Italy's Dolomite Mountains in Autumn 2019 Trip Report

By John Shaw on Nov 12, 2019

How to describe the Dolomites…  Wikipedia says that “the Dolomites are a mountain range located in northeastern Italy. They form a part of the Southern Limestone Alps.”  Well, that doesn’t tell you much. I think my description is more to the point: WOWZA!!!

OK, here’s a bit more information. The Dolomites trace the northeastern border between Italy and Austria, running through the Italian provinces of Belluno, South Tyrol, and Trentino. For good reason the region was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2009. It’s an area of jagged pinnacles, sheer rock faces abruptly rising vertically, and deep gorges with lush forest and verdant valleys. Towns and villages are found throughout the area and form a unique amalgam of customs and languages. Autumn hues in the DolomitesBefore World War I a major section of the Dolomites were part of Austria, which explains why most of the region’s population speaks German as their first language. In fact, three languages are present:  German, Italian, and Ladin (a local Rhaeto-Latin language dating back more than 2000 years). This leads to a bit of confusion to outsiders as many road signs are posted in all three languages. Consider one town labeled Val Gardena (Italian), Selva (Ladin), and Wolkenstein (German) all on one sign. And yes, whatever you want to call it, we stayed there.

Our group of twelve gathered in Venice, as it offered the closest major airport. We met our guides, both pro nature photographers from nearby Slovenia who would also be driving our vans. Given the narrow twisting roads, direction signs in three languages, and unmarked side roads, I cannot thank them enough. Over the next ten days we stayed at five different locations. We photographed from high mountain passes at both sunrise and sunset, hiked to emerald-watered lakes, wandered through alpine forests of golden larch trees, recorded the famous Gothic frescoes in the Cloisters at Bressanone, and took two different gondolas to the tops of the highest peaks. Autumn colored treesAnd of course, being in Italy, we enjoyed some great meals (and quickly discovered that a 5-course dinner was way beyond what any of us could possibly manage to eat).

This tour was specifically timed for autumn, between the high seasons of summer and winter. Summer means thousands of tourists, crowded hotels and restaurants, and – something I had not considered previously—cycling clubs having the right of way on many of the roads. The winter ski season, starting early in December, again means lots of people plus limited access to non-ski locations and the closure of some smaller roads. Our autumn timing was perfect for a photography tour. We had a few mornings with temperatures right around freezing while we waited to photograph sunrise from high elevations, but by midday conditions were milder. Dolomites towering over small mountain chapelAnd of course, the autumn color was at a peak. Whole hillsides were covered with European larch trees (Larix decidua) in their full autumn color. European larch are a member of that unique group of trees that are deciduous conifers (as are the tamarack and western larch trees found in the US and Canada). We also lucked out on the weather as our only rain fell late on the very last afternoon.

You might be able to tell that I really like this area and this tour. I’m still working on my images—I took a lot of photographs so many frames are still untouched. But as I open them on my computer, they just bring out great memories of a great location…and make we want to immediately start packing for my 2020 Dolomites trip!

Join John Shaw on Italy's Dolomite Mountains in Autumn 2020 Photo Tour