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The Dolomites span a huge area that cut across multiple districts and provinces. For convenience, I’ve organized into clusters that align with the major roads though the area:

Along the Brenner Pass – Val Pusteria – Alta Badia – Alpe di Suisi


Along the Brenner Pass

The Brenner Pass is littered with gorgeous little towns, castles, mountain hikes, and fine dining. Somewhat to our surprise, much of it is majority German speaking (including the parts in Italy). Brixen was our favorite for a lodging destination.

Brixen/Bresannone

Brixen is the oldest city in Tyrol, considered to be at least 1000 years old. The town’s millennium-long history as the seat of the bishop has led to a rich architectural and artistic history. It’s beautiful, with large central squares and narrow alleys in a relatively compact central area. It’s a great visit, and would be a pleasant place to stay for people looking for more dining options and activities for non-skiers.

Brixen is known for one of the best Christmas Markets of the Tyrol. It is very festive, in Cathedral square, with handmade items and lots of food and drinks to sample.

The most important sacred building is the **Brixen Cathedral, the highest church in South Tyrol. It’s opulent, with a lot of decorative marble and stone. The adjacent cloister was our favorite – featuring impressively preserved and colorful 14th century gothic frescoes.

The **Hofburg Palace Museum is really good – it was the medieval city palace of the bishops of Brixen, built in the thirteenth century. On the upper level it has grand imperial living quarters, and below there is one of the best collections of religious sculptures I’ve seen. It’s also famous for a rather charming and extensive collection of creches.

We had an okay lunch at **Vinothek Vitis Enoteca. It’s a charming setting, food is on the fancier side, and a broad wine list that could have been a bit more adventurous. 

Chiusa / Klausen

Chiusa is a well-preserved medieval village with a dramatic Monastery overhead (highly visible from the pass itself). While it’s predominantly German-speaking, this was the first place (from the North) on the Brenner Pass where the cuisine begins to lean more Italian.

The town itself is a great lunch or dinner stop – relatively flat, with picturesque buildings and quite a few restaurants. We arrived mid-afternoon and had better than expected pasta at **Stadtlcafè. Continuing on, you’ll find the extremely popular Gassl Bräu, a large and quaint brewery.

The hike to **Monastero di Sabiona is straight uphill for about 30 minutes. You can do it as a loop, with one path partially paved and the other largely a steep staircase. The site is very old – at least 350 AD, probably older, pre-dating (and including) the Romans. For more than three centuries – from 1687 to 2021 – this monastery was a Benedictine monastery, where nuns lived according to the rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia: “Ora et labora et lege” (Pray and work and read). It was closed in November 2021. This blog post is a good read for a lot more detail about the history: https://throneandvine.com/sabiona-monastery/. We loved the solitude and the views. While it’s not an easy walk, it’s appropriate for all fitness levels if you take your time.

Novacella

On the outskirts of Brixen, the **Kloster Neustift, or Abbazia di Novacella, is easy to miss (a bit hidden from the roadway), but very worthwhile for a detour. Give it an hour, or longer to taste the wines.

The Abbazia was founded in 1142 by the Augustinian Order of Canons Regular. While the centuries that followed have the usual complex story of fires, persecution, ownership changes, and more, the buildings today have some serious gems – and a significant source of income, in the form of rather good wine. The productions are thought to be among the oldest in the world, with winemaking records tracing back 850 years. 

Architecturally, the restoration process has been long and difficult, but today there’s a major library, Kloster buildings, and an extremely ornate Church (cherubs everywhere you look). You can also taste the wines, and there are several good looking restaurants on and around the property.

Vipiteno

The town traces its roots to 14 B.C., when Nero Claudius Drusus founded a military camp called “Vipitenum” along the road between what are now Italy and Germany. Vipiteno was a mining center in the Middle Ages, and well-positioned along the Brenner Pass trade route, bringing the city considerable wealth and prosperity. A major fire in 1443 destroyed much of the town, and much of what you see today dates back to the impressive structures built to replace that lost.

It’s very pretty – a long central street with a striking tower entrance gate. It would be a decent town to stay in for a weekend visit, and is a good option for a road trip break/meal. There’s a very cute Christmas market, numerous restaurants, and high-end shopping. We liked the look of Restaurant Vinzenz. Just off the main street, we had a very good pizza in a modern setting at **Nepomuk.


Val Pusteria

Brunico/Bruneck + Kronplatz

The most popular season in Brunico is winter, when the skiing area on Mt. Plan de Corones opens. It’s quite large, accessible from most sides (a single peak mountain), and packed with people. While we didn’t ski here, our impression was that it is very popular, very crowded, very Italian, lots of families. Beautiful views of surrounding mountains and peaks, encircled by valleys. Not high on our list for places to return to for skiing.

The town itself is oriented around the Castello di Brunico (now a Messner Museum), which is surrounded by a walled city. Inside the walls, and directly in the walls themselves, the town is a charming stretch of higher-end shops, a great place for strolling. 

**Messner Mountain Museum Corones, on the summit plateau of Kronplatz (2,275 m), has been on my list of places to visit for ages. Designed by Zaha Hadid, it’s a small but striking concept, with great views and interesting spaces. The collection is largely large-format paintings of mountains, with smaller assortments of mountaineering objects.

Unfortunately, it’s just barely **. You’ll drop $50 per person for the lift ticket and combo museum pass, and for an okay 15 minute experience, I don’t think it’s particularly worthwhile. The other museum is the *LUMEN – Museum of Mountain Photography, a short walk away. Again, a pretty building, but the collection is oddly theoretical. It’s as if they asked a curator to make a museum of nothing – the ideas are good, but nearly everything inside is a poster print, no originals.

Maranza

We spent a lovely, relaxing week at **Hotel Milla Montis. It’s very ‘designery,’ each room featuring a bathtub with a view and private terrace. The location is relatively isolated (though not far from civilization), perfectly situated for dramatic sunrise and sunset views. There’s a spa that’s very popular – in particular for afternoon naps and reading – including a warm outdoor pool. The food is on the fancy side, five courses every night. My only complaint is the lack of a child policy – it really is not a great place for children, but they tolerate smaller visitors. 


Alta Badia

This was really excellent. Perhaps not the best skiing in the world (though excellent), but the ***Sellaronda was very enjoyable and the views are epic. We were very pleased with our hotel choice and the area, which was a little less chaotic than the larger “cities” around the loop. 

The Sella massif lies between the four Ladin valleys of Badia, Gherdëina, Fascia, and Fodom and is divided between the provinces of South Tyrol, Trentino and Belluno. It can be driven around by car crossing the Campolongo Pass, Pordoi Pass, Sella Pass, and Gardena Pass. In winter it is possible to ski around the entire massif by using the Sellaronda ski lift carousel (you can ski in either direction, takes about 3-4 hours).

Food & Lodging

  • ***Hotel Gran Ciasa, Strada Sora 15, Corvara in Badia. Great location. Our room was huge and recently updated in rather Nordic style. The spa was the real winner – huge (many saunas), pools, hot tub. Co-ed and enforced no-swimsuit code in the adult areas. Food was okay, not great.
  • We had one dinner out at a very nice family-run restaurant specializing in local cuisine, **Ristorante Stria, around the corner from the hotel.

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Alpe di Siusi

General notes: stay at least two nights (ideally more), plan to do a lot of hiking or skiing, and be prepared for random, brief rainstorms in the summer. The hiking is incredible, best in the Alps in my opinion. The bus system is extensive and would make this very accessible even without a car. It’s also very popular for e-bike touring.

In the winter, it’s a beautiful landscape with lots of sun. Skiing in the Seiser Alm: absolutely incredible views, easy-intermediate, but lovely slopes. Large area and the Ronda is great. Not a place for snowboarders. Lots of huts and hotels to eat at. Great high speed groomers.

Hotel Options (in recommended order)

  • Somewhere on the Alpe di Siusi. We haven’t found a place to love yet.
  • ***www.sporthotelplatz.com, in Pufels. Run by an old family friend of Evan’s, in a beautiful spot. Fairly fit hikers can walk up to the Alpe di Siusi from here. It’s a pretty quiet berg (not really a town), but it has a few restaurant options. Ask for one of the pool house rooms if you have kids – more modern, two bedrooms.
  • Skip *Castelrotto (regardless of what Rick Steves says). It’s not particularly cute, pretty big and touristy. If you want the convenience of a town, nearby Siusi has better looking hotels and has a big gondola to zip you right up to the plateau (compared to a chair lift for Castelrotto).

Slope-side dining

  • Laranzer Schwaighe-Baita (we had a beer)
  • **Malga Sanon: another large place, serves quickly, diverse traditional menu (think sausage, polenta)
  • **Restaurant Panorama: Big, nice views, traditional food