Why You Should Plan a Trip to the Dolomites
Located in Italy’s northeastern corner, bordering Austria, the Dolomites have a distinct landscape, culture, and cuisine that’s completely different from what you’ll find elsewhere in Italy. Up there, rolling hills and olive trees are replaced by jagged limestone peaks and alpine meadows where cows graze. Weathered Mediterranean buildings are replaced by wooden alpine chalets. And pasta is replaced by… just kidding, there’s still pasta!
When I was an English teacher in Rome right out of college, my students from well-to-do families always talked about going skiing in the Dolomites for their Christmas vacations. It took me a long time to get there, but Marco and I finally visited for the first time last year and loved it so much we went twice—once in January and once in November.
Much of the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, when it was annexed to Italy, and to this day, German is widely spoken, in addition to an indigenous language called Ladin. In 2009, the Dolomites were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Unsurprisingly, the cuisine shares some commonalities with the cuisines of nearby Austria and Switzerland. During our trips there, we ate some delicious fondue, apple strudel, and sachertorte and drank Vov, which is similar to eggnog. But it’s still Italy, so of course you’ll find pasta. I particularly liked a regional pasta called casunziei, a kind of half moon-shaped ravioli filled with beetroot, which I’ve never seen in any other Italian regions.
Between our two trips, we visited three towns: Cortina d’Ampezzo, Corvara in Badia, and Bressanone (Brixen) and stayed in three different hotels. Of the three towns, I think Cortina is the most charming. Its small downtown is lined with shops, ranging from designer fashion stores to independent boutiques selling very chic cashmere sweaters and other winter attire. Pastel-painted buildings and Alpine-style wooden homes make the town look a bit like a Wes Anderson film set.
During our time there, we stayed at Cristallo, the grand dame of Cortina d’Ampezzo with a quaint sort of fairytale-esque design. It opened in 1901 and hosted a who’s who of celebrities and royalty, including Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot, and the U.S. Olympic team, which practiced on the hotel’s ice skating rink in 1956. When we stayed there, it was part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, but Mandarin Oriental has taken over its management and is currently renovating it in preparation for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Corvara in Badia has an even smaller town center. There are some cute shops, but people visiting the town mostly spend their time skiing or hiking in the mountains. We were drawn there by the allure of Hotel La Perla, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World run by the Costa family.
Annie and Ernesto Costa opened the hotel in 1957 and still live on the third floor. Nowadays, their three sons run the property and have added quirky touches like a trippy wine cellar tour and a Michelin-starred restaurant. If you ask nicely, a member of the hotel’s staff might bring you to see Ernesto’s impressive vintage motorcycle collection.
I have to admit that we didn’t see much of Bressanone because we were holed up at Forestis, a spa resort and member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World with a truly striking design and wonderful farm-to-table food. The property was born when local hotelier Alois Hinteregger spotted a disused chalet. It turned out to be built in 1912 by the Hapsburgs as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients.
Hinteregger turned the project over to his son Stefan and Stefan’s partner, Teresa Unterthiner, who restored the chalet and added three sleek modern towers that house pine-clad suites with floor-to-ceiling windows that let you take in the beauty of the surrounding forest. There’s an indoor-outdoor pool, multiple saunas (both indoors and outdoors), and a host of activities, like wyda (an ancient Celtic form of yoga) and guided walks in the forest.
Depending on where you’re staying and what you want to do, you might need a car. Though the towns are charming and the resorts are relaxing, much of the region’s appeal lies in the outdoor activities. Marco and I don’t ski, but we rode one of the ski lifts in Cortina up to the summit of Tofana to take in the views and enjoy some apple strudel and Vov at Ristorante Col Drusciè 1778. We also drove to Lake Misurina, got a ride up to the summit of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo on a snowmobile, and sledded back down—an experience that was absolutely terrifying and exhilarating. (Imagine trying to steer a little wooden sled down a winding mountain path covered in snow without guardrails and you get the picture.)
I don’t recommend visiting Lago di Braies—the Instagram-famous lake—in the winter. We did and found that it wasn’t as enchanting as it looks in photos because of the way the mountains cast shadows over the lake in the winter. In the summer, the sun glints off the lake, making it appear a spectacular shade of emerald and you can rent a rowboat and paddle around or go hiking on one of the trails.
You’ll also need a car to get to some of the best restaurants. We opted not to have a meal at the Michelin-starred SanBrite, but we visited the owners’ agriturismo El Brite de Larieto and had fondue made from the cheese they produce on-site and the house-made charcuterie and cheese platter. We also had a great meal at Baita Fraina, a B&B and restaurant in the mountains around Cortina. It looks traditional, but the chef makes modern takes on the regional cuisine, including casunziei.
The Dolomites are beautiful in the winter, but I would love to go back in the summer to see the scenery when it’s green and spend more time on the lakes. Have you been to the Dolomites? Share your tips with me and other readers in the comments!
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For more info about planning a trip to the Dolomites, check out this article I wrote for Travel + Leisure.
For Nuvo, I wrote about the philanthropic mission of the Costa Family Foundation, which is run out of Hotel La Perla. You can read that article here.
My friend Maria Pasquale shared more intel about the best design hotels in the Dolomites in this article for CNN.
Avid hikers should read this article in Italy Magazine, which has useful tips about some of the best hikes in the Dolomites.
You can see all the issues in the New Roman Times’ archives about under-the-radar destinations here.