Friday, July 1, 2011

Nature's Miracle at the Top of Italy

Balcony view: Lagació Mountain Residence, Alta Badia

"Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else." — Lawrence Block
My eyes were open but could I still be dreaming? Shuffling sleepy-eyed onto my balcony at lovely Lagació Mountain Residence in Alta Badia, armed with a cup of steaming latte, I found an electric-green carpet spread before me. Plush with pines and dotted with medieval churches and tiny rifugi (mountain huts) clustered in fairytale villages, it was something out of a Disney flick—Pinocchio meets The Sound of Music—or a postcard from a tiny alpine hamlet. The crystalline air slipped down my lungs like cool refreshment as I wondered at snow-laced vertical reefs glowing pink and golden in the morning light.

Lagació Mountain Residence
Legendary Olympic town
Cortina d'Ampezzo
I'd come to the Monti Pallidi, the Pale Mountains  as they were originally called after the limestone like-rock that forms their spires, for outdoor adventure and respite from the hubbub of international capitals. What I found was a pristine mountain playground and 2009 UNESCO World Heritage site that hides secrets for those fortunate enough to visit.

Giro d'Italia, May 2010
Agustina Lagos Marmol,
Dolomite Mountains founder
Dolomites Tip 1: Find a reputable company, e.g. Dolomite Mountains, to custom-tailor your trip based on interests, fitness, budget and time. Whether you're a foodie craving rich venison and soft polenta at a Michelin-star restaurant, an athlete stalking bragging rights for climbing a via ferrata (iron path, one of the man-made narrow climbing routes between Italy and Austria used to navigate this treacherous borderland during World War I) or someone just lusting after alpine serenity, you'll find it in a melting pot of Tyrolean, Ladin and Italian cultures. A knowledgeable guide will help you choose from infinite possibilities while getting the best value for your time and money.

A culturally diverse landscape
encompasses Italian Gothic towers
and Tyrolean steeples
Dolomites Tip 2: Pick a season that suits your interests. With their network of trails and scenic passes, The Dolomites draw hikers, climbers and cyclists in spring and summer, when pink rhododendron and creamy edelweiss dress the mountains. In colder months, when snow blankets jagged peaks and roaring fireplaces warm welcoming hostelries, skiers and snowboarders descend, drawn by more than 5,000 vertical feet of ideal ski terrain and miles of back-country trails.

Regional specialties are served in local
inns and Michelin-star restaurants.
Dolomites Tip 3: Discover ancient Ladin (pronounced lah-deen) traditions, reflected in a language, cuisine and culture unique to the Dolomites. Locals speak Ladin, a language descended from Latin, preserved by isolation and protected by nationalistic pride. The culturally diverse landscape encompasses Italian Gothic towers, onion-domed Tyrolean steeples and signs written in Ladin, German and Italian. Local gastronomy includes such specialties as game marinated in wine and juniper, canederli (dumplings made with salami, served with a rich sauce), turtres (spinach pancakes), strudel da pom (apple strudel) and speck, the flavorful cured, smoked ham often served with indigenous cheeses and a glass of local Teroldego or Marzemino red. Prost!

Please vote for my iExplore entry about The Dolomites!