This is the final post in my 2014 Dolomites retrospective. And we're heading into the mountains themselves!
Except you're going to have to imagine that they're covered in a soft, white blanket of snow as that is what they most probably look like right now!
During our week-long holiday, we spent pretty much every day hiking. The first hike was this absolute fairytale wander* up onto the Sciliar where we had a ridiculously delicious carby, cheesy lunch at the Rifguio Bolzano before strolling around amongst the cows, firmly cementing my belief that Südtirol is my soul-place.
(*I say wander... a good portion of it was a rather steep upwards haul which had me moaning every single step of the way - see this post for similar example).
The next day saw us rolling out of bed with the sorest legs we'd had in a long time - nevertheless Michele insisted that the best thing to do was to get back out on the hills and start climbing.
We weren't quite as lucky with the weather on hike #2.
Having followed the logic of hiking + Italy + August = hot, I was barely prepared, in my thin waterproof and t-shirt, for the SNOW that met us at the peak of our climb. It wasn't even lovely, fun snow on the ground, it was miserable, wet snow that fell drearily from the grey sky, melted instantly on the ground and soaked through our clothes.
That taught me to never hike without provisions for all kinds of weather in my backpack.
Luckily, there was a rather swanky hotel near the end of the walk so we caught the end of the lunch service for hot piles of truffled, cheesy pasta, rousing glasses of fruity red wine, succulent slices of warm apple strudel and Jägertee - which I thought meant Jäger-in-tea but was actually some kind of super alcoholic madness which made mulled wine taste like watered-down squash.
Believe me, I slept well on the drive home.
The rest of our hikes were comparatively uneventful.
We, very excitingly, managed to get ourselves in the middle of a kitted-out group doing a via ferrata (which made me feel super badass when we clambered over the same rocks without hard hats or safety harnesses) and saw a dog looking very confused as it was carried down some ladders in the middle of the mountains.
At times, the paths were fairly crowded, particularly as we neared the rifugi.
If you catch these when they're open, they are little pockets of heaven amongst the mountains, where you can find all the cheesy, carby delights you could ask for. The amount of times I ate cheesy, eggy, fried potatoes for lunch followed by a healthy helping of kaiserschmarrn (chopped up donut-like pancakes covered in sugar and berries) made all of the thigh burning worth it.
(Well I suppose the views and the scenery were alright too).
Despite technically being in Italy, many who live in Südtirol do not identify with the Italian nation. German, rather than Italian, is the first language of around 63% of the population and explains why so many of the wonderful food we ate (kaiserschmarrn, strudel, jägertee) have decidedly Germanic names.
So what's going on? Well, during the first World War, the Allies decided to promise the land of Tirol (which, let's face it, wasn't really theirs to give) to Italy in order to convince them to enter the war on their side. During the rise of Fascism, the area underwent a heavy regime of "Italianisation", with the German language being banned from public services and education. The region was then taken under German control in the 1940s although it was restored back to Italy at the end of the war in 1945.
The rights of the German-speaking minority were recognised in subsequent years as greater autonomy was granted to the region. This has been a slow and painful process with large divides between communities and periods of terrorism.
It can be hard to believe that the area has had such a turbulent history when enjoying its wonderful countryside.
(A precursor to the time I almost fell off a mountain earlier this year? When will I learn that snow is actually quite slippery...)
So that's the end of my dive back into history. I absolutely loved going back through these photos and remembering all of the wonderful things we saw, did and ate during our week in the Dolomites. We're hoping to go back for another visit with some friends a little later in the year so watch this space!
In the meantime, if you love nature and alpine kitsch and the smell of fir trees and cheese and clear, starry skies and apple strudel and fairytales and hiking and the sound of tumbling streams and basically everything that's good in life... I really suggest you go and see it for yourself.