Thoughts on Travel, Photography and Life from Ian Lloyd

Italy’s Dolomite Mountains

The Dolomite mountains in the north east of Italy have a split personality. On one hand they are part of the Alps but because of their predominant white limestone composition, they don’t look at all like the Alps in the rest of Europe. They are also Italian but every town has its own Austrian name as well as an Italian name. They have been fought over for centuries and the last bitter conflict in the First World War finally ceded control to the Italians. Dolomite towns therefore have a cultural mix of architectural styles, cuisine and languages and that is what makes them so fascinating.

This rivalry played out recently when a spectacular 3000 year old frozen mummy was discovered by German tourists in the mountains of Austria. The well preserved body of the hunter dubbed Otzi was a sensation and made the covers of magazines around the world including National Geographic. However, when the body was freed from its icy grave and a museum proposed, a survey showed the body had been located a mere 92 meters inside the territory of Italy. Austria’s loss became the gain of the Italian town of Bolzano.

The pale limestone composition of the Dolomites makes for dramatic photos and fascinating vistas. Coupled with a network of snaking switch-back roads the attraction for dedicated cyclists and bikers is almost irresistible. Back in Australia I had already come across cycle clubs training for a Dolomite holiday of massive climbs and dangerously fast descents. German and Austrian motorcycle clubs couldn’t resist the thrill also. One memorable day I remember seeing a dozen top of the line Audi sports cars, all in the same colour and presumably all from the same club, roaring past me doing their own Dolomite pilgrimage.

On another morning I drove down a back road and unexpectedly arrived at a toll booth that required me to pay 25 euros to proceed for the next 6 kilometres. Taken aback I hesitated. Then, I reasoned that if the price was so steep the view at the end of the road might possibly be worth it. It was indeed. At the top I found myself at the most famous summit of the Dolomites - the Three Peaks of Lavaredo (Tre Cime di Lavaredo). The view extended perhaps 10 kilometres down a mist covered valley with mountains on all sides. Then, unexpectedly 1600 marathon trail runners who had started out in the middle of the night running with headlights on, crested the steep slope in front of me. By sheer chance I had stumbled on one of the most beautiful vistas in the Dolomites on an incredibly clear Saturday morning just as hundreds of marathon trail runners were making their final ascent.

by Ian Lloyd