Hiking and History in Italy’s Dolomites

When World War I broke out, Italy’s Dolomites became a treacherous front line for Austrian and Italian soldiers.

Here among the jagged peaks and sheer pastel walls of this ancient range of the Alps, where many cultures had coexisted for centuries, soldiers on both sides built networks of bolted-down steel cables, called via ferrata (iron path), to move supplies quickly—and for other missions, too. “Soldiers came down the mountains at night to exchange family news with their relatives,” says hiking guide Karin Pizzinini.

As the world marks the war’s centennial, travelers can explore the same transport system. Anchored cables bolster the original ladders, and local outfitters provide necessary gear and pair experienced guides with many skill levels.

Near the ski village of Cortina d’Ampezzo (about a 3.5-hour trip by bus and train from Venice), the beginner-friendly Via Ferrata Averau awards vistas of the massive towers of the Cinque Torri. At the base, an outdoor museum preserving the World War I headquarters of an artillery unit details the human side of war, from personal diaries to tales of winter survival.

All together, several museums and a 50-mile ski tour commemorate the Dolomites’ role in the Great War. Here, says Pizzinini, “you can not only climb the via ferrata but truly know why they’re here.”

This piece, written by Jennifer Wilson, appeared in the June/July issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

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  1. andrea lotito
    July 24, 2014, 10:02 am

    No doubt you can find beautiful sceneries also in UK but I think there’s no point to mention it here. Dolomites are a unique option to families and expert climbers because you can enjoy them in several different ways according to the month of the year. Unbeatable sky circuits are the walking path for families in summer time, as in Val Zoldana where a family group can get in less than 2 hours easy walk to the Coldai base over the Civetta Mountain group, about 2150 mts. From there you can walk two days if you are an expert and pass all the Civetta chain while sleeping above 2300 meters. The view is unbeatable. If you add the 1st and 2nd World War history and the option to meet locals sharing local cheese and grappa, you will want to spend a long holiday there.

  2. Nicola Hilditch-Short
    July 23, 2014, 5:52 pm

    As a climber and adventure blogger the Dolomites are somewhere I really would love to go in the near future. Although the UK and specifically Wales and Scotland has some amazing and challenging scenery too!