KAY FRANCES finds her fizz in the Italian Dolomites

Mention Scottish folk music and you might associate it more with the highlands and islands of Scotland than with Italy.

Yet, sunbathing in a wild flower meadow, with views of the Italian Dolomites soaring skywards, I happened to be listening to a lively Gaelic ballad.

“In Shetland, everyone plays the fiddle”, musician Alasdair Fraser explained to an enthralled and largely local crowd. A dynamic duo, accompanying him was the Californian born and sizzlingly-talented Natalie Haas.

For the last 25 years, the Trentino region in northern Italy has hosted dozens of live open-air concerts as part of the ‘Sounds of the Dolomites’ music festival. International artists gather to perform jazz, folk and classical music.

Our guide, Marta, led us from our Alpine hotel in the picture postcard town of Canazei, to take a cable car to Le Cune, where we joined what can only be described as a mini pilgrimage of music lovers to hike the four kilometres to the concert.

It didn’t take long before I was on my feet, dancing to a lively Swedish Polska and making a haphazard attempt at joining in a Breton circle dance. My fellow dancers seemed oblivious to my two left feet.

Mention the Dolomites and you’ll likely think of snow covered peaks rather than forests, lakes and highland cattle. In fact, this part of Italy offers the world’s largest lift-served ski region - all part of the ‘Dolimiti Superski’ area, with 1,220 km of pistes.

But, when the snow melts, and the blossoms bloom, energetic (and lazy) hikers (and bikers) can benefit from the super fast cable cars and chairlifts without the need of a sweat-inducing slog to the summit.

A four-day short break, staying at the faultless and family run Cesa Tyrol hotel, gave us time to explore the Fassa valley; hiking, mountain biking and e-biking, plus an opportunity to enjoy the festival music.

The area comes with a strong Austrian influence. I had already clocked that the hotel staff, as well as being super friendly, were incredibly efficient.

“We’re a little different to the rest of Italy," Marta explained. "If a bus is scheduled to arrive at noon, it definitely will arrive at noon. We like to think our hearts are Italian and our minds are Austrian.”

Prior to the First World War this region had been under Austrian rule and the frontline crossed the entire valley. Tunnels were dug in the rocks and ice of the glaciers and fighting here was intense. In 1918 Italy finally wrestled control.

A small local museum at the top of Sass (meaning rock) Pordoi exhibits original photos taken by both armies. To get here, we took another cable car to reach the summit, 2,950 metres high.

After our history lesson, we set out to explore an area that is best described as ‘Grand-Canyonesque’, with deep ravines cut into the rock and far reaching views of four mountain ranges; the Marmolada (the highest peak at 3,342 metres), the Sassolungo, the Sella and the rose-coloured Catinaccio.

These mountains emerged millions of years ago and are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. The area is popular for its ‘Vie ferrate’ (Italian for iron paths), used by climbers and thrill seekers but originally installed to make it easier for troops fighting at altitude to ascend the vertical rock faces.

We spied one of the area’s many mountain refuges (‘Rifugio’) in the distance. Used by early explorers now hikers can choose to stay in one of these basic huts or opt for a more luxurious mountain lodge. Back at the Cesa Tyrol rabbit stew and crème brulée were on the menu. And, after a good night’s sleep, we swapped our hiking gear for lycra, heading into town to meet up with Stefano, our e-bike guide for the day.

Oozing confidence in us (even if we didn’t reciprocate), he explained how to take the strain out of our upcoming cycle ride (lean forwards going uphill, stand up coming downhill, get in the right gear before a steep climb, lean slightly backwards if, or indeed when, you need to break suddenly…oh and whatever you do, look ahead, don’t look down!).

Our next lesson was all about the controls; switch to ‘eco’ to go slowly, ‘tour’ to speed up, ‘EMTB’ to control your power as you cycle and ‘turbo’ when you need full throttle.

With Stefano’s instructions firmly in mind, I switched the control directly to turbo, peddled furiously and reached the top of the first climb before he could shout ‘wait for me’.

Cycling through the green Duron valley, past trickling streams, on fir and larch lined forest tracks, we made our way past verges dotted with wild strawberries, red clover and cumin plants. We stopped to have a taste and could hear marmots whistling to one another in the distance.

The path opened out to a clearing and the welcoming sight of the Rifugio Alpino Micheluzzi where we demolished a plate of local cheeses, smoked sausages and cured hams.

A day in the mountains is enough for me to feel all is well with my world but if you like to unwind by slowing down, the QC spa in nearby Pozza comes highly recommended.

It has no less than three floors of jacuzzis, indoor waterfalls, mist baths, a salt room, ice bath, dry and wet saunas, Japanese baths and an outdoor hydrotherapy pool thrown in. Balneotherapy (a new word for me) is its speciality - aimed at restoring your physical and spiritual wellbeing by immersing yourself in mineral water taken from the area’s only natural sulphur spring.

The last hike of our trip was to Sass d’Adam at 2,400km along the relatively easy Lino Pederiva trail, carpeted with Edelweiss and summer flowers. At the summit, our guide for the day, Nicolò, produced a chopping board from his rucksack and cut chunks out of a giant piece of ham. (We stopped counting the calories on day one).

Fluent in Ladin, the ancient language of this area, Nicolò was clearly fiercely proud of his roots and even sported an impressive tattoo of a Roman Centurion on his muscle bound calves.

Back in Canazei, where the houses are decorated in colourful frescoes (a tradition of the Ladin people), we made a beeline for the El Pael restaurant, where Roberto Anesi, winner of the title ‘Best Sommelier in Italy’, is based.

A visit to the Dolomites without sampling the local wine would be like a visit to Scotland minus the whisky. The meal, a starter of cured char fish with white currants, beetroot and apricot purées with crisp radishes and parsley, followed by the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, was a prize winner alone.

Roberto chose the wines for us: Trento Doc, a fresh sparkling wine from the area with an intense aroma; a fruity Assolto rosé with ‘hints of strawberry and rasberry’ and a ‘nicely structured’ Pinot Noir.

“It’s the high altitude here that makes the grapes keep their acidity”, Roberto explained. “This area is perfect for making great sparkling wines.”

The wine wasn’t the only thing to benefit from the high altitude and I returned from the Dolomites refreshed and invigorated, not to mention with a lot more fizz.


Inghams offers a seven-night summer holiday on a half board basis at the four-star Hotel Cesa Tyrol, Canazei, from £976 per person, based on two sharing. Price includes return flights from Manchester and airport transfers.

To book visit www.inghams.co.uk/summer-holidays or call 01483 494 826.

For more info on the area visit www.fassa.com

The Sounds of the Dolomites music festival runs from June 28 to September 15.