In the Dolomites, One of the Più Belli/ Schönsten/Most Beautiful Hikes

“…justifiably renowned as one of the most beautiful routes in the whole of the Dolomites” Gillian Price, Italian Alpine Club and Mountain Wilderness
“…justifiably renowned as one of the most beautiful routes in the whole of the Dolomites” Gillian Price, Italian Alpine Club and Mountain Wilderness

In Italy’s Dolomites—an area with perhaps the most gorgeous hiking we’ve ever experienced—the iconic trail is Sentiero delle Odle. Also called Via delle Odle. And Adolf Munkel Weg.

The trail in Puez-Geisler Nature Park weaves through alpine forests and grassy meadows along the foot of the sawtooth peaks of the Odle/Geisler mountains, giving you the feeling you’re on the set of “The Sound of Music.”

When you stop for lunch at the unpronounceable Gschnagenhardt Alm/Malga Casnago and a man dressed in lederhosen is squeezing polka tunes from an accordion, you need to remind yourself: we are in Italy.

But it wasn’t Italy when people started hiking here in the nineteenth century.

In 1869, German and Austrian mountaineers founded the Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV), the German Alpine Association, building trails and huts in the mountains to encourage tourism.

Adolf Munkel started the Dresden section of the DAV in 1873 (initial membership: 29) and served as its chairman for thirty years. In 1905 when the Dresden group completed the layout of the 10.5 km trail, they named it in his honour. I wanted to find out more about Adolf. What was his day job? Did he have a wife and family who hiked with him? But the Internet trail was mostly a dead-end.

If you were hiking the Adolf Munkel Weg in 1905, you would have been in the southernmost part of Austria, an area known as Mitteltirol, the County of Tyrol, at one time ruled by the Roman Empire before it fell to the Habsburgs.

In the secret Treaty of London in 1915, the Allies promised Italy the County of Tyrol if it joined their side in WWI. They kept their promise and in 1919, Italy annexed the area from Tyrol south to Trentino-Alto Adige. In 1948, it became the autonomous Italian province of South Tyrol, a designation like Sicily and Sardinia. The Dolomites, which are about the same size as some of Canada’s National Parks (like Gwaii Haanas, Glacier, Kootenay), were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.

Today, South Tyrol, a region of 534,000 residents, is Italy’s wealthiest province. The local flag is red and white with an imperial Austrian-style eagle in the centre. Citizens’ ID cards are different, a brighter shade of green than those in the rest of Italy. (The autonomous province is greener in environmental actions, too.) Italian speakers are still in the minority and by law, road signs must be bilingual, posted in German and Italian, trilingual in regions where a third language called Ladin, “a linguistic fossil…a mash-up of Latin and mountain Celtic” is spoken. Many villages and towns have both an Italian and a German name, and sometimes a Ladin one, too, making it somewhat confusing to figure out hiking trails or towns: Bolzano/Bozen, Castelrotto/Kastelruth, Tre Cime de Laverdo/Drei Zinnen.

On the Adolf Munkel trail, we were greeted by “Guten Tag!” (Good Day in German), “Salve!” (Hello in Italian), less frequently by “Hey!” “Hi!” or Hello!” Possibly we encountered a “Bun dé!” (Good Day in Ladin). German and Austrian tourists account for more than half of the out-of-country visitors to the Dolomites, which attracts predominantly European travellers. 

Because hikers have been traversing the Adolf Munkel trail for more than a century, there’s plenty of information about where to start, the signposts to follow, the curiosities along the way and the three rifugios. After parking our rental car at Zannes/Zans, we hiked the loop path counterclockwise. Good advice because you get more full-on views of the Odle (“needles” in Ladin) range—Sass Rigais, Fermeda and Seceda—a few of the many soaring mountain spires for which the Dolomites is renowned.

There is a feeling so elemental, so comforting in hiking a pastoral mountain trail in the Dolomites, free from packing a lunch or extra water, a lightness from carrying less that leaves space for caring more about the experience.

Saluti/Prost/Giulan/Cheers/ to the mountaineering leadership of Adolf Munkel—and the many volunteers who make hiking where rifugios serve crisp apple strudels and schnitzel with noodles one of my favourite things.

Navigation

Brett, Sabrina. “Hiking the Adolf Munkel Trail in the Dolomites, Italy.” Moon & Honey Travel. May 20, 2023. Superb reference.

“The eventful history of the DAV Dresden section.” Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV).

Kate + Vin. “Discover Geisler Alm: Your Guide to Hiking to Rifugio Delle Odle.” Throne and Vine website. November 16, 2023. Another superb reference to the Dolomites.

Marchetti, Silvia. “The South Tyrol identity crisis: to live in Italy, but feel Austrian.” The Guardian. May 30, 2014.

Price, Gillian. Shorter Walks in the Dolomites. Cumbria: Cicerone, 2019. An active member of the Italian Alpine Club and Mountain Wilderness, Gillian is an excellent author of many of our favourite hiking guidebooks for Italy and other European countries.

6 Responses

  1. The sawtooth mountains are supreme in their viewing, beyond beautiful, mindful of the Tetons of Wyoming in my mind.
    You would not soon tire of viewing these beauties, the surrounding forest just add to the scene and the colors appear to compliment one another as only Mother Nature can conjure.
    Thanks for sharing, 👍👍👍👍👍

    1. Good comparison–they do resemble the Tetons, although the mountains here aren’t as tall, giving you a cozier feel than the ~4,200 metre tall ones in Wyoming.

  2. Thanks for sharing these images (I could hear the silence) and your impressions. What fun to hike along with you for a moment. Enjoyed the video too!

  3. Very amazing place, wonderful photos, catchy music, thanks. Did you get some lederhosen?
    Those peaks are so jagged. Must have been lots of erosion.
    Brittanica says there are 41 glaciers there. Must be a lot fewer and smaller now. Did you find out?

    1. The Dolomites are very vertical and jagged, because they are young mountains that started to form only 100 million years ago due to a collision between the African and European continents, and continues today. Relative to older mountains, such as the Appalachians that were formed 480 million years ago, there has been limited erosion.

      Winter drought and high summer temperatures are causing significant shrinking of the glaciers in the Dolomite region. Here is a picture of the most famous glacier of the Dolomites (in the Eastern Alps): the Marmolada Glacier. Its retreat has been ongoing for over a century. [Credits: Giovanni Baccolo]

      Marmolada Glacier

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