Discover the SECRET paths soldiers used to cross the mountains in Italy during World War I


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Walkers are drawn to the Dolomites by the beauty of its paths

The jagged and beautiful Dolomite mountain range dominates the skyline of this beautiful north eastern region of Italy, which is known in winter for its great skiing. But in summer the valley region of Val Gardena comes alive with bikers and walkers, drawn by the beauty of this world heritage site and stunning paths that meander through the meadows.

But, it’s the higher routes that really impress. The local tourist board offers guided trips to take walkers up, and over, the jagged ‘teeth’ of the mountains themselves, follow the amazing ‘via ferrata’ routes. These are the ‘paths’, strung with a system of ropes and ladders, developed over 100 years ago to enable soldiers to cross from one valley to another.

Since then, following the routes has been developed into a sport Discover the mystery and magic of a mountain trek on a summer trip to this area of Italy that borders Germany.

When do I go? June is the perfect time and the tourist board run a weekly programme of events and tours throughout the summer until October.

You have to be reasonably fit to take in one of the Via ferrara routes over the top of the mountain. The name, in English, actually translates to ‘iron routes’. Stay in one of the three villages in the Val Gardena valley – Ortisei, Selva di Gardena or Santa Cristina.

The Dolomites


Soldiers used the paths to cross the mountains during the First World War

How do I start? The tourist board run a series of walks for all levels of walkers which start from the Selva office and range from 3-6 hours. Their 10k trekking tour will take you over the very top of the mountain through the Naturalparc Puez-Geisler and begins with tour leaders taking you to catch the Resciesa cable train from the village of Ortisei up onto the Resciesa pasture.

Where does the route go? The 10k hike begins at 9am across the flat pasture of the Resciesa for a coffee stop at the Brogles hut, at a height of at 2.119m. Don’t miss a photograph of the mountains in front of you – you won’t believe you’ll actually reach the top! You’ll need snacks here for energy for the steep ascent ahead. It’s a trip that will certainly get your heart pumping.

The tough bit: It’s a challenging trek up the Pana wind gap, climbing up to 2,500m and the top of the ridge. This is where the cable and steel handles imbedded into the rock (the Via Ferrara) help – together with encouraging words from your guide. With shingle paths underfoot, it’s important to watch your step.

A guide leading walkers up the Dolomites

You need to be reasonably fit to attempt the routes

The reward: A magical view from the top and a great sense of achievement (plus relief) on reaching the top. Thankfully, just over the ridge a short stroll takes you to the Sofie hut. This mountain hut has been in the running for awards. Delicious plus a warm welcome makes it easy to see why.

The way back: There’s a choice. A walk down the hill in front of the Sofie hut to the village of Selva, or a trip down Col Raiser gondola back to the village of Ortisei.

What else can you do in Val Gardena? A timetable of organised activities are held throughout the summer by the local tourist board. Many hotels give guests free ‘Val Gardena cards’ which mean activities are free.

Otherwise, the cards, which give free access to all mountain lifts, trains and gondolas open during the summer costs 60 euros (£48) for three days or 79 euros for 6 days.

Is Val Gardena famous for anything else? Wood sculptors are legendary here. Out of a local population of 5,000 people – 200 are wood sculptors. It’s a legacy of skills developed over centuries by farmers who whittled away during the winter months. Tourists can learn the craft too as there are workshops and courses for visitors.

The language: The regions has its own language, Ladin – a unique blend of Italian and German as Val Gardena is only 45 miles from the border with Austria.

What about the food? Specialities, such as mouth-watering local pasta dishes include Crafuncins, a spinach-filled ravioli. Learn how to make it – plus regional desert speciality, Apfelstrudel, at a local cookery class.

Where to stay for your holiday: If you want a bit of luxury, base yourself in a four star hotel with a fabulous spa. The 4* Hotel Gran Baita in the village of Selva Gardena even has a spectacular swimming pool that leads from the hotel through to the gardens (via an automatic door that opens as you swim towards it). Summer packages from 910 euros (£670) per person for seven nights’ half board, based on two people sharing.

Getting to Val Gardena: There are several nearby airports. Fly/drive from Innsbruck, Verona, Venice or Milan Bergamo with airlines including EasyJet, Ryanair and BA.

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