The global spread of the coronavirus is disrupting travel. Stay up to date on the science behind the outbreak>>

The Queen of the Dolomites: Cortina d’Ampezzo is calling this winter

As Cortina d’Ampezzo prepares to host its second Winter Olympics in 2026, there’s never been a better time to visit. Plus, photographer Gianluca Lorenzi talks about his love for his home town, its spectacular nature and how it inspires his work.

The Dolomites are famed for their stunning rock formations and deep, long valleys that twist and rise amid meadows and turquoise lakes.

Photograph by Gianluca Lorenzi
By Cortina d’Ampezzo
Published 29 Dec 2021, 12:00 GMT

There are beautiful ski resorts, and then there’s Cortina d’Ampezzo. The resort is nestled in the heart of the Dolomites, a chain of razor-sharp peaks that span the lush Italian province of Belluno, in the Veneto region. These mountains are famed for their stunning rock formations and deep, long valleys that twist and rise amid meadows and turquoise lakes. Here are just some reasons to visit, for whether you’re skiing, hiking or soaking it all up from a wooden hot tub, the town is blessed with alpine adventures so plentiful it’s achieved cult status in Italy. 

The town of  Cortina d’Ampezzo is blessed with alpine adventures so plentiful it’s achieved cult status in Italy.

Photograph by Cortina d’Ampezzo

1. For its 1,000-year history

Cortina may only have 6,000 residents, but it has made its mark in the history books. Inhabited since the sixth century, this small but hospitable town has welcomed traders, explorers and scientists crossing the mighty Dolomites for more than 1,000 years. During the First World War, battles between the Italian and Austrian front took place here and, thanks to local conservation efforts, trenches and tunnels from the period can today be visited year-round.

2. For its vibrant culture

It’s of little surprise that Cortina, a town whose Ladin culture has been shaped by neighbouring Tyrol and Venice for over a millennium, is alive with age-old traditions. The valley of Ampezzo has its own Latin-derived language known as ​​Ampezzo-Ladin, and festivals like Festa de ra Bandes (a band parade where musicians wear Ladin dress) and Desmonteà (the celebration of cattle descending from their alpine pastures) take place every summer and autumn. In the town’s workshops, you’ll also find traditional crafts like filigree jewellery and tarkashi woodwork.

3. For world-class skiing

Cortina is home to 75 miles of well- groomed slopes, ranging from hair-raising black runs to beginner-friendly blues. No matter your ability, don’t miss cruising down Armentarola, a five-mile run that winds through the heart of the Fanes mountains. In fact, in 1956, Cortina became a premier ski destination after it hosted its first Winter Olympic, an honour it has been granted again in 2026.

4. For wonderful Italian-Austrian food

Venetian and Austrian influences mean Cortina’s restaurant menus are dominated by game and barley stews, vegetable-filled dumplings and lots of fresh pasta. Casunziei all’ampezzana, the town’s signature ravioli, is best eaten at a malga, a traditional Alpine farm. Canederli (bread dumplings stuffed with cured ham) and spätzle (gnocchi with speck and mountain cheese) are two must tries. For dessert, have the apple strudel.

The red squirrel is one of the iconic symbols of Cortina d'Ampezzo and is even integrated into the town's logo.

Photograph by Gianluca Lorenzi

5. For the perfect aperitivo

One of Italy’s greatest gifts to the world is the aperitivo, and Cortina has perfected this pre-dinner drinking ritual. Apres-ski wine bars like Enoteca Cortina serve prosecco and soave alongside wedges of local sheep’s cheese and prosciutto. Bavarian bar Birreria Hacker Pschorr, meanwhile, rings in aperitivo hour with crisp Austrian and Italian draught beers alongside tasty wurstel sausages and sauerkraut.

6. For wildlife spotting

The forests, lakes and craggy peaks of the Dolomites have been a haven for wildlife for thousands of years. The Natural Park of the Ampezzo Dolomites, just north of Cortina, is one of the largest protected areas in the region, spanning 11,200 hectares between the Veneto and Alto Adige border. Today, the park is home to 160 animal species and thousands of plants, including ibex, eagles and the incredibly beautiful Scarpetta Madonna orchid. The park can be explored from Cortina on easy day hikes or on multi-day, hut-to-hut adventures.

7. For outdoor adventure  

Cortina may be known for its skiing and snowboarding, but there are plenty of other outdoor activities to choose from. In the winter, you can explore the areas of Col Gallina and Peziè di Parù on snowshoes, fat bikes or a husky sledge. Summer temperatures and melting snow make way for via ferrata routes, trail running, horseback trekking and all the backcountry hiking you could desire.

Cortina is home to 75 miles of well-groomed slopes, ranging from hair-raising black runs to beginner-friendly blues.

Photograph by Cortina D'Ampezzo

The interview: Q&A with nature photographer Gianluca Lorenzi
 

Nature photographer Gianluca Lorenzi grew up in Cortina, but it took him moving away to realise just how lucky he was. He moved back and became a guide and nature photographer, and the beauty of the mountains and forest with all its wildlife still never fails to move him.

How would you describe Cortina to someone who’s never been there?
Heaven — an open valley that’s surrounded by the Dolomites. Dolomite [the region’s predominant rock type] has pink shades and, at sunrise and sunset, there’s the enrosadira phenomenon, whereby the mountain peaks take on reddish, violet hues. It takes your breath away.

Where should photography enthusiasts go when visiting the area?
If you want to recreate postcards, you can’t miss Lagazuoi, a 9,300ft-mountain that offers 360-degree views over the Dolomites. It’s also in front of the Cinque Torri (Five Towers) rock formations, one of the panoramas that characterises Cortina. Otherwise, not far from Lagazuoi you’ll find Lake Lìmedes, which reflects all the peaks around it. It’s a gem not many people know about.

When it comes to wildlife, you need to know the territory well. Autumn is ibex mating season, and if you go to the Dibona hut, at the foothills of the Tofana di Rozes mountain, you might spot groups of males, with bright, shiny horns. They might start fighting, running after each other, jumping over walls you never thought they’d be able to climb. You’ll definitely bring home some interesting shots.

Autumn is ibex mating season, and if you go to the Dibona hut, at the foothills of the Tofana di Rozes mountain, you might spot groups of males, with bright, shiny horns.

Photograph by Gianluca Lorenzi

Cortina is a famous ski town, what should travellers make the most of in winter?
We have some very technical pistes, rapid and narrow, in particular on the Tofana, which often hosts world ski championships. For ski enthusiasts, these runs are legend. On the eastern slopes, meanwhile, we have wider runs that appeal to all skiers. From this year, we’ll also have a new ski lift linking Cortina to Dolomiti SuperSki [the largest ski  carousel in the world]. All ski enthusiasts should experience it. Off the slopes, there are lots of low-altitude snowshoe trails through forests, as well as cross-country skiing, with easy routes that take you off the beaten path. If anyone wants to try off-piste ski touring, there are beautiful outings you can do with a guide to peaks that are enchanting, especially if you leave early in the morning and see the sunrise. It’s hard to describe.

What advice would you give to travellers visiting Cortina?
I wish travellers could learn to appreciate every moment in nature. I might be somewhere taking pictures of a wood grouse, and visitors might be there, a few feet away, without noticing it. I wish they’d learn to enjoy an outing from the very moment they leave their accommodation, without focusing on the destination or rushing to the peak or mountain hut. Getting there’s a meaningful experience in itself.

For more information, go to dolomiti.org

Find National Geographic Traveller (UK) on social media

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Read More

You might also like

Travel
Best of the World: six places to rediscover nature for 2022 and beyond
Travel
Where to eat like a local in the region of Veneto, Italy
Travel
Winners revealed: National Geographic Traveller Photography Competition 2021
Travel
Travel Geeks: how to plan the ultimate sailing trip — 8 February 2022
Travel
Winter flavours: chef Richard Corrigan's favourite ingredients and indulgences

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us

Subscribe

  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved