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Last Adventure in Italy: The Dolomites

Personal note: *I’ve been holding off on all planned Italy posts. It’s been harder for me to look back on photos and reflect than I care to admit :/ I have no idea why! Am I sad it’s over? Am I scared that reflecting and processing means closing a chapter for good? I really am not sure, but looking back on photos really gets me and gives me a horrible feeling in my stomach. However, this post I think is a good way for me to start the process of reflecting on my year (*and backing up my photos). I also wanted to share these stunning photos with you all and share the story of the trip before my memory looses all of the best details! This post was hard to write. These photos weren’t easy to edit. But I hope that you love the adventurous story and feel inspired to plan a trip to this special place!

~ Throughout my year in Italy, I made a point of asking everyone I met along the way where their favorite place to travel to in Italy was. Overwhelmingly, the answer was “the Dolomites.” I just KNEW I had to get there before the year was over and I’m so glad that my last adventure in Italy was there!

“Where are the Dolomites?” you might be wondering. They are in northeast Italy and they are unlike any mountain range I’ve ever seen. Their tall rocky spires and dramatic shapes are so uniquely beautiful. I wanted to take a picture around every turn! You can certainly feel the region’s Austrian influence (especially in the architecture and design of the adorable gingerbread houses adorned with flowers!).

I had recommendations from everyone for where we should go and what we should see. The region is SO big and everything is apparently too stunning for words, so it was hard to choose. But, we drew upon recs from my classmates (who had gone twice before) and from one of my Italian friends who is a climber (he’s the real deal). I went with my friend Christie, who I was introduced to via my best group of friends in Baltimore, where Christie is from. Basically, we were facebook pen pals for a few months before meeting to plan this trip! (*big shout out to my friend Sarah for alerting me, “RHI, there’s another BLONDE AMERICAN in Milan!”) 

Christie is awesome, we were instant besties and perfect travel buddies! She is still in Italy getting a Master of Food Design, which is AWESOME (Christie, sorry for asking so many questions about cheese!). We rented a car from Linate Airport in Milan (renting cars in Italy is NO easy feat), and got on the road. I had been warned about this drive and the traffic that we might hit, but it was a total BREEZE! Maybe it was because we left during the week? We talked the whole time and it was AWESOME to be able to talk about American things and play the name game with people we both knew! The last part of the drive reminded me a bit like driving Route 30 in Vermont…beautiful views and fun to drive. As soon as the views REALLY opened up, we both stopped all conversation and were so speechless. I’m so glad Christie was also down to keep pulling off to the side of the road and take pictures. I’m telling you….the pictures do not even do this wonder justice!

We decided to stay in Cortina D’Ampezzo, which my Italian climber friend had warned might be pricey, however it was the summer season and were able to get an awesome deal at a hotel called Hotel Des Alpes. It definitely wasn’t 5-star, but it was SO authentic and cute and the breakfasts were AWESOME! There’s a picture of it below, covered in pink flowers. Our view from our balcony was breathtaking. The town itself was absolutely adorable and very small and easy to walk around. It’s a total ski town with every ski brand you can name (I loved window shopping at night)!

Day 1:

On our first morning we woke up early, very ready to get our HIKE on! But…unfortunately…it was POURING and so foggy. We decided to sleep a bit more and see if conditions changed after breakfast. While sitting down and eating the most amazing fresh foods from their breakfast spread, we could see that the sky was beginning to clear! We talked to our friend at reception (everyone was so helpful) and he said that we should be safe to go for a hike, and showed us a trail on the Chinque Torre that would be safe for us to hike in wet conditions. We decided to hike to this refugio that I originally wanted us to stay at. Refugios are AMAZING. They are houses that are more comparable to hostels, but are so adorable and cozy with such a great mountain vibe. They also have private rooms inside at a bit of a higher cost.

Side Note/ Travel Tip: The name of the refugio that we hiked to was Refugio Averau. I had e-mailed them for availability, but they were booked! They have rave reviews on TripAdviser for their food and I thought it would be amazing to wake up ON the mountain. STAYING AT A REFUGIO IS STILL ON MY BUCKET LIST. The best way to make a reservation is to e-mail them and they will get back to you quickly.

On our way through town to get to the bottom of our trail, we made a split decision to stop at Patagonia so that I could get a new rain jacket (my spring skiing North Face which I’ve had for over 10 years was lost in the mail). THANK GOODNESS we did. The sun was out when we stopped and they had a few shells on sale. I landed on a YELLOW jacket, which I love and now wear all the time. Oh…IT ALSO SAVED MY LIFE.

So when we began our hike, it was sunny and perfect and the air was pretty warm. As we began to get higher, the clouds started to come in. The hike was more of a “scramble.” Christie had done some scrambling before, and taught me this word. Scrambling is basically a mix between hiking and climbing, where the terrain is rough and steep and you have to use your hands and feet. IT WAS SO FUN! I expected to be exhausted and so sore, but I think I was too exhilarated and excited to feel anything and was also good to go the next day.

All of a sudden, the clouds settled in upon us and the temperature dropped…like, A LOT. It was in the high 60’s when we began but immediately it dropped into the low 40’s. It immediately felt very ominous with the dramatic mountains around us and we were making constant Game of Thrones references. We saw lightening and were a little worried because of how exposed we were. The visibility completely went out and all of a sudden, we were in kind of a dangerous situation. We picked up the pace and just as the rain started, we spotted Refugio Averau, where we stopped and had the BEST meal!

To make a long story short, we were advised to head down the mountain during the storm, as it was expected to get worse. We put all of our valuables in plastic bags and bundled up. Unfortunately, it was now in the high 30’s and Christie and I were in tennis shoes (note to self: pull the trigger on hiking boots) and Lulu spandex. NON BENE. We really hustled down the mountain in the pouring rain, which switched to hail at one point. We couldn’t feel our legs or fingers and made the decision to hit the sauna and hot tub immediately when we got back! It was a little scary, but I kind of loved it! I will definitely be more prepared next time and take some proper safety precautions (sorry, mom)!

Day 2: 

We couldn’t wait for a sunshine day of hiking! It was my classmates who said that “Lago di Sorapis” could NOT be missed, and they were right. I had found this blog post, which definitely helped us figure out where we should park and gave us a clear expectation of the hike. It definitely does get a little hairy in certain parts, but I like that there is a cable attached to the rock during the more dangerous sections. The hike took us a few hours but we LOVED it. We almost forgot that there was going to be a stunning lake at the end, because each moment of the hike was better than the last.

“Blue Gatorade Frost” is what Christie called it, and she totally was right! Lago di Sorapis is a shade of frosty aqua blue that I really can’t compare to anything I’ve seen before. We had packed our lunches in our backpacks and sat next to the lake for lunch, just taking in the stunning surrounding. It ended up getting cloudy close to the time we arrived and then rained a little bit. We didn’t realize it at the time, but I think it was a huge blessing in disguise. Everyone cleared out with the rain, and we put our rain jackets on and hiked around the lake. By the time we got to the other side, the rain stopped and the whole area was much emptier, making it feel more magical!

Getting in the car that evening to drive home, I definitely started to feel sad. I know that I’m meant to live in the mountains someday. I know this because of the feeling I’ve always gotten when leaving. It’s this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that says “NO YOU CAN’T GO.” Whether it’s leaving Colorado, getting in the car to drive home from VT on a Sunday, hopping on the bus to go back to Milan after a weekend in the Alps, or driving back from the Dolomites….the feeling is the same. Living in the mountains is the end life goal for me, trips like this make that so clear.

This was the PERFECT last adventure in Italy with the BEST travel buddy! The pictures are some of my favorites taken during my year in Italy. I hope that you love them as much as I loved the Dolomites 🙂 ALSO, be sure to scroll down to the bottom to shop my current favorites to wear hiking!

~ The photos above were taken during our drive up! ~ ~ These ^ are from our first morning when the sky cleared! Note the incredible difference in how the weather changed during our hike later… ~~ Christie: “This MUST be the place”…this photo still kills me! (hahaha) We thought this lake would be so pretty from the map… ~
~ These photos ^ were right before the situation got a little bit sticky…~ 

Shop my current favorites for hiking, below! 

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