The Dolomite Mountains are a renowned Unesco Natural Heritage Site in Northern Italy, about two hours by car from Venice. In the heart of these mountains lies the charming village of Cortina D’Ampezzo.
As you approach the Dolomites, the road narrows and winds and you are slowly immersed in a breathtaking landscape of towering mountains and jagged peaks, many rising to an elevation of over 10,000 feet. The picturesque mountains surround sprawling valleys and plateaus where villages with red-roof houses shimmer in the bright sunshine.
The village of Cortina D’Ampezzo is considered “La Regina,” or The Queen of the Dolomites, one of Italy’s most famous tourist destinations. Once the site of the 1956 Olympics, Cortina continues to be a powerful magnet attracting ski and winter sports enthusiasts from around the world. With 34 ski lifts and miles of interconnecting slopes and trails, the area offers an almost uninterrupted skiing experience. The best way to enjoy your day on the mountains and explore the vast terrain is by using the services of a native alpine guide. (www.dolomitiskirock.com). The guide picks you up at your hotel and, based on your abilities and requests, takes you to pristine powder slopes, scenic trails and mountaintop Rifugi (shelters).
You can also try other winter activities such as ski mountaineering, snowshoeing and even defying gravity with a snow-kite.
During the warm season, the area’s numerous alpine trails and rugged peaks become a paradise for hikers, mountain bikers and rock climbers. Stop for a photo at Cinque Torri, a rock formation of five towering cliffs jutting into the blue sky. Continue to the WWI open air museum and walk along the narrow trenches where Italian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers fought each other while braving the frigid winters and steep mountains.
Take the cable car to the Lagazuoi Refuge (9028 ft. elevation) and savor a hearty lunch in the alpine restaurant. If you are in Cortina during the Dino Ciani music festival (end of July to beginning of August) you may catch an open-air performance on the Lagazuoi terrace while taking in the mesmerizing vistas.
After a day on the mountains, stroll along the pedestrian area of downtown Cortina, browse the boutiques and souvenir shops and sample the wine bars and restaurants.
Cristallo Hotel Spa & Golf
The area offers numerous inns and resorts, but the grand dame of them all is Cristallo Hotel Spa & Golf, an historic hotel that since 1901 has hosted royalty, movie stars and celebrities including Frank Sinatra and Peter Sellers.
Now a Leading Hotels of the World property, the five-star Cristallo is the epitome of old world elegance, lavishly appointed with chandeliers, palatial style furniture and inlaid parquet floors.
The hotel’s 74 rooms include 22 suites, among them 5 Royal and 2 Presidential suites. Guestrooms differ in size and configuration, many overlooking the Dolomites’ peaks, ski slopes and Cortina’s chalet style houses in the green valley below.
Rooms are decorated with period furniture, wood carvings, hand painted finishes and plush bedding. Modern bathrooms with marble floors and soaking tubs complete the decor.
Breakfast at the Cristallo is served buffet style in La Veranda, an elegant restaurant overlooking the mountains. The generous spread includes Italian antipastas, freshly baked croissants and pastries, omelettes, juices, jams and, of course, espressos and frothy cappuccinos.
The hotel also offers fine dining in Il Gazebo, a circular shaped restaurant with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the majestic Dolomite peaks. The daily menu features fresh fish, seafood and traditional Italian entrees.
Be sure to experience the Cristallo Spa, an oasis of health and wellness, the ideal place to unwind after a day on the mountains. Catch some sun in the solarium, swim in the heated pool and sweat your toxins away in the sauna and the Turkish steam bath. Treat yourself to a pampering massage and indulge in a Transvital Swiss signature beauty treatment.
The hotel is popular with families and offers special children’s activities, menus, and treats. www.cristallo.it. For more information on how how to enjoy Cortina D’Ampezzo throughout the seasons visit www.cortina.dolomiti.org.