Italy's peaks of perfection are in the Dolomites

The walking can be tough, but Jeremy Laurance felt on top of the world in these mountains

On the 400-mile drive from Nice across the north Italian plain, shimmering in the heat, we paused only once for a cooling dip in the glittering waters of Lake Garda. As we entered the uplands my spirits began to lift, as always. Five miles from our destination, we got our first view of the mountains – towering pinnacles of bleached rock sprouting from meadows of iridescent green, lit by the dying sun. Like giant monuments to an ancient world, they could not have seemed more alien.

The excitement that seized us that first night round the table of the Posthotel Lamm in Kastelruth was not merely the excitement of getting away on holiday. The hotel, to be sure, was warm and welcoming, and the food prepared by the 26-year-old head chef was remarkable – roast beef with gnocchi, consommé, a sorbet of banana and melon, and a starter of hot goat's cheese and roasted vegetables. And those are just the courses I can remember. By the third night, some of our party – eight friends in search of a sybaritic adventure – pronounced it the best four-star hotel we had stayed in anywhere.

No, what seized our imaginations was the prospect of getting in among those magical mountains (there are strong local beliefs in witches) exploring their valleys, scaling their summits – and then gorging ourselves at day's end. What could be better?

The Dolomites, renowned for their jagged peaks of pale, heavily eroded limestone, are little visited by the British but are popular in summer with Italians from the south taking refuge from the scorching plains.

This was the second outing for our gang, after the Pyrenees last year, walking between three hotels (with luggage carried) around the Sciliar plateau, Europe's highest, covering an area of 50 square miles, ringed by spectacular peaks. Each day there were four options for walks of different lengths and degrees of difficulty, guaranteeing almost permanent debate.

That first night, over glasses of grappa, we were in rebellious mood. None of the walks recommended by Inntravel, our holiday company, looked challenging enough. Encouraged by our barman, we considered striking off on our own to find a lake hidden in the forest which was glorious for swimming. Next morning, grappa-free, it dawned on us that the Inntravel walk we had rejected the previous night did actually include the swimming lake. We took it – about 12 miles circling the plateau through a succession of pretty villages under an azure sky, punctuated by a glorious swim in the lake, and dominated all the way by the Dolomite peaks.

Alles in ordnung (everything in its place) is the defining – and thoroughly unItalian – characteristic of this region. Though technically in north Italy, the Südtirol is ethnically, culturally and gastronomically Austrian. The villages and meadows were immaculate, from the luxuriant window boxes to the neat log piles.

Next day, we climbed the 8,000ft Sciliar and, after rewarding ourselves with brimming bowls of minestrone at the rifugio, we set off across the bleakly beautiful plateau in the direction of the Denti di Terra Rossa. We rounded a crest and entered an extraordinary canyon – the vertigo- inducing path hugging the precipice on one side while, opposite, a grey curtain of folded and fissured rock 1,000ft high hung suspended – like the fabric of creation. As we gaped in awe we had to press ourselves against the wall to make way for two cyclists.

The best was still to come. For our last day, ignoring jibes from some party members about the "tyranny of accomplishment", we tackled the Platt- kofel – a giant slab of rock jutting almost 10,000ft over the side of the plateau, seemingly hanging in space. The route up involved zig-zagging over shale and rock, blindingly white in full sun. At the top we peered gingerly over the edge. Across the canyon, where jackdaws wheeled in the icy wind, columns of rock soared skywards for 3,000ft. It was epic, magnificent, awesome – and terrifying. There was not a lot of room on the summit and columns of walkers were coming and going. We sat, sliced apples and stared at the horizon. We were on top of the world – which is exactly how we felt.

Compact facts

How to get there

Jeremy Laurance travelled with the walking specialist, Inntravel (01653 617906;, which offers a week's independent walking in the High Dolomites of the Südtirol from £635 per person, based on two sharing. That includes half-board in four-star hotels, walking maps, notes, and luggage transfers between three hotels. Rail and taxi transfers from Verona airport cost £110 per person with Inntravel. Flights, rail travel or ferry crossings can be arranged.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice