THE HILLS ARE ALIVE IN THE DOLOMITES THIS SUMMER!
If it’s good enough for Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, the mountain view in the Dolomites is certainly good enough for me.
Ok, so not quite the identical setting, (TSOM was filmed in Austria), but the hot sunshine, fresh air and snowcapped mountains are idyllic cousins and you don’t have to be a dysfunctional family or a great singer to enjoy a vacation in the hills.
If like me you’re lucky enough to stay at the 5 Star Cristallo Palace Hotel, right in the foot of the mountains, in Cortina d’Ampezzo, that’s even better
With picture postcard views, the spectacular scenery is enough to entice anyone on a long weekend break. With the added bonus of five star cuisine, and the most helpful staff you could wish for, the Hotel is something of a hidden gem.
It’s actually been on the ski circuit since 1901, with the mountains being popular with everyone from families to experienced skiers from December to Easter, and who wouldn’t love to spend a Christmas surrounded by real snow?
The region itself is perhaps most well known for hosting the winter Olympics in 1956, but it has also been the backdrop for some memorable movies including Bond Movie ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and Sylvester Stallone hanging on for his dear life in ‘Cliffhanger’.
Like the rest of the picturesque region, The Cristallo Hotel boasts charismatic traditional décor, and the subtle sophisticated touches make all the difference- from your own personal Jacuzzi bath, to the toiletries and vast breakfast buffet, where you can choose from a 3 minute, 5 minute and 8 minute boiled egg (I opted for the 5 minute).
Perfect for a summer vacation, the romance of the surroundings, and splendid facilities including heated indoor pool, jacuzzi and impressive gym; There’s also a a hair salon and large spa with a vast menu of massage treatments. Once you’ve indulged in enough wellness treats, take advantage of the indoor and outdoor terrace restaurants and a choice of two sun decks, with direct views of the mountains. The perfect place to watch the sunset, or just relax and wind down.
For this more adventurous, ask for a packed lunch and head to the hills. After a short drive you can take a cable car to the summit of Lagazuoi (2.762m). In winter this is a hugely popular ski destination as it is one of the highest points of the Dolomite Alps; It also contains remains of the Dolomite war including bunkers, viewing posts, tunnels and barracks alongside plenty of WW1 memorabilia.
It’s worth the slightly nerve-wracking gondola ride, for the dynamite view of Cinque Torri, especially when you get to the bar at the top! Much needed for those wobbly knees, or for a well deserved post-trek drink.
With superb views across the valley, the countryside is breathtaking- a photographer or artist’s delight! Be warned to take sensible walking shoes or boots though, as the ground is pretty rocky (I speak from personal experience!).
With many routes to take, it’s a very sociable walk, and one which can be done with or without a guide. Meeting a multitude of international hikers is just one of the bonuses, along with soaking up the dramatic scenery and beautiful flowers abundant in the valleys.
It is also a prime spot for rock climbing, which can be arranged by the Hotel. I spotted some serious cliffs being scaled, which is a mesmerising sight in itself! With climbs ranging for beginners to the advanced, there are plenty of instructors to be found at the activity centres in the village;
The surrounding hills are also popular with cyclists, and there are numerous routes for both on and off road cyclists. Ranging for the moderate to advanced biker- just too many inclines for a beginner like me! But for those with nerves of steel, and a healthy heart, take a cable car up as high as you dare, and whizz down through the mountainside villages, breathing in the fresh air with adrenalin pumping through you.
There’s plenty of stopping points for coffee and cake, or just to catch your breath and take a photograph, this is one of the best ways of seeing the real Italian countryside. And if that is making you as out of breath reading it as it is me writing it, head to the town for some retail therapy.
Which brings me on to the village. A quaint main street, a mere ten minutes walk from the Cristallo Hotel, is filled with the most delightfully exclusive boutiques selling local crafts, jewellery and designer clothes. You can buy something very Italian, there is even a store which sells the local dress… Boasting a lot more than your typical ski resort, and there are many, many things to treat yourself with!
The local specialty is filigree silver and this is widely available, along with a fine selection of antique jewellery stores, and wooden furniture, which I dare you not to consider splurging on. Bring your credit card though, as some of it is not cheap!
There are also numerous cafes, restaurants, banks and a supermarket, so you can make a morning or evening of browsing and eating! It’s also worth a visit to the main church to see some beautiful stained glass; Take a stroll around the back streets, off the beaten track, and you can check out the houses of the Italian rich and famous as many own holiday homes in the area.
And if your other half isn’t much of a shopper, the Cristallo Hotel boasts a pretty impressive nine-hole golf course too! Why do I think there aren’t enough days in the month sometimes??
Cristallo Hotel Spa & Golf
Via Rinaldo Menardi, 42, 32043 Cortina d’Ampezzo BL, Italy
+39 0436 88 11 11