How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence

While the summer may be over, autumn can bring clear, sunny days in Italy. Just the time for me to nip off to Florence for a weekend break with Citalia, to get a quick fix of culture and good food. My challenge was to strike the right balance between seeing the sights (and there are plenty!) while taking the time to soak up the atmosphere and charm of this ancient city set in the heart of Tuscany. Read on to discover how I spent my 48 hours in Florence.

How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence

Arriving Friday lunchtime

Flying from London City Airport direct to Florence, I arrived at lunchtime to be whisked away by private taxi transfer, arranged through Citalia. Driving through the narrow streets, we arrived in 30 minutes at Hotel Balestri, where I was to stay for the next 2 nights. The hotel was well located by the river, close to all the historic sites – I always think that with limited time on a city-break you want to be a short stroll from the things you’ve come to see. From my window I had a fabulous view across the river to the Belvedere gardens and Piazzale Michelangelo on the hill and looking the other way to the well known arcades of the Ponte Vecchio.

View from Hotel Balestri in Florence

View from Hotel Balestri in Florence

After settling in, I relaxed in the hotel’s glamorous, mirror lined bar, treating myself to the local Florentine aperitivo of a Negroni. Mixed with red vermouth, campari and gin, it was certainly strong enough to get me into a good mood for the start of the weekend, and for something lighter there’s always the brightly coloured Aperol Spritz. Salute!

Negroni at Hotel Balestri Photo:

Negroni at Hotel Balestri

Dinner at Mercado Centrale

On my first day in a new city I like to just meander to get the feel of the place, orientate myself to the main sites and go with the flow. At the recommendation of the Citalia Concierge, I planned to have dinner at the Mercato Centrale where there’s an upstairs food hall serving many different dishes in a lively, café atmosphere.

Let’s talk Tripe

Well that was the plan. But when I arrived at the Mercato I found that downstairs, where the produce stalls would normally be open in the day, a neighbourhood tripe festival was in full swing. Tables designed for communal eating were set up down the centre of the space, lit by silver candelabras, and decorated with posies of cabbages and flowers. Wooden fruit boxes served as impromptu trays, so that you could buy what you pleased from different stalls, then bring it to sit and eat with friends.

A number of trattorias had set up stall, each with a bubbling pan of tripe stew. With the plastic tokens I’d bought at the door, I tasted my way through different styles of stew, one with a rich, tomato sauce, another like an onion soup with white wine. Tripe is a Florentine speciality and although the white spongy lining of a cow’s stomach is not the most appetising prospect, it was defintely a lot tastier than I’d imagined.

Tripe in Mercado Centrale Florence Photo:

Tripe festival in Mercado Centrale Florence

Although quite full, I thought I’d just pop upstairs, only to discover a whole world of food on the first floor. The open, industrial style space had different food stands around the walls and tables set in the centre to eat with friends. I wandered around admiring the round balls of mozzarella with a creamy oozing centre, crusty sandwiches filled with brie and sundried tomatoes and the pizzas being freshly cooked in wood-fired ovens.

Upstairs in Mercado Centrale Florence Photo:

Upstairs in Mercado Centrale Florence

My head was turned by cabinets of cannoli filled with ricotta and pots of tiramisu. Fresh fish was laid on a bed of ice waiting to be cooked, while at the next stand the well matured beef, marbled with creamy fat and almost black with age, would soon be cooked as the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Sadly I had eaten too much tripe to enjoy anything more but I finished the evening at the vegetarian stand with some fresh pressed apple and kiwi juice with fresh ginger, before heading back to the hotel.

Dinner in the Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo:

Dinner in the Mercato Centrale in Florence

Saturday Morning at the Mercato Central

While I’d enjoyed all the cooked dishes upstairs in the market, I wanted to see some of the produce stalls on the ground floor, so headed back on Saturday morning when the market was in full swing. Although I didn’t need to buy any fresh fruit or veg, I enjoyed walking round the different parts of the market devoted to fresh meat and prosciutto, plump cheeses and a butcher’s stall just for tripe.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo:

Mercato Centrale in Florence

Coming up to lunchtime I noticed the Nerbone stall was surrounded by a throng of people all waiting to be served with their lunchtime trippa alla fiorentina, just like mama used to make.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo:

Mercato Centrale in Florence

Saturday afternoon – a walking tour of Florence

On Saturday afternoon I’d booked a walking tour of Florence through Citalia, who offer a range of pre-bookable tours and excursions to their guests. Our art-expert guide Carlotta gave us an excellent orientation of the main sites of the Centro Historica, explaining the birth of the Renaissance which emerged from the 14th century, bringing a new realism and use of perspective to art that had not been seen in medieval times. The whole of Florence seemed to be a calling card for the great artists of the age; Dante, Giotto, Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci, who flourished under the patronage of wealthy families like the Medici.

At the covered loggia known as the New Market or straw market, we stopped to meet Il Porcellino, the bronze statue of a wild boar. He’s a copy of the original marble version that was a gift from the Pope to the Medici family. This ‘little pig” is almost as well known as the David for visitors to Florence – put a small coin in his mouth and watch it fall through the grill below, then stroke his nose, and your dreams are sure to come true!

Porcellino in Florence

Stroking the nose of Porcellino in Florence

In the Piazza della Signorina

We continued to the Piazza della Signorina, where Cosimo I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany lived in the Palazzo Vecchio with his wife Elenora, until she sensibly moved with their eleven children to the Pitti Palace across the river. There’s a statue of Cosimo on horseback in the square but the imposing statue of Neptune in the fountain also has his likeness.

At the door of the Palazzo stands a copy of the David by Michelangelo which stood here until 1873, when it was moved to the Galleria dell’Academia and now lives under its glass dome. The loggia to one side forms an outdoor sculpture gallery and is part of the Uffizi – the roof forms the terrace for the museum’s cafe. The sculptures seem to display a Florentine taste for stories of struggle and violence – the twisting Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna and the bronze Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini triumphantly lifting up the gory severed head of Medusa.

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

Finishing our guided walk by the River Arno and the Ponte Veccio, we were well placed to continue with a tour of the Uffizi, the main art gallery of Florence with all the masterpieces of the Renaissance. Because the lines for the Uffizi often so long, it’s a good idea to either book a group tour like the one offered by Citalia, or to go online and book a timed ticket to enable you to skip the line.

If you are a real art lover, of course you’d need a whole day to do justice to the gallery, but a two hour tour is a good idea if you are just there for the weekend, as you will cover the most famous highlights. We enjoyed looking at the lovely goddesses in Botticelli’s Venus and Primavera and heard how Filippo Lippi’s enchanting Madonna with two angels was actually a portrait of the nun who became his lover and their children. Perhaps the violent depiction of Judith slaying Holofernes by Artemesia Gentileschi was the female artist’s revenge on the man who raped her as a girl?

Uffizi in Florence Photo:

Uffizi in Florence

I enjoyed the views from the first floor windows of the Uffizi, looking in one direction towards the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo beyond, in the other towards the river Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. Behind an unmarked door in these galleries is the entrance to the Vasari corridor, a passageway that runs from here, across the Ponte Vecchio and ends at the Pitti Palace, providing an easy route for the Medicis to move from home to office.

Uffizi in Florence Photo:

Uffizi in Florence

Saturday evening – window-shopping on Via Tornabuoni

By the time our Uffizi tour was over it was dark and I wanted to get a bit of fresh air and enjoy the streets of Florence at dusk, so I walked along Via Tornabuoni to do a bit of window shopping. This is where all the top stores like Prada, Pucci, Gucci and Tiffany are located and the street was looking very pretty with the Christmas lights strung between the buildings.

Shopping on Via Tornabuoni in Florence Photo:

Shopping on Via Tornabuoni in Florence

Shoe heaven at the Ferragamo museum

At the end of the street, by Ponte Santa Trinita I spotted the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo and popped in as I had an hour or so to spare before dinner. I’ve always loved fashion and have memories of buying a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes at a church sale, where clearly no-one but me realised the bargain I was getting. In the museum below the flagship store, the shoes of the 1930s and 40s were laid out, still looking so fresh and wearable that I would have loved to try them all on. Salvatore Ferragamo learned his trade in Italy, but emigrated to California in the 1920s where he made his name selling shoes to film stars and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, before returning to Florence.

Shoes at the Ferragamo Museum

Shoes at the Ferragamo Museum

In some of the inner rooms were other exhibitions of designs, posing the question of whether fashion crosses over into art. The stunning pieces from designers like Elsa Schiaparelli and Germana Marucelli answered a resounding yes and were a real treat for a lover of fashion like me.

Ferragamo museum in Florence

Ferragamo museum in Florence

Saturday evening – dinner in Oltrarno

By the time I’d spent an hour looking around Museo Salvatore Ferragarmo it was time for dinner. I crossed the bridge into the Oltrarno, the old working class area which is now a hip and trendy neighbourhood with artisan shops, bars and restaurants. The restaurant I was heading for was another recommendation of the Citalia Concierge, called Il Santo Bevitore, striking just the right balance between modern style and traditional Tuscan flavours.

Dinner in Florence

Dinner in Florence at Il Santo Bevitore

The teracotta tiles, white walls and simple wooden tables combined with crisp white table linen and interesting and flavoursome dishes that erred on the side of gourmet. I started with an excellent small plate of spinach ravioli with shrimps in a buttery sauce, followed by a marinaded carpaccio of beef scattered with sprigs of salad, capers and egg yolk. My desert brought together all the flavours of winter with a rosemary and raisin cake, topped by a sweet mulled wine ice cream surrounded by a pool of pear custard. I’d certainly recommend this restaurant for those wanting to try the best of Tuscan cuisine in an elegant but relaxed atmosphere.

A Sunday morning visit to the Academia

On Sunday morning I’d made an appointment to see one of the most popular characters in Florence’s artistic scene, a certain young shepherd boy named David. He lives in the Galeria dell’ Academia under a beautifully lit dome that was built just for him and thousands of people visit him each day to admire his physique from all angles. As I wanted to be sure of a visit I took the precaution of asking the concierge at Hotel Balestri to reserve a timed ticket, which can also be done online, and arrived as the museum was opening around 9.30am.

David in the Academia in Florence Photo:

David in the Academia in Florence

Michelangelo’s David was carved from a block of marble that had been lying for 40 years behind the cathedral, rejected by all the other sculptors when Michaelangelo asked permission to carve it. The piece was intended to sit on top of the cathedral but once complete it was considered too fine (and too heavy) so was given the prime spot outside the Palazzo Vecchio. The Florentines took the David as a symbol of city pride, as the smaller underdog overcoming its much larger and stronger enemies. From close up the head appears to be a little too large, but it was intended to be seen from far below, so the proportions were designed to make sense from a distance.

The Academia in Florence Photo:

The Academia in Florence

Unlike the Uffizi, the Academia is a much more manageable proposition and you can easily get around the main things in an hour. After admiring the David, most visitors take a look at the ‘Prisoners’ that line the hall leading to the David. These unfinished sculptures by Michaelangelo were intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II and were give this name as they seem struggling to be released from their blocks of marble. I also enjoyed looking at the plaster nymphs and maidens in the ground floor gallery, with rows of pretty girls in ringlets striking demure poses.

The star of Florence, the Duomo

By mid morning I was walking back from the Accademia along Via Ricasoli, the cathedral dome framed by the buildings at the end of the street. It was time to take another look at the star attraction of Florence, the Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. On Saturday’s walking tour, our guide Carlotta had walked us around the cathedral and given us many of the stories, but I wanted to take a closer look. I bought a €15 ticket from the office opposite the Baptistry entrance, which would get me into the Baptistry, Campanile, Museum and to climb the cathedral dome (the cathedral itself is free), including optional timed entry to enable you to skip the lines.

Duomo in Florence Photo:

Duomo in Florence

My first stop was the gorgeous Baptistry, a hexagonal jewel box that sits in front of the cathedral. The patterns of white, pink and green marble on the exterior continued inside with small arched windows illuminating the magnificent gold mosaics on the roof depicting scenes of the Last Judgement. Outside, it was easy to find Ghilberti’s ‘Gates of Paradise’ by the crowds swirling around them. The bronze doors show Old Testament scenes in intricate relief, but are in fact copies of the gold covered originals, which now reside in the Museum at the end of the Cathedral.

The Baptistry in Florence

The Baptistry in Florence

The tickets to climb Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome had already sold out that day, but I’d already decided that my preference was to climb the 85 metre high Campanile, which would not only give me views over the old city but also a bird’s eye view the dome itself.

The Duomo in Florence Photo:

The Duomo in Florence

My timed ticket meant that I could skip the long line and start to climb the 415 steps to the top. Luckily there were three different stages to take a break and admire the view before I arrived at the very top, looking down onto the Dome.

View from the Campanile in Florence

View from the Campanile in Florence

After taking photographs from every angle I started the long climb down, which was pretty claustrophobic as I had to keep stopping to let a long stream of people pass on the narrow stairs. Still it was well worth it for the views.

The Dome of the Duomo in Florence

The Dome of the Duomo in Florence

After fuelling up with a quick slice of pizza and gelato from one of the numerous cafes along the main tourist drags, I decided to head across the river to explore the Oltrarno, where I had dined the night before. My walk took me across another of Florence’s must-see attractions, the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge with an arcade of jewellery shops that seem to hang precariously over the river.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence Photo:

Ponte Vecchio in Florence

The shops were originally populated by butchers and leather tanners who had an easy way to get rid of their waste into the river, until in 1593 the Medicis decided that the smell was unbearable and ordered the shops to be let to goldsmiths instead. Above the shops is an enclosed passageway called the Vasari corridor which runs from the Pitti Palace on one side of the river to the Uffizi and Pallazo Vecchio on the other.

Ponte Veccio in Florence Photo:

Ponte Veccio in Florence

Sunday afternoon at the Pitti Palace

Just a little way up the road on the other side of the river I reached the Pitti Palace, the residence that was purchased by Eleanora de’Medici, wife of Cosimo I who decided that she wanted a home away from the bustle of the city with a large garden for her 11 children.

Heather at Pitti Palace in Florence

Heather at Pitti Palace in Florence

While I didn’t have time to look around the whole palace, I was keen to see the costume museum, since I love fashion and textiles. I very much enjoyed the exhibition which showcased the couture collections of notable Italian women – wealthy of course, but also patrons of a different kind of artistic achievement just as the Medicis had been in the past.

Costume Museum at the Pitti Palace Photo:

Costume Museum at the Pitti Palace

The most startling part of the costume musum’s exhibits were the clothes of Eleanora de’Medici, her husband Cosima I and their son Don Garzia. Startling because these were the very clothes they had been buried in, which had been removed from the bodies when their tombs had been opened, pieced painstakingly together and put on display. While the doublet and tunic of Don Garzia was pretty much intact, Eleanora’s dress was just a jigsaw of delicate scraps, bordered by well preserved gold lace embroidery.

Boboli Gardens in Florence Photo:

Boboli Gardens in Florence

My final hour was spent wandering around the Boboli gardens behind the palace, a tranquil contrast to the crowded streets on the other side of the river. Walking back through the parterres and formal gardens I came across a spot where the view of the Duomo was framed by olive trees, the roof tiles of Florence glowing in the evening sun. It was a lovely memory to lock away as I made my way back to Hotel Balestri ready to head home after my weekend in Florence. Have you visited Florence and if so, what was your perfect weekend?

View of Florence from the Boboli gardens Photo:

View of Florence from the Boboli gardens

Where to stay in Florence

I can highly recommend the four star Hotel Balestri where I stayed in Florence, conveniently situated by the river, just 5 minutes from the Ponte Vecchio and 10 minutes from the Piazza della Signoria. My bedroom was spacious with clean, modern lines and plenty of wood and leather. The dark wood parquet floor, leather headboard and furniture had an art deco feel, with even the walls covered in a cream leather effect with decorative wood bands.

The wardrobe space was quite small, but fine for a weekend break and there were the usual amenities of a flat screen TV, small safe and kettle to make tea and coffee. The French windows opened wide to a lovely view of the river Arno and over the bed was a photo print of the coloured marble facade of the Duomo.

Hotel Balestri in Florence Photo:

Hotel Balestri in Florence

My luxurious bathroom was lined from floor to ceiling in light brown honed marble panels. Marble is used everywhere here in Florence, since the Tuscan quarries that Michelangelo used are not far away. The bathroom was modern with a large backlit mirror, plenty of shiny chrome fittings and shower set in the corner with water draining straight into the floor. The luxurious feel was completed with white monogrammed bath robes, billowing white shower curtains, and plenty of nice toiletries. I wafted around in my marble bathroom enjoying all the space and feeling very spoiled indeed.

Hotel Balestri bar in Florence Photo:

Hotel Balestri bar in Florence

Hotel Balestri does not have a restaurant, but that’s hardly an issue when there are so many excellent places to eat within an easy walk. There is a bar area that adjoins the reception and like the bedrooms, the style is modern with clean lines and a slightly art deco feel in the mirrored tables, marble floors and leopard-print stools.

Breakfast at Hotel Balestri Florence Photo:

Breakfast at Hotel Balestri Florence

Breakfast was served in a private area through mirrored doors beyond the bar. In a side room was set out an excellent spread of cold meats, cheeses, pastries, yoghurts and breakfast cereals, with some hot eggs and bacon as well.  I found the hotel staff were extremely helpful and friendly, and they were able to make timed entry bookings for the museums so that I didn’t need to stand in line. Hotel Balestri would be an ideal choice for those who want a well located, stylish and comfortable base for their weekend break in Florence.

How to book your perfect weekend break in Florence

My weekend in Florence was arranged through Citalia who are a leading specialist in Italian holidays, winning the title of ‘Best Tour Operator to the Italian Peninsula’ for seven years in a row. They have more than 85 years experience in putting together flexible itineraries to suit your needs, using Italy’s finest handpicked hotels. The Citalia team are expert and knowledgeable in all things Italian and even have local concierges in each destination for personal recommendations, advice and help with day trips, car hire, or restaurant bookings. For more information visit the Citalia Florence page

Citalia is offering a three nights for the price of two in Florence staying at the four star Hotel Balestri on a B&B basis from £363 per person – a saving of up to £ 226 per couple. The offer includes return international flights from London Heathrow with British Airways. Based on departures 28th January 2017.

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Thanks to Citalia who hosted Heather’s stay in Florence. This trip was part of a project between Citalia and Travelator Media.

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A family holiday in the Venice Lido

Among all the available destinations in Italy, Venice is the queen of holidays in Northern Italy. Everybody knows Venice: the intricate and fascinating maze of streets and canals, the beautiful Grand Canal, the ancient palaces… But who knows about Venice Lido?

A family holiday on Venice Lido

The Venice Lido (Lido di Venezia) is the beach of Venice: a 7-mile long island in the lagoon of Venice, a famous place which, from the late 19th century, became the favourite destination for the luxurious holidays in the lagoon of wealthy families, thanks to the majestic hotels facing the beach that characterize the promenade of the island. You may remember Thomas Mann’s famous novel Death in Venice, which takes place in one of the historic hotels of the Lido. The drama and allure of those nostalgic locations still echoes in the minds of who have loved this authentic masterpiece of the twentieth century.

View of the Venice Lido

View of the Venice Lido

A family friendly place to stay

Nowadays Venice Lido is still an enchanting place, yet family friendly to all those who want to spend a holiday in Italy with the whole family. Of course, one of the major assets of this island is its connection to the main city of Venice. An efficient local service of ferry boat between Venice Lido and Venice main city is available daytime and at night for you to move freely and set out to discover all the interesting sites of the city. If you want to save some money, take advantage of the transport tourist cards, which allow you to move around the city at convenient rates.

Beach on the Lido by Michael Dawes on Flickr

Beach on the Lido by Michael Dawes on Flickr

Days on the beaches of Venice Lido

Moving back to Lido, this is a lovely seaside resort to spend relaxing beach holidays with the whole family. Worth discovering are the areas of “Alberoni” and “San Nicolò”. These beaches, located at the two end parts of the Lido, offer amazing landscapes and a great place to bathe and relax. Alberoni is an oasis of raw beauty, characterized by sandy dunes that overlook the sea. This wild beach is perfect if you want to escape from the rush of modern seaside resorts and experience the contact with authentic nature. Within a few minutes walk from Alberoni, it is possible to see also the Murazzi, the impressive stone dam built in order to protect the banks of the lagoon from the sea erosion. Here you can enjoy a relaxing walk and admire original sculptures made of poor materials like wood, branches, old clothes and fishing instruments, which make the view of this place even more enjoyable and interesting.

Murazzi on Venice Lido Photo: Antonio Fassina on Flickr

Murazzi on Venice Lido Photo: Antonio Fassina on Flickr

Bike rides from Venice Lido

And if you like bike rides, Venice Lido is the perfect place! From here starts an itinerary that leads you to the islands of Pellestrina and to the coastal town of Chioggia, by means of a water transport service among the islands.

The island offers also a whole variety of typical bars and restaurants where you can taste the local cuisine or sip a glass of wine. You can even find a special sandwich shop…on a bus! A typical double decker bus transformed in a kiosk where you can try a whole lot of different and tasty sandwiches!

Cafe bus on Venice Lido Photo by Gordon Baxter

Cafe bus on Venice Lido Photo by Gordon Baxter

The Venice Film Festival in Venice Lido

If you visit Venice Lido at the beginning of September, don’t forget about the Venice Film Festival! The famous Venice International Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world. Founded in 1932, the festival takes places every year at the beginning of September, and it is recognized worldwide as a symbol of culture for the quality of its jury and for the films competing for the Golden Lion. If you are cinema enthusiasts, you cannot miss it! Just remember to book your holiday in Venice Lido in due time, because during the days of the festival, the Lido becomes the centre of the world!

Camping San Nicolò Venice Lido

Camping San Nicolò Venice Lido

Where to stay in Venice Lido

You will be wondering where to stay in Venice Lido. A nice solution for a fun family holiday is provided by Camping San Nicolò. This camping site provides 5,000 square meters of lush gardens, a haven of peace where you can stay with the whole family and take advantage of a wonderful location at convenient rates. With its strategic location, Camping San Nicolò is the perfect place to both explore the Lido and reach Venice City Centre. The campsite provides all the services for a comfortable stay: hot and cold showers, playground for the children, washing machine, internal parking, caravan and tent rental, and much more.

Camping San Nicolò Venice Lido

Camping San Nicolò Venice Lido

How to reach Camping San Nicolò

The campsite is easy to reach: from the train station of Venice Santa Lucia you can take the city water bus heading to the Lido. From the last stop, you can then take the bus of the island, which will bring you to the camping in a couple of minutes. And if you come by car to Venice, from the Tronchetto terminal you will find the car ferry departure to the Lido.

Photo Credits: Photos by Camping San Nicolò except: Beaches in the Lido by Michael Dawes, Murazzi on Venice Lido by Antonio Fassina , Cafe bus by Gordon Baxter

This article was brought to you in partnership with Camping San Nicolò on Venice Lido

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Over the pass in the Dolomites: Hiking in South Tyrol

October 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Europe, featured, Italy, Leisure, South Tyrol, Walking

Our first day of hiking in the Dolomites had been relatively easy, as we scaled the gentler slopes of the Rosengarten range in South Tyrol.  But Day 2 proved a lot more challenging, as we scrambled over the Coronelle pass and slithered down the treacherous scree slopes on the other side. Pushing on through a surreal lunar landscape, we finally arrived at our next mountain hut and enjoyed a well earned beer on the terrace, as the evening sun turned the mountains pink. Read about our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Hiking in the Dolomites

Our day begins at KolnerHütte

Our first night at KolnerHütte had been convivial, with a hearty supper in the cozy dining room, surrounded by Tyrolean decoration and red checked tablecloths. A plate of pasta followed by gammon and potatoes, then tirimasu was washed down with beer, before we retired early to our bunks in the 8 bedroom dorm. I can’t say it was the best night’s sleep ever – not being accustomed to sleeping so close to 6 middle aged Belgian men, who heartily wished each other good night, like a chorus from The Waltons.

Dining room at kolnerhutte in South Tyrol Photo:

Dining room at kolnerhutte in South Tyrol

Yet here we were in the early morning with our rucksacks packed and poles at the ready. From the terrace of the Rifugio, I watched the grey silhouettes of mountain ranges, layer upon layer, with the pink glow of sunrise at their back. The air was cold as the sun gradually lit up the valleys below, a dense blanket of forest parting to reveal patches of lighter green with a sprinkling of houses.

Sunrise at Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol Photo:

Sunrise at Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol

We climb over the Coronnelle Pass

I have to admit that I was nervous about the next section of the route. In order to avoid a two hour detour around the Rosengarten range, we had chosen the shorter but steeper route over the Coronnelle Pass. Immediately above the hut was a 20 metre section where we had to climb hand over foot, using the metal cables and footholds fixed in the rock. It reminded me of my very first Via Ferrata on a previous visit to South Tyrol, only this time we had no helmet, no harness and no karabiners to secure us against a missed footing or a tumble down the mountain.

 Climbing up the Coronelle Pass Photo:

Climbing up the Coronelle Pass

After the initial section the path got marginally more secure, winding upwards through a rocky landscape, but I could see no way over the massif. Ahead appeared to be only a vertical rock face, which I prayed we wouldn’t need to climb. A turn in the path revealed a break through to the top, the way secured by wooden logs and more metal cables and toe holds. An hour of climbing and we suddenly emerged at the top of the pass with a whole vista of valleys and peaks spread in a panorama before us.

View from the Coronelle Pass

View from the Coronelle Pass

Resting a while on the seat, we had an eagle’s eye view of our next stopping point at Rifugio Vaiolet. Although it looked almost close enough to touch, it was another hour and a half of narrow paths and slippery shale before we reached the Rifugio and installed ourslves on the sunny terrace for a cool lemon soda.

Rifugio Vaiolet in South Tyrol Photo:

Rifugio Vaiolet in South Tyrol

Into a rocky lunar landscape

From our viewpoint on the terrace, we could see what looked like a line of ants – people coming up from the valley where there must have been a point to be dropped off by bus or cable car. As we continued our hike above the refuge, the path broadened and we walked up through a craggy lunar landscape that was grey and barren with only the smallest patches of grass. The rocky peaks all around us had a pink hue which would turn even more rosy when lit by the setting sun. Their name of the Rosengarten comes from the rose garden owned according to legend, by King Laurin, king of the dwarfs who ruled over this kingdom of quartz.

Hiking in the Rosengarten Photo:

Hiking in the Rosengarten

Lunch at Grasleitenpasse

Now I was wondering again which direction we would follow, as all I could see was a narrow trail high up above us leading towards another pass on our right. On the rock above we saw a flag and  turned the path to see the refuge of Grasleitenpasse hanging on the side of the mountain below it. We gratefully shrugged off our rucksacks, to settle on the wooden benches for lunch, although the air was cool at this altitude as we sat in the shade of the mountain.

Mountain huts in the Dolomites

Grasleitenpasse in the Dolomites

Despite the remote location, the food was excellent here and I ordered a hearty bowl of vegetable soup while my friend Julia enjoyed the cheesy polenta with ham and rocket salad. A helicopter circled overhead and then flew into the next valley, so that I wondered whether they had been sent to rescue someone. Some of the more remote refuges in the Dolomites can only be reached by walking or by helicopter for supplies and emergencies.

Lunch at Grasleitenpasse in South Tyrol Photo:

Lunch at Grasleitenpasse in South Tyrol

From the Rifugio, the path continued downhill into a bowl in the mountains filled with rock and not a leaf or blade of grass to be seen. The scree was very slippery and we had to go carefully to avoid dislodging rocks into the path of walkers coming up the slope. Down the side of the mountains were rivers of scree left by rockfalls and jagged peaks above the moraine where a glacier must have passed through many millions of years ago.

Hiking through a lunar landscape in the Dolomites Photo:

Hiking through a lunar landscape in the Dolomites

Arriving at Grasleitenhütte / Rifugio Bergamo

From the bowl in the mountains we came to an opening where we could just glimpse the green valley ahead of us. The path wound along the side of the mountain with a stream rushing between the grey rocks coloured by patches of sulphur yellow lichen. Before long we could spot our next refuge below us,  a large yellow building set at the head of the valley with a few cute goats grazing below it.

Hiking in the Dolomites Photo:

Hiking in the Dolomites

We received a friendly welcome as we arrived at Rifugio Bergamo, which in the last century had served as a base for gentleman mountaineers. The dining room was very atmospheric, with wooden panelling and old climbing photographs, and we had a cute room of our own (sheer luxury!) with wooden beds and check duvets. Before supper we sat on the terrace basking in the last of the evening sun, with a beer among the boxes of bright red geraniums, and a glimpse of the valley where we would be heading the next day.

In my next article I’ll be writing about our walk to the next hut along a grassy plateau and our precipitous descent to the valley again for a welcome return to the lovely Hotel Cyprianerhof. If you are considering hiking in the Dolomites and have any questions please do leave them in the comments for me to answer.

Read about our previous day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol Photo:

Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Where we stayed in South Tyrol

To compare prices and book Hotels in South Tyrol check out my hotels booking page powered by HotelsCombined

Night 1 – Hotel Cyprianerhof

Website: A luxurious 4 star hotel in St Cyprian with extensive facilities for wellness and activity excursions. 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.

Hotel Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol Photo:

Hotel Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol

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 that includes breakfast, afternoon tea and evening meal. The food here was excellent using local and seasonal produce. Half board package including activities from €156 per person per night

Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol Photo:

Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol

Night 2 – KolnerHütte / Rifugio Fronza alle Coronelle Website:

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.

Inside Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol Photo:

Inside Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Night 3 – Grasleitenhütte / Rifugio Bergamo Website:

Cost: from €52 per person for half board (evening meal and breakfast)

We received a warm welcome at this family run Rifugio that was built in the last century as a base for wealthy mountain climbers and still has an authentic Tyrolian atmosphere with wood panelling, old pictures and maps. 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.

Our bedroom at Rifugio Bergamo Photo:

Our bedroom at Rifugio Bergamo

Night 4 – Schlernhaus / Rifugio Bolzano Website:

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.

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol Photo:

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Night 5 – Return to Hotel Cyprianerhof (see above)

Read about our previous day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

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 Bozen/Bolzano and there is a bus (number 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

What language are we speaking?

In South Tyrol both German and Italian are widely spoken, since the province was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1948, then became part of 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. For simplicity in this article I may use just one of the names.

Plan your hiking routes

A good resource for planning your hiking routes in the Dolomites is the website and the South Tyrol Tourism website also has plenty of information to plan your holiday in South Tyrol.

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.

Hiking in the Rosengarten Photo:

Hiking in the Rosengarten

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

Read about our Day 1 hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

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.

Hiking in the Dolomites Photo:

Hiking in the Dolomites

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