Whilst it is categorized as Italy, Dobbiaco is in the far north and far more German/Austrian in reality than it is Italian. 85-90% of the people speak German as a first language (though they sometimes speak German, Italian and English in one sentence, making ordering a beer a challenging experience). We quickly recognized that we hadn’t really left Austria at all when we arrived there from Innsbruck via a somewhat chaotic train system.
Dobbiaco was quite quaint with a few good shops, but mostly hotels and their associated restaurants. We did see some excellent free jazz in the square on our second day. Once at our hotel, we met our guide Barry (who sounded just like Postman Pat which was awesome) before he headed off to pick up the rest of the group from Venice airport. We had no idea what to expect with this tour, but it sounded like we didn’t need to be worried about keeping up with the pack as we has first imagined. The activity based tours seemed to attract an older age group, so we would most definitely be the youngest this week (but by no means the fittest?!)
Not bad for a tiny town
The hikes involved taking the public bus system to a starting point then heading off on a trail. Day one was a ‘warm-up’ to a pretty amazing lake nestled amongst the trees and mountains. To some extent it could have been NZ – it reminded us a little of the Blue Lake in Rotorua.
Day two we headed up Mount Elmo in Sesto via gondola, then trekked up to the summit. It was an interesting place to go, with markers indicating the border between Austria and Italy, WWII remnants amongst the rocks and huge friendly Austrian cows with giant bells amongst the mist. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best to take in the views, and we needed every one of our layers (double merinos, beanies, gloves) including the newly-purchased wet-weather pants. A hot shower was much appreciated when we finally got back to the hotel at 7pm.
Day three would be our first experience with ‘Tre Cima’, the famous Italian peaks which actually only became famous to us when we started the hike. The plan was to approach it from the south side that day, then from the North side in the better weather later in the week. I quite enjoyed this day – the route took us through a valley with a river, lots of limestone slips and great cliff faces. Being met with a cool view at the top of the final climb was also the sort of satisfaction you hope for on these sorts of hikes. We started to get an understanding of why this area was so popular for the outdoorsy crowd.
After a couple of good days on the legs, the hotel stairs were getting slightly harder to descend so the mid-week day off was probably beneficial. Not keen on spending more time on trains, we took a short bus trip to the ski town of Cortina. Supposedly it’s pretty ‘exclusive’, and the heights of the ski fields were certainly impressive. Unfortunately, the town was a little lacking, not helped by the fact that everything shuts for three hours from lunchtime so the Italians can conveniently go and do whatever it is they do, never mind the tourist dollars walking around unsatisfied in the streets.
We had a slightly unsatisfying second to last hike, which had a nice lunch spot up a peak, but that was about it. Alex and I were keen to be amongst the gravel on the bigger peaks we had been staring at. Our last hiking day took us up to Tre Cima, to touch the base of Cima Piccola.
Straight from wiki, I shall give you some Alex-style facts: “Until 1919 the peaks formed part of the border between Italy and Austria. Now they lie on the border between the Italian provinces of Bolzano and Belluno and still are a part of the linguistic boundary between German-speaking and Italian-speaking majorities. The Cima Grande has an elevation of 2,999 metres (9,839 ft). It stands between the Cima Piccola, at 2,857 metres (9,373 ft), and the Cima Ovest, at 2,973 metres (9,754 ft).”
We certainly didn’t gain that height on our feet, with Bazza taking us up to a ‘base’ area via bus. We walked a hell of a way downhill though, which most find harder on the body than getting up. A shame not to have the satisfaction of climbing up as well, though it was darn hot that day. Despite all this, the views were incredible with a backdrop of azure blue sky. Tour guide Bazza told us how there is a canister at the summit of Cima Grande containing a ‘guest book’ which has his name in it from about 2004. He seemed to think Alex and I could manage it, but I don’t fancy my stumpies as very successful mountain-climbing legs, not to mention the risk of the rock you nailed your support rope into breaking off. We’d seen a number of posters showing before and after of huge rock falls which had happened over recent years throughout the area – it creates such destruction that a massive layer of silt like a volcanic eruption covers the nearby valleys. Pretty terrifying if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. A conservative girl attitude I suppose!
We headed to Venice in a shuttle with the group on the final day, with everyone going their separate ways at Venice airport. The length of the tunnels through the mountains on the way south were baffling – so different to our roads weaving up and around rather than through. We concluded that budget-wise this tour hadn’t been the best in terms of value-for-money, though it was really great to be in one place for a week and do something a little different. We definitely enjoy the more remote locations – as true Kiwis, if it has mountains, lakes or sea, we are in our element. Big cities can be fabulous, but sometimes in smaller doses! We said goodbye to another great group of people, with a few good contacts made, and headed off to find a water taxi to Venice.