The Dolomites in northern Italy

By Liz Fischer
This item appears on page 22 of the June 2021 issue.
The Dolomites in northern Italy. Photos by Liz Fischer

On a trip to Europe, July 29-Aug. 10, 2018, my husband, Bill, and I visited northern Italy. Following a stay at Lake Como (April ’21, pg. 14), we drove northeast to the Dolomites.

Our GPS (affectionately called Dora the Explorer) took us by way of the scenic route — through the mountains! There were beautiful views of the Alps, lots of motorcycles and bikes, hairpin turns one after the other and pristine glaciers. We crossed Passo dello Stelvio at 9,000 feet.

We spent two nights in Castelrotto at Hotel zum Wolf al Lupo (Oswald von Wolkenstein St., 5; phone +39 0471 70 63 32,, paying $140 per night, which included breakfast. There was no air-conditioning, but the large room was comfortable, since, at an elevation of 3,500 feet, it cooled off at night.

Hotel zum Wolf al Lupo in Castelrotto, Italy.

Before World War I, Castelrotto had been part of the German-speaking part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the town still retains that culture. We saw a dress shop selling dirndls, and it wasn’t just a tourist shop, as we saw women wearing dirndls in town.

Food in the restaurants definitely had an Austrian flavor. On both nights, we went to Gasthof Toni (Oswald von Wolkenstein St.; phone +39 0471 70 63 06) for dinner, having spinach dumplings one night (about $50 each night for two). The waitress spoke English, and there was an English menu.

The Dolomites are striking mountains with bare, jagged peaks, the tallest almost 11,000 feet. We went to this area to hike part of the Alpe di Siusi, Europe’s largest Alpine meadow. There was an extensive system of lifts to get hikers (and skiers in the winter) to higher trails, but we stayed fairly low. Even so, hiking uphill at an elevation of 8,000 feet required some physical fitness.

We spent a day driving through the area and saw more beautiful mountains, Sella Pass, quaint woodworking craft shops and mountain climbers. We watched several climbers who were at least a thousand feet up the side of a mountain. One of them must have been having cramps because he hung onto his ropes while shaking out his arms one at a time.

Bolzano was our next stop, where we visited the South Tirol Museum of Archaeology (phone +39 0471 32 01 00; Admission cost 10 (near $12) for each of us. The museum is completely dedicated to Ötzi the Ice Man, a man found frozen in a glacier in 1991 and believed to have lived around 3400-3100 BC.

Marble quarry in Carrara, Italy.

His name was inspired by the place where he was found: the Ötztal Alps, at the border between Italy and Austria. Ötzi is kept frozen in a special cold room, and we only had a peek at his actual body through a small window.

Even more amazing than Ötzi himself were all the things found with him: clothing and shoes, a copper axe, two birch baskets, fungus believed to be a primitive antibiotic, a longbow and arrows, a stone dagger, the frame of a large backpack and more. This museum was a highlight of our trip.

After a long drive and an overnight hotel stay in Bologna, we arrived in Carrara determined to tour one of the marble quarries. With the help of a very nice gas station attendant, we followed the signs to our goal: Cave di Marmo (Cave di Marmo Tours; The entry fee was 20 each.

Marble has been quarried in the area since 200 BC, but only 5% of the marble has been extracted. Mining, done by hand for centuries, is now mechanized. Marble from Carrara is white or ivory with gray veins.

Since we were the last to arrive and had no reservation, we ended up sitting in the back of a jeep-type vehicle, facing each other. It was a noisy, bumpy and dusty ride, but what an experience!

Up, up, up the mountain we went to visit several quarries. One may even have been the source of Michelangelo’s “Pietà” or “David,” since the marble for both came from Carrara.

The quarry tour was another highlight of the trip.

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Marble quarry in Carrara, Italy.
Mountains in northern Italy.