Cortina d’Ampezzo, the Chamonix of the Dolomites

Chamonix in the Dolomites?

To many Alps travelers and Alpenwild guests, Chamonix, France is the outdoor capital of the world. It’s located at the foot of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe. Chamonix is a lively and vibrant little town that has the power of attracting outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world. It’s the focal point of some of the world’s most popular hiking and trekking tours such as the Tour du Mont Blanc and the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route. It has a lot to offer in terms of outdoor activities and recreation. It has literally something for everybody.

So, if Chamonix is the center of outdoor adventure in the French Alps, is there such a place in Italy as well? Some might say Courmayeur is the place, literally on the other side of Mont Blanc. But my vote goes to Cortina d’Ampezzo—or simply Cortina.

Where is This Italian Paradise?

Cortina d’Ampezzo is to the Dolomites what Chamonix is to Mont Blanc. It’s a small town located in the north-east of Italy in the province of Belluno. It is a popular holiday destination both in summer and winter. This is due to the amount of hiking trails, via ferratas, climbing routes and ski resorts that are present in the area.

The town is in fact placed in a convenient location for those who want to access some of the most impressive areas in the Dolomites. Some of the mountains that can be admired and accessed from Cortina are iconic in the Dolomites. These peaks include: Tofane, Monte Cristallo, Sorapiss, Croda da Lago, Cinque Torri and Antelao. Antelao, at 3264 meters (10709 feet), is the second highest mountain in the Dolomites. And like Chamonix or Zermatt, the local economy is mainly based on tourism, especially in winter. During the winter months, the population increases from about 7,000 to 40,000 people.

Winter or Summer, You Can’t Go Wrong

In summer, there is an endless network of trails and huts that can be accessed from Cortina. The Alta Via1, a famous trekking trail, crosses this area. Cortina is often used as a base and either a start or end point for this trek. The area is also world famous for its climbing routes and climbing history. It is even home to the Gruppo delle Guide Alpine di Cortina (the local mountain guides’ association). Yet, winter is the time of year when Cortina welcomes most of its tourists. It offers skiing facilities for all levels. It’s one of the 12 resorts that are part of the Dolomiti Superki, a 3000km² area that includes most of the ski slopes of the Dolomites, and is the largest ski area in the world. Its importance as a winter sports destination is probably linked to the fact that it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956, as well as a many other international winter sports events. Cortina will also host the 2026 Winter Olympics together with Milan.

From War Zone to First Class

The story of Cortina is closely linked to World War I. The mountains around this area marked the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empire. These mountains were themselves the theater of several battles during the war. The remains of trenches and tunnels can still be visited today. After the war, Cortina was ceded to Italy. It was separated from Austrian and Tyrolean roots, and incorporated into the province of Belluno, in the Veneto Region. It is after the war that Cortina started to become the luxury resort that it is today. With its fancy hotels and designer boutiques, it has been described by Lonely Planet as “one of Italy’s most famous, fashionable and expensive resorts, boasting first-class facilities and superb hiking”.

The Language of the Mountains

Something that not many people know is that the majority of the population here speaks Ampezzano, a variant of Ladin. Ladin is a distinct language from Italian, and belongs to the Rhaeto-Romance family and is very similar to Romansh, which is spoken in Switzerland. The Ladin language and culture are well preserved in Cortina as well as other valleys in the Dolomites, despite having been threatened for decades. It has now been officially recognized by the national government, and is widely spoken by older and younger generations alike.

The Perfect Escape

As you plan your alps travels, and particularly in the Dolomites, you can look forward to your time in Cortina, knowing it’s a great place, with rich history, a vibrant culture, superb cuisine, beautiful scenery, and the perfect base for your next Dolomites holiday.

Cecilia Mariani
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