If you’re looking for the ideal Italian destination for your active vacation, look no further than the Dolomites, the magnificent mountain range located in north-eastern Italy, a Unesco World Heritage site since 2009.
Surely enough, one of the best way to experience the Dolomites, to take in all their beauty and grandeur, is by hiking one of the Alta Via routes, long-distance walking trails that traverse the Dolomites from north to south at a steady medium-to-high altitude.
As you gather information and prepare to hike an Alta Via, a valuable reference guidebook is “Trekking in the Dolomites,” published by Cicerone Press. The book contains detailed descriptions of the Alta Via 1 and 2, and outlines of the Alta Via 3 to 6.
In this article we will focus on the Alta Via 1, which is the one recommended for beginner long-distance hikers. As reported by guidebook author Gillian Price, the Alta Via 1 is “straightforward, yet astoundingly rewarding, and perfectly suited for a first Alpine experience.”
The 120-km route begins at Lago di Braies/Pragser Wildsee in Val Pusteria/Pustertal and ends at La Pissa, where the bus stop for Belluno, Veneto, (i.e. to get back to civilization) is located. Along the way, you will pass the Fanes area, Lagazuoi, some of the Cortina mountains, Pelmo, Civetta, Moiazza and the Dolomiti Bellunesi, all familiar names for those who love the Dolomites.
Writer and hiking enthusiast Gillian Price has hiked the Alta Via 1 several times, and the guidebook she authored is packed with helpful information and insider’s tips. Preceded by an introduction describing the history, flora and fauna of the Dolomites, the book then provides valuable guidance on how to get to the area, what you can expect of the mountain huts where you will be sleeping, what to bring in your backpack, advice on best practices when setting on a long distance trek.
Each of the 11 stages is then described in detail, with maps, comprehensive logistical information, including route variants and a range of possible accommodation.
The small size of the guidebook makes it easy to fit in your backpack, which should only contain the essential - remember, you will have to carry it on your back for hours on end!
I was happy to be able to consult Gillian on a few questions I had for this article (and as I plan to hike the Alta Via 1 myself!).
*It is practically impossible to complete the entire Alta Via 1 in less than 11 days (the stages described in the guidebook), unless, as Gillian put it, “you’re a trail runner”! If you do not have 11 days, then you would need to just select parts (there are escape routes along the way). Also, Gillian recommends individual walkers book the mountain huts well in advance as the Alta Via 1 has become popular with organized groups. It is possible to book through the website www.rifuginrete.com.
- Gillian, what would you say is the most challenging aspect of the trek?
You may encounter difficulties - tricky terrain or bad weather. It is essential that you take challenges seriously - and don't hesitate to turn back or pull out. Your safety is paramount.
- Are there many ascents and descents or is it mostly flat once you reach altitude?
Mostly ups and downs. Flat isn't an adjective that describes the Dolomites!
- What's your number one tip for beginner hikers doing this trek for the first time?
Get fit beforehand and plan a rest day en route.
- What was your favorite stage, and why?
Stage 3, from Fanes to Lagazuoi. The changes in landscape are marvellous. Towards the end, a notch pass leads to a plunging descent and a long climb to the Lagazuoi, theatre for the First World War, with lots of wartime caverns and reminders of the folly of man.
- Summer is the best time to go, but you’ve also hiked the Alta Via 1 in September, do you think early fall is still a good time to go? Is it less crowded?
End of season, ie mid Sept., is a great time to go but not necessarily less crowded.... we often found main huts full - but plenty of alternatives if you're prepared to mix and match.
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