Every year my friend Julia and I set off for a hiking holiday, a girl’s own adventure in which we test ourselves on the mountain trails of Europe. This year we had chosen the Dolomites of South Tyrol in Northern Italy as our outdoor playground, making a circular route around the Rosengarten or Catinaccio range.
Our start and end point was the gorgeous Hotel Cyprianerhof, a stylish hotel that offers an extensive programme of hiking activities, combined with spa and wellness, to its guests. Our two nights at Cyprianerhof provided a luxurious contrast with the three nights that we would be staying in simple mountain huts with fabulous views but basic facilities. You can read more about our stay at Hotel Cyprianerhof at the end of this article, but in the meantime, let’s get started on our four day hike around the Dolomites.
Leaving Hotel Cyprianerhof, we walked up a broad gravel path, past enormous wood piles set by the stream, until the track veered up unto the forest. The trail was shady and damp underfoot with toadstools peeping through the foliage beside the path. Down to our left was a steep gully where we could hear the trickling of a stream and although the sun filtered through the trees, we were pleased to be walking in the cooler shade.
A broad gravel track was running in the same direction as the forest path that we took, which twisted and turned, crossing the broader track every so often. A group of mountainbikers from the hotel were riding up the gravel track and every so often one would pass us, cycling steadily up the steep slope with seemingly iron leg muscles. We walked past them again as they all gathered for a rest on one of the bends but were sure that we’d much rather be hiking than cycling up that slope. As we climbed and the trees thinned, we could just glimpse the grey rocky crags of the Dolomites in between the trees, framed by the blue sky.
After two hours of hiking up the forest path we were certainly ready for a break as NigerHutte came into view on the rise high above us, a pretty wooden building with blooming window boxes and cheerful blue sun umbrellas. The cyclists were already there enjoying a coffee and we gratefully sat at the benches and tables on the terrace and ordered a cooling lemon soda, which became our drink of choice on all our hiking stops. As the road came up to this point, the car park was full and it seemed a popular spot with motorbikers. The road continued further to the bottom of the cable car up to Kolnerhutte where we were heading that evening.
Our route continued not on the road but on the easy forest track again until the vista opened up into a grassy meadow, with the smell of freshly mown grass in the air. At the top of the meadow was what looked like a farm house, a tractor parked beside it and a small enclosure of cows beside the path. Befind it we now had a clear view of the grey rocky crags of the Dolomites, rising sheer from the green patches of forest.
Getting closer I realised that this was the Rifugio Messner Joch with a sunny terrace cafe where I found my friend Julia already settled, enjoying the view back down the valley. We decided that this was a good place to stop for lunch and ordered more drinks and a bowl of hearty vegetable soup, spotting the cyclists once again at the next table tucking into a plate of the local Kaiserschmarrn pancakes, with redcurrant jam.
Leaving the hut, the path wound up through the meadow where cows were grazing, and I stayed close to my friend Julia who was afraid of cows having been chased by one as a child. Above us we could see Kolnerhutte with the line of the cable cars leading up to it. What a shame that we couldn’t hitch a lift on one of them as we trudged up the track, the scenery becoming more panoramic as we increased in altitude. Kolnerhutte sat above us just at the foot of the rocky crags that we would have to climb over the next day and below us were the gently rolling pastures dotted with houses.
One lesson we quickly learned on this trip was that the mountain huts can often be seen clearly long before you reach them, appearing tantalisingly close, but in fact requiring an hour or more to reach on steep and twisting paths. By the time we reached the top at Kolnerhutte it was late afternoon and we were pleased to settle in for the night.
Above the cable car station was a busy cafe terrace but we were staying in the separate building above it, with a cosy wooden dining room decorated with old climbing memorabilia, red checked table cloths and pretty fake flower arrangements. As was traditional for the Tyrol, both the Austrian and Italian side, a large crucifix was mounted on the wall. We left our boots on the racks at the bottom of the stairs, borrowed some plastic clogs and were pointed to our eight person dorm which we were sharing with a hearty group of Belgian men and a younger couple. As we’d come to expect in these remote mountain huts, the washing facilities were limited and we joined the queue for the single shower, operated by a €3 token to ensure you only used your allocated amount of hot water.
Dinner was served at around 6.30, the typical half board offering of a plate of pasta, followed by a dish of meat and potatoes, then tirimasu for desert, washed down with beer or wine. From our table I could watch the sun turning the mountain golden and longed to rush out and take photos, but by the time supper was over the rock face was in grey shadow. Knowing that we would have an early start and long walk tomorrow we turned in after dinner for an early night. With all the comings and goings in the dorm neither of us slept especially well and were up early for our breakfast of bread and jam, with a simple spread of ham, cheese and cornflakes with hot coffee. The next day of our hike would take us steeply up over the rocky Coronelle Pass, so we would need all our concentration and energy for the tricky climb. In my next article you’ll hear how we fared on the precipitous rock face up to the pass!
Staying at Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol
I promised you I’d tell you a bit more about Cyprianerhof and I can’t praise this hotel highly enough as it provided us with a wonderful start and end to our hiking tour. I really was tempted to just abandon all the hiking plans and just stay here for the week! Owner Martin Damian told me how he had taken the hotel over from his parents who established it in the 1960s and had developed it gradually since 1985 together with his wife who is responsible for all the interior design.
The hotel’s philosophy is to offer guests the full experience of the Dolomites, allowing them to recharge and clear their minds through hiking in the mountains, combined with relaxation in the spa and sauna facilities. In summer there is a programme of hiking as well as climbing and Via Ferrata, while in winter guests can try snow-shoe, ice climbing and cross-country ski. The hotel is affiliated to the Wanderhotels group of hiking hotels with hiking and snow-shoe excursions included as part of the half board package.
Most guests come for a week or more because they love the luxurious ambiance and hotel facilities combined with the challenging hiking in the Dolomites. You can borrow everything you need from the hotel – rucksacks, poles, water bottles, even climbing harnesses if you need them.
We loved the stylish decor combining wood and glass, a modern take on the Tyrolean theme with knotted spruce and local stone in the bedrooms, cosy woollen checks and views of the mountains. As South Tyrol is a big producer of apples, there were big baskets of apples everywhere and an apple on the pillow as a healthy alternative to the usual chocolate. The mattresses were so comfortable and the duvets so soft that I felt I could float away on them when we arrived and collapsed after our hut-to-hut tour.
The food at Cyprianerhof was exceptional with a breakfast spread that was as varied and healthy as I’ve ever seen. In addition to the usual muesli, yoghurts, pastries and fruits there were whole sections devoted to butter and soft cheese, fresh fruits, herbal teas, local cheese and machines to make yourself fresh pressed orange juice or raw vegetable juices. At dinner there was a 4 course set menu with different choices which was beautifully presented as well as delicious. The staff were also exceptional – friendly, professional and switching effortlessly between languages – they smilingly welcomed us on arrival with a shake of the hand.
In the bar area was plenty of comfortable seating to chat and relax with friends over an Aperol Spritz or Hugo and the natural textures or wood and stone were lit with flashes of pink, purple and green light around the bar. The same coloured light was used to light the swimming pool blue at night-time with loungers to relax after your spa treatment with a view of the mountains. The daily programme also included a range of different sauna experiences, with honey and herbal infusions in the Schupfensauna and the opportunity to go as hot as you could stand.
I’d highly recommend Cyprianerhof as the perfect place to relax at the beginning and end of your hut-to-hut tour. If you don’t fancy the somewhat basic basic hut accommodation up in the mountains then I’d just base yourself at Cyprianerhof and take advantage of the guided hikes that are included in the package and can be just as physically challenging as anything we did.
Getting to South Tyrol
South Tyrol is the north-east corner of Italy, bordering Austria to the north and Switzerland to the west. We flew to Venice Marco Polo Airport and hired a car to drive to the nearest village of St Cyprian, which took around 3 hours. Alternative airports would be Milan Bergamo (2 hrs 50 mins), Innsbruck (1 hr 50 mins), Verona (2 hrs), Venice Treviso (3 hrs). For those using public transport, trains and buses are available from most airports to Bolzano and there is a bus (no 185) running from Bolzano to St Cyprian which stops ouside Hotel Cyprianerhof, running around once an hour (journey time 50 mins). The taxi from Bolzano to St Cyprian would take around 30 mins. To compare prices and book Hotels in South Tyrol check out my hotels booking page powered by HotelsCombined
Are we really in Italy?
In South Tyrol both German and Italian are widely spoken, since the province was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1948, when it was annexed by Italy after WWI. In the Dolomites we found that German was more commonly used although most locals will easily switch between Italian and German. English is less widely spoken although you will not have a problem in larger hotels and in mountain huts there is generally someone with a little English. Because of the dual languages all towns, villages and mountain huts have two names – both German and Italian. I will mention both but for simplicity may then use just one.
Where we stayed
To compare prices and book Hotels in South Tyrol check out my hotels booking page powered by HotelsCombined
Night 1 – Hotel Cyprianerhof Website: Cyprianerhof.com A luxurious 4 star hotel in St Cyprian with extensive facilities for wellness and activity excursions. Guests normally stay on a half board package that includes breakfast, afternoon tea and evening meal, with hiking or snowshoe tours for all abilities. The food here was excellent using local and seasonal produce. Half board package including activities from €156 per person per night
Night 2 – KolnerHütte / Rifugio Fronza alle Coronelle Website: Rifugiofronza.com
Cost: from €52 per person for half board (evening meal and breakfast)
The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms, with 60 beds in total. Blankets are provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There is 1 hot shower which costs €3 to use. The Refuge can also be reached from St Cyprian by a bus to the foot of the Laurino chairlift, then take the chairlift up to KolnerHütte. Many people use the chairlift to reach KolnerHütte quickly and then walk the higher mountain routes from there.
Night 3 – Grasleitenhütte / Rifugio Bergamo Website: Grassleitenhuette.com
Cost: from €52 per person for half board (evening meal and breakfast)
The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms with duvets provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There are 2 hot showers which cost €3 to use. The refuge has a charming traditional feel and is family run with friendly owners and excellent cuisine and wine.
Night 4 – Schlernhaus / Rifugio Bolzano Website: Schlernhaus.it
Cost: from €39 per person for 2 bed room including breakfast. Meals can be ordered from the modestly priced menu and half board is available for groups of 8+ people.
The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms, with 120 beds in total. Duvets are provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There are no showers, only a washroom. The refuge is large with a traditional wood pannelled dining room and panoramic views of the mountains as well as friendly staff. The Refuge seemed to be a favourite with families and several people had dogs with them.
Night 5 – Hotel Cyprianerhof (see above)
Planning your hiking routes
You will find timings for walking routes on the Sentres website. However, be aware that these are times for fit walkers without any stops for rests or photographs. In our experience we found that for each 2-3 hours of the ‘official’ time, we needed to add 30 mins to allow for being less fit and 30 mins for a drink stop in a refuge. So overall we would add 1-2 hours to the times given per day.
We used the Tappeiner 1:25.000 Map No 29 Schlern – Rosengarten – Sciliar – Catinaccio – Latemar – you can order it on Amazon and a similar map was for sale at Cyprianerhof for €9 and probably other places locally. We could not find an English guidebook to the routes we were walking but we found we could navigate fine with just a map as the paths were well marked.
Here are the routes and timings we took
Day 1 – Cyprianerhof to KolnerHütte
- Official time: 4 hours
- Actual time without stops: 4 hrs 30 mins
- Actual time with stops: 6 hours
- Our route was: Cyprianerhof – Nigerhütte 2 hrs / Nigerhütte – Messnerjoch hütte 1 hr / Messnerjoch hütte – KolnerHütte 1 hr 30 mins
Day 2 – KolnerHütte to Grasleitenhütte
- Official time: 5 hrs 30 mins
- Actual time without stops: 6 hrs
- Actual time with stops: 7 hrs 30 mins
- Our route was: KolnerHütte – top of Coronelle Pass 1 hr / top of Coronelle Pass – Rif. Vaiolet 1 hr 45 mins / Rif. Vaiolet – Grasleitenpasse 1 hr 30 mins / Grasleitenpasse – Grasseleitenhutte 1 hr 30 mins Warning: very steep climbing with cables over Coronelle Pass
Day 3 – Grasleitenhütte to Schlernhaus
- Official time: 4 hrs
- Actual time without stops: 5 hrs
- Actual time with stops: 7 hrs 30 mins ( we made a 40 min detour to Rif. Alpe di Tires)
- Our route was: Grasleitenhütte – Rif. Alpe di Tires 3 hrs 25 mins / Rif. Alpe di Tires to cairn at start of plateau 1 hr 20 mins / Cairn at start of plateau to Schlernhaus 1 hr 30 mins. Warning: very steep climbing with cables on final part of route 3 up to Rif. Alpe di Tires
Day 4 – Schlernhaus to Cyprianerhof
- Official time: 4 hrs 30 mins
- Actual time without stops: 6 hrs
- Actual time with stops: 8 hrs
- Our route was: Schlernhaus – Junction of route 3 & 7 1 hr 50 mins / Junction of route 3 & 7 – Turning to route 7B 1 hr / Turning to route 7B – Tschafonhutte 1 hr / Tschafonhutte – Cyprianerhof 2 hr
Thanks to the South Tyrol Tourism board who hosted my walking tour of the Dolomites.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
I remember the first time I went cycling with Headwater Holidays on my honeymoon. Basking in the September sunshine, we cycled through unspoiled rural France, meandering through gently rolling countryside, past farmyards and quiet villages.
We enjoyed it so much that the following year we booked again with Headwater Holidays, but this time chose the Jura, a rather more mountainous part of France. My memories of that holiday are of me at the bottom of the hill and Guy disappearing over the crest with barely a care for me, puffing and panting behind him. If only I’d known about e-bikes then, things might have been so different!
Fast forward 20 years to my trip to the South Tyrol in Italy and I found myself cycling through the vineyards that surround Lake Kaltern. This time I was offered a choice between a normal bike and an e-bike and although I’m pretty fit, I decided to try the e-bike. Perhaps it was the sight of my super-fit, lycra-clad guide, that made me think that perhaps I’d need a little extra pedal power to keep up.
To the untrained eye there was really little difference between the e-bike and any other. Only the small electric motor attached to the frame was the giveaway. However, I soon realised is that using an e-bike is not the same as a motor bike – the bike does not move on it’s own and you still have to pedal. The controls are like an additional gear lever on the handle bars and when you’re feeling the strain, you just click it on to give you some extra oomph on the hilly bits. Read about Cycling with wine and apples in South Tyrol
If you are reasonably fit like me, perhaps you think it would be cheating to hire an e-bike rather than sweat away up those hills? The leading walking and cycling company, Headwater Holidays recently surveyed its customers and found that 67% of those who responded had a positive experience with e-bikes. Among the reasons given were that they allowed different experience levels of cyclists to stay together, you could travel further and they were great for tackling steep hills.
That last issue of the steep hills was certainly a factor when I tried out e-bikes last year on a trip to Austria where I got the chance to do some mountain-biking in the Tyrol. Normally I wouldn’t be first in the queue for mountain-biking, associating it with fit young men being splattered with mud and every chance of flying off over the handle bars.
On this occasion, however it was a much more pleasant experience, since I was able to put my e-bike on the side of the lift to the top of the mountain and then we gradually cycled down, stopping half way for a lunch with glorious mountain views.
You might think that being downhill all the way, I wouldn’t have needed to use the electric motor at all, but in fact there were several places where we were going uphill and it was a relief to be able to click the lever and suddenly find that everything got a lot easier. As one enthusiastic Headwater Holidays customers said “The way the e-bike sailed up the inclines was really quite amazing”. Read about Heather goes e-mountain biking in Austria
If you’d like to try out an e-bike on your next cycling trip, check out the cycling holidays that Headwater Holidays offer with e-bikes. They are a great option if you;
- Are less fit than you’d like but still enjoy cycling
- Want to keep up with your partner who’s fitter than you
- Are cycling in a group of mixed abilities
- Are debating whether you’ll cope with steep hills and mountainous regions
- Are more interested in enjoying the view than getting sweaty
- Want to get some exercise but also have the option of taking it a bit easier if you need to
On most of Headwater’s cycling holidays you can book an e-bike as an option – take a look at;
Hilltop Villages of Provence – the e-bike will make light work of cycling up to those medieval hilltop villages and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views across the Luberon.
Classic Burgundy Cycling – You’ll be pleased you chose an e-bike if you stop at any vineyards to taste the famous Burgundy wines and feel less inclined to pedal hard afterwards.
Coves and Harbours of Northern Spain – There are traditional fishing ports, farming hamlets but also the rugged Picos de Europa to explore.
Dorset and the Jurassic Coast – Lazy days visiting sheltered bays, with an e-bike to help you on those rolling hills.
So when you’re planning your next cycling holiday, do check out the options for cycling with e-bikes that Headwater Holidays can offer.
Check out my recent article for Headwater Holidays about 10 things to pack on your walking holiday
More articles from walking with Headwater Holidays in Austria
Hiking in Austria – the wild Leutasch Gorge and picturesque Mittenwald
Hiking in Austria – a Rifleman’s Parade and Mental Power Walk at Seefeld
A high mountain walk (and a tumble) in the Gaistal Valley, Austria
Hiking in Austria – the views from the cross at Seefelder Spitze
This article was brought to you in partnership with Headwater Holidays.
Dorset and the Jurassic coast photo credit: CC BY Paul Tomlin / flickr
In this article, our guest author, Cole Mayer shares his trip to Italy, in which he discovers the challenges of Italian driving as well as the charms of visiting places that are a little off the tourist trail.
I had travelled around the world as a child. Europe was no stranger to me. But when it came time to honeymoon in Italy in 2014, I was at a bit of a loss as my parents had always arranged everything. My wife had also travelled the world and had been to Italy before, so she suggested that, along with going to some of the major tourist attractions for my benefit, we should look for out of the way attractions and hotels.
The hunt began. I scoured guidebooks. My eyes all but bled from researching on the internet. But finally, I put an itinerary together. We only booked the first and last hotels, flying by the seat of our pants for the majority of the trip.
Driving out of Milan
Upon landing in Milan, we picked up our rental car. During the hour-long drive out into the hillsides of Italy, I discovered that Italian drivers are strong believers of the “speed limits are suggestions” philosophy. Based on how fast I was going, I calculated one driver easily going 120 mph. The joke’s on them – they missed some beautiful scenery.
Olimpia, nestled near the top of a hill in San Salvatore Monferrato, was a welcome sight to a weary traveler. The Bed and Breakfast Olimpia where we stayed was the very definition of charming and rustic, with a spectacular view over the valley.
The owners suggested that we drive about 10 minutes into town for lunch, which sounded fantastic to both of us. Something must have been lost in translation, though, as the quaint town had all but closed for the day. When we walked into a restaurant, they shooed us out. Frustrated and hungry, we returned to the B&B.
Lunch and dinner that night consisted of crackers and gummy worms. Thankfully, they provided an amazing breakfast of cheese, meat and pastries the next morning. We headed back to Milan proper, staying at the Hotel Silver. The hotel itself was beautiful, with a motel-style layout but four-star interiors.
The main problem with the hotel was the location. It was a hidden gem, but located off a large, busy street. They provided a shuttle into the city proper, a godsend for getting in and out of the hotel. Our first stop was the Duomo, the third-largest church in the world.
I highly recommend simply walking around Milan, even just around the Duomo. The architecture is hundreds of years old, but looks new. You can’t swing a spaghetti noodle without hitting a church or religious building. Because most visitors will stick with the Duomo, they tend to be quiet affairs, allowing contemplation of the artifacts held within ancient walls.
A little more obscure, however, is the Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci.” Dedicated in part to the famed Renaissance man, the museum features models based on da Vinci’s sketches, from war machines to farming tools.
The museum itself is easily worth a half day’s tour. They fit multiple, full-sized boats inside the water transportation exhibit. Much like the smaller churches, because it is not a major tourist destination, it was fairly quiet when we were there, a nice change from the bustle of the city.
The next city we visited was Bologna. We stayed in what was clearly meant to be a business hotel, the Hotel Cosmopolitan. It was a few miles outside the city, but after visiting the supermarket to buy provisions, we realized my wife’s iPad was still at Hotel Silver, and they would not send it to us.
Not deterred, we headed out and wandered around the city on foot, eventually meeting with a crowd of college students who had just been released from class. Following the students, we found a hole-in-the-wall gelato place near Via Santo Stefano where all the locals went for an afternoon snack.
That night, we dined at Ristorante Garganelli. It was expensive, but worth it – especially for our honeymoon.
After a two-hour drive back to Milan to retrieve the iPad, we started the journey to Rome. I can’t suggest not driving enough. Our nerves were shot to pieces, as we had picked Halloween night to drive into Rome. Apparently, Romans love the holiday and the streets were packed, even at 10 p.m. The streets are highly confusing at night. Next time, we’ll fly in.
Eventually, we made it to Hotel Maison Althea. The one-way alley it is on looked disreputable at first glance, but the penthouse hotel was top-notch. It helped that the owner delivered breakfast every morning, after asking you what breakfast foods we liked. It was also only a few minutes’ walk to a major subway and train station.
We drove our rental car to the airport, turned it in early, and took a train back to that station. From there, we went to the Coliseum. We spent a week in Rome – half of our honeymoon. The Spanish Steps, crowded with people, were a sight to see – especially with the view from the top.
What I really wanted to see, though, was the “Monster Door.” Created by the two artist brothers living in the building, they simply wanted their doorway to stand out. Though it can be seen in just a few moments, and is a stone’s throw away from the Steps, there was only the couple you see in the photo, and us.
As we had planned only our first and last hotels, we moved from Maison Althea to Villa Magnolia Relais, an oasis in an otherwise cold apartment district. We made our last tourist stop with a private tour of the Vatican’s attractions and took another trip to a grocery store.
That was the end of our Italian honeymoon, though we almost missed the flight back to the States – but that’s a story for another time. The moral of the trip, though, is not to confine yourself. We rented a car and went where we felt like going. We walked around. We saw the big tourist attractions, but weren’t limited to them. We stayed in hotels that, for being off the proverbial paved path, were exquisite. I doubt I could travel any other way again.
Other things to see and do in Italy
All photos by Cole Mayer