Hiking Women, a lovely long distance trail through the Italian Dolomites with beautiful and varied scenery, delicious Italian food and a laid back Mediterranean atmosphere. Read Jenny’s report below for a first hand experience of the trail.
“The path was very clearly marked so it was not easy to get lost”
Route: from Bressenone to Feltre
Distance: 115 miles / 185 kilometres
Altitude: mainly from 2000m to 2500m with maximum altitude of 3,2999m
Grade: Strenuous. The route includes a number of ascents and descents along zigzag pathways with hairpin bends. Walking varies from an easy ramble along flat paths, ascents through deep forest and steep climbs over scree or snow.
Landscape: Snow capped mountains, alpine meadows, wooded valleys and deep blue lakes.
Normal duration: 2 to 2½ weeks for the full length of the trail
I left home in England at the very end of August and spent a lovely month in northern Italy. If you fly RyanAir (and don’t we all from the UK!) give Milan a miss and spend some time in Bergamo (RyanAir’s ‘Milan’ airport). It is a perfect Italian city with a bustling modern town on the flat bit, and a glorious old town on the hill. There’s loads of cultural stuff to see and do, as well as plenty of good shopping, lots of pavement caffs and independent shops. Bergamo also has lots of green space for jogging, picnicking or just watching the world go by. It isn’t too touristy yet, either, so you get good service and are not overcharged – well, no more than anywhere else…
“Bergamo is perfect Italian city”
After a few days checking the gelati, I caught a train (reliable and incredibly good value) to Klausen/Chuisa close to the Austrian border. This area (Sudtirol/Adige Alto) used to be Austrian but is now Italian so everything is named twice – each street, town, notice has an Italian name and a German one. The Italians call the town Chuisa while the German name is Klausen. For each Via, there is a Strasse. The dominant language is German as is the food. The Germanic attention to detail overlaid with Italian laisse faire is a strange and interesting mix.
From here I walked onto the Dolomites to begin the high footpath called Alta Via 2 which runs from Bressenone to Feltre. The altitude is mostly between 2500m and 3000m which caused me a few problems. The air is very thin and dry, and after a few days you start to wake up with puffy eyes and cheeks where the low air pressure doesn’t help with natural circulations, and breathing can be a problem. The weather was interesting and varied. I burnt through sunscreen one day and woke up to snow the next! The bad days were the ones where the cloud was so low there were no views, the good days were the ones where the air was clear, the views were long and the mountain scenery awesome.
Mostly, walking AV2 was amazing and not too scary, but there was one point where I’d been hiking through barren rock – grey stone, nothing green – for two days and the next day was so foggy that there didn’t seem much point in being high, so I walked down the next valley and hiked in more interesting verdant surroundings. Actually, I did this a couple of times, so I didn’t really walk the entire length. One day I hiked as far as the pass then turned back when I reached last year’s snow patch that hadn’t melted as it looked far too dangerous to cross without crampons and/or ice axe or some other piece of hardware I don’t know how to use. I came down to road level and thought that maybe I’d finished with AV2, but then I found myself hiking up to the last, most remote stage.
The path was very clearly marked so it was not easy to get lost, and this stage is considerably lower than more northerly parts. The day began clear but was foggy with limited visibility by the time I reached the first pass. I wasn’t unhappy about this as some of the drops just two feet to my left were awesomely steep and, I suspect, horribly deep. My track was narrow so I concentrated hard on not falling off it. There were some nasty places that found me waaaay outside my comfort zone – I remember a place where the path disappeared for 4 feet or so, and the way across was by hanging onto a handhold and squidging the soles of your boots into the smooth rockface and hoping that nothing slipped…. well, whatever came next, I knew I’d deal with it as I certainly wasn’t going back! Further on the cloud cleared a little and settled at just below 2000m. My path was just above 2000m so I sat in a high meadow, surrounded by gentian and edelweiss, looking at a candyfloss ocean of cloud below me, with small islands where the highest peaks poked through. Very fairyland/fantasy stuff. Along the way are refugi which have accommodation and food – ranging from very basic to extraordinarily smart.
At the end of the trail is a town called Feltre, in the area above Venice. Feltre is very like Bergamo – very Italian with a medieval part – but much smaller. I really liked it and hung around there for a week or so before heading back to Bergamo. A word of warning if you stay in Bergamo YHA – it is a good, purpose-built hostel (no kitchen, though) with a roof garden which has views of the old town – but there are 130 steps from the pavement to the front of the hostel!
Happy Hiking Women