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Over the pass in the Dolomites: Hiking in South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites

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: Heatheronhertravels.com

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: Heatheronhertravels.com

Sunrise at Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol

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

Read about our our third and fourth day’s hike – South Tyrol – our final days hiking in the Dolomites

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: Heatheronhertravels.com

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: Heatheronhertravels.com

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: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hiking in the Rosengarten

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

Read about our our third and fourth day’s hike – South Tyrol – our final days hiking in the Dolomites

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: Heatheronhertravels.com

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: Heatheronhertravels.com

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: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hiking in the Dolomites

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

Read about our our third and fourth day’s hike – South Tyrol – our final days 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.

Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Where we stayed in South Tyrol

Compare prices and book hotels in South Tyrol through Booking.com.

Night 1 – Hotel Cyprianerhof

Website: Cyprianerhof.com 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: Heatheronhertravels.com

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: Heatheronhertravels.com

Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol

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.

Inside Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Inside Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Night 3 – Grasleitenhütte / Rifugio Bergamo Website: Grassleitenhuette.com

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: Heatheronhertravels.com

Our bedroom at Rifugio Bergamo

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

Read about our our third and fourth day’s hike – South Tyrol – our final days hiking in the Dolomites

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.

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Night 5 – Return to Hotel Cyprianerhof (see above)

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. Compare prices and book hotels in South Tyrol through Booking.com.

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 Sentres.com 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: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hiking in the Rosengarten

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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

You’ve just finished reading about day 2 of our hike

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

Read about our Days 3 & 4 hike – South Tyrol – our final days hiking in the Dolomites

Thanks to the South Tyrol Tourism board who hosted my walking tour of the Dolomites.

Hiking in the Dolomites Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hiking in the Dolomites

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Read about hiking over the pass in the Dolomites - South Tyrol

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Online Flight Booking
    October 17, 2016 at 7:47 am

    Great, that place is looking so good and it is full with natural things. so stunning photos you shared of that beautiful place.

  • Reply
    Ravi Roshan Jaiswal
    October 19, 2016 at 6:36 am

    Hi Heather,
    Nice to meet you. 🙂

    Love this post and thanks for highlighting your South Tyrol hiking experience with us. I’m so glad to read your wonderful hiking experience here. You have illustrated it very interestingly. The images, included in this post is marvelous in look. I wish to see such places to my open eyes very closely.

    Seems like you love hiking and passionate about it so don’t feel tired doing that, am I right? Reading about your day by day routine was unbelievable means how it can be possible. You are great and I got inspired to read your hiking experience. I think it is not possible to hike long distance by me.

    You look quite happy while hiking too. Looking the places behind you made me feel amazing. This is really unbelievable. You’re the most powerful women who love hiking.

    Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Looking forward to your next post.
    – Ravi.

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