The jagged peaks of the Dolomites span the provinces of Trentino and Alto Adige, jutting into neighbouring Veneto. Europeans flock here in winter for highly hospitable resorts, sublime natural settings and extensive, well-coordinated ski networks. Come for downhill or cross-country skiing and snowboarding or get ready for sci alpinismo (an adrenaline-spiking mix of skiing and mountaineering), freeride, and a range of other winter adventure sports including those on legendary circuit Sella Ronda. This is also a beautiful summer destination, offering excellent hiking, sublime views and lots of fresh, fragrant air.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Dolomites.
Atmospherically set in a castle 15km south of Brunico and full of folk treasures, this is the best of three museums in this region devoted to Ladin history and culture. The wide-ranging exhibits cover everything from Ladin language, geology and winter sports to rituals of everyday life, with reconstructed rooms from traditional homes and a treasure trove of touch-screen displays through which you can glean background information on a variety of topics.
Anyone passionate about the mountains should make a beeline for this captivating museum, opened in 2018 at the summit of Kronplatz ski resort. The architecturally bold re-rendering of a former funicular station houses four floors of stunning mountain imagery from a rotating cast of international photographers. The setting alone is worth the trip, with swoon-inducing perspectives on the surrounding mountains.
Sitting alone in a meadow below the gargantuan spiky peaks of the Odle mountain group, this tiny and almost impossibly picturesque onion-steepled church (built in 1744) is one of the Dolomites' most iconic photo-ops. Look for it about 1km east (and uphill) from the village of Santa Maddalena di Funes.
Mountaineer Reinhold Messner's sixth and final mountain museum also sadly happened to be one of the final projects of star architect Zaha Hadid before her untimely death in 2016. Located at 2275m – access is via the Kronplatz cable car – its buried concrete forms are both architecturally thrilling and spectacularly sited. Inside there's a touching, inspiring collection of objects that accompanied some of the world's most accomplished mountaineers on legendary ascents, displayed in descending galleries and spliced with views out to the peaks and valleys beyond.
Brunico's 13th-century hilltop castle is the evocative setting for mountaineer Reinhold Messner's fifth 'Mountain Museum'. Opened in 2011, it documents the cultures of mountain peoples on four continents (Asia, Africa, South America and Europe). Displays range from photographs, textiles and furniture to a traditional tent used by yak-herding Tibetan nomads and a reconstructed Tyrolean farm kitchen.
This pristinely maintained cemetery set in a forest on Kühbergl just behind the town has graves of soldiers from the nearby WWI front as well as a section of WWII dead. Most of the WWI soldiers buried here are from the Slavic regions of the old Austro-Hungarian empire, and there are Christian, Muslim and Jewish graves. It's a peaceful and solemn place.
The lofty two-spired baroque cathedral you see today was built on top of the AD 980 Gothic-Romanesque original in 1745. While the bishop decamped to Bolzano some years back, this remains South Tyrol's most important church. Interiors feature Michelangelo Unterberger's altar work depicting the death of Mary, and ceilings by Paul Troger.
This museum is far more interesting than most of its ilk, and its magnificent palazzo (mansion) home testament to Bressanone's once-important religious standing. It's popular when the Christmas market crowds arrive, due to its extensive, and rather bonkers, ‘crib’ collection – nativity figures and dioramas.
One of the Ladin valleys' fascinating cultural museums, this three-story structure in the village of Vigo di Fassa is packed with beautiful wood carvings and quotidian objects, along with informational displays about everything from music, farming and family life to furniture-, bread- and cheese-making.