The first via ferrate, iron roads, were built in the Dolomites during World War I. These high mountain routes consist of fixed steel cables, ladders and bridges, forming long trails through the mountains that are available to walkers and climbers of varying experience and ability. Originally built to help high altitude troop movements taking place in very harsh, winter conditions, these routes have not only been renewed and restored, but many others have been added, enabling access to much of the high Dolomites.
A great many towns and villages give access to via ferrate, but one of the most popular routes is Alta Via Uno. Begirming at Pragser Wildsee, near Toblach, this 120-km (75-mi) hike, ending at Belluno, takes days to complete and carries you through some of the most unforgettable scenery in the 'Pale Mountains', The routes are all very well signed, and there are frequent refuges in which to stay, providing simple, inexpensive meals and beds for hikers. It is also possible to take a much shorter, weekend trip that ends at Passo Falzareggo.
These are mountains of exceptional beauty. Tranquil, gentle valleys are interspersed with soaring steeples and pirulacles reaching up to 3,000 m (9,900 ft). The sheer walls, and jagged ridges formed from dolomite rock change colour with the passage of the sun, glowing red, pink, yellow, grey and white. On your way you will see rivers, lakes and forests laid out around you, an endless variety of trees, orchids, edelweiss and thousands of wildflowers in spring. In the highest regions, Alpine chamois and steinbock can be seen - even brown bear have been spotted. Elsewhere there are weasel, marten and the ubiquitous marmot, standing to attention, checking out eagles on the hunt in the sky above.
WHEN TO GO
May to mid-September
TIME IT TAKES
The entire length of Alta Via Uno will take up to two weeks to complete, but there are shorter sections that take only two to three days. Other via ferrate can be completed in a few hours.
Skiing and other winter sports in the region.
The spectacular, panoramic views, paragliding and hang gliding during the summer.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
The name Dolomites derives from Deodat Gratet Dolomieu, the French mineralogist who first described the type of carbonate rock that forms these mountains.