Probably the most underrated part of the Alps on our side of the world, the Italian Dolomites is a sight like no other. While most Asian travellers flock to well trodden destinations like Chamonix, Mont Blanc or the Swiss Alps. The Dolomites is a long standing favourite of locals as both a ski resort and a summer getaway.
Standing at some 10,000 feet tall, the Italian Alps is a magnificent range of chiselled granite and plunging valleys that looked like it came straight out of J.R.R Tolkien's books. Who knows? Maybe Tolkien was inspired by the place.
Here are 5 top reasons why you need to make the Dolomites your next travel destination.
1) It is majestic with endless things to do
Unlike its counterparts that features deep forests and snowy peaks, the Dolomites is a rock solid view (yes, pun intended) of dramatically vertical walls and deep valleys. The mountain range contains some of the best preserved ancient fossil records and is named after the mineral found in its rocks. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006 for its significant contribution to global study of geomorphology.
The pale mountain's edges are jagged and the peaks are forebodingly sharp. The landscape somehow reminds you of a bossy little gold ring and you'd half expect a Nazgûl on Fell Beast to swoop down from somewhere. Indeed, it brings out the LOTR fan in you.
However, nothing can mask the majestic splendour of those rocky peaks; the grandeur of those spikes that shoot from the ground stands starkly against the blue skies and bellows their pride in the wind. Stand in the midst of these primitive mountains and hear the voices of evolution ring through them.
Not only are the mountains magical to look at, there is also plenty to excite the thrill seekers. Other than hiking the perilous paths, you can also trail run, mountain bike or rock climb. The dolomites also have a heart stopping Via ferrata that follows the path used by the military in World War I.
Photo credit: James Rushforth
2) The food is great
It might be hard to believe but the Dolomites boasts the highest concentration of Michelin starred restaurants among all the Alps. With access to some of the freshest ingredients and recipes that tantalized generations of eaters, a trip to the Dolomites is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the tummy.
Be sure to try out Tris di Canederli. Little balls of bread goodness that encases South Tyrol's very own version of cured ham known as Speck. The distinctively light yet robust flavour of the cured meat makes it one of the most celebrated and symbolic food of South Tyrol. For the budding chefs, make sure you bring home a pack of this authentic South Tyrolean flavour. It can be used in endless ways to spice up a dish and your friends will adore you for it.
Also whet your taste buds with the exotic sensation of game meat prepared in various ways. Cervo, Capriolo and Daino are just some of the Native wilds that roam the Dolomites. If you're lucky, you might even meet them outside of the dining table.
3) Italians are vivacious and friendly
The jovial and affable Italians need no introduction. And being a small commune, this is exactly what you can expect. Be prepared to say "Ciao" to every hiker you meet and be greeted with one of the warmest smile you'll ever see from a stranger. Remember to return the good cheer and give a friendly wave back.
The warmth of the people you meet will send you to bed with a grateful smile and a heart yearning for more. Exactly what every weary city dweller needs for their next vacation! Who knows, you might even meet the love of your life there!
4) Its easier on the wallet
Compared to its economic hey days of yesteryears, the cost of touring Europe is much less savage than before. However, Europe is still nowhere near cheap for us South East Asian-ers. After all, depending on which part of S.E.A you're from, we can be looking at a multiplication of up to 4.5 times. Unfortunately, I’m talking about the exchange rate.
Take heart though, as touring Italy isn't going to break the bank as much as its neighbours would. Cost of living is considerably lower.
There are multiple ways to save while travelling and one way is to book your accommodations in advance. Cash in on early bird savings to make every penny count. Also, while savouring the art of the finest chefs in the mountain and taking that sooth spa experience are reasons to brag, you can also choose to make your own food or order take out. There are a great variety of cafes, restaurants and supermarkets on the mountain that caters to different travellers. A scoop of everyone's favourite Italian ice cream will only set you back at slightly more than 1 Euro here.
5) Leave with a story to tell.
Chances are, your friends have probably never heard of this UNESCO World heritage site before. So snap a photo of yourself with the perilous range, add a witty caption, post it on your SNS of choice and congratulations, your bragging rights have just been credited! Believe it or not, the place is such a kept secret that you'll hardly meet any East Asian travellers there.
Aside from the culinary escapade, jovial people and novelty element, the Dolomite is also a site of grave remembrance. Standing in between the Italian and Austrian soldiers during World War I, these pale mountains were a vicious war zone that claimed the lives of way too many from both sides.
Visit remnants of that merciless battle, walk the mountain tunnels dug long before modern machinery and wonder how anyone could carve trenches out of solid rocks. Touch history with your bare hands and learn about the tragedy many have forgotten. Be reminded that nobody really wins in a war and tell your friends on Facebook about it.
The Dolomites is one of those places that doesn't just live up to expectation, it surpasses them. Its spectacular landscapes, adventurous hikes, great food, deep history and the chance for great Italian company makes it an excitingly perfect holiday destination in my book. And it should be in yours too.