Our bus ride from Padua to San Vigilio di Marebbe was about as scenic as it gets. I’d fallen asleep right after getting on the bus, so imagine my surprise when I woke up to yellow and green alpine forests with pale limestone cliffs rising up through the landscape- nearly vertically! The Dolomite mountains are striking, and they made for a perfect weekend getaway between weeks of non-stop travel.
My first views of the Dolomite mountains from the bus window
It’s been so much fun traveling across western Europe with my school group, but I’ve never traveled so long and so continuously before, and I think I’m starting to learn what it means to be travel-weary. For that reason, I’d be lying if the proposition of a relaxing mountain getaway wasn’t music to my ears!
That’s what brought our class to the Dolomite Mountains, a section of the Alps mountain range located in Northeast Italy on the Austrian border.
Due to its location between Italy and Austria, the villages within the Dolomite mountains have a cultural blend like none I’ve ever seen. Both German and Italian are spoken, but the primary language of the Dolomite region is Ladin, a Latin-derived language. I didn’t know much about the Dolomite mountains before arriving, and since there’s not a ton of info on the internet either, that left it up to us to explore the village where we were staying and the surrounding mountains during our weekend stay.
If you find yourself in the Dolomite mountains, here are 5 things to do in this little-known but warm and wonderful region of Italy!
1. Relax at an Alpine Resort
While we’ve been lucky to stay in mid-range hotels throughout our study abroad travels, the Christophorus Mountain resort was definitely a step up from the usual!
Our room was perfectly equipped to show us a relaxing time during our Dolomite Mountains getaway. Rooms include a fully-stocked kitchen, several comfy bedrooms (complete with chocolate on the pillows!), and spacious bathrooms complete with robes for every guest. The room also gets plenty of natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that open out onto a big balcony facing the alpine mountain forests.
My favorite activity at the resort was to put on the bathrobe and have a cup of cocoa on the balcony!
Our rainy mountain view from the balcony at Christophorus Mountain resort
(this post isn’t sponsored I just loved our hotel and wanted to recommend it to you guys)
2. Explore the Small Mountain Towns
The town we’re staying in is called San Vigilio di Marebbe. While it serves mostly as an access point to the surrounding ski lodges, Marebbe has its own history along with small town mountain charm!
La Chiesa Parrocchiale church in Marebbe’s town square
While taking a short walk around town, I explored the main square that houses a lovely little church called La Chiesa Parrocchiale and a statue of a woman with a pitchfork. After looking more closely, it appears that the statue commemorates one of the town’s first settlers, who chased off would-be troublemakers with only the pitchfork in her hand. You go girl!
Just a girl and her pitchfork- she’s my new hero!
Besides the main square, the rest of the tiny town consists of other resorts and ski shops. Still, against the background of the dramatic Dolomite vistas, it’s impossible to not enjoy a short stroll around town.
Additionally, I’ve found groceries to be astronomically cheaper here than anywhere else we’ve visited so far, so the Dolomite Mountains are a great place to stock up! For example, the lemon soda I’ve been obsessed with was only 0.5 euros for a can as opposed to the (up to) 6 euro prices I’d seen in Florence!
3. Take a Hike!
If you’re itching for something to do besides relax, why not take in some of the Dolomites’ dramatic scenery by going a hike?
After searching around town for any kind of hiking trails, I came upon the Parco Fanes-Sennes-Braies, which houses a visitor’s center and several paths that follow the river. The visitor’s center supposedly has tons of exhibits and information about the area’s history and folklore, and I was so sad when I arrived only to find it closed 🙁
Oh well, at least the trails are open!
Thankfully, all of the trails were still open and I had a couple of AMAZING hikes through the alpine forests and along crystal-blue streams. I’ve never seen fresh water so blue and clear! It felt like walking through a german story book.
This stream at Parco Fanes-Sennes-Braies is an unreal shade of blue
If you walk even further down the road, there are more trails as well. I’d tell you what they were called, but since all of the signage is in Ladin, a picture is the best I can do!
More trails near the Parco Fanes-Sennes-Braies
What made these serene hikes even better was stumbling upon several adorable wooden animal signposts!
Animal signposts written in Ladin
4. Learn about the Legends of the Area
It’s too bad the museum is closed, because the Dolomite mountains are full of legends surrounding the region’s mythical creatures! Thankfully, there are lots of posters placed seemingly at random along the trails that tell bits and pieces of Dolomite legends, although these are also written in Ladin.
It was also too bad I couldn’t read the posters, but luckily they have illustrations too. Just by trying to piece the stories together from the images, you can tell that the Dolomites have some incredible legends! In one poster, an archery princess is in a boat with a bunch of gophers watching from the shoreline. In another, a knight appears to be protecting his castle from a giant falcon. One particular character seemed to reappear often, though. This character is a monster that has the body of a horse’s skeleton, large black rabbit ears, crab’s claws, and lightning powers, and it seems as though he only turns up to fight the other characters.
That sounds too crazy to believe, but I assure you, it is real:
One of the legends with the monster… I have no clue what’s going on here
I’ll include the posters below for you to decide, and let me know in the comments what you think the legends are about, because I can only guess!
Look out knight and archery princess! The horse monster is right behind you!
5. Have a Traditional Meal at a Family Restaurant
Arguably one of the best things to do on your Dolomite mountains getaway is to try some home-style local cuisine! Given the Dolomite’s locations between Italy and Austria, you’ll have plenty of italian and bavarian options to choose from, including fantastic beer and wine! Pizza and pasta are most common, and the ravioli is especially fantastic!
At one restaurant, I also got to try grappa for the first time. Grappa is a traditional italian drink of brewed grape brandy, and it is often home brewed by local families. Due to the strict regulation of what is allowed to be considered ‘grappa’, and the intricate process of brewing it, it can be difficult to find it on the menu in restaurants. This makes the Dolomite mountains a great place to try grappa! We were given our drinks in tiny glasses, and so I suppose I should’ve expected the strong burn, but it was followed by a little hint of fruity sweetness.
This mountain getaway to the Dolomites was exactly the kind of break I think I needed (though I’ll be honest, I am a little ashamed to admit I need a break at all!). The facilities at our resort made our stay extra relaxing, but there were a nice couple of outdoor things to do when I got antsy. The scenery of the Dolomite mountains is just gorgeous, and going on hikes to see more of the natural sights of Marebbe was a balm for my nature-loving soul. I love big cities, but am happiest in the woods 🙂
Where did she come from? Padua, Italy
Where is she going (next)? Innsbruck, Austria