Dolomites - The Environs of Cortina D'Ampezzo
In the northern Veneto, surrounded by the Dolomites, is the Province of Belluno. It is a famous tourist destination where art, history and culture form a perfect bond with its captivating surroundings. This extraordinary landscape is dotted by many a quaint town, impressive mountains, beautiful valleys and quiet woods.
The Dolomites are without a doubt the area’s largest attraction, an extraordinary natural monumental masterpiece declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. Over the centuries, Mother Nature has been its inimitable artist. Standing out within this imposing mountain range are the Marmolada Massif, Monte Antelio, Monte Civetta, and the Three Peaks of Lavaredo, offering visitors the opportunity to admire outstanding sceneries, engulfing valleys accompanied by impressive rocky slopes, and lakes ranging in size and, in summer, tinged with blue.
Plenty of torrents, rivers and waterfalls with clean and roaring waters, and thick woods - the only source of color when the winter snow covers all in white - create an almost surreal landscape.
Even the sky is extraordinary here, with incredible sunsets, followed by a wave of intense blue that colors the landscape, and then the dark of night, a luminous moon and a multitude of stars. Vacations amidst nature are ideal and versatile here, and are complemented by the history and traditions of this land.
A tour of the villas and castles, abbeys and monasteries, archaeological sites, museums, cities, and tiny, age-old towns provides ample opportunity for experiencing both the natural world and the fascinating historical and artistic heritage of this area.
Arriving in the Province of Belluno, the first thing one notices is its peace and calm, a rare commodity in this day and age. A walk in the old city center reveals a city perfectly adapted to the human dimension, with no frenetic rhythms. It is a city that has maintained its mountain lifestyle. This is most likely attributed to the fact that it is surrounded and protected by the Alpine foothills and by the imposing Dolomitic faces of Monte Schiara, with the famous Gusela del Vescovà, a monolithic steeple 131 feet high, the emblem of Belluno.
This quasi surreal environment is composed of architecture from different epochs, such as Porta Rugo, a typical Medieval structure; the old Piazza del Mercato, site of the ancient Roman military castrum; and Piazza Duomo, hosting Palazzo dei Rettori, the Cathedral of Belluno and Palazzo dei Giuristi, location of the Civic Museum that preserves many interesting paintings.
In the central area of the Province is the Belluno Dolomites National Park, characterized by wild and captivating nature: rocky peaks, enchanting valleys and pure waterways.
Then, Feltre is a fortified town perched on a hill in the Val Belluna, with a remarkable history to which edifices the likes of the Torre del Castello di Alboino, dominating the valley, attest.
Belluno hosts many a unique and beautiful valley. In the north lies the Queen of the Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo, in the valley of the same name. It is Italy’s most famous ski town, and is also famous for its glamorous and lively nightlife. Close to this area, the Valle del Boite boasts excellent resorts such as Cibiana and San Vito di Cadore, all well-equipped to receive tourists.
The Cadore-Auronzo-Misurina area, with the beautiful Lakes of Santa Caterina and Misurina (below the imposing Three Peaks of Lavaredo), poses an enticing challenge for mountaineering enthusiasts. These diverse landscapes hold an element in common: their incomparable natural beauty.
The most northern part is occupied by the mountain communities of Comelico-Sappada, a pretty, welcoming zone highly-adapted to those in search of a relaxing, tranquil vacation within the captivating natural landscapes of Valgrande, Val Sesis, and Val Visdende (the “valley that is well worth a visit”).
Central to the Provicne and bordering Trentino-Alto Adige is another remarkable ski district, with the impressive Marmolada, Monte Civetta (with its rather challenging slopes), and the Conca Agordina,all surrounded by majestic peaks. These giant masterpieces of nature belong to the Dolomiti Superski, a snow or ski park situated between Veneto and Trentino; it is 746 mi of ski slopes in one of the most charming settings of the Dolomites. Between Belluno and the Veneto plains is the unique Nevegal Alp. A perfect destination in any season, the summertime endows it with lush plantlife and numerous opportunities for fun. Meanwhile, winter makes it a skiers' paradise: think 18.6 mi of ski slopes and 6.2 mi of cross-country terrain.
There are many things to do, since these places offer a wide variety of opportunities to escape from the daily routine and to fortify body and mind.
In Belluno the Dolomites are never far away, beckoning to all to practice a bit of mountain sport: Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, climbing, snowboarding, bobsledding, ice skating, curling, snowshoe racing, hiking, hang-gliding and paragliding are all options for extreme sports lovers.
Travelers may choose the rush of riding on a dog sled, with a musher (instructor) guiding the visitors along routes in discovery of nature in all its glory.
Trails take mountain bikers along rocky slopes, through alpine pastures and thick woods, and along the sides of swift brooks.
Belluno is not only beautiful for its mountains, but for its lush woods, protected by impressive rocky mountainsides, and for its pretty, petite lakes (Lake Misurina, for example), inviting visitors to take on water sports. On the small beach by the lake, adults and children alike can relax, play and enjoy sailing, canoeing and windsurfing.
Tired, stressed, or looking for relaxing and therapeutic treatments? The Terme delle Dolomiti have your number; give your body the rest and restoration it deserves against the cozy natural scenery of Valgrande, on the border with Austria.
This thermal spa is renowned for its special waters, rich in minerals and curative properties, and thus used as beauty treatments.
Finally, December is the month of holidays, sounds, lights and colors, and the Christmas markets are a definite must. The booths are set in decorated wooden houses exhibiting handicrafts, specialties and unusual gifts. And if the peaks of the Dolomites are covered with a blanket of snow, the atmosphere becomes even more magical.
In the summer the spectacular Palio di Feltre is held, in which Feltre's four districts challenge each other in archery and tug-of-war competitions, and horse-races. Every District organizes market stalls, traditional menus, music and games.
History, engines and nature are the components of the Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti (Dolomites Gold Cup), a remarkable national event with the some of the world's most beautiful vintage cars speeding along the hairpin turns of the Dolomites' roads. It is a race that leaves both driver and observer in awe.
The unspoiled nature is a real wealth for this land, for many reasons. The vast green mass of land next to the Dolomites is the perfect habitat for outdoor cattle farming, and it is possible to obtain excellent raw materials to make exquisite high-quality specialties. Ancient techniques, practised with love do the rest.
The main ingredients of Belluno’s cuisine are simplicity and genuineness, together with delicious cheese, excellent meat and tasty cold cuts.
And, obviously, there is the main ingredient of the Venetian art of cooking: polenta. It can be a single course or perfectly served with a slice of Casél dell’Agordino, Contrin, Nevegal or Casalingo d’Alpago, great local dairy products.
Polenta can also be served with a slice of exquisite speck ham of Cadore or salame from the Belluno area, both of them made with the meat from Alpine reared cattle.
Another typical dish that reflects traditional local flavors is polenta served with game.
For any other combination it is worthwhile exploring the area of Belluno and taste the original and exquisite recipes of the locals.
Amongst the traditional specialties there is kodinzon, a jam made with dried apples from local cultivation. The apples are cooked to obtain a purée, then dried; the Pastin, flat meat balls made with sausage then fried or grilled.
Another good recipe is the Risotto Lamonese, called “the food of the poets,” with exquisite Lamon beans flavoured with bay leaves.
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