Usually when somebody writes about their summer holidays in the middle of winter, it's to lust over those lost days spent in velvety air and endless sunlight, to bathe in the nostalgia of warmer climes.
This is not going to be one of those posts for a number of reasons.
- I'm just a very, very lazy blogger who is only just getting around to posting about the summer
- It was bloody cold
That being said, a (minor) element of planning has gone into posting about our trip to the Dolomites now, simply because the lead up to Christmas is seriously catapulting me back to our Alpine adventure. It was a gorgeous week full of bracingly chilly air, pine forests, cosy wood cabins, sinfully cheesy comfort food, fairytale towns and apple strudel.
Oh, and snow. Yep, I found snow in Italy in August.
We spent the week in a beautiful little town called Fiè allo Sciliar (in Italian; Völs am Schlern in German - the Alto Adige/Sud Tirol region was part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire before being pinched by the Italians in 1919 and as such, is very much a bilingual region although you're more likely to hear German being spoken).
We arrived one afternoon and spent the rest of the day having a lazy wander through the town and up past Alpine chalets and through dense, green woodlands to the little lake of the town where I promptly fell in love with the area and vowed never to leave (more on that another time). This feeling was swiftly compounded by the fact that prosecco is so damn cheap there and by the delicious slice of apple strudel we ate at the little cafe on the corner on our way back down.
I was a very happy bunny and had dreams of the entire week being spent casually strolling through meadows and renting one of the little boats to row on the lake whilst nibbling on cheese.
Michele had other ideas.
We took the cable car up to where the air nipped at any bare skin you dared leave uncovered and began strolling towards the Sciliar.
I was struck by the incredible beauty of the area. I feel these photos just about do it justice however they don't quite capture the scale of these mountains.
Our little town was on the other side of this beast of a rock but as we'd driven up to the cable cars, we took a circular route via the Rifugio Bolzano.
As we approached the Sciliar, the clouds began to rear up above us. We dissolved into them and left the modern world behind.
On the other side, we found ourselves in the middle of a richly wooded landscape. There was no sound but the flow of water cascading over rocks and the sudden clatter of hooves when a group of men riding the most beautiful horses burst from the trees before clambering up the rocky hillside.
This is the last photo of me for a while. I was so happy and carefree at this point. Little did I know that the hard work was about to begin.
I won't bore you by going into too much detail but getting to the Rifugio (below) hurt. A lot. Consider the pictures of the Sciliar from earlier and look at that wonderfully smooth plain along the top of it. Picture yourself walking along it, up in the clouds, surrounded by meadows of cows, their bells tinkling gently in the breeze.
Now imagine getting up the practically-vertical rock face that stands between where we were in the first photos and that idyllic place.
Luckily the Rifugio Bolzano is quite a substantial resting place for weary travellers like ourselves and provides hot food to nurse you back to strength. We gorged on cheese, eggs, potatoes, bread and more cheese before braving the cold once more.
Yet after a rest, I was better able to appreciate the view.
We set off once more on slightly wobbly legs.
And before long, the Rifugio Bolzano seemed little more than a fairytale castle in the distance.
Now as will become apparent in this and future posts, we developed a very special relationship with the cows who live in the clouds.
And just when I thought all the hard work was done and it could only go downhill from there, I spotted our next destination.
In the top left quarter of this image:
Here's a close up. This is pretty much as far as my camera would zoom.
A sharp descent down a crumbling slope followed by another climb? No problem!
And I'm pleased to say that I beat Michele to it!
At the next rifguio, we had Kaiserschmarrn, an absolutely wonderful kind of sugary fried pancake and berry mash. I have absolutely no idea why I didn't take a photo (well... I do; it got eaten too quickly) but look it up on Pinterest next time you're feeling sadistic.
I can't quite put my finger on what it was that sold the Dolomites to me so much but I have never quite fallen in love with a place as much as I did this summer. Everything about everywhere we went utterly enchanted me.
There are signs that man has been here, of course. There are well-carved tracks and herds of cows and the occasional town or rifugio in the distance. Yet from some viewpoints, you could be in the middle of the wilderness. There's a humbling sense of how small you are. It's not frightening, it simply puts everything into perspective.
Luckily for my legs, this was the point at which we did start coming down. Watching those guys urge their horses up the hillside seemed like days ago by this point.
It was incredible rounding the corner and seeing just how far we'd come; see the Sciliar in the distance on the left! We climbed that thing and then went all the way around from there!
As much as I moaned pretty much the whole time we were going up (or down for that matter; my knees and thighs and resolve only like flat ground), I loved every single minute and would do it again in a heartbeat.
And before long, we were rejoining civilisation and thinking about dinner.
I cannot tell you how good it felt to sit down at the end of the day.
If you like life, go to the Dolomites.