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Photo Tour, Italy’s  Dolomite Alps
Church, Val di Funnes, Dolomite Alps, Olde Range, Italy
Chapel at Val di Funnes

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Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Dolomite Mountains, Italy
Tre Cime di Lavaredo

In the spring of 2017 a photo assignment to Naples Italy provided another to return the Dolomite Alps, a mountain landscape that blew me away on my first visit.  My first trip to the Dolomite Mountains in 2014, I had a marvelous time exploring the mountains of South Tyrol and Trento basing out of Bolzano or Bozen, as the locals know it. The Italian Dolomites offer a unique corner of the Alps with distinctive geology and a fascinating blend of cultures.  I am now woefully unprepared, but eager, to share what I have found with others.


This time I used the Venice gateway, an easy flight, and a good staring point, and surprisingly close to the Alps of Italy. The antiquity and weirdness of Venice is an interesting stop and will be where we start our photo tours of the Dolomites with a night and a morning shooting the amazing light of this otherworldly place. Venice is an interesting and photogenic spot; however, cities are outside my comfort zone and I eagerly await the climb in elevation, both for the serenity of the mountains as well as the cooler temperatures. The hour and a half drive from Venice to Cortina increases in beauty as we climb in elevation; a photographer’s recurring, deja vu, we will be seeing places we wish we had the time to stop at.   It is all so beautiful. As you round every turn giant limestone peaks leap into the air, you will be in awe of this amazing alpine destination. Because of their embarrassment of riches, the Dolomites became a World Heritage Site in 2009. The Dolomites have always had a huge imprint on those who admired them for the first time, and it is not a secret that they are acclaimed by many as the most beautiful mountains on earth. It is both to my wonder and relief that the millions who visit Venice don’t take this short hop into the Alps of Italy.

Chapel at Selva di Cadore, dolomites, Italy
Chapel at Selva di Cadore
In the early days then Dolomites were described by scientists and climbers who told with extraordinary emotion, the amazement, and transcendence they felt about the verticality, grandeur, essential purity, monumentality, and mystical asceticism, they saw and experiences when among these magnificent massifs. These were all descriptions to describe the Dolomites before photos could spare them a thousand flowery superlatives. I also was choking on a mouthful of similar superlatives while I photographed the mountains above.

The Dolomites are an alpine nirvana like I have at home in the Grand Tetons, but much larger, comprising over 90,000 acres of mountainous terrain. Located to the south of the main chain of the European Alps that span five countries, the Dolomite Alps are geographically and culturally at a crossroad between Italy to the south and Tyrol to the north. Notable for their composition of pale colored dolomite, a limestone like rock formed beneath deep, ancient seas. That is what the geologists say; I say they are notable for their abrupt vertical rise and their serrated profiles, they make the Sawtooth Peaks of Idaho appear merely as aspirants of grandeur, which can only achieve a participation trophy. 

Cortina d'Ampezzo, dolomite Mountains, Italy
Cortina d'Ampezzo

The recommended first few days will be at, or near, Cortina d'Ampezzo, a classy village with centuries-old charisma. This bustling mountain town, known as Queen of the Dolomites, is nestled in a sunny valley at 3,700 feet sea level. Not very high in comparison with the alpine resorts tin the Sierra Nevada or Rocky Mountains, but the Dolomites achieve alpine grandeur with lower elevations. Films like For Your Eyes Only and The Pink Panther, have used Cortina for their mountain eye candy. It was 1981 when Roger Moore as James Bond, chased assassins on motorcycle down a bobsled run while on skies. Downtown Cortina is essentially one street, but oh, what a street. With small cafes, luxury shops, 18th-century buildings and a mountain backdrop at every turn, it’s as charming as they come. 

The annual rhythm of farming and the system of managing the pastures and forests date back to medieval times. They log everywhere here, and it has served them well, centuries of selective logging and the place still looks great.  The land has been protected and nurtured from development, both voluntarily through the right of property succession belonging to the firstborn child, This system keeps farms as farms and never shrinking properties shared between all progeny, and legally through villages administering laws protecting land from subdivision. In this way, not only is there assured enough fodder for farm animals and produce for the villages, but the traditional landscape and way of life are preserved and enjoyed by all. Their agrarian heritage is now harvesting tourist dollars as well. Clearly they have been practicing sustainability for centuries before sustainability was a thing. When traveling with me, my curiosity of history and culture, and wonder of geology often lends a break from the concentration on photography.

Lago di Braies, dolomite Mountains, Italy
Lago di Braies
Castle Branzoll, South Tyrol
Castle Branzoll

The second place to stay will be in the vicinity of Val di Funnes, at the foot of the Olde Range.  This western section of the Dolomites doesn’t have the plethora of lakes that the Cortina region does however, the peaks of Val di Funnes, Gardena, Sella Pass and Moena shine brightly in their own way.  

Depending on the duration of the tour some of the highlights that can be offered are Lago di Braies, the largest natural like in the dolomites, still not large; however very stunning.   Lake Misserina; that despite its square hotel still makes a fine accent below the towering mountains. Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the signature peaks of the dolomites. Selva di Cadore and its plethora of chapels on ridges crowned by the mountains above. Val di Fassa, the stunning valley with an endless string of Tyrolean villages of the Trento region. Europe’s largest mountain plateau; Alpe di Siusi.  Not photo related, but “The Ice Man” is on display in the town of Bozen. And other lesser known places like Fanes-Sennes-Prags Nature Park, the Cristallo Massif to the Hohe Gaisl Peak. The beautiful city of Innsbruck Austria and Neuschwanstein Castle of Southern Germany are very close as well.

Moena, Trento

Thirty years ago I vowed to never live where I couldn’t see granite; I have had to modify my vow too granite or limestone. The limestone peaks of the Canadian Rockies have also influenced this minor change of heart.  I could be very happy here or in among the limestone peaks of Canada.

I can’t seem to get the Dolomites checked off my bucket list, the first trip I missed Cortina, this trip I missed the onion domed chapel at Selva di Cadore, the prime view of Tre Cime di Lavaredo and a sunrise at Lago di Braies. My bucket list only grows; it never gets smaller. I love being a photographer!

Lets go to the Dolomites!