Winter Wonderland: A Travel Guide To The Dolomites

A local ski instructor shares the best experiences, restaurants and après-ski hangouts on the slopes.
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Spanning the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto, the Dolomites are one among the most unique geological formations in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this mountain range is considering one of the beautiful landscapes in the world, featuring 18 peaks that rise above 3,000 meters, fertile valleys and dramatic cliffs that turn pale pink at sunset.

The Dolomites are also one of most beloved winter destinations in Italy – and for good reason! Whether you’re a food lover, a sports enthusiast or a spa junkie, South Tyrol is the perfect place to experience the magic of Italy’s celebrated settimana bianca, or white week. Discover our insider tips to make the most of your time in the mountains.

© Jimmy Hütte

First things first, don’t skip local breakfast. After waking up to admire the beauty of Italy’s snowcapped mountains, enjoy a taste Italian and Tyrolean specialties for breakfast. South Tyrol, or Alto Adige, was originally part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and annexed to Italy at the end of World War I in 1919, so it shares many cultural similarities to its northern neighbor. The region is famous for its local Laugen bread resembling soft pretzels, sweet Krapfen donuts filled with cream or jam, handmade marmalades and cookies, and of course Italian brioche.

Once you’ve eaten your fill, it’s time for some winter sports. The Dolomiti Superski network boasts 1,200km of slopes with a network of twelve ski resorts for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. You can opt for a single-day pass, multi-day or season tickets starting at €64 for adults. Beginners will enjoy the long, wide runs in Civetta and Alpe di Siusi while intermediate skiiers will enjoy skiing the famous Sellaonda circuit which covers a distance of 40km and runs over four passes in Val Gardena, Alta Badia, Arabba and Fassa. This year, the ski season is expected to start on January 18th, 2021.

Since you’re in Italy, you have to honor its ski traditions and stop for an aperitif at one of the many local rifiugi, or huts. What will it be: an Italian Aperol Spritz, a warm cup of Vin Brulè or a Tyrolean Jägertee, a spiced alcoholic punch made with rum, herbs and black tea? At Rifugio Emilio Comici you’ll find fantastic seafood appetizers like scallops au gratin and tuna carpaccio to pair with a glass of Prosecco or Franciacorta. Wine lovers will appreciate the curated wine list at Vinoteca Ursus Ladinicus and at the cozy Jimmi Hütte, the view speaks for itself.

Now let’s reach Secedaat 2,500 meters for the most panoramic (and Instagrammable) shot before we ski down the 11.5 km slope La Longia in Val Gardenia. Or are you ready to master the iconic World Cup black slope Gran Risa in Alta Badia? At Plan de Corones, you’ll find super long slopes, while at Alpe di Siusi the plentiful sunshine will enhance your tan!

If you’re not an alpine skier, the Dolomites offer plenty of alternatives. Get in touch with nature while snowshoeing in the forest, challenge yourself with cross-country skiing, have fun whooshing down on a sledge or take a ride on a dog-sledge pulled by huskies at Passo delle Erbe. You can also go shopping in the cities of Brunico, Brunico, Bressanone and Bolzano which are especially magical during the Christmas markets.

By now you’ll have worked up quite an appetite so let’s find the best restaurant for lunch. If you’re in the mood to refuel with carbs, head to Baita Sofie for homemade tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms (accompanied by an incredible view) or Rifugio Edelweiss for its iconic pasta with fermented garlic. For traditional dishes, Scotoni Hütte has the best mixed grilled platter with polenta and melted cheese, Punta Trieste makes succulent spareribs and Daniel Hütte serves local comfort food including excellent Canederlibread dumplings, also known as Knödel.

You’ll also find excellent homemade cheese served atop flowery plates at Gostner Schwaige. For a truly unique experience, book a visit and tasting at Genussbunker, a WWI bunker discovered by Hubert Stockner who transformed it into a cheese refinery where you can enjoy local formaggi paired with artisanal beers. If you’re looking for a true gourmet experience, don’t miss the contemporary AlpiNN opened by Norbert Niederkofler, a local three-star Michelin chef famed for his Cook the Mountain philosophy focused on local, seasonal products. I also love heading to Moritzino when I’m in the mood for fancy seafood in the snow.

Insider tip: for an extraordinary gastronomic experience book a table at Cocun at Hotel Ciasa Salares in San Cassiano, Alta Badia. You’ll dine in a a cozy, underground cellar-restaurant surrounded by 26,000 bottles of wine and enjoy cured speck, prosciutto and cheeses from Cocun’s own seasoning and aging room. The restaurant also has a chocolate room that offers 140 different types of chocolates from all over the world! The oste (host) Clemens is a passionate sommelier who will guide you through the dinner while pairing each dish with the finest wines.

After a day out on the slopes, you have a few options. The Après ski lovers usually opt to soak in the last rays of sunshine while dancing to DJ beats at Moritzino before heading to the iconic L’Murin Biraria,  a beer tavern, at the Hotel La Perla in Alta Badia. Enjoy live music in Val Gardena at La Stua and Luiskeller, or dance the night away at K1 in Plan de Corones.

© Forestis Dolomites

If you’re ready to relax instead, you’re in the right place! South Tyrol is one of Italy’s leading wellness destinations with the highest number of spa hotels in the Alps. From heated outdoor infinity pools and forest saunas to a slew of rejuvenating treatments, a trip to the Dolomites doesn’t only offer you fresh mountain air and invigorating exercise but a chance to reset and restore your mental wellbeing, too.

One of the more traditional, and unique, rituals offered in the Dolomites is the 100 year-old “hay bath” which is exactly what it sounds: a full immersion into a pile of fermented hay which is purported to have a detoxifying, relaxing and stimulating effect. You’ll also find restorative rituals like a honey massage, mugo pine oil massage and therapeutic wine or milk bath offered at other properties. A few favorite properties include the Winkler Hotel and Granbaita (5 stars), the Kolfuschgerhof (4 stars) and Miraval Naturhotel (3 stars).

If you’re looking for a unique experience: Four years ago I founded Dream Beyond with the idea of offering insider experiences to discover the beauty and the uniqueness of my homeland, South Tyrol. Being a ski instructor myself, I love guiding guests around the Dolomites and showing them my favorite secret spots. And because I love making visitors feel extra special, my team and I developed one-of-a-kind experiences you won’t find anywhere else. From a romantic aperitif in the forest in our brand-new sledge (that we built ourselves) and an igloo-building experience to a panoramic helicopter flight and an aperitif around the bonfire during a special husky-sledge-tour, you’ll experience an unforgettable side of the Dolomites. We love a challenge so if you have a specific request, just send us a message!

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