunning peaks of Ampezzo. These protected climbing routes, a series of steel cables, rungs, and bridges, navigate the region’s rocky terrain, offering a thrilling blend of hiking and climbing.
The medium-difficulty “Strobel” Via Ferrata is a particular standout. Scaling the west face of Punta Fiames north of Cortina, the route provides a satisfying challenge to climbers, all within an estimated time of under five hours. Its journey up the rocky cliff face offers unrivalled vistas of the surrounding Dolomite peaks, a spectacle that grows increasingly dramatic as the ascent continues.
Alternatively, for those seeking a gentler introduction to Via Ferrata, the “Giovanni Barbara” route provides an excellent starting point. This circuit meanders around the mesmerizing Fanes waterfalls and is suited for all skill levels, including families and beginners. This easy route is an enjoyable venture in under four hours.
Lastly, the Ra Bujela Via Ferrata, though more difficult, offers a memorable climbing experience with two suspended walkways of 7 and 3 metres, respectively. The path scales the right-hand Pomedes tower, facing the awe-inspiring Tofana mountain, affording climbers panoramic views of the entire valley, including the majestic Mount Tofana. With a completion time of under two hours, it’s a unique adventure that gives a taste of the real thrill of alpine climbing.
Yet, the essence of an alpine summer in Cortina goes beyond adventure. It’s about soaking in the tranquil aura of the landscape, allowing the crisp mountain air to clear your mind while the serene vistas soothe your spirit. Venture into the protected wilderness of the Natural Park of the Ampezzo Dolomites, a testament to Cortina’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage. This 11,200-hectare sanctuary showcases the biodiversity of the region, home to countless species of flora and fauna against the backdrop of towering Dolomite peaks. Imagine leisurely strolls through dense pine forests, quaint picnics by babbling brooks, and evenings spent stargazing in the park, unmarred by the harsh lights of the city.
Nightlife and Shopping: Cortina’s Chic Allure
Cortina d’Ampezzo offers not only natural splendours but an enticing urban scene as well. As the sun dips behind the Dolomites, the town’s vibrant nightlife wakes up. From cosy wine bars offering local vintages to pulsating clubs where music echoes into the night, there’s an exciting array of options for those seeking to mingle with the fashionable set.
In daylight, Cortina is a shopper’s paradise. With around 250 shops, it showcases the best of ‘Made in Italy’. Designer boutiques line the streets, offering high fashion, artisan crafts, and exquisite jewellery. It’s a celebration of Italian flair and sophistication right at the heart of the Alps.
Culinary Delights at Cortina d’Ampezzo
The appeal of Cortina d’Ampezzo transcends its stunning landscapes to embrace the rich culinary heritage of the region. This charming town is a treasure trove of gastronomic delights, where you can savour everything from traditional mountain fare to innovative dishes that add a contemporary twist to age-old recipes.
Restaurants, mountain lodges and alpine farms dot the landscape, each offering a unique culinary experience. Savour mouth-watering plates of polenta crowned with slow-cooked venison stew, delight in the tang of local cheeses and surrender to the sweet temptation of pastries filled with wild berries freshly picked from the surrounding forests.
Cortina d’Ampezzo’s award-winning restaurants, wine bars and alpine farms
One of the many aspects that make Cortina d’Ampezzo a culinary haven is its assortment of award-winning restaurants. Eight prestigious establishments lead the gastronomic scene here, each offering a memorable dining experience that transcends the ordinary.
A must-visit is the Michelin-starred Restaurant SanBrite, where Chef Riccardo Gaspari passionately weaves magic into his dishes. Recommended delights include the mountain-pine-flavoured spaghetti and the innovative milk and larch-buds gelato—an homage to the locale’s flavours.
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Celebrating over twenty years of Michelin recognition, Restaurant Tivoli stands as a testament to the longevity of fine dining in Cortina d’Ampezzo. Here, traditional techniques marry innovative approaches to yield dishes that are as visually appealing as they are palatable.
The exceptional Baita Fraina is another gem, run by two brothers, Adolfo and Alessandro Menardi, along with their wives, Anna and Tiziana. With an impressive wine list and a breathtaking view of the Tofane and the 5 Torri mountain groups, it offers a comprehensive sensory experience.
Rounding off this culinary tour are Al Camin, Pié Tofana, El Camineto, and La Corte del Lampone, each contributing to the rich gastronomic tapestry that is Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Dotted amongst the mesmerizing landscapes of Cortina d’Ampezzo are fine wine bars, attracting both connoisseurs and casual enthusiasts with their extensive selection of local and international vintages.
Enoteca Villa Sandi is an iconic wine bar with an outdoor terrace that offers a breathtaking view of the Dolomites. It provides an excellent backdrop for a leisurely evening savouring exquisite wines. Whether you’re in the mood for a full-bodied red or a refreshing white, Villa Sandi’s vast collection has you covered.
The Baita Fraina wine bar, managed by the affable Adolfo Menardi, is another must-visit destination for oenophiles. Here, fine wines harmonize with exquisite gourmet culinary creations by chef Alessandro Menardi, making for a match made in gastronomic heaven. Whether you’re toasting to a day of adventure or winding down in the evening, these wine bars add a touch of elegance to your Cortina experience.
One of the culinary delights of Cortina d’Ampezzo lies in its traditional alpine farms, where you can relish authentic, homemade dishes crafted from the freshest local ingredients. These farms, or “malgas”, are the heart of the region’s farm-to-table philosophy, serving an array of rustic fare that warms the soul and delights the palate.
Malga Ra Stua, for example, prepares appetizing dishes like “tagliatelle alla Ra Stua” with sausages and mushrooms and hearty chops with polenta and melted cheese, providing a comforting retreat after a day of exploration.
Meanwhile, El Brite De Larieto offers a gastronomic experience under the guidance of chef Riccardo Gaspari. Here, every dish, from cured meats to desserts like ice cream and panna cotta, is homemade, capturing the essence of traditional cuisine. The farm’s specialities include gnocchi filled with cheese or artichokes and red beetroot canerderli served on a bed of horseradish cream – a distinctive flavour journey not to be missed.
Visiting these alpine farms provides not only a delightful culinary experience but also a closer connection to the region’s rich agricultural heritage and the loving hands that continue to nourish it. The experience isn’t complete without a nod to the local vineyards. Producing some of the region’s most exceptional wines, each sip captures the very soul of the Dolomites, creating a symphony of flavours that dance on the palate.
Luxurious accommodation at Cortina d’Ampezzo
But no discourse on Cortina d’Ampezzo is complete without mention of its stylish accommodations. From rustic mountain lodges, chalets to luxury hotels, Cortina’s hospitality sector prides itself on offering a personalized retreat. Here, traditional architecture meets modern design, all infused with a touch of alpine charm. These properties provide more than just a place to sleep; they offer panoramic views, wellness centres, gourmet restaurants, and a chance to experience the Dolomite’s characteristic “enrosadira” from your private balcony.
Staying in Cortina d’Ampezzo offers a range of opulent options that effortlessly marry the rustic charm of the alpine surroundings with luxurious amenities. For instance, Cristallo, A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, is an architectural delight inspired by the Art Nouveau movement, offering a regal experience to its guests.
Then there’s Hotel Miramonti Majestic Grand Hotel, a historic establishment that has been a holiday home for kings, princes, actors, and many other notable personalities. Its grandeur reflects in its service, as it continues to offer a royal retreat to its guests.
Hotel Franceschi, on the other hand, is a traditional hotel where classic meets comfort, a perfect place to relax after a day of exploration. And for those looking for an intimate experience, Hotel Ambra Cortina, a glamorous and fashion luxury boutique hotel, offers only 23 rooms. Each detail here is meticulously crafted, ensuring an exclusive and unforgettable stay. Adding to the mix of Cortina’s luxurious accommodations is The Grand Hotel Savoia Cortina. A centurion in its existence, it opens a window to the world of fine living with beautifully-appointed rooms, excellent gastronomy at Ristorante Savoy, and an array of luxury services. From chic dining establishments to a rejuvenating spa, the hotel is an ideal stay for sports enthusiasts and nature lovers, promising to add a touch of glamour and a taste of a luxurious lifestyle to their alpine retreat.
These establishments highlight the diversity of accommodations in Cortina, providing guests with a multitude of choices to fit their style, preferences, and luxury needs. The charm of Cortina d’Ampezzo lies in its remarkable ability to harmonize the grandeur of the Dolomites with a stylish Italian sensibility. It’s a place where every stone whispers a story, every trail leads to discovery, and every meal is a celebration. An Alpine summer in Cortina d’Ampezzo isn’t merely a vacation—it’s an experience that engages the senses, revives the spirit, and leaves an indelible impression on the heart. ◼
© This article was first published online in June 2023 – World Travel Magazine.