Driving through the Dolomites is nothing short of breathtaking. Winding up and down its narrow mountain passes, you are struck by the wild beauty of this almighty mountain range that stretches from Italy’s northern border to Austria’s south. Beautiful and rich with life during every season, it’s an area blessed with 300 days of sunshine a year and a microclimate that also makes it one of Europe’s best areas for winemaking.
Here, we take you on the most beautiful road trip through the Dolomites, starting at Bolzano and finishing up in Armentola via Corvara and Castelrotto, while taking in the area’s 1200km of ski slopes, as well as its numerous humble but excellent restaurants and vineyards. As a UNESCO World Heritage where you can expect to hear a mix of Italian and German, as well as the local dialect Ladin, it has a unique culture and heritage that has shaped its design, architecture and culinary offering — and each of our hotel recommendations along the way.
Stop 1: Bolzano
We started our adventure in Bolzano, the capital of the South Tyrol region which is an hour and a half from Austria's Innsbruck airport. Surrounded by small mountain villages, postcard-perfect castles, endless vineyards and the impressive Italian Dolomites, Bolzano feels like a mountainous version of Florence. We spent the day wandering around its daily food market, sampling delicious breads — try the signature Vinschgauer — at its excellent bakery, Panificio Grandi, and marvelling at its beautiful architecture which is a perfect mish-mash of Italian and German styles. Our home for the night is the Parkhotel Mondschein, an urban oasis with an ochre, ivy-camouflaged facade, and is the perfect stop-off on your way to the mountains.
The next afternoon, after a simple lunch of olive bread and ricotta, we began the hour-and-a-half drive to Corvara in the Alta Badia region. The incredible views of snow-capped mountains distract us from the exceptionally narrow and winding roads of the Gardena Pass. The best places are always the hardest to get to…
Stop 2: Corvara, Alta Badia
We arrived in Corvara at one of my favourite hotels in the Alps, La Perla, which has been family-run since the 1950s. Tucked away in town and right on the slopes, it’s the epitome of traditional Italian elegance and charm and is a slice of la dolce vita in the mountains. Our room is traditionally alpine, peppered with Dirndls and heirloom antiques and has a pretty balcony view, which I very much recommend forking out for so you can admire the views of the valley and its pistes. In the morning, we headed down for breakfast, which is hearty, honest and local. Breads are topped with the freshest ricotta cheese you will ever taste, made just 15 minutes away on a small farm by a Mrs Bernadetta, there are meats such as seasoned pork loin from local butchery Ioppolo and eggs however you like them. There are few finer ways to prepare for a day on the slopes…
The best way to explore Alta Badia’s 500km of slopes is to get a guide for a day — ask for Giovanni — to help you make the most of its sunny pistes which reach from 1400m to 2800m. Starting in Corvara, we made our way to the famous Armentola run, taking a taxi (or you can take the bus) from the Armentola Hotel up the Falzego Pass, as it’s not included in your ski pass. At the top, we reached Rifguio Lagazudi at a staggering height of 2752m, before starting the 9km run down with the most scenic views imaginable. It’s well worth the journey to get there.
Back at the hotel, we rewarded ourselves with lunch on La Perla’s terrace, looking over the famous Sassongher Mountain, the symbol of Corvara. After a quick visit to the hotel’s extensive spa, it was time for a little apres-ski in La Perla Bistro. Ask the barman Marco to make you a martini and soak up the atmosphere that’s soundtracked by live music every evening. Next, we embarked on a four-course dinner in the hotel (included in your stay), where we feasted on chestnut risotto with black truffle, and a selection of local goat’s cheese picked from their impressive cheese selection, among other delights. If you want to book something a little special, ask for a tour of their private wine cellar (probably the best Sassicaia selection outside of Tuscany), followed by a dinner in the Michelin-starred La Stüa de Michil.
After a couple of magical nights at La Perla, it was onto our third stop. We left Corvara via the Gardena Pass, our hour’s drive taking us past the epic Sella mountain range as the sun set.
Stop 3: Castelrotto, Alpe di Siusi
We reached Castelrotto, one of the five pretty villages that sits at the foot of the Alpi di Siusi, the largest mountain plateau in Europe and checked into the Schgaguler Hotel. Having undergone a big refurbishment two years ago, it has sleek, simple rooms designed by a local architect in a modern Nordic style. With stunning views of the Dolomites from every inch of the hotel, it’s also only five minutes from the cable car that brings you to the Alpi di Siusi plateau. As well as lots of easy runs suitable for beginners, you can go hiking and snowshoeing, or take a horse-drawn sleigh.
After a breakfast where everything is made in-house or by local producers, we headed out, armed with tips from the hotel owner Tobias. At the top of the plateau, we were rewarded with far-reaching views and magnificent scenery, as we made our way down to the recommended lunch spot: Gostnerschwaige, which has a cosy vibe, perfect views and excellent quality of food. Back at the hotel, we took a post-ski dip in the jacuzzi pool, before settling in around the outdoor fireplace with a drink. Make sure you ask the barman Peter to give you a tutorial on how to make their signature, the Dolomiti Martini.
At dinner, Tobias’ sister Sandra, a sommelier, is on hand to recommend pairing wines as well as nearby wineries to visit. The next day, we decided to take some time off skiing to explore some of these vineyards in South Tyrol, where the climate is much warmer and creates wonderful conditions for the production of red wine, especially Pinot Noir varieties. A leader in biodynamic, organic, and small production, the area’s Lagrein grape is worth the trip alone. Our tip is to make the 45-minute drive to the wine estate Manincor and pick up a case of the Reserve del Conte 2019, before stopping for lunch in Caldaro, where you can have lunch in the piazza at Punkt.
The next day, we were on the road again, heading for our final stop: Armentola. From Castelrotto we took the Passo di Costolungo into the Fassa Valley, then the Passo Fedia and caught sight of the Marmolada, the highest peak in the South Tyrol. It was a mind blowingly beautiful drive.
Stop 4: Armentarola, San Cassiano
Our descent brought us to Armentarola Hotel, which has one of the most magical settings in the Dolomites and what is arguably the best terrace — south-facing and sun-drenched — in all of the Alps. One our first day there, we took a helicopter ride towards Cortina, which is a 30-minute drive from Armentola. From the air, we gained a different and unmissable perspective of the Marmolada, which stands at 3343m, the Lago di Fedeia and the Sella Massif — and I couldn’t recommend it more.
Afterwards, it was back to the Armentola terrace for spritzes in the sun, before a dinner of veal cheek in Lagrein sauce with fried gnocchi — cosy dining room with a roaring fire included. The next day, we hit the slopes, stopping for lunch at Utia Cred du Munt, ordering hay soup, before making the most of the cave-like indoor pool to soothe our ski-weary limbs. It is here in Armentola, after three nights, that our epic Dolomites road trip comes to an end.