Ampezzo, Badia, Pusteria: one valley draws you to another!

Armentarola ski run, Dolomites

It’s one of the most incredible experiences in the Dolomites, the Armentarola slope. Almost nine kilometers of downhill skiing, steeped in the silence and rock walls of the Tofane mountains. Pristine places in a natural park where the only reminder of the human presence is the sound of skis. And every time I get off the Lagazuoi cable car and see the caves in the rock, I can’t help thinking about the poor soldiers sent to fight by the two sovereigns who waged war on each other on these peaks, Vittorio Emanuele and Franz Joseph. In the summer, there’s a tour through the underground tunnel (more than a kilometer long!) with ladders and steel ropes, and everyone can understand how prohibitive the conditions must have been for thousands of men, and for years. And at Forte Valparola, open from June to September, there’s a very comprehensive permanent exhibition on the lives of the Alpini and Kaiserjäger.

In the winter, I often go to pay homage, at the Pocol belvedere, to the seven thousand corpses of the Sacrario, an extraordinary place overlooking the Cortina basin. At sunset there’s an explosion of colors on the Dolomites: it’s the enrosadira, the Alpenglow, when the rock turns pink, purple. This year, a new gondola lift connects the ski areas of Ampezzo Bellunese and the South Tyrolean Val Badia. When I get off at the Armentarola, I get those lovely draft horses to give me a ride to the front of the Hotel Armentarola (San Cassiano). You can’t go wrong with the venison ragout there!

Castel Rodengo, frescoes of the Cycle of Ywain

Every now and then, in the summer, I want to venture further into Val Pusteria, to Schloss Rodenegg, Castel Rodengo. This ancient manor is still owned by the same families, the Thurn und Taxis and the Wolkenstein-Rodenegg, and they let visitors in to see it. Inside those mighty walls is a real rarity, not as well-known as it deserves to be: one of the oldest examples of the profane chivalric culture in Europe, the frescoes of the Cycle of Ywain, knight of the Round Table. We are in the 13th century, with spells, magic rings and duels, in a medieval saga that still makes me dream…

Castel Rodengo, Pusterla Valley