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Valleys of the Dolomites walk

Valleys of the Dolomites walk    

By Jackie Igoe

I was completely spoilt for choice when deciding which Inntravel holiday would be my first. Having been with the company for just over a year, and witnessed my colleagues’ unbounded enthusiasm, I was determined to see for myself exactly what it was that made these holidays so special.

As keen walkers, we opted for the Valleys & Villages of the Dolomites, having viewed these beautiful mountains from afar on previous holidays. We flew to Venice so that we could benefit from a couple of relaxing days there at the end of the seven days’ walking, and chose early June rather than high summer. Never having visited Venice before, the view from the aeroplane as we approached the city was amazing and, all week whilst we were walking, I had this vision of what was still to come.

Arriving mid-evening at our first hotel, the Zirmerhof in Radein, we were made extremely welcome and, although dinner had already started, we were not at all hurried by our hosts and had the opportunity to change before joining our fellow guests. The meal was absolutely delicious, with a set menu of smoked salmon followed by tender pork chops and fresh vegetables, and finished off with a very fruity/creamy dessert and coffee. What a great start to our holiday.

With two nights in Radein, we set out up the Weisshorn the next morning, having stoked up on a hearty breakfast of fruit, meat, cheese and bread. A somewhat challenging walk for day one, but it was worth it. The walking notes took us to just below the summit, from where the views were very good, but, being sure-footed, we continued the last 100 metres to the very top, and were glad we did, as we were rewarded with a 360-degree panorama. It was apparently the coldest June for ten years but the air quality was wonderful and the visibility fantastic. On our return to the hotel, we made the most of the small mountain restaurant at Gurndinalm for a very welcome sandwich and beer.

Next day, and all too soon, we left Radein and embarked on our walk to Aldein and the Gasthof Krone. Rather than take the recommended Inntravel route down into the Bletterbach Canyon, we opted for the less strenuous Route 9 – and what a choice that turned out to be. Following the contour of the hill, we had the most amazing views back up the Weisshorn, when we could congratulate ourselves on our previous day’s achievement, and down into the valley of the Alto Adige way below us. It was a great spot for us to stop and enjoy our picnic and take yet more photos. As if we hadn’t had enough walking for one day, having checked in at the Krone, we then did a quick 10-kilometre walk around Aldein to the small lake of Goller, and the cliff edge at Rotwand which affords a fabulous view over the Alto Adige valley.

Once again, we were made most welcome by our hosts at the Krone and the hotel bustled with visitors in the small vaulted bar. Our room had been recently refurbished, with new pine furniture, and had a lovely view from its small balcony.

The next day, we were off once more, this time to Kohlern and the gasthof of the same name. It was lovely to be taken by car as far as Deutschnofen, where the walk started. It was generally a less strenuous day, with a few fairly steep sections, and much of the walking was in woodland with hints of wonderful views over the escarpments close by. We couldn’t have been made more welcome by Josef, who owns the hotel, and he seemed delighted that we had chosen this part of the world for our first Inntravel walk. The views from the dining room and terrace were absolutely stunning, and we had a fabulous sunset to enjoy whilst we tucked into our evening meal. Our room was furnished in a very traditional style, with hand-painted cupboards.

I don’t baulk at cable cars but the ride down to Bolzano from the hotel, the following morning, literally took my breath away. As the oldest suspension cable car in the world, and sited almost next to the hotel, it descends 1,100 metres down the side of the mountain, with Bolzano laid out like a model village below. It was a wonderful sensation, and one I'd gladly repeat, but if it doesn't sound like your cup of tea, you could always arrange to travel down by taxi.

We spent a relaxing couple of hours in Bolzano, people-watching in Piazza Walther, and visiting Otzi the Copper Age ‘ice-man’ in the Museum of Archaeology. This was a surprisingly large museum and, apart from its central attraction, also had a good display of the archaeology and human history of the whole region.

We set off the following day to our final hotel of the walk, and couldn’t believe how quickly the week was going. We took our time enjoying the splendid mountain views and having our picnic in a secluded woodland glade. The alpine flowers must have been at their best, and the slopes were carpeted with myriad species. By this time, the weather had warmed considerably and we wondered why we had bothered to carry jumpers at all.

We had hoped to glimpse the three tiny churches that give Bad Dreikirchen its name as we approached the hotel, but trees blocked our view, and then suddenly we were upon them as we made our way down the final slope. The Gasthof Bad Dreikirchen was larger than I had imagined but had a lovely cosy feel, with wooden panelling throughout. I had been told that Mathias, our host, liked to sit guests together for meals but I think he took pity on us as the only English-speakers there, and gave us our own table. I had learnt a few words of Italian before the holiday but they were useless as, in this part of the Dolomites, everyone speaks German. We spent two nights at Bad Dreikirchen and decided not to do the final day’s walk up the Rittnerhorn because of the adverse weather forecast. As it turned out, that was a good decision, and we had a spectacular show of lightning flashing and thunder crashing around the mountains, finishing with a perfect rainbow over the valley below. As at all our previous hotels, we had wonderful breakfasts and four-course dinners with extremely good wine.

Mathias was the perfect host, and had a particularly soft spot for Inntravel and its customers. We were sorry to leave his hotel but promised to return one day for a longer visit. However, we were looking forward to Venice and a complete change of pace to round off the holiday. We were taken by taxi to Bolzano railway station and caught the train via Verona to Venice. The journey down the Trentino Alto Adige towards Verona was stunning, with sheer cliffs rising on either side, and the valley floor filled to bursting with its fruit orchards and vegetable plots.

The hotel was ideally situated just off the Grand Canal and only minutes’ walk from both the railway and bus stations. During our two days there, we walked miles (so much for relaxing!) just savouring the atmosphere of the place, and pleased to be visiting before the hordes of tourists arrived. We found that the 24-hour vaporetto tickets, which gave us unlimited travel on the waterbuses, were an excellent way to see the city. As the hotel was on a bed and breakfast basis, we made our own evening meal arrangements – not difficult to do as there were plenty of good, relatively inexpensive restaurants away from the main tourist sites.

And then, all too soon, it was time to carry our bags to the bus station and make our way back to Venice airport and the flight home. It had been the most fantastic nine days, blessed of course with good weather, and I’m already looking forward to booking my next trip. But which one?