Three years ago I wrote a post about the time I visited the Cliffs of Moher, a place I had once seen in a photograph and immediately became enamored by. Today I am going to share another location I finally had the chance to see in real time after seeing a photograph many years prior. I don’t remember the first photo I saw of the Italian Dolomites, but I remember seeing the jagged rocks and lush green valleys knowing I had to visit.
I’m sad to say I lived in southern Germany (THREE hours away from the Dolomites) for nearly two years, and it wasn’t until the very end of my time that I made the Dolomites a priority. I moved back to Washington two Fridays ago (a sudden decision to leave a week earlier than planned), but not before squeezing in a long awaited (and definitely not the last) trip to the Dolomites.
My last day of work was 09 Sept, and my favorite travel pal MaryBeth and I rented a car on 11 Sept and set off for a weekend away in Italy. The Dolomites are huge, and I had no idea where to begin, so I chose one of the most popular trails for an introduction to the Dolomites. The Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop is walked by many, but for good reason.
The ever-changing landscape truly showcases a little bit of everything. I am amazed by the beauty of these Italian Alps.
MaryBeth and I chose a quaint hotel to stay at within a 30 minute drive to our hike of choice. We chose this hotel because of the free breakfast, which did not disappoint. Due to our friend Covid, breakfast wasn’t buffet style like the photos implied, but this was probably for the best. Too many chocolate croissants and I’d have to be rolled up the mountain, but boy is there something magical about Italian espresso and a chocolate croissant. We arrived on Friday early enough to settle in, and to prepare for our full day of exploring.
After our breakfast on Saturday we made our way to the trail head. The drive was about 30 minutes, and thanks to my prior research I was prepared for the 30 euro toll fee in order to drive the road to the trail. I assume this has to do with the popularity of the trail, but if you really don’t want to pay the fee you can park and walk (or take a bus.) I typically entertain the idea of walking, but I’m thankful we didn’t.
This would have been a rough end to our hike.
We began our trek around 0945, after a handful of minutes searching for the clockwise entrance to the trail head. I had read to follow the trail in the opposite direction than most because the views are better. I couldn’t find the trail, so we decided to walk the traditional route. After completing the loop I can agree the views would have been better going the opposite way, but at the end of the day the views are amazing regardless. I realized after we finished the hike that we had parked right next to the opposite end of the trail where I would have wanted to start. So close.
The beginning of this trail starts flat, a casual walk along the base of the above pictured peaks. If you look closely you can see humans scattered along the trail, something we had to maneuver around the entirety of the hike. Usually when I hike on a trail that is covered with people I get irritated, but this trail is too beautiful to care. It’s unavoidable. After a short while we arrived at our first of many forks in the road, and our first of many mountain huts along the way. From here we continued on the trail, taking the quick, but steep route to our first vantage point.
After our first wee climb, we stopped at the top of the hill to savor the views below. From here we could see our next destination, a hut off in the distance with a taste of home name. The Dolomites are so close to Germany, that everything in the area is in both Italian and German. Tre Cime is also known as Drei Zinnen, which both translate to three peaks. Our next destination on the loop was to the Drei Zinnen Hütte.
As we began approaching the hut, we heard a man speaking over a loud speaker. MaryBeth heard the man say something about a man from France, and first place, from which we deduced there was a mountain race going on! I absolutely love watching people run, and the predominant demographic of these mountain runners were over the age of 50, and a lot of them were women. To say I was inspired is an understatement.
We sat to watch the runners, and soaked up the infectious energy near the hut for a bit, all the while we savored the stunning view of the surrounding alpine lakes.
Upon arrival at the Drei Zinnen Hütte coming from a counterclockwise loop (the popular route) is where we found the first real expansive view of the three peaks in all their glory. I am not a climber, and I don’t think I ever will be (my few experiences on very thin and sketchy trails have proven this to me), but I can only imagine what the views are like from the tops of those peaks. The weather was perfect this day, a mix of sun and slight overcast.
After admiring the superhumans running up this mountain, we began our descent down into the valley to bring our loop towards a circle. We took our time the entirety of this hike to ensure we soaked up as much of the view as possible. The route isn’t overly difficult to follow, but I was glad to have read a few blogs in order to know which route to follow. The trails branch off in multiple directions, but I knew as long as the three peaks were close on our left we were on the right path.
The elevation changes on this trail aren’t anything to write home about, but the final stretch did have a decent dip down followed by an equally decent incline. MaryBeth was wearing shoes that were hurting her feet, and I was wearing Teva sandals. My choice of footwear was mostly due to the fact I didn’t want to buy new shoes right before I was leaving, and slightly due to the fact I like to test my boundaries when it comes to exploring in those sandals.
There were a few moments I clung to the inner edge of the trail just to avoid slipping, but overall the trail was moderate. I do not regret my choice of footwear, and if I had to do it again I would.
From here the trail was chill the remainder of the way. Overall the entirety of the loop is just over 6 miles, but with all of our stops and savors we didn’t get back to our car until 15:30, around six hours later. I could not have asked for a better introduction to the Dolomites, this day was absolutely perfect. The end of our hike showcased why walking the trail clockwise would have been a more expansive view.
We arrived back at our hotel to shower and rest before heading out for a meal of gnocchi and pizza (and wine for MB!) Can you really go to Italy without having any or all of those? I think not. I will daydream of this final European adventure (for now) for months to come. My decision to move back to America was not an easy one, but for the time being was the right one.
I don’t know what’s next for me, but I do know I’ll be back to the Dolomites as soon as I can.
Q: What’s one place you are dying to visit after seeing a photograph of the location?