TAKE ME TO: The Italian Dolomites & Venice w/ @implicated
When most people think of Italy, they conjure images of rolling vineyards in Tuscany, ancient monuments in Rome, and colorful terraces in Positano or Cinque Terre. It’s usually not South Tyrol that comes to mind, the charming region just a stone’s throw from Austria that contains one of the most breathtaking mountain ranges in the world—the Italian Dolomites.
The area is unique for a host of reasons. Besides the dramatic scenery, ranging from rolling green hills to craggy mountaintops, it’s also home to a slew of luxury ski and spa resorts—and more Michelin stars than any other province in Italy. Since South Tyrol was originally part of Austria (Italy acquired it after World War I), citizens speak both German and Italian, with German as the first language for most.
High season for Summer is July and August, when the area becomes a haven for hikers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts. The region is probably best known for its snow sports in the winter, when travelers come from all over Europe to hit the ski slopes. We spent 10 days in the Dolomites in September, which is shoulder season. Early September is an ideal month to travel, since the crowds from the summer have gone, but the temperatures are still warm and clear.
#1 Take a hike (or just a cable car).
For someone who is not an avid hiker, one of the reasons the Dolomites are so amazing is because you get a whole lot of payoff for very little effort. All over the mountains, there are numerous cable cars that will easily whisk you up to dizzying heights. At the top are endless networks of hiking trails that can range from super easy to difficult. No matter your skill level, every hike will reward you with jaw-dropping panoramic views.
Seceda (accessible by cable car in Ortisei), Alpe di Siusi (accessible by cable car in Ortisei), Lagazuoi (accessible from Passo Falzarego, close to Cortina d’Ampezzo), Tre Cime di Lavaredo (accessible by car)
#2 Eat your heart out.
I’m a firm believer in eating regionally when you travel, especially in a place like Italy, where the food is so intrinsically linked to local traditions. When in South Tyrol, forget about pizza and dive into the flavors of the province—you won’t regret it. I expected to taste a lot of hearty, mountain food, like canaderli (bread dumplings stuffed with cheese and ham), a well-known South Tyrolean dish. And don’t get me wrong, we did try all that stuff. But I was pleasantly surprised to experience some of the best food of my life on this trip!
We sampled all kinds of Michelin-worthy fare (caviar-topped saffron risotto, for example), but some of our most delicious meals took place at the simple yet delightful baite or rifugi (mountain huts) throughout the hiking trails. Most are full-service restaurants, and some even have lounge chairs or playgrounds outside for you to further relax and enjoy the insane views.
My Pro-Tip: instead of ordering an Aperol spritz with your meal, try a Hugo instead. It’s a local cocktail of prosecco, seltzer, elderflower and mint.
#3 Drive a famous mountain pass.
If hiking isn’t your thing, there are many other ways to enjoy the scenery. Cyclists, bikers and drivers come from all over to conquer the region’s famous yet harrowing mountain passes. Renting a car is definitely the best way to get around (even if driving in the Dolomites is not for the faint of heart)! I’d highly recommend experiencing at least one of the many picturesque mountain passes while you’re there—we drove through three, but Passo Gardena was by far my favorite!
My Recommendations: Passo Gardena, Passo Sella, Passo Campolongo, Passo Falzarego (you can do all of these in one day in only a couple of hours!)
After we had our fill of the mountains, we took the short two-hour drive south to Venice, one of my favorite cities in Italy. If you rented a car, this is the perfect time to explore the surrounding Veneto or Trentino region, perhaps stopping at one of the many local prosecco wineries.
#1 Explore the history or art.
Venice has an extremely rich history. The city itself is ancient and has enjoyed many periods of abundant wealth and power, much of which I wasn’t aware of until I visited Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. The basilica, in particular, is a complete marvel. Almost entirely decorated by stolen treasures from Constantinople that are over 1000 years old, the gold and marble-encrusted church is best appreciated during a private, after-hours tour, when you can get up close and personal with the basilica’s priceless bejeweled altarpiece, the Pala d’Oro.
If historical sites aren’t your thing, Venezia is also equally famous for its art culture and hosting the Venice Biennale. Although the Biennale only occurs once every two years, the permanent collections at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Gallerie dell’Accademia are both marvelous and must-sees for art lovers.
#2 Take a trip to an island.
Tired of traversing the streets of Venice after a couple days? I highly recommend visiting one of the many islands that surround Venice proper. It’s a wonderful respite from the heat or the crowds, and each island has its own special charm. The closest is Giudecca, still considered one of the sestiere (neighborhoods) of the main city. Further afield is Lido, where you can lounge on sandy beaches, or the extremely popular Murano, home of the glassblowing masters and their factories.
We opted to travel to Burano, known for its colorful fishermans cottages and a history of lacemaking. An Instagrammer’s dream, the adorable island has gained popularity recently due to social media. If looking to get photos without other tourists, get there early. At 9am, we had the place to ourselves. Spend time getting lost in the streets and shopping at the local artisans boutiques, and then grab lunch canalside at Trattoria al Gatto Nero for some fresh, delicious seafood. Book ahead!
#3 Get lost.
Simply put, Venice’s main attraction is the city itself. Take a romantic gondola ride down the canal, head off the beaten path and get lost in the labyrinthine alleyways. Avoid the tourist center at all costs. Shop at unique boutiques, explore local neighborhoods, and definitely grab some gelato (I recommend Gelateria Alaska). There are hidden treasures here at every turn.