Back in the Italian Dolomites on the Alta Via 1

With Covid-19 precautions now in place, Cicerone's Italian Dolomites author Gillian Price is overjoyed to be in her favourite mountains and on her favourite trail. Yippee!

In the Italian Dolomites, all the refuges are open and welcoming walkers and public transport is operating normally. And yes, these marvellous mountains are even more spectacular than ever! What more could you ask for?

Lago di Braies
The AV1 begins at Lago di Braies

Covid precautions

All the Covid-19 safety precautions are in place: you must wear a face mask when travelling on buses and trains or entering a building such as a mountain hut, and gel steriliser is on hand everywhere.

Tables at cafés and restaurants are spaced out. As sleeping arrangements go, refuge capacity is reduced to respect distancing but the good news is that means you usually get a room to yourself. Booking is essential but free beds are pretty easy to come by this year.

Many huts ask you to bring your own sleeping bag, although some let you use their duvets or blankets as long as you have your own sleeping sheet. All the CAI Italian Alpine Club huts have been issued with a Covid kit, which includes an ozone steriliser used to treat the premises on a daily basis. All very reassuring.

The walk

And the walk? We set off from Venice on the 7.50am bus to Cortina, continuing on to Dobbiaco then Lago di Braies. It was with great excitement that we finally put boot to trail at 1.30pm. The lakeside was as beautiful as ever, and dotted with picnicking families attracted by the gorgeous acquamarine blue of the water – as well as its fame as the set for the aptly named Italian soap opera Un passo dal cielo (One Step from Heaven).

Rifugio Biella
Lovely evening light over Rifugio Biella (Stage 1)

But no tarrying for us as a massive ascent awaited. Four and a half hours and 1000 metres height gain later we were welcomed at Rifugio Sennes, set on an altopiano bathed in beautiful evening light. Shower, laundry, dinner, and into bed by 8.30pm.

The next day was a relaxing ramble via a perfect glacially shaped U-valley and alpine summer farms. We opted to stay at one, tiny Malga Fanes Grande, where we bedded down in the cosy attic but were served zuppa d'orzo (barley soup) then eggs, potatoes and speck in the delightful timber-lined stube. It was just the two of us and the owners, unless you count the cows, donkeys and chickens.

As stormy weather blew in and the key pass Forcella del Lago was closed until rockfall damage can be repaired, we detoured to Passo Falzarego. Climbing nearby the next (superbly sunny) day saw us flanking trenches left from World War One, when this was the dividing line between the collapsing Hapsburg Empire and fledgling Italy. Ruins of barracks and rusting barbed wire are chilling reminders of the madness of war.

monumental Tofana di Rozes
The monumental Tofana di Rozes (Stage 4)

We'd opted for the spectacular traverse at the foot of the dizzily sheer walls of the Tofana di Rozes. You wonder if the soldiers appreciated it... It looks over the magnificent Cortina basin studded with rock stars the likes of Sorapiss and Antelao.

The superb day concluded at Rifugio Cinque Torri, a true delight with its old-style wood-panelled premises and perfect white eiderdowns. A good night's rest was essential as an especially drawn-out stage was on the cards. Passo Giau was the first staging point then marmots and edelweiss drew our attention as we crossed undulating emerald pastures backed by the looming stone giant the Pelmo no less.

The days flowed on, punctuated by the delicious fruit tarts at Rifugio Coldai, the hospitality at Rifugio Tissi, 'dining room with a view supreme' as it faces the mammoth Civetta mountain.

Along the way we met a handful of other Alta Via Oners – from Italy, Germany, Belgium and Sweden – all wearing huge smiles as they revelled in the freedom of being out there, and admiring the majestic landscapes. Nobody was taking it for granted. 'It's like being a child again', one marvelled, 'all you have to do is walk, eat, sleep and enjoy.'

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