Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Two Sounds of the Letter S in the Italian Language

The letter S has two sounds in Italian. At first, when you study Italian, you don’t really notice it, but then after awhile you catch yourself pausing to stop and think about it. In short, S in Italian can sound like S in English or like Z in English. And as you would expect there are rules guiding pronunciation, and there are exceptions to those rules.

S as S

Italian words where the letter S is pronounced like an English S include:

sano, scatola, squardrare, disfare, rispetto, cassa, sasso, rosso, grosso, passo, pasto, abside, facsimile, falso, penso, Pepsi, orso, gas, borsa, denso, falso, sera, sale, cisterna, sfogliare, soggetto

This sound is referred to technically as a voiceless alveolar fricative (fricativa alveolare sorda in Italian) which indicates where the sound is made in the mouth. Fricatives are types of consonant sounds produced by forcing air through narrow channel. In this case, with the tip or blade of the tongue against the gum line just behind the teeth. The sound is denoted as /s/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

S as Z

Italian words where the letter S is pronounced like (or close to) an English Z include:

chiesa, casa, sgabello, sbaglio, sbavare, presentare, asma, scherzoso, tesi, crisi, battesimo, trentesimo, bisogno, esame, isola, slogan, smalto, snello, alpinismo, risvolto, esempio

This sound is referred to technically as a voiced alveolar fricative (fricative alveolare sonora in Italian). This sound is produced by “channeling air flow along a groove in the back of the tongue up to the place of articulation, at which point it is focused against the sharp edge of the nearly clenched teeth, causing high-frequency turbulence.” This sound is denoted as /z/ in the IPA.

A word showing both S sounds is scherzoso meaning "playful or humorous", which has - in order - one /s/ sound, one /ts/ sound (a true Z), and one/z/ sound. In IPA notation the pronunciation is /sker'tsozo/.

The Rules

These rules are a combination of rules given in the reference Grammatica italiana di base by Trifone and Palerma and those listed on the Italian Wikipedia page S sorda.

Pronounced /s/

  • Words that start with an S followed by a vowel. 
    • Examples: sera, sale, signora, soggetto, sei.
  • Words where the letter S is followed by unvoiced consonant. 
    • Examples: scatola, squadrare, disfare, rispetto, stentato, spendere
    • Unvoiced consonants are /k/ (hard c or q), /f/, /p/, and /t/. 
  • Words where the letter S is preceded by any consonant. 
    • Examples: abside, facsimile, falso, penso, transitivo, Pepsi, orso
  • Words that end in S.
    • Examples: gas, ultras, iris.
    • But not always, note pronunciation of relais.
  • Words with SS. 
    • Examples: grosso, rosso, passo, fisso, commesso, asso.

Pronounced /z/

  • Words where the letter S is followed by a voiced consonant.
    • Examples: sbadigliare, sdoganare, sgrossare, alpinismo, snello, risvolto, slogan, sgabello
    • Voiced consonants are /b/, /d/, /g/ (or /dz/), /l/, /m/, /n/, and /v/ 
  • Technical words that end in -asi, -esi, -isi, or -osi.
    • Examples: protesi, tesi, crisi, sclerosi, enclisi
  • Words ending in -esimo and -esima.
    • Examples: battesimo, umanesimo, trentesimo, cresima, quaresima
  • Words where S is preceded and followed by a vowel (S between two vowels) are likely pronounced as /z/ but not always.
    • Examples: bisogno, esame, isola, chiesa, sole
    • For examples of exceptions, see below.

Exceptions – pronounced /s/ not /z/

  • Some enclitic (joined) words. 
    • Examples: affittasi, dicesi, qualsiasi, vendesi
    • Tangential note:  affittasi appartamento is equivalent to appartamento è affittato
  • Words that are formed from another word with a prefix added, or are otherwise composed.
    • Examples: antisovietico, dinosauro, presidente, risultare, presentire
    • Interesting case: ti presento – "I'll introduce you" – is pronounced with /z/ for the first person singular conjugation of the verb presentare. Compare tgat with  presento un pericolo – "I foresee danger" – pronounced with /s/ for the first person singular conjugation of the verb presentire, a verb composed of the prefix pre and the verb sentire.
  • Words that have an alternate version with a doubled S. 
    • Examples: musulmano (mussulmano), Albisola (Albissola
  • The endings of some irregular verbs conjugated in the passato remoto and in their past participles.
    • Examples: rendere (resi, rese, resero), scendere (scesi, scese, scesero), nascondere (nascosi, nascose, nascosero). 
  • Some common words and their derivatives that have an S preceded and followed by a vowel (S between two vowels) that are either always pronounced as /s/ or can be /s/ or /z/ depending on where the speaker is from. 
    • The sources consulted (given above) plus don’t always agree. Below, we’ll use the as our arbiter here. 
    • Derivatives of words in this category are subject to the same pronunciation.
      • Examples: socchiusi, sorriso, risotto 
    • As a rule of thumb, the words that can be either pronounced with /s/ or /z/ tend toward /z/ in northern Italy. (Don’t ask an Italian where northern Italy starts. Various answers we’ve heard are the Po River, Florence, and Rome.)

Friday, January 4, 2019

Three Short Winter Hikes in Madonna di Campiglio

Mondifra Basso and AltoView east of the Brenta Dolomites from Malga Ritorto.
Left: View of Mondifrà Basso and Alto on the way to Malga Vagliana. Right: View east of the Brenta Dolomites from Malga Ritorto.

Hike: Malga Ritorto and Rifugio Nambino Rifugio Montagnoli Hike Malga Mondifrà and Malga Vagliana Hike
Routes for three walks. Left: Malga Ritorto and Rifugio Nambino, Center: Rifugio Montagnoli. Right: Malga Mondifrà and Malga Vagliana.

Madonna di Campiglio is a small town in the province of Trento that is situated between the Brenta Dolomites to the east and the Adamello-Presanella Alps to the west. The town is at 1522 m and is well known for the choice of summer and winter activities that are possible just walking out from the center of town.

We were there for a holiday over New Year’s which entailed lots of fireworks – and we mean a lot. The biggest display was on the night of the 1st just after the famous fiaccolata, a torchlight parade on skies where skiers with torches descend the slopes into town in a slow and serpentine fashion. Of course, it takes place at night for maximum effect.

During our stay we skied for four days and walked for three days. In terms of the slopes, we recorded about 213 km of ski movement (skiing and ski lifts) in about 20 hours on the slopes over the 4 days. In terms of walking, we hadn’t planned to do any walking and didn’t have microspikes/crampons or walking poles. For poles, we substituted ski poles. For traction, we just went slow and avoided icy spots though we fell a few times.

Each hike we started approximately at the base of the Pradalago lift, which is in the northern part of the town. Make sure to stop in the tourist office and pick up the Winter Walking Trails map (photos below), which will be a big help selecting a hike. A couple of times, we did cross a ski run or walked on the edge.

Name: Hike 1 - Malga Ritorto and Rifugio Nambino
Length: 13 km
Duration: 5 hours
Elevation: 247 m elevation gain
Location: Madonna di Campiglio (TN)
Type: loop, center of Madonna di Campiglio to Malga Ritorto to Rifugio Nambino and back to center.

Name: Hike 2 - Rifugio Montagnoli
Length: 4 km
Duration: 2 hours
Elevation: 284 m elevation gain
Location: Madonna di Campiglio (TN)
Type: loop

Name: Hike 3 - Malga Mondifrà and Malga Vagliana
Length: 10 km
Duration: 3 hours
Elevation: 309 m elevation gain
Location: Madonna di Campiglio (TN)
Type: loop, center of Madonna di Campiglio to Malga Mondifrà to Malga Vagliana and back to center

The 2019 fiaccolata of Madonna di Campiglio.Fireworks after the fiaccolata.View from the Grotte Ski Run just above Madonna di Campiglio.
Left: The 2019 fiaccolata of Madonna di Campiglio. Center: Fireworks after the fiaccolata. Right: View from the Grotte Ski Run just above Madonna di Campiglio.

Brochure for Rifugio Lago Nambino.Brochure for Rifugio Lago Nambino.
Brochure for Rifugio Lago Nambino.

Winter Hiking Trails Map (Escursioni sulla neve) for Madonna di Campiglio. Front Cover.Winter Hiking Trails Map (Escursioni sulla neve) for Madonna di Campiglio. Example of hike description.
Winter Hiking Trails Map (Escursioni sulla neve) for Madonna di Campiglio. Left: Front Cover. Right: Example of hike description to Lago di Nambino.

Recorded tracks for Hike 2 - Rifugio Montagnoli.Recorded tracks for Hike 3 - Malga Mondifrà and Malga Vagliana.Detail of center part of Winter Hiking Trails Map.
Left: Recorded tracks for Hike 2 - Rifugio Montagnoli. Center: Recorded tracks for Hike 3 - Malga Mondifrà and Malga Vagliana. Right: Detail of center part of Winter Hiking Trails Map.

Winter hiking trails map for Madonna di Campiglio.Winter hiking trails descriptions for Madonna di Campiglio.
Left: Winter hiking trails map for Madonna di Campiglio. Right: Winter hiking trails descriptions for Madonna di Campiglio. 

Left: Panorama in Malga Ritoro. Right: Below Malga Ritorto in a forest clearing.

View east from Rifugio Malga Ritorto with a man filming. Rifugio Malga Ritorto.
Left: View east from Rifugio Malga Ritorto with a man filming. Right: Rifugio Malga Ritorto.

The bridge a località Fortini.Pretending to ski on the Fortini ski run.
Left: The bridge a località Fortini. Right: Pretending to ski on the Fortini ski run.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

One Hundred (and More) Common Italian Word Traps: Similar Looking Words with Different Meanings

Similar words in Italian that are easy to confuse.


In this post, we present a list of sets of words (pairs, triplets, etc.) that look alike but may or may not be spelled the same. Further, the words in each set are usually pronounced differently and have different meanings. You might be thinking that we are talking about homonyms (omonimi in Italian), and some are, but not all. In fact, the most "tricky" word sets can with words that are not homonyms but look and sound similar to an Italian language learner’s ear such that we could call them virtual homonyms.Technically, some of the word pairs below are referred to as a minimal pair, that is a words that differ only in one phonological element (sound, pitch, duration) an have distinct meanings.

Why are these similar words so hard for an English mother tongue speaker? We are not sure, but can say that from our experience learning the Italian language that we just don’t “hear” the difference easily. In a normal conversation, if someone says agnello (lamb), we might think anello (ring), and need to understand the context to correctly select the correct word. The two words look different, but in a noisy room or with a fast speaker, the two words anello/agnello can be hard to distinguish. (Try it.) I suppose we do the same in English with words that are true homonyms or words that are close in pronunciation, that is, we wait for the context to become clear before we know which word is correct.

Many of the word sets presented below involve one of the following characteristics:

  • A subtle spelling difference between two different nouns that are not homonyms.
    • One noun with a single consonant and another with the same consonant doubled. Double consonants or consonante doppia are the bane of our existence as they require a pronunciation that – given our English-speaking habits of mushing consonants together – means that listeners don’t hear our single or double consonants distinctly. Here are some common traps: anus (ano) and year (anno), house (casa) and cash register (cassa), and lighthouse (faro) and farro (farro).
    • A change of one vowel between two similar-looking nouns. Examples include (cimento) and cement (cemento) and bacteria (batterio) and drums (batteria).
  • Similarity between a noun and a verb form. In some cases, the words are true homonyms. The post Conjugating Italian Verbs and Knowing Where to Put the Tonic Stress talks about nouns associated with (i.e., derived from or vice versa) from verbs. 
    • A noun that is similar or spelled the same as a conjugated verb form, sometimes with the same spelling. An example is the noun review (la rassegna) and the difference with conjugated forms of the verb to resign oneself (rassegnare: io rassegno, tu rassegni, lui rassegna). 
    • A noun that is similar or spelled the same as the past participle of a verb. For example, the noun choice (scelta) and the participle of the verb to choose (scegliere: scelto/a).
Speaking of homonyms, we were surprised to learn how many types of homonymy (sounds like hominy but tastes different) there are. From the Wikipedia page there are homographs, homophones, heteronyms, polysemes, and capitonyms. All have different meanings but can share the same spelling and pronunciation. A few homographs are covered in our post Italian Words with Tonic Stress on Third-From-Last Syllable: Le Parole Sdrucciole.

How did we come up with this list? Simple. Each and every one of the words below is one we've encountered in conversation or reading and reached for the dictionary to look it up (at least once and sometimes more). From our tendency to keep lists, this blog post was born.


The List

In the list below, the following abbreviations are used:

  • “pp.” past participle
  • “V” indicates a verb. 
  • “A” indicates an adjective.
  • When a word is not marked with “V” or “A”, it’s a noun. 
In some word sets, accent marks are added because they are key to pronunciation and distinguishing between the words. The accents would not normally be written.

l ‘ago (attrezzo da cucito) / l'aglio (pianta aromatica) / l'agio (agiatezza, comfort)

l'agnello (piccolo della pecora) / l'anello (cerchietto di metallo)

l'allenamento (esercizio, addestramento) / l'allestimento (preparazione)

l'ano (orifizio rettale) / l'anno (unità di misura del tempo)

l'aria (gas, clima, ambiente) / l'area (superficie)

l'ascolto (atto di sentire) / ascolta (V: ascoltare; presente: io ascolto, lui ascolta)

il banco (panca, sedile) / la banca (istituto di credito)

il battèrio (microrganismo) / la batterìa (accumulatore di energia elettrica o strumento musicale)

il bruto (guidata dall'istinto) / il brutto (persona brutta)

il camìno (struttura per accendere un fuoco) / il cammìno (atto di camminare) / il càmion (automezzo da trasporto)

il campanile (torre campanaria) / la campana (strumento musicale in bronzo) / la campanella (piccola campanella) / il campanello (dispositivo sonoro)

i cannellini (i fagioli) / i cannelloni (grossi cannelli di pasta ripieni)

il cavalletto (sostegno) / la cavalletta (insetto, locusta)

la compagna (amica) / la compagnia (gruppo comitiva)

il cancello (portone) / la cancellata (recinzione) / cancellato (V: cancellare pp.)

il cappello (copricapo) / la cappella / (piccola chiesa) / i capelli (i peli che coprono il capo)

la casa (abitazione) / la cassa (macchina per l'incasso)

il cassetto (mobili, scompartimento scorrevole) / la cassetta (contenitore quadrato)

il cavolo (pianta erbacea) / il cavallo (mammifero quadrupede)

il cieco (personal non vedente) / il ceco (persona della Repubblica Ceca) / il cece (legume, alimento)

il cimento (prova rischiosa) / il cemento (impasto per costruire)

la ciotola (tazza larga) / il ciottolo (sasso levigato dall'acqua)

la colazione (pasto del mattino) / la collazione (confronto di copie diverse)

la colla (sostanza che attacca) / il collo (unione fra teste e torace) / la cola (tipo di pianta) / il colle
(piccola elevazione di terreno)

la coltura (coltivazione) / la cultura (insieme di cognizioni)

la copia (trascrizione fedele) / la coppia (insieme di due unità)

il coretto (coro musicale) / corretto (A: giusto, V: correggere pp.)

la coscienza (consapevolezza di sé stessi) / la conoscenza (atto o effetto di conoscere)

il disegno (rappresentazione grafica) / disegno (V: disegnare; presente: io disegno, lui disegna)

il dirigibile (aerostato, può che essere diretto) / digeribile (che si digerisce facilmente)

i diti (considerati distintamente) / le dita (considerate collettivamente) / il dito (singola) / la ditta (azienda, impresa)

l'estere (composto chimico) / l'estero (paesi stranieri)

la faccia (volto) / faccio (V: fare; presente: io faccio)

il falò (fuoco accesso di proposito) / il fallo (errore, sbaglio)

il faro (luce per la navigazione) / il farro (varietà di frumento)

la folla (persone: assembramento) / il folle (pazzo, squilibrato)

la fame (acuto bisogno di cibo) / la fama (gloria, rinomanza, celebrità)

il faraone (titolo dell'antico Egitto) / la faraona (uccello)

le feci (escrementi) / fece (V: fare; passato remote: lui fece)

le Figi (arcipelago del Pacifico) / i fighi (cose forti)

la forma (aspetto esteriore) / le forme (convenzioni) / formo (V: formare; presente: io formo)

la formìca (insetto) / la fòrmica (plastica laminata)

il freddo (gelo) / la fretta (premura, urgenza)

il frigo (frigorifero) / friggo (V: friggere; presente: io friggo)

il ghiacciaio (massa di ghiaccio) / la ghiacciaia (locale per il ghiaccio)

il giorno (ventiquattro ore) / la giornata (periodo da mattina a sera)

i giovani (non vecchi) / Giovanni (nome maschile) / giovane (A: non vecchio)

il molle (che è morbido) / la molla (spirale elastica)

il legno (materia dei tronchi e rami) / la legna (pezzi di legno da ardere)

il letto (mobile per dormire) / letto (V: leggere; presente: io letto)

la lettura (atto di leggere) / la lettera (simbolo dell'alfabeto; testo)

il logo (marchio, simbolo) / il luogo (parte di spazio)

il lutto (dolore per la morte) / lotto (gioco di fortuna)

la marcia (manifestazione) / il marcio (ciò che è corrotto)

il mento (parte del viso) / la mente (intelletto) / la menta (pianta) / menti (V: mentire: presente: tu menti)

il messaggio (notizia) / il massaggio (manipolazione muscolare)

la mola (antichi mulini) / la mole (quantità ingente)

la nomina (conferire un incarico) / nomina (V: nominare; presente: lui o lei nomina)

il nono (nona parte, uno su nove) / il nonno (padre di genitore)

il paio (coppia di oggetti) / paio (V: parere; presente: io paio)

la pala (attrezzo per scavare) / il palo (asta) / la palla (corpo sferico)

il pane (tipo di alimento) / la panna (crema del latte)

il panello (focaccina) / il pannello (elemento piano)

la pappa (minestrina semiliquida) / il papà (padre) / il papa (pontefice cattolico)

il parmigiano (formaggio) / la parmigiana (pietanza a base di melanzane) / i parmigiani (abitanti di Parma)

il passeggio (camminata per svago) / il passaggio (testo, tragitto, via) / il paesaggio (veduta)

la passata (trattamento superficiale, salsa) / il passato (il tempo trascorso) / passato (A: avvenuto) / passato (V: passare pp.)

il pene (organo genitale maschile) / la pena (sofferenza) / la penna (uccelli, parte del piumaggio)

la pesca (cattura dei pesci) / la pesca (frutta del pesco)

il peto (scoreggia, aria intestinale) / il petto (torace umano o animale)

il piccione (colombo) / il piccone (attrezzo di ferro)

il pieno (apice, apogeo) / il piano (livello, parte di un edificio)

il pinocchio (seme di pino) / la pannocchia (spiga del granturco)

il pisolino (sonnellino) / pisellino (piccolo pene)

il principio (inizio; causa; valore) / il principe (figlio del re)

il polittico / politico (A: relativo alla politica)

il poro (orifizio della cute) / il porro (ortaggio con bulbo; plurale: i porri) / porre (V: mettere, infinito)

la pulizìa (aspetto di ciò che è pulito) / la polizìa (tutelare l'ordine pubblico) / la pòlizza (documento assicurativo)

la rassegna (ispezione, rivista, mostra) / rassegno (V: rassegnare; presente: io rassegno)

il recapito (indirizzo di consegna) / recapita (V: recapitare; presente: lui recapita)

il regalo (dono, presente) / la regola (norma di comportamento)

il rene (organo) / la rena (sabbia)

la ruga (solco della pelle) / la riga (linea dritta)

il riso (l'atto di ridere) / la rissa (zuffa, scontro)

il sale (cloruro di sodio alimentare) / lui sale (V: salire; presente: lui sale)

la scopa (oggetto per pulire) / lo scopo (fine, obiettivo) / scopo (V: scopare; presente: io scopo, lui scopa)

la scelta (atto o effetto dello scegliere) / scelto (A: di ottima qualità) / scelto (V: scegliere pp.)

lo schermo (riparo, protezione) / la scherma (sport da combattimento)

la scommessa (puntata in giochi d’azzardo) / scommesso (V: scommettere pp.)

la scoperta (qualcosa di nuovo) / scoperto (A: senza difese, riparo) / scoperto (V: scoprire pp.)

la sera (ultima parte del giorno) / la serra (costruzione per la coltivazione)

la seta (fibra tessile) / la sete (bisogno di bere)

il seno (incavo tra le mammelle) / il senno (avvedutezza) / sennò (se no, altrimenti)

il sonno (stato del dormire) / sono (verbo essere, io sono)

lo spasso (divertimento, piacere) / se la spassa (V: spassarsela – divertirsi; presente: lui se la spassa)

lo spazio (area, posto) / spazia (V: spaziare = estendersi; presente: io spazio, lui spazia)

lo spoglio (voto: scrutinio) / le spoglie (salma) / spoglio (V:spogliare - svestire; presente: io spoglio)

lo sposato (coniugato) / spossato (A: privo di forza, esausto) / spossato (V: spossare pp.)

lo stilo (bastoncino per scrivere) / lo stile (caratteristiche formale)

il tendone (tenda da circo) / il tendine (tra muscoli e ossa)

il tono (volume sonoro) / il tonno (grosso pesce marino)

la tuta (indumento da lavoro), tutta (indica totalità)

l'uovo (gamete femminile, plurale: le uova) / l'uva (frutto delle vite, plurale: le uve)

la vergola (filo di seta o d'oro intessuto in drappi) / la virgola (punteggiatura: segno)

il vero (corrispondente a verità) / il verro (porco non castrato) / verrò (V: venire; future semplice: io verrò)

la vite (piante rampicante o elemento filettato) / la vita (individuo: esistenza)

il vitto (cibo) / Vito (nome maschile)

il volto (viso) / la volta (indica frequenza di un evento)


Monday, October 1, 2018

Dining Recommendations for Alta Badia in the Dolomites, South Tyrol

Dining at Maso Runch. Panicia - barley soup with speck.Dining at Maso Runch. Canci t’ega - spinach and ricotta ravioli, in brown butter.Dining at Maso Runch. Tutres - fried pasta, stuffed with spinach, ricotta or sauerkraut
Dining at Maso Runch. Left: Panicia - barley soup with speck. Center: Canci t’ega - spinach and ricotta ravioli, in brown butter. Right: Tutres - fried pasta, stuffed with spinach, ricotta or sauerkraut.


Here are places we have tried for dinner in Alta Badia, ordered from places we have visited the most to least. We tend to go back to places we like, so you can interpret the first three recommendations as strong ones. The years we went to each location are in parentheses.

* Ristorante B&B Mesoles (2008, 2016, 2017, 2018)

This always seems to be our first night’s meal every time we are Colfosco/Corvara. We stay in the nearby Nature Hotel Garni Delta and it’s a quick walk to Mesoles. It’s a simple and dependable place with a bit of everything as well as the typical dishes of the region, especially “tutres”. It’s a bit out of the way from Colfosco town center, being halfway between Colfosco and Passo Gardena.

I remember our first time there in June 2008, when we got to know the owner, Hilda Alfreider. We chatted late into the evening about the upcoming momentous election in the US.

There is a part of the Sella Group – of which this restaurant is practically at the base of on the north side – called in Italian l’altopiano delle Mèsules. I’m guessing the restaurant is named after this but have no idea on the etymology.

* Maso Runch (2008, 2016, 2017, 2018)

This is one of our favorite stops for uniqueness of location and Ladin cuisine experience. It’s located above Pedraces (in Badia) and is one of the two Osteria d’Italia Guide recommended places in Val Badia. (We use the Osteria App faithfully. Don’t leave home without it!) Bring your appetite to Maso Runch because you will be served many courses, with options for second, and you won’t want to miss any of them.

As an example, here's what you might expect for food courses: panicia (an orzo soup), tutres (fried pasta, stuffed with spinach, ricotta or sauerkraut), canci arstis (leavened and fried ravioli with spinach or poppy seeds), canci t’ega (ravioli with spinach with melted butter), giama de purcel cun pulëinta (pork shank), custëis e kraut (pork ribs with sauerkraut), and Bales y golasc o pulëinta y golasc (goulash).

A maso is a typical farmhouse of the Alta Badia. They are very pleasing to look at and in the case Maso Runch you get to eat inside it and experience it through your stomach. Maso Runch has been around for a mere 200 years, and that along makes it worth the visit.

Dining at Maso Runch. Canci arstis - leavened and fried ravioli with spinach or poppy seedsDining at Maso Runch. Pork shank and ribs.Dining at Maso Runch. Strudel.
Dining at Maso Runch. Left: Canci arstis - leavened and fried ravioli with spinach or poppy seeds. Center: Pork shank and ribs. Right: Strudel.

This is another Osteria d’Italia pick near Maso Runch but on the opposite side of the valley above Pedraces (in Badia). It’s less “fancy” than Maso Runch and significantly smaller, but it makes up for it in a satisfying meal with reasonable food portions and less overall courses that will make it easier for you to say yes to dessert, delicious furtaies.

You will get a more personal experience at Sotciastel – at least we have both times we visited. It’s an intimate space with honest cooking. The typically 3 course menu of homemade ladin cuisine is served in the stube in the old house. Stube?  It's a wood paneled room (thinking living room) found in many houses of the area. The room usually has one corner given over to a large stove for heating that's fed from outside the room and features benches and beds around it. For more information, see the post Ladin Mugums and Stuas.

The name means under (sot in dialect, sotto in Italian) the castle (ciastel in dialect, castello in Italian), with the castle (at one time) being uphill. This maso holds the distinction of being the site of Bronze Age settlements, some of the first permanent settlements in the area.

Dinner at Maso Sotciastel. Canerderli browned in butter.Dinner at Maso Sotciastel. Polenta with goulash.Dinner at Maso Sotciastel. Dessert - furtaies (frappe fritte).
Dinner at Maso Sotciastel. Left: Canerderli browned in butter. Center: Polenta with goulash. Right: Dessert - furtaies (frappe fritte).

* Pizzeria Fornella (2008, 2018)

Located in Corvara in Badia, this pizzeria is at the crossroads of route 243 running east/west connecting Colfosco and Corvara and route 244 running north/south. We've had reliable dinners here.

Others places we’ve tried for dinner include:
L’ostì is a new place that we discovered and is a bit on the fancier side.  Nature Hotel is where we stay, and we only had dinner there once all these years. Not so much that it's not good, but given we eat breakfast there every morning because we stay there, we like to get out and try other places for dinner.


Here are a few places we have tried for lunch. For our hikes in 2008, we carried our lunch because the rifugi were not open. (See Alta Badia and Val Gardena – Eight Hikes in the Dolomites.) For our hikes in 2018, our timing was better and all the rifugi were open, so we planned our hikes such that we ended up at a rifugio for lunch. (See Six Days in Val Badia: Hiking, Walking, and Dining.)

Hiking in 2018, we had lunches at Rifugio Puez, Rifugio Fanes, Ranch da Andrè, and Rifugio Forcella. On our way to Rifugio Fanes, we stopped at Rifugio Gran Fanes for a snack. All rifugi had standard fare with minor variations in menu. But don’t worry, you will never go hungry or suffer from lack of choice at a rifugio. To eat lunch once at a rifugio after a long morning of hiking is like no other experience except maybe eating dinner there because you are staying over night.

In 2018, one of our days off from hiking we tried the upscale market-eatery Pur Süditrol in Bruneck (Brunico in Italian) having been praised in a New York Times article 36 Hours in the Dolomites. It was okay for a sandwich, but a bit too sterile for our tastes.
Aside: Here we go again. We’ve picked apart the NYT travel piece on Bergamo in our post Perché Bergamo (Why Bergamo)? because that piece represented nothing of what we’ve experienced in Bergamo. And it’s the same with the Dolomites piece: it doesn't match what we’ve experienced in the Dolomites, and think would be practical when visiting. For more analysis on why, see Six Days in Val Badia: Hiking, Walking, and Dining.
In 2008, we ate lunch once at Albergo Dasser. We were visiting the nearby Museum Ladin Ciastel De Tor and Dassser made a nice lunch stop. I don’t remember too much about Dasser other than we were a bit rushed being at the end of lunch service. But boy do I remember the museum. It’s one of those weird museum experiences that sticks with you. For more information, see the post Ladin Museum in San Martino.

Dessert at a rifugio. Krapfen at Ranch da Andrè.Dessert at a rifugio. Kaiserschmarrn (Frittata dolce) at Rifugio Puez.
Examples of desserts at a rifugio. Left: Krapfen at Ranch da Andrè. Right: Kaiserschmarrn (Frittata dolce) at Rifugio Puez.

Example of a lunch at a rifugio. Sausage and sauerkraut at Rifugio Fanes. Example of a lunch at a rifugio. Canerderli with wild mushrooms at Rifugio Forcella Pordoi.
Examples of lunches at a rifugio. Left: Sausage and sauerkraut at Rifugio Fanes. Right: Canerderli with wild mushrooms at Rifugio Forcella Pordoi.

Ranch da Andrè - tutres, stuffed with sauerkraut.Ranch da Andrè - tutres, stuffed with spinach.
Living the life of tutres - a type of fried and lightly stuffed ravioli, here filled with sauerkraut (left) and spinach (right). We had these at Ranch da Andrè.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Six Days in Val Badia - Dolomites: Hiking, Walking, and Dining

Overview of Trip Hikes.View of Passo Gardena, left Sella Group, Right Langkofel Group (Hike 1).Afternoon sun and light tricks on Piz dles Cunturines (Hike 2). Sella Towers and Passo Sella (Hike 4.5).
Upper Left: Overview of Trip Hikes. Upper Right: View of Passo Gardena, left Sella Group, Right Langkofel Group (Hike 1). Lower Left: Afternoon sun and light tricks on Piz dles Cunturines (Hike 2). Lower Right: Sella Towers and Passo Sella (Hike 4.5).


The trip discussed in this post marks our fourth visit to Val Badia in the Dolomites. The last time we were here was in December 2017 for a ski weekend. Some related posts to Val Badia include:

2008: Hiking: Alta Badia and Val Gardena – Eight Hikes in the Dolomites
2008: Dining: Maso Runch – Hof, Pedraces
2008: Lodging: Colfosco Bed and Breakfast Hotel – Nature Hotel Delta
2016: Skiing: Alta Badia Dolomites Weekend and Skiing the Sellaronda
2016: Hiking: A Short Hike from Colfosco to Jimmy Hütte
2017: Skiing: The Sellaronda - The Sequel
2018: Dining: Dining Recommendations for Alta Badia in the Dolomites, South Tyrol

The last big hiking-related trip here was in June 2008 at the beginning of the hiking season. This time around we are hiking in September, the tail of the hiking season. The trade-off between the two is that in September 2018 we had generally warm and sunny weather but much fewer flowers to see while in June 2008, we had stormy and gray days but with an incredible display of flowers. Another consideration in choosing your hiking time is when lifts and rifugi are open if you are depending on them. The Alta Badia site, Season and opening times of the Summer lifts, details the start and stop dates of lifts.

In the first half of June 2008 when we first hiked around Val Badia, we didn’t find any lifts or rifugi open as we were just a few weeks too early in the hiking season. Do you need the lifts and rifugi to be open to enjoy hiking here? No, not really. But we’d say for beginner and average hikers, it’s better to have the lifts and rifugi, because it will get more out of your hiking day. For example, this trip (September 2018), we took the lifts to cut some boring bits of our hikes and we didn’t have to worry about carrying lunch because rifugi were open for snacks and lunch.

We were in Val Badia for 6 nights and 5 full days for this trip. We were able to get in 4 full hiking days (with good weather) for a total of 43 km (26.7 mi). On our day off from hiking, we visited Bruneck (Brunico in Italian) and the nearby Kronplatz, Plan de Corones, specifically to see the MMM Messner Museum designed by Zaha Hadid.

Horses on Kronplataz (Pian de Corones).MMM Corones - Museum of Zaha Hadid.View north toward Gais from park around MMM Ripa.
Left: Horses on Kronplataz (Pian de Corones). Center: MMM Corones - Museum of Zaha Hadid. Right: View north toward Gais from park around MMM Ripa.

A good resource to use for this area is the Alta Badia app and the associated web site Outdoor Active. Hikes 1, 2, and  3 detailed below are specific recommendations from the app. The fourth hike to Sass Pordoi is a popular and commonly recommended one.

As you can tell by the times below, we walked at a very leisurely pace. We often stopped and sat to just enjoy the views. On all four hikes, lunch was at least one hour at a rifugio.

Clarification: Technically our hikes fall into three valleys: Val Badia, Val di Fassa, and Val Gardena. We use Val Badia in the post title because we our hotel is there and most of our meals were there.


The Hikes

Hike 1: Passo Gardena to Rifugio Puez

Length: 13.2 km (8.2 mi)
Duration: 4.5 hours walking time reported by Alta Badia app; we took about 8 hours including lunch and walking back to hotel Nature Hotel where we were based.
Elevation: Lowest point 1,621 m (5,318 ft); highest point 2,529 m (8,297 ft)
Location: Parco Naturale Puez, Val Badia, Italy
Type: Loop

Wow is all we can say. When we tried this hike 10 years ago in 2008, it was a cold and rainy day, and we walked away with mixed feelings about this hike. On this beautiful sunny September day in 2018, it was like a whole different hike, and we can see why at visit to Rifugio Puez is must if you are visiting the area.

Aside: One of our rules of thumb for travelling is that, if we can, we try something – eating at a cafe, sitting in a piazza, visiting a church, or taking a hike – more than once to see what it’s like at different times. This is especially important if our first impression is negative. It’s a challenge to change our point of view. While it isn’t always possible to do repeat visits, we use this guidance when planning our trips. Staying in a place for just one night is something we strongly dislike and avoid if we can. Staying more than one night allows us repeat interactions with people and places from which understanding can grow.

Since we were staying in at Hotel Nature Garni Delta, we decided to walk 15 minutes from the hotel to the base of the Plans-Frara gondola and take that to the trail head #2. We figured we saved about 2 hours and energy not hiking to Jimmy Hutte first. You can also arrive to Passo Gardena (just below Jimmy Hutte) by bus if you needed to.

Hike 1 - A half hour from Jim Hutte, the Pizes de Cir.Hike 1 - Heading to Passo Crespeina (2531 m).Leaving Rifugio Puez, View in the distance toward Massiccio dello Sciliar.
Horse stare-down above Colfosco.Lech de Crespëina heading to Rifugio Puez.Rifugio Puez.
Top Row. Left: Hike 1 - A half hour from Jim Hutte, the Pizes de Cir. Center: Hike 1 - Heading to Passo Crespeina (2531 m). Right: Leaving Rifugio Puez, kooking southwest down Langental (Vallunga); in the distance Massiccio dello Sciliar. Bottom Row. Left: Horse stare-down above Colfosco. Center: Lech de Crespëina heading to Rifugio Puez. Right: Rifugio Puez.

Jimmy Hutte or Rifugio Jimmy sits on the southern edge of the Parco naturale Puez-Odle, and is a common entry point into the park. We remember back in June 2008 sitting on the deck of a very closed Rifugio Jimmy – we were too early in the season – drinking wine from plastic water bottles and eating our squashed sandwiches. Today, Jimmy Hutte is bustling with people, some just come to dine and take in the incredible view while others fuel up and then take off on their way to Rifugio Puez, centered in the southern half of the Puez-Odle park.

Following the Alta Badia app suggested route, after Lunch at Rifugio Puez, we retraced our steps for about 1 km and then found the trail heading for Colfosco. Our hike route looked like an upside-down letter Y.

Alta Badia app map and overview for Hike 1.Alta Badia app map and overview for Hike 1.
Alta Badia app map and overview for Hike 1 - Puez.

Hike 2: Capanna Alpina to Rifugio Fanes

Length: 13.5 km (8.4 mi)
Duration: 5.5 hours official walking time by Alta Badia app; we took 9 hours including a mid-morning snack stop at Malga di Gran Fanes and then lunch at Rifugio Fanes.
Elevation: Lowest point 1,542 m (5,059 ft) at Capanna Alpina, Highest 2,171 (7,123 ft) along the trail.
Location: Parco naturale Fanes, Marebbe, Italy
Type: Linear

When you ask for hiking advice, for example from your hotel, chances are this hike will be a recommendation, or more accurately, a visit to the Fanes-Sennes-Prags Nature Park where this hike is located. This park is due east of Hike 1: Puez-Odle.

There are many ways to enjoy the natural beauty of the park. Out of stubbornness we decide to try the same route as 10 years ago, that is starting at Cappana Alpina, located in the southwest tip of the park. Stubbornness because 10 years ago in 2008 it was a cold and rainy day and we feel like we had some unfinished business here. By the end of this hike today, was had our second wow moment and we came away with a much different impression of this hike due to warm temperatures and sunny skies.

For a highly recommended hike, we didn’t find the trail busy at all. It’s less famous that Hike 1 above or Hike 4 below.

Hike 2 - Trail # view south with Monte Castello on the left.Hike 2 - View north toward Piz de Sant'Antone -  Monte Sella di Fanes with Rifugio Fanes in the valley.Hike 2 - View of the Sella Group from Col de Loćia.
Left: Hike 2 - Trail # view south with Monte Castello on the left. Center: Hike 2 - View north toward Piz de Sant'Antone -  Monte Sella di Fanes with Rifugio Fanes in the valley. Right: Hike 2 - View of the Sella Group from Col de Loćia. 

After parking (paid) at Capanna Alpina, you can stop for refreshment and a bathroom break and then be on your way. There is a little bit of an interpretation center just beyond Capanna Alpina that’s worth a brief stop. After that, it’s trail #11 for the next few hours. We stopped off at Malga di Gran Fanes mid-morning for coffee and a slice of apple cake. The next stop after that was Rifugio Fanes for lunch. To return, we followed trail #11 back to Capanna Alpina.

Most of the effort on this hike is coming up the 1700 feet from Capanna Alpina to a point that’s called Col de Loćia (2,069 m / 6,788 ft) where you start to get some great views. At Col de Loćia, don’t forget to turn around and look west toward the Sella Group and it’s highest peak Piz Boè.

Alta Badia app map and overview for Hike 2 - Fanes.Alta Badia app map and overview for Hike 2 - Fanes.
Alta Badia app map and overview for Hike 2 - Fanes.

Hike 3: Rifugio Santa Croce to Badia via Grotto del Ghiaccio and Prati d’Armentara

Length: 10.3 km (6.4 mi)
Duration: 3.5 hours official walking time by Alta Badia app; we took about 7 hours includings lunch at Ranch da Andre.
Elevation: Minimal elevation gain and about 875 m (2,871 ft) elevation loss because we essentially walked down to the town of Badia.
Location: Badia, Italy
Type: Loop

Rifugio Santa Croce (often referred to locally as La Crusc) is located at 2,045 m (6,709 ft). From Badia (in the valley at 1,315 m), we took the two chairlifts up to reach the rifugio where we started walking more or less north along the left side of the mountain group called East Dolomites of Badia. Monte Cavallo in the mountain that towers behind Rifugio Santa Croce.

After heading out north from the rifugio, our first stop was a feature called Grotta del Ghiaccia, which is more a snow bank than grotto on this particular day in September. We climbed around and took pictures for about 30 minutes before moving on to reach Ranch da André for lunch. From he deck of da André there are great views of Sass de Putia, a mountain to the west.

Grotta della neve ("Snow Cave") Alta Badia.Grotta della neve ("Snow Cave") Alta Badia.Information on the Grotta della neve ("Snow Cave") Alta Badia.
In the Prati d'Armentara and typical Tyrolean Barn.Prati d'Armentara - heading toward Ranch da André.Trail back down to Badia.
Top Row: Left and Center: Grotta della neve ("Snow Cave") Alta Badia. Right: Information on the Grotta della neve ("Snow Cave") Alta Badia. Bottom Row. Left: In the Prati d'Armentara and typical Tyrolean Barn. Center: Prati d'Armentara - heading toward Ranch da André. Right: Trail back down to Badia.

After lunch we had intended to return to Rifugio Santa Croce and take the chairlift back down to Badia, but instead we decided to continue enjoying the Prati d’Armentara and walk back down through the pastures to Badia. The Prati d’Armentar (translated at the meadows or pastures of Armentara) is an iconic landscape of this part of Italy that you will not want to miss. The walking is easy, and the views are incredible.

Ten years ago, we took the same chairlift to Rifugio Santa Croce but instead of heading north, we went south for a completely different experience. It was nice to be back in the area and experience the area in another way. Also, in 2008 we hiked around Sass de Putia. For more information, see the post Alta Badia and Val Gardena – Eight Hikes in the Dolomites.

Alta Badia app map and overview for Hike 3 - Prati d'Armentara.Alta Badia app map and overview for Hike 3 - Prati d'Armentara.
Alta Badia app map and overview for Hike 3 - Prati d'Armentara.

Hike 4: Sass Pordoi to Rifugio Boè

Length: 6 km (3.7 mi)
Duration: 4.5 hours including lunch at Rifugio Forcella Pordoi (2,829 m)
Elevation: Passo Pordoi is 2,239 m (7,346 ft). Sass Pordoi is 2,950 m (9,678 ft). Elevation gain small at 121 m
Location: Canazei TN, Italy
Type: Linear

Sass Pordoi or Sasso Pordio is on the south side of the Sella Group or massif. (For reference, Colfosco – our home base – is on the north side.) Sasso means rock in Italian, and Sass Prodio is a huge rock spur in the Sella group that offers 360-degree views; Sass Pordio is called la terrazza delle Dolomiti – the balcony of the Dolomites.

You can hike up from the pass, Passo Pordio, where there is a parking lot and the lower station of the cable car. We opted to take the cable car up. From the top station of the cable car, we hiked to Rifugio Boè and back. We stopped for lunch at Rifugio Forcella Pordoi, located, as the name implies (forcella means saddle), in low pass between Sass Pordoi and Rifugio Boè.

We did not summit the peak, Piz Boè, which is the main objective for many visiting the Sella Group. We saw a constant stream of people like tiny ants making their way up. It was a Sunday and a nice day, so it was busier than usual. You do not have to summit Piz Boè at 3,152 m (10,341 ft) to enjoy the views or the interesting geography of the Sella Group. Rifugio Boè is not at the summit; it’s at the base of the rock formation called the “pyramid of the Piz” of which the top is Piz Boè.

At Passo Pordio - Cable Car Base.Trail to Forcella Pordoi if you want to walk up.View from Sass Pordoi with part of Sella Group, Passo Sella, and Langkofel Group.Panorama from Sass Pordoi back down onto the Passo Pordoi.Hiking near Città dei Sassi with Sella Towers in the distance.
Top Row. Left: At Passo Pordio - Cable Car Base. Center: Trail to Forcella Pordoi if you want to walk up. Right: View from Sass Pordoi with part of Sella Group, Passo Sella, and Langkofel Group. Bottom Row. Left: Panorama from Sass Pordoi back down onto the Passo Pordoi. Right: Hiking near Città dei Sassi with Sella Towers in the distance.

Hike 4.5: Passo Sella “La Città dei Sassi”

Length: 4 km
Duration: 2 hours
Elevation: At most 100 m gained and lost.
Location: Località Passo Sella, Selva di Val Gardena BZ
Type: Loop

We are calling this Hike 4.5 because after coming down from Sass Pordoi and heading back to Colfosco (clockwise around the Sella Group), we decided to stop off at Passo Sella and explore the feature called “La Città dei Sassi” or City of Rocks. The easy trail from the parking at Passo Sella winds through trees and large boulder (the city buildings) that are fragments that rolled down from the adjacent Sassolungo Group.

We took the lower trail walking north from the parking lot and then an upper trail back south to return. Besides the interesting rock formations, the views back on the Sella Group are beautiful, in particular the feature called the Sella Towers.


Getting Around and Eating

We cover eating in Alta Badia area in the post Dining Recommendations for Alta Badia in the Dolomites, South Tyrol.

As for getting around, we rented a car. It would be difficult to do what we did on this trip without a car. We drove up from Bergamo, with a stop in Limone sul Garda to visit the Limonaia del Castèl and Torbole sul Garda for lunch at Ristorante La Terrazza. We went up the left side of Garda rather than taking the A22 , which would be faster, to specifically check out the limonaia in Limone sul Garda. Once upon a time the west side of Lago di Garda was an important site for lemon and citrus cultivation. The citrus production on Lago di Garda was the most northernmost cultivation.  Citrus from Lago di Garda was destined for markets further north. The Garda citrus production collapsed in the second half of the 1800s due to disease and competition. Today, there are still ample reminders of this history in the numerous limonaie – think cement, wood, and glass greenhouses – that dot the west side of Garda. The limonaia in Limone sul Garda has been “restored” to some degree and can be visited.

Back to the Dolomites.

Aside: We had a friend who took the train from Milan to Bolzano and then a bus to Santa Cristina in Val Gardena. Val Gardena is the valley to the west of Colfosco where we stay. Our friend did her hiking based from Santa Cristina. So, while it is possible to reach into the Dolomites by a combination of train and bus as well, your options for reaching different trail heads are limited.

In terms of driving, we structured our time so that Hike 1 (our day 1) was right from our hotel and required no driving since we had done a fair bit of driving the previous day to arrive. Then rest of the days, we were in the car for at least 30 - 60 minutes per day to reach our destinations. Much of our driving was going around the Sella Group or going up and down the Val Badia.

Let’s take a slight detour here and talk about the NYT travel piece, 36 Hours in the Dolomites. We’ve picked apart the NYT travel piece on Bergamo in our post Perché Bergamo (Why Bergamo)? because that NYT piece represented nothing of what we’ve experienced in Bergamo. And we find the same problem with the NYT Dolomites piece: it doesn’t match what we’ve experienced in the Dolomites, let alone what would be practical for a first-time visit. Here's why:

  • Restaurant picks. The piece’s restaurant recommendation of the Michelin starred St. Hubertus wouldn’t be our recommendation for the first place to go to experience Ladino cuisine. We are pretty sure it’s good, but for a more authentic and less expensive experience try Maso Runch or Maso Sotciastel. For more info, see the post Dining Recommendations for Alta Badia in the Dolomites, South Tyrol. The one restaurant tip we did follow from the NYT times article was a stop at the restaurant/grocery story (Pur Süditrol) in Bruneck that proved to be a bit too precious for our taste. So much for tips. We would have done better eating at a Slow Food Osteria guide as we normally do, like Oberraut which was also suggested in the article to the author's credit.
  • Routing. If you go through the piece's suggested routing, recommendation by recommendation (and we did), and look at it on a map, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The route doubles back on itself at times and wastes a lot of extra time driving.
  • Driving time. Our biggest concern about the itinerary are the distances covered in the 36-hour time-span of the piece. First, arrival to Dobiaco, where the 36 hours start, and departure from Ortisei, where the 36 hours finish, are completely left out. You must arrive and depart somehow. Second, while the distances and time in the car are feasible, they would be a lot in our opinion. The skipping around from one valley to the next isn’t that realistic. For fun, we assumed an arrival and departure from Verona (a reasonably large airport) and renting a car to reach Dobiaco and return from Ortisei. After factoring these assumptions in and calculating times, we came up with about 900 km (or 560 miles) of driving for a 3-night stay. That’s a bit much, especially in the winding roads in the areas explored. Using Google Maps driving time, we estimate over 16 hours driving, about 40% of the 36 hours. Yikes.
On the subject of driving in Val Badia, we decided to spend one day off from hiking and based in the town of Brunico. Driving to Colfosco to Brunico, while not a lot at just under one hour, felt like a long time. Just a few kilometers south of Brunico is where we picked up the Funivia Plan de Corones up to the MMM Corones – a Messner Mountain Museum. The museum was designed by Zaha Hadid, whose designs have cropped up on a number of recent journeys: once on the start of a hike in Innsbruck where Hadid designed the futuristic funicular stations (see Hike in Innsbruck: Hafelekarhaus to Pfeishütte) and once more recently on a walk in the NY High Line where we noticed her project 520w28, an apartment building.

After kicking around Kronplatz for a bit, we went back down to Brunico, ate lunch, walked and shopped a bit. Then back to Colfosco.


Terms to Know Before You Go

If you have read or skimmed this far, congratulations! One more section to go. Here are some terms that pop up a lot when talking about or planning a trip to this area, terms you should know before you go.

What is South Tyrol?

Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol is an autonomous region in Northern Italy made up of two provinces: the Province of Trento, commonly known as Trentino, and the Province of Bolzano, commonly known as South Tyrol. In English, the two provinces together are called either the region of Trentino-South Tyrol or by its Italian name Trentino-Alto Adige.

Italy is made up of 20 regions, of which five are granted a broader amount of autonomy, like Trentino-Alto Adige. Autonomous regions have varying degrees of control over legislative, administrative, and financial matters compared to non-autonomous regions, which are more subject to the dictates of Rome. Historical reasons were behind the autonomous grants.

South Tyrol is where the hikes described in the post take place.

Hike 3 - Prati d'Armentara, view toward Puez-Odle Massif.Hike 3 - Walking in the meadows above Badia.
Left: Hike 3 - Prati d'Armentara, view toward Puez-Odle Massif. Right: Hike 3 - Walking in the meadows above Badia.

Dolomites – Of Mountains and Minerals

The Dolomites Alps are a mountain range located in the provinces of South Tyrol and Trentino (making up the region of Trentino-Alto Adige) as well as the province of Belluno, which is part of the Veneto region. The Dolomites are part of the Eastern Alps.

The French geologist Déodat de Dolomieu (1750 – 1801) described and collected samples of the rock we today called dolomite – named for Dolomieu. Dolomite is a mineral composed of calcium magnesium carbonate that is found in abundance in South Tyrol. Looking at any of the large pale ranges and massifs of the South Tyrol and you are looking at dolomite rock formed over 200 million years ago in shallow lagoons. You might be familiar with using dolomite lime in your yard to raise the pH of soil.

The highest peak in the Dolomites is Marmolada at 3,343 m (10,968 ft), just south of Corvara and visible on Hike 1, 3, and 4. In all the Alps, Mont Blanc is highest peak in at 4,808.7 m (15,777 ft). Mont Blanc is on the border between Italy and France.

Hike 1- Looking southwest down Langental (Vallunga).Hike 2 - Gragn Banc, Parco naturale Fanes-Sennes-Braies, trail 11.
Left: Hike 1- Looking southwest down Langental (Vallunga). Right: Hike 2 - Gragn Banc, Parco naturale Fanes-Sennes-Braies, trail 11.


In 2009, the Dolomites were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site “for the aesthetic value of its landscape and for the scientific importance of its geology and geomorphology.” []

The UNESCO designation comprises nine mountainous systems. Hike 1 takes place in the UNESCO-designated system of Puez-Odle. Hike 2 takes places in the system Dolomiti settentrionali. Hike 3 takes places along the western edge of the Dolomiti settentrionali.

We were surprised to to find out is that the Sella Group and Langkofel Group – Hikes 4 and 4.5 – are not part of UNESCO-designated areas.

UNESCO Nine Systems of the Dolomites.Hike 3 - Badia town.Badia ski-lift to Rifugio Santa Croce.
Left: UNESCO Nine Systems of the Dolomites. Center: Hike 3 - Badia town. Right: Badia ski-lift to Rifugio Santa Croce.

Massifs Oh My

So why do we keep talking about massifs? The term massif typically is “used to refer to a large mountain mass or compact group of connected mountains forming an independent portion of a range.” [Wikipedia] If you flooded the valleys and looked at the region from above, each massif would appear like an island. The massifs in the Dolomites are striking because of their light color – the Dolomites are sometime referred to as “the Pale Mountains” – and how, in the right conditions, the massifs can work the alpenglow effect at sunset.

Massifs are often referred to as groups. Here are the massifs/groups visited in the hikes discussed in this post:
  • Sella Group – Hike 4
  • Langkofel Group – Hike 4.5
  • Puez Group – Hike 1
  • Fanes Group – Hike 2, 3

Hike 4 - View from Sass Pordoi with part of Sella Group (in sun), Passo Sella, and Langkofel Group (in clouds).Hike 1 - Last part of hike heading back to Nature Delta Hotel in Colfosco with Sella Group in background.
Left: Hike 4 - View from Sass Pordoi with part of Sella Group (in sun), Passo Sella, and Langkofel Group (in clouds). Right: Hike 1 - Last part of hike heading back to Nature Delta Hotel in Colfosco with Sella Group in background.
Badia - Abbey

Badia is the name of a town and Val Badia is the name of the valley where Badia is located. Hike 3 starts and ends in Badia.

The name Badia seems to have come from the word abbey (abbazia in Italian minus the first two letters more or less) because back in the 1400s the area was connected to an abbey near Bruneck.

Val Badia is a place where the Ladin language is still spoken and used. If you have the occasion to eavesdrop on conversations in the Val Badia, you will also hear a lot of German and a little Italian.

Val Badia is in the eastern part of of the province of Bolzano. Alta Val Badia Badia refers to the area between Corvara and Badia, and Bassa Val Badia refers to La Valle, San Martino, and Marebbe. Note that Bassa Val Badia is north of Alta Bada and is called lower (bassa) because the area is generally at a lower altitude.

Colfosco and Corvara – Dark with Crows

We once saw somewhere that the name Colfosco roughly translates to dark or somber (fosco) hill (colle). Being on the north side of the Sella Group means that Colfosco gets dark quickly in the winter; think of the angle of the sun. I remember skiing one afternoon in early December from Passo Gardena back to Colfosco and while there was a blue sky overhead, the Sella Group cast a big shadow over the ski run.

As you would expect, many of the accommodations, like Nature Hotel where we stay, are on the north side of the valley, situated high enough to avoid being in the shadow of the Sella Group.

Corvara is the next town east of Colfosco. A little lower in the valley and standing clear of the Sella Group, Corvara doesn’t suffer the same dark shadow issues. Corvara derives its name from the Latin corvus (“crow”). Sooner or later, while staying visiting Val Badia, you will have to go through Corvara. The geography dictates limited routes for getting around these huge mountain massifs. All roads go through Corvara. The crows knew that.

Maso Chiuso

One of the most characteristic sights in Val Badia and elsewhere in the Dolomites are the beautiful farmhouses and their surrounding property, a combination of pastures and forest. The farms are referred to in this part of Italy as masi plural and maso singular.

But besides the beauty of the individual or often groups of buildings, there is a certain rhythm in the landscape that is instantly pleasing. It's inhabited but not crowded. It appeals to our Utopian ideals – does anybody still have those?

But there is more there than meets the eye because an age-old idea is behind these farms. There is a concept called maso chiuso, translated literally as “closed farm”. 60% of the farms in the Province of Bolzano are classified as such, but what is it? A maso chiuso is governed by the following characteristics summarized on the provincial web site (Italian):

  • A maso chiuso is one unit, indivisible; it can’t be divided into parts.
  • A maso chiuso must meet a certain annual income to support at least a family of four, but not exceed three times that income.
  • A maso chiuso must follow precise rules for inheritance such that the farm is essentially never divided.
We talked about this last rule one night with the owner of Maso Sotciastel, a maso chiuso. The owner, and our cook that evening, talked about succession of the maso and what happens if the oldest child – who by default has the right to inherit – doesn’t want to inherit the farm. (For more info about Sotciastel, see the post Dining Recommendations for Alta Badia in the Dolomites, South Tyrol. )

We haven’t seen anybody linking the beauty of the area specifically to the concept of the maso chiuso, nor are we familiar with life under such a designation (is it a pain?), but it sure seems to us that the aesthetic appeal of this area is a by-product of this medieval institution, that is, the spacing of the farms today is as it has been for quite some time and hasn't been given over to the kind of icky development of vacation homes and other housing sprawl.

MMM – Museum Candy

MMM stands for Messner Mountain Museum(s), a network of six museums in the Dolomites founded by Reinhold Messner, an Italian mountaineer and author from South Tyrol.  The museum locations and designs are evocative, with each, dare we say sumptuous, museum dedicated to a theme connected to the mountains.

For example, MMM Corones is dedicated to traditional mountaineering, celebrating not only Messner but other mountaineers as well, and mountaineering firsts.

During this hiking trip, we took a break from the trails and spent one day centered around Bruneck. We were specifically interested in visiting MMM Corones – designed by Zaha Hadid – which sits on top of the rounded mountain called Kronplatz (Plan de Corones in Italian), just few kilometers south of Bruneck. We spent about and hour and half admiring the distinctive Hadid-designed museum inside and out, along with the mountaineer-themed exhibits. (Honestly, to see the work of Hadid was one of the main reasons why we came.) Later in the same day, we walked around MMM Ripa, which occupies Bruneck’s old castle.

All MMM locations are in the Province of Bolzano. MMM Corones and MMM Ripa being so close is a two-for-one for the museum junkie and both can be easily visited in one day. To get to MMM Corones, take the Funivia Plan de Corones located in Riopratino about 3 kilometers south of Bruneck’s historic center. You could park in Bruneck see both museums and walk to the base of the funivia station.

View inside MMM Corones, Kronplatz.View outside MMM Corones, a Zaha Hadid designed-structure.
Left: View inside MMM Corones, Kronplatz. Right: View outside MMM Corones, a Zaha Hadid designed-structure.