First stop of my Cortina d’Ampezzo tour round 2! A few years ago, I had first visited this area, but given the fact it was end of October, the weather was very sketchy and unpredictable. Eventually, we had to completely shift plans and none of my itinerary was executed. At least the golden larches were lovely there. I put together a little blog of that trip here. And while I wanted to explore a new area of the Dolomites, or the Alps in general, I was still drawn by the sights around Cortina. This time I’d have no issues with weather in the summer. My whole itinerary was based on what rifugio I could book. They’re way less expensive than a hotel room for a solo traveler and they include breakfast and dinner for just 60-90€ on average vs 150 for a bed in town. The first one I could book was Lavaredo, a lesser known hut in the Tre Cime area. The famous hut is Dreizinnenhütte, but it books up quickly. I was bummed at first but actually thankful that I ended up at Lavaredo since it was my first solo hike in Europe and it was a great way to keep it chill.
I started in the town of Cortina and after lunch and after the rain, I took one of the irregular busses to the end point Auronzo. The local Dolomiti Bus is reliable, but you have to learn to read their timetables and trust it. It’s irregular because they don’t operate on a regular interval schedule and sometimes you need to switch busses. Not all bus drivers speak English, but usually other riders can help you out. You can buy tickets on board, but your safest bet is to buy it at the bus station in Cortina when they open (which is limited hours). Ticket prices are based on distance, but they give you exact change on the bus too.
The bus ride was one of the best local transportation I’ve ever had in my life, anywhere! You wind your way up the switchbacks to Auronzo, sitting at 7500 ft high. Cortina is at an elevation of 3800 ft and I saw people biking up, which is incredible. Technically you can walk trails here, but I didn’t have time for that with my itinerary. I realized that I only had a short, less than 2 mile, hike to the hut, so I took my time to enjoy the views of the Auronzo Rifugio and the amazing Cima Cadin group to the south of us.
At Lavaredo, I checked in with the hosts and they took my order for dinner! It’s amazing that you get choices for the 3-ish course dinners, but I’d say that this was probably my least favorite dinners out of all the huts I stayed at. After picking out my bed, I repacked a little and went on a little pre-dinner hike to get the famous view of Tre Cime (Three Peaks). There were plenty of other people at the saddle, Forcella Lavaredo, where you first get a glimpse of Dreizinnenhütte and a network of trails and roads to reach it. I discovered the not-so-secret that the staff and supplies for huts here are often transported by trucks on well paved gravel roads.
Along this section of the trail, I found plenty of new-to-me wildflowers. They felt familiar to the PNW wildflowers, but still different. At Dreizinnenhütte, I took a peek inside the busy lodge and snapped a few more photos before deciding to tag a little peak nearby. I was surprised to find two gorgeous lakes (Oberer Bödensee). Clouds came rolling in as I scrambled up to Sextner Stein for a gorgeous view of Monte Paterno and Toblinger Knoten. A side note: I never know when to use the German or Italian name as this area uses both! Surprisingly there is a German speaking part of northern Italy within Süd Tyrol.
I had maybe an hour left and made haste to get back to Lavaredo before 6pm dinner. I’m pretty sure all huts around here have dinners at 6pm and it’s frowned upon to arrive late. I took the high route back to the pass to minimize the elevation loss and regain. As a solo hiker, I err on the conservative side, so I didn’t feel comfortable about the trail until I saw a group pass. It was definitely a narrow trail but wide enough to feel secure on it, and a little more interesting than the gravel road I trekked on earlier. It was super eerie walking back because all of a sudden after Sextner Stein, everyone seemed to have disappeared. Day hikers gone. Loud teenagers gone. Overnight hut-stayers indoors. I had to jog the way back down to Lavaredo and made it 2 minutes before dinner with just enough time to find a seat and put some of my gear away.
It’s always a little awkward traveling by yourself when everyone else around you seems to be in a group, but I found a quiet end of a table until a couple was nice enough to join me. They were from Singapore, which was so cool since I had just been there! They had hiked from Misurina, which for people coming from a flat country, that was a huge hike! It was under 2000 ft of gain and 4 miles, which is quite a big deal for anyone who has not backpacked before. Kudos to them cause I was the lazy one to take the bus the whole way up.
The best part of the dinner was the mushroom risotto. It was filling and flavorful, although I could tell it was made with either dried or frozen ingredients. For our main course, everyone was served peas and it was funny our whole table talking about how we never really liked peas, but the other people definitely finished theirs. Ha! We had a weird block of polenta which was surprisingly decent and my “egg cake” was basically a frittata, not terrible as well. As I waited for dessert, I took a walk outside to catch the minimal amount of sunset glow we were getting.
Overnight, it was howling rain and it took me twice to shut our windows better. Poor tent campers outside, one of their tent poles broke! But by morning it was clear as day and I basically missed the main part of sunrise. The couple I had dinner the night before (who happened to sleep in my room too) got up plenty early to watch it just outside the hut. Before breakfast, I took a nice hiking loop around to stretch my legs. Rain was coming later in the day and I already decided to cancel my biking plans, so I had time. It was amazing to see all the old relics from WWI. Surprisingly not too haunted for me in the morning light. I ended up trying the via ferrata on Quota 2386, but with water running down the narrow gully, I decided it was not safe without gear and by myself, so I went the long way around to the top.
Back at the hut, I realized I was quite late to breakfast and most people had packed out to get to their next destination. But there was still a good amount of bread and jam waiting for me, as well as a cup of coffee. I packed up and started heading back to the bus stop, unsure of what to do for the rest of the rainy day. I enjoyed a bit more of the views into the towns of Misurina and Auronzo di Cadore. Only now, in writing this blog do I realize how close I was to that IG famous view of the mountains. It’s called the Cadini di Misurina view point, which is just further south from the Auronzo Rifugio, a fairly short hike. But I’m not terribly bummed because being surprised by a pretty view is much more fun than over-researching and confirming the beauty of something.
After some time sitting and people watching, I hopped on one of the Dolomiti Bus 30/31 back to Cortina, but due to the the way they schedule busses, I had to get off at Misurina and hop onto another bus. But instead of getting on the next bus, I took a lap around the lake to kill time. This was a great idea since I got my fill of lupines and the scenic view of the big yellow hotel. I took the telephoto lens out for a spin here and obviously had to do a look back at Auronzo from Misurina since I got one the other way!
There’s plenty of huts to choose from and likely at least one will have some opening, but be flexible if your group is large and if you’re booking last minute (within a couple weeks).
Auronzo is right at the parking, so it’s less ideal. Lavaredo is half way to the Dreizinnenhütte, which is the most popular. There’s no cell service starting at Lavaredo.
For Lavaredo, I booked by email. They have a sparse website, but it’ll show its summer season and pricing. This is cash only.
If you’re traveling by public transportation in the summer, the Dolomiti Bus is reliable, but you’ll have to plan around their schedule. For most things out of Cortina, bus 30/31 is great for going between town and Tre Cime to the east or Passo Falzarego to the west. Take note of their weekend/holiday vs weekday schedule.
No shoes are allowed in the residential area of all huts, so bring hut shoes! Some huts provide slippers or crocs, but not all.
Sleeping bag liners are required for all huts. It might be poor translation that they say “sleeping bag” required, but they provide comforters so only a liner is necessary as they don’t launder every day.
Some huts have private rooms, otherwise it’s dormitory style. But in my opinion, they’re much nicer than hostels in terms of people friendliness and cleanliness.
Half board and room is very common. You pay in the morning or after dinner. Drinks are not included for dinner, but they are for breakfast (i.e. coffee + juice). It seemed like all the huts didn’t have potable water, so you have to buy water or bring your own.
The Cortina hiking map is super useful. I got one in physical print when I first visited (available at the tourism office or any rental shop). It’s got via ferratas labeled, huts, and trails. I used this extensively to plan.
Photos shot on Canon 5D Mark IV and iPhone 13 mini