Val Gardena trekking routes

Lying in the north eastern corner of Italy, next to the border with Austria, the Dolomite mountains are a paradise for walkers, with views of their thrusting pale spires changing at every turn. A four day circuit, starting and ending in Ortisei, in Val Gardena, is a great taster for the Alta Via long distance trails that straddle the region.

It’s no that I make my way to the mountains from Innsbruck in Austria, as this region, until the end of WW1, belonged to the Hapsburg. Despite the efforts of Mussolini who pursued a policy of forced Italianisation, Sudtirol still feels very Austrian. German is widely spoken here and dumplings and goulash dominate the menus. Ortisei in Val Gardena is one of a handful of villages where the locals still speak Ladin, an ancient Latin language, and they’re fiercely proud of it.

The Crown of Gardena four day circular hike

I’m planning a four day circular hike, listed as “demanding” on the Val Gardena website and it says that it can only be done by “well trained hikers”. Bearing that in mind, I decide to spend a couple of days limbering up, with a pleasant one day hike, starting and ending with cable car transport and then a more demanding e-bike tour. I survive both and even have time to fit in a Sky, a novel multi-course meal served in the Mont Sëuc cable car as it goes up and down.

My route will take me to heights of over 2000m where there’s no hope of comfortable. Instead I’ll be staying in rifugios, mountain huts where there’s only dormitory accommodation, and I’ll have to carry everything on my back. Previous experience prompts me to pack earplugs, a precaution against noisy snorers and I take the funicular up to Resciesa where I start my walk.

Day 1: 17.2 km, 1178m of ascent

It’s a beautiful day, sunny and clear, as I cross the flat mountain pastures of Resciesa di Dentro to Rifugio Brogles. It’s too early to stop so I climb steeply up to the Forcella Pana, at 2447m, a narrow gap on the ridge above. At certain points there are cables to cling on to and iron rungs hammered into the rock face but, even with my fear of heights, there’s no problem here.

From the top I descend to green pastures, dotted with what they call gastronomic mountain huts, where day trippers are taking their lunch. I leave the last one, Rifugio Firenze, behind and enter a huge scree lined valley as I climb above the tree line. It’s hot and there’s no cover as I toil upwards to Forces de Siëles at 2505m. Here I meet Alta Via 2 which I will follow for a couple of days. Remarkably, even though it’s a Sunday I meet few people and I’m soon descending to Rifugio Puez at 2475m, my overnight stop.

Customer service is rather brusque here but the food is filling and I meet a couple of English girls who’ve just arrived from Venice. Unfortunately my dormitory is stacked with snorers who even manage to penetrate my earplugs and I have a fitful night’s sleep. It’s not helped by a torrential downpour in the middle of the night but next morning it dawns bright and clear.

Day 2: 10.45 km, 1020 m of ascent

It’s slightly chilly as I take a level stony path before descending to a short gully, then pass Lake Crespëina on my climb up to a couple of wind gaps, Forcella Crespëina and Passo Cir. It’s a sharp downhill from here to Passo Gardena at 2137m, dominated by the awesome Sella massif. This is tourist central, crammed with coaches, motor bikes and cars where they charge you a euro to use the toilet. A biting cold wind whistles up the valley and I get out away from the pass as quickly as I can.