The Dolomites – high, majestic and magical are unique. So unique that UNESCO has designated this incredible mountain system as a World Heritage Site. The diversity in terms of flora and fauna is amazing, blessed as it is with parks, the magnificent Three Peaks, Geisler Group, Lake Braies to name just a few. The outstanding Sciliar-Catinaccio Nature Park, for instance, offers visitors with the likelihood of sighting rare and elusive species like Groundhogs and Ibexes. Ain’t this groundbreaking in itself! In an exclusive interview to The Guardian renowned mountaineer and Dolomiti native – Reinhold Messner was quoted as saying: “Each mountain in the Dolomites is like a piece of art. All climbers come to the Dolomites – just as they go to Yosemite – at least once in their life. They come here to express themselves, and to follow their predecessors on the most difficult routes”.

Messner who is all of 75 years and these days he climbs with his son just for fun is of the opinion that most of the peaks are vertical and the landscape changes every week. In spite of being a native, the Dolomiti has remained a mystery.

Nothing in the Dolomiti is repetitive. Sitting at your Refugee (Mountain Hut) for hours together, you are likely to witness at least 10 to 15 variations in the landscape. Stunning! That is perhaps the only word to describe the ethereal beauty of the Dolomites.

And the unique Dolomite culture, steeped in legends is another feature that not many mountain systems can offer and Messner adds: “Packing a mountain picnic is part of local culture. In winter, farmers would work hard in the woods and meadows, so they needed a lot of energy. They’d take a piece of speck (dry-cured ham), a local specialty; each farmer makes his own flavour. At -30 °C, you can still cut it and eat it. It doesn’t freeze, because all the water has been taken out. I’ve taken speck to Antarctica, the Arctic Ocean, and the Himalayas”.

On such rarefied heights, it is not just snow and mountains, but an altogether new set of human emotions that takes over the discerning visitor to the Dolomites. Have you ever been a “Refugee” and that too at heights of + 2000 meters? How does it feel to be alone and silent with just the powdery white landscape at your disposal? Hmm...perhaps that is divinity personified!

The well documented Dolomiti story of how the Ortner farmstead evolved from its humble beginnings of being a pastoral farmstead to the region’s top end mountain hospitality provider is worth going miles to see. To begin with, this 110 years old Dolomiti refugee located in the remote village of Obereggen was a sketchy B&B accommodation and gradually evolved as one of the region’s premium hotel –Pension Maria.

Today, Pension Maria is a name to reckon with and the host family – Christoph Kofler and Beatrix welcome guests – mountaineers, skiers, hikers and winter sports enthusiasts galore, who are overwhelmed by the family’s traditional Dolomiti hospitality. Here guests are served home cooked food that is 100% organic.

As a prospective visitor to the Italian Dolomites, you might have a variety of reasons to visit this great natural wonder of the world – mountaineering, skiing, hiking or merely to bask in a truly immersive mountain experience where Old World towns invite you with their quintessential charming residences, medieval cathedrals, narrow streets and a set of warm hospitable people.

Some of the towns in the Dolomites like Bolzano, Chiusa, Brunico are undoubtedly blessed with magnificent mountain panorama but the real gem is Cortina d’Ampezzo, which is popularly referred to as the Pearl of the Dolomites. And why not, when there is such an eclectic mix of history and nature?

An exhilarating two hour’s drive from Venice is all you need to do to be at Cortina, which off late has earned the priceless “Best of the Alps” tag that is reflective of the town’s outstanding set of nature, culture, environmental and tourism assets.

Cortina’s hospitality is legendary and dates back to several centuries and according to Francesco Corte Colo who is in charge of Marketing & PR at Cortina d’Ampezzo’s Tourism Division: “The history of Cortina d’Ampezzo is touched by legend and drama. There are testimonies of ancient Roman settlements as well as traces of the Barbarians. Due to its strategic geographical location on one of the ways to cross the Alps, Cortina was part of the Republic of Venice and then, for 400 years, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire”.

With the introduction of the railways in 1800, Cortina became easily accessible to German and Russian visitors. Ever since then this incredibly beautiful mountain town has gone from strength to strength to reposition itself as a world-class mountain tourism destination. Today, Cortina is in great demand, thanks largely to the sustained publicity in both the print and electronic media.

However, according to the rather affable and kind mountain soul at the town’s Tourism Marketing Division – Francesco Corte Colo – “Let me clarify one thing! I work for Cortina Marketing, which is the Tourism Board of Cortina d’Ampezzo, one of the Tourism destinations of the Dolomites. Since the Dolomites are spread across three regions, there isn’t a unitary body for the promotion of the Dolomites as a whole. This is usually a bit confusing for operators and journalists since there are several tourism bodies with Dolomiti or Dolomites in their name”.

Cortina burst out to fame way back in 1956 viz-a-viz the Winter Olympics, which incidentally happened to be the first Winter Olympic Games to be broadcast live on TV that kind of catapulted Cortina into a truly international hub for skiing, hiking, ice hockey and what have you... What is more, Cortina has played host to a mindboggling 25 times for the Alpine World Cup for Women! No wonder, today this incredibly beautiful Alpine town keeps on hosting events like Snowboarding, Skiing and Hiking.

For the prospective visitors to Cortina, try to coincide your trip during the 2020 Audi FIS World Cup Finals that will be held in Cortina from 18th to 22nd March 2020. By the way, Italian Skiing icon Kristian Ghedina also happens to be the brand ambassador for the Ski World Cup Finals of 2020 and Ski World Championships 2021. Visitors are in for a treat with as many as nine scheduled races that will be hotly contested by 150 athletes from 20 nations.

It is not just the winter that Cortina is at its best. The summertime charms of Cortina is legendary and unparalleled. With much of the snow melting in the summer months, Cortina is ideal for mountain climbing, hiking, mountain incredible Mountain Biking trails on the Dolomites as endless stretches of “Marked Trails” awaits the biker in you.

For those who prefer coziness and a truly immersive experience of Cortina, the mandarins of Cortina town have very smartly packaged cultural events and exhibitions lined up for the discerning world traveller.

For instance, Christmas in Cortina can be truly a mesmerising experience. The Christmas Opera at the famed Alexander Girardi Hall organised by Musicantus is an absolute must. Musicantus Association also conducts the New Year’s Eve concert in collaboration with the Regional Philharmonic Orchestra.

Christmas time is actually the best time to understand and grasp the genuine Dolomiti culture - dramatic nativity panorama in the churches and cathedrals offers significant insight into the unique Dolomiti culture, tradition and heritage.

Traveller’s Fact File

Cortina’s hotel scene is diversified. Luxury hotels vue for attention alongside the traditional Refugee or mountain huts. Most of the hotels are being renovated to cater to the exacting tastes of the discerning world traveller as the town will play host to numerous Winter Sports events in the next 5 years. The Hoteliers Association of Cortina d’Ampezzo is now on a mission to get as many hotels to come under the ambit of the European “Green Certification” that will ensure that they adhere to sustainable practices.
Leading Hotels: Càmina Suite & SPA, Dolomiti Lodge Alverà, Hotel Regina, Franceschi Park, Villa Gaia, Hotel Meuble Oasi.
Lodges & Mountain Huts: Malga Federa, Mietres Lodge, Malga Ra Stua cottage, Dibona Lodge, Averau and Scoiattoli lodges.

Reaching There
By Road: Two options are available. Either take the route SS 51 or the SS 48bis of the Dolomites.
By Air: Nearest Airports are located at Venice (162 km), Treviso ( 130 km), Verona (260 km) and Innsbruck (170 km).
By Train: The nearest rail stations are Calalzo di Cadore (35 km), which in turn is well connected by Bus services and Dobbiaco (31 Km) that are linked by SAD bus service.
By Bus: There is a dedicated Bus service linking Cortina d’Ampezzo and Venice’s Marco Polo Airport as well as Venice (Mestre) rail station. In peak season, buses are also available from Treviso, Rovigo, Ferrara and Bologna.