Spectacular Cortina d’Ampezzo
Lively Resort Town Balancing its Fragile Alpine Ecosystem with Development
Just over a two-hour drive from Venice, the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo is tucked away in the deep Dolomites that are part of the Northern Italian Alps.
Cortina offers visions of mountain grandeur wrapped up in a mantle of bright azure that defies the imagination. These majestic edifices are not build on terra d’oro, but are the geological wonders of coral atolls that emerged from ancient seas and uplifted thousands of meters to become the spectacular Dolomites. Rising high above the land, these alpine mountains appear like a mirage, as visitors far and wide are allured to these most beautiful mountains on Earth. Such distinction makes this Southern Alps town an enviable gateway for beauty and inspiration.
The town exudes an air of elegance and informality, celebrating the outdoors in la vita e bella style. Its cool, classy vibe brings throes of Venetians looking for easy getaways to reach the Dolomites. Cortina attracts a fashionable crowd that likes to be seen flocking to chic restaurants where everyone seems to know everyone else’s name. The friendly atmosphere offers families and friends a chance to mingle in this stunning setting.
The town’s majestic bell tower dominates the main shopping street of the Corso Italia, which feels relaxed and inviting. The great writer, Ernest Hemingway, who visited Cortina, was full of enthusiasm when he stayed in this idyllic town. He described his delight to find Cortina to be an alluring mountain destination.
Cortina has been more than just a ski town. Over its 1000-year history, this small border town has been regarded a protected and safe haven in the Dolomites ever since the time of the ancient Romans. Its location on the border of Austria provided strategic importance to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which lasted for 400 years. Even after the Napoleonic Wars, Cortina remained part of Austria. It would take more than a century later, at the end of the First World War in 1918, when this small town became officially Italian.
Cortina’s history further comes alive upon seeing the sites of the First World War battlegrounds in the mountains of Cortina d’Ampezzo Mountains. These historical sites include three open-air museums representing the areas where the Italians fought at Lagazuoi, 5 Torri and Sass di Stria. These areas can reached by taking the hiking paths or ski slopes to the restored fort of Valparola where it is possible to explore the actual tunnels, trenches and positions of 5 Torri. Getting first-hand glimpses of the mountain refuges and climbing wall offers insight into these famous war events, while taking in some impressive views of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo peaks in the heart of the Dolomites.
Cortina is not just a historic site, but a living museum with major 20th century Italian art in the Museum of Modern Art Mario Rinaldi. These artworks evoke awe and wonder that are in keeping with Cortina’s ethos. Also, not to be missed are the ancient coral fossils on exhibit in the Paleontological Museum and other memorabilia in the Ethnographic Museum that further identifies with Cortina’s cultural heritage.
The beauty of the Veneto Dolomites brings out sports enthusiasts and celebrities who are drawn to world class competitions and other festivities. Since hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics, Cortina continues to attract other winter sports events with the Dolomites, the Olympic Ice Stadium and legendary ski jumping site still prominent venues. This winter sports paradise will again be on world stage when Cortina hosts the Alpine Ski World Championships in 2021.
The marvelous mountain scenery is invigorating as well-dressed families promenade with dogs of various sizes and shapes on the Corso Italia. The luxury shops are tempting, but the savory smells of pastries waft through the air draws me into the Pasticceria Bar Lovat. Taking a seat, I order a hot chocolate while watching the delightful faces of family members in high spirits, who are savoring the delectable pastries presented to them. From there, my fascination with Cortina grows when I arrive at the Hotel Des Alpes and gaze in awe of the marvelous mountain scenery. In many respects, these towering mountains seem so unreal as part of an unworldly, prehistoric landscape. Yet, in representing their beauty, these dramatic specimens need almost to be painted on canvas to realize their subliminal effects. But at this time, encountering their mighty presence is more than enough. My fascination with the mountains continues as I contemplate skiing the next day.
Providing expertise to my adventure is ski guide, Andrea Turchetti of Socio M’Over, who accompanies me skiing at Tofana-Socrepes ski resort. Andrea tells me that his ski school is owned by famous alpine ski racer, Kristian Ghedina, who got him involved in ski instruction. The crisp white snow proved ideal for touring the mountains before taking the lifts and cable car to an observation area to view the locations of the Future World Championships and the dramatic mountain vistas. The jagged white capped peaks provided fascinating encounters with nature, but feeling hungry, we ski down for lunch at Chalet Tofane and enjoy the local food and fabulous views of the highest peak of Marmoulda.
With such a variety of ski runs, the superb conditions encouraged me to take some challenging black runs along with less arduous red and blue runs. Upon descending, I see planted in the snow a large red heart bestowing its love upon the mountains of Cortina. Capturing that emotion, I snap a quick Instagram photo to send to friends back home.
This wild, mountain landscape is a precious treasure that needs saving. Taking care of the land can offset preservation interests against cynical ideas for further development. For the sake of future generations, it is in the public interest to preserve the natural resources and prevent excessive use from land developers.
Ever since the 1956 Winter Olympics, this vibrant community has brought together important values, such as sustainability. Protecting the delicate alpine ecosystem has taken on momentum with many former Olympic facilities being upgraded and modernized as part of the town’s urban development. In recent years, the Olympic Ice Stadium, the historic Monti bobsleigh Track and the Ski jumping hill have undergone restructuring in preparation for the 2026 Olympics Game in Cortina. These latest efforts are being made to accommodate the thousands of visitors expected to attend this world event.
As far as sustainability practices goes, it is becoming clear that many companies in the hospitality field are stepping up their own practices to be more sustainable in Cortina. The exclusive Cristallo Resort & Spa establishes environmental initiatives and perceive them as enhancements to guest experiences. The spa facilities, including the indoor heated swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath and fitness center, ensure are used. Even in the relaxation room, the space reflects the natural environment with panoramic views of the Dolomites. Environmental friendly initiatives include sustainable treatments that have positive effects on health and well-being. For example, in the Aufguss ritual, toxins and impurities are removed by using essential oils, steam, and water droplets, providing health enhancing properties that are favored by athletes, according to the spa manager.
Sustainable dining is also available at the hotel’s Gazebo restaurant. Under candlelight, my partner and I enjoy a variety of dishes that are organically and locally-produced that seem to be of the highest quality and distinctive in culinary identity. Sampling il primo and il secondo courses, we notice how Executive Chef Marco Pinelli artistically blended his dishes to appeal to the senses. His menu selections vary according on the season. Among the Chef’s favorites are root vegetables that include Jerusalem artichokes, beetroot, parsnips, turnips, celery root, leeks and many other vegetables that are among the freshest from the mountains. His unique dishes are enhanced by using a variety of tastes, textures and expressions that add to the culinary experience. The menu choices are supplemented with the Chef’s Special of the Day, featuring healthy dishes, including an antipasto of codfish, first course of homemade pumpkin tortelli, second course of seared tuna fish, followed by an exquisite hazelnut mousse dessert.
Is this one of the more tantalizing and exciting cuisines we have ever experienced? Yes. Would we come again? Most definitely.
A highlight is staying at the Faloria Mountain Spa Resort in the Ampezzo Valley in the heart of the Dolomites. This spectacular country house provides splendid views of the Olympic ski jumping hill, Tramlino Italia. Historically, one can reconnect with the past and imagine how athletes must have felt as they competed for gold at this famous site.
For two generations, Faloria has been family-owned with many family members still athletes. With its distinctive location, the Faloria is a stylish country house for families and even pets to stay in fabulous mountain surroundings. Yet, what is impressive is the hotel structure that is especially designed to bring nature inside in every possible way – wood paneling, natural light and nature inspired décor found in the rooms, spa and dining room.
The magnificent views of this mountain landscape reflect a special love of the Dolomites. This love is symbolic by the giant heart symbol seen on the slopes and it’s hard to consider any other place to be than in this mountainous setting of Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Yet, the paradox of Cortina is whether its historic and social values can survive the onslaught of development. Only time will tell, but if Cortina holds on to its values, then it has a chance to be in the hearts and souls of the people who cherish it.
For further information: www.dolomiti.org/en/cortina