Visit Italian Alps in the Fall for Peaceful Beauty -
The Dolomites at sunset above Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.

Visit Italian Alps in the Fall for Peaceful Beauty

The Italian mountain village of Cortina d’Ampezzo may be famous for its incredible ski resorts and winter sports. You may also be aware this town in the Dolomites hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956 and will again in 2026. But there is plenty to love about this charming community during the summer and fall too. In fact, there are a lot of reasons why travelers visit Cortina d’Ampezzo in the fall, and we experienced several of them with great satisfaction.

Our visit took place when the weather in Northern Italy was warmer and sunnier, the cobble streets were dry and clean, and our wardrobes called for nothing heavier than a light sweater. If you like to visit where the Italian jet set vacations, then Cortina d’Ampezzo may be an ideal spot to relax and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. And by scenery I mean the surrounding Dolomite mountains, verdant valleys and fashionable people. In fact, Cortina d’Ampezzo is so dominant it’s known as the Queen of the Dolomites.

View of the Dolomites from Hotel Europa in downtown Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
The views of the Dolomites from Hotel Europa in Cortina d’Ampezzo are stunning.

It’s far different from any other place we’ve visited in Italy, which is exactly why we decided to visit Cortina d’Ampezzo in the fall.

Where is Cortina d’Ampezzo?

If you’ve not heard of this Northern Italian village, you are not alone. We did not recall ever hearing of Cortina d’Ampezzo either, until we were introduced to this special place by a lovely local named Maria Alessandra. She told us of the village’s location tucked into the Dolomites – also known as the Italian Alps – in the mountainous terrain north-ish of Venice. It can be reached by car easily from Venice (2-hour drive) to the south or Innsbruck, Austria to the north (2.5-hour drive).

And drive you should. The winding roads from either direction provide plenty of breathtaking views and interesting pitstops along the way. In addition, having a car will be of great benefit as you explore the surrounding lakes, mountains and hiking trails that encircle Cortina d’Ampezzo.

The Corso d’Italia at night is a stunning scene with the Dolomites in the background.

Why Visit Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Fall?

With so many sports and activities to offer in the winter and summer, the area around Cortina d/Ampezzo can get quite busy. Skiers and lovers of winter sports flock to these mountains to enjoy the snowy slopes and cold temperatures. In the summer, the cooler air of the mountains draws visitors to the green pastures, wildflowers and hiking trails.

Cortina is beautiful any time of year. (credit: SalvoL)

But in the fall things quiet down here. The locals breathe a sigh of relief, grateful for the business visitors bring as well as happy for the slower pace of autumn. Hotel rates are lower, restaurants are not crowded, traffic flows freely and locals have more time to greet each visitor with that famous Italian warmth.

Best of all, the hiking trails are devoid of crowds, and it’s possible to enjoy their natural beauty without delays. This is a big reason why we came to Cortina d’Ampezzo at this time of year: to hike the Via Ferrata.

Suiting up to climb the via ferrata in the Italian Alps in the mountains behind us.

What Makes Cortina’s Mountains So Special

Cortina d’Ampezzo is nestled in an alpine valley surrounded by the rocky peaks of the Dolomites. This is Italy’s version of the Alps, which run through seven countries covering nearly 750 miles. Cortina is joined by other famous Alps locations such as Mont Blanc, Bellagio, Salzburg and the Matterhorn. We visited several destinations on an epic roadtrip of the Alps, which you can read more about here.

Italy’s version of the Alps is unique, as is befitting Italy. Even the mountains are stylish here. These peaks are very light in color, almost a reflective white that takes on the colors of the sky and sun. (Evidently, this is called Alpenglow.) It’s because the mountains were originally a giant mound of undersea shells, coral and other light-colored things. Millions of years ago, they were subject to massive upheaval and ended up at heights as high as 10,000 feet.

Their sharp spires and steep, jagged faces make them incomparably beautiful. Plus they are perfect for skiing, hiking and rock climbing..

The rocky cliffs of the Dolomites near Cortina d.Ampezzo are so white they look snowy all year around. (credit: agustavop)

Hike the Via Ferrata in Cortina d’Ampezzo

When I say “hike”, I am using the term loosely. To the sturdy Italians in Cortina d’Ampezzo and those that visit here, hike really means strenuous-nearly-rock-climbing. Don’t get me wrong, we loved the experience and would totally do it again. But this version of hiking on one of the many the via ferratas is not for the faint of heart.

Via ferrata translates literally to “iron path” and Cortina sports 30 of them – more than anywhere else in the world. Some are easy and others are for experts only. All share one thing in common – they trek through stunning beauty and offer unparalleled vistas.

The via ferratas have been prepared for safety, with cables and fixed anchors to guide the ascent. A harness with carabiners attaches the climber to the cables to avoid accidents or falls.

Rock climbers scramble up the via ferrata in the Dolomites above Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
The climb was rigorous but we felt safe and secure tethered to the cables on the via ferrata.

Use a Guide!

If you are not an experienced climber, an expert guide is a necessary thing here. The local guides know the trails and their degrees of difficulty, and will make proper recommendations depending on the climbers’ abilities. They are also trained for any emergencies that might arise. Plus they are great tour guides and point out many things of interest along the way.

Our wonderful guide Eduardo from Cortina Alpine Guides picked us up at our Hotel Europa in the city center of Cortina d’Ampezzo. He mentioned gear and a wonderful adventure ahead. We laughed nervously and ignored his comment about gear as we drove up the mountain to park on the side of the road. From there we hiked up the steep path to the base of a rocky outcropping.

And this is where the true adventure began.

Rock climbers make their way up the steep cliffsides of the via ferrata in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
And then things got gnarly when we reached the steep section of our via ferrata climb.

Hiking Becomes Rock Climbing

When they said we were going on a hike, they weren’t kidding. We knew we were in for a big experience when our guide asked us to strap into our harnesses. As we looked straight up with our heads tilted back to see the face of Tofana di Mezzo mountain ahead, we girded our loins and stepped on up. We clipped our carabiners into the first length of steel cable and began to climb.

Not gonna lie. It was not easy to find finger and toe grips to hoist ourselves up the steep rocky “path”. Definitely a workout, the climb calls for upper body strength and some degree of fitness. Luckily our group were all in relatively good shape to make the trek. Of course, our 70 year-old brother led the way. He was followed by his 65 year-old wife who had recently recovered from hip replacement surgery. They are true mountain goats who set the pace for the rest of us.

If there was a weakest link, it was me! I did not love the height, trying hard not to look down as we scaled higher and higher. When our guide said “And now for the hard part…” I almost fainted. It WAS hard. And I might have gotten a little shaky in the limbs and sweaty on the brow. But I made it to the top unscathed, along with the rest of the crew.

Rock climbers pose on the summit of a mountain along the via ferrata in the Dolomites above Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
Reaching the mountain top on our via ferrata climb was such a rush!

The Via Ferrata Brings Rewards

Reaching to top of the peak was absolutely worth the climb. (Cue Miley Cyrus song here.) The vistas from this height were tremendous. We could see for miles across to other, higher peaks and far below to the villages and verdant valleys.

To say we reached the peak in one piece was another reward. It was a definite accomplishment and we were all proud of ourselves for having done it. Of course, our guide did not even break a sweat and stood untethered on the slant of the summit. Even thinking about it still makes my palms sweat.

Best of all, the meal we had for lunch mid-mountain a Rifugio Angelo Dibona was a highlight of the entire trip. More on this later, but suffice to say we dined in a nearly-empty mountain hut clearly designed to serve skiers during the winter snows. The house specialty was a blueberry pasta, which sounds weird but was amazingly delicious.

Tagliolini al mirtillo is the local specialty, a pasta made with fresh blueberries served at Rifugio Angelo Dibona in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
The local specialty pasta is made with fresh blueberries at Rifugio Angelo Dibona.

Other Reasons to Visit Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Fall

Upscale Shopping Experience

Cortina d’Ampezzo has long been a gathering spot for the glitterati of Italy and beyond. With this level of lifestyle comes some amount of designer labels and high fashion needs. That’s why there are more than 250 shops and boutiques in the city center.

Most of the major shopping is located on Corso d’Italia, a pedestrian-only cobblestone street lined with European charm and a heavy dose of chic. Here shoppers can spend hours wandering through designer boutiques, jewelers, fine art galleries and locally owned artisan outlets. Designer labels such as Dior, Benetton, Moncler, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and many others can be found here.

Street scene looking down Corso d'Italia at midday, located in downtown Cortina d'Ampezzo.
Italian style and historic charm make the Corso d’Italia a perfect promenade in downtown Cortina d’Ampezzo.

When you visit Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Fall, the shops are stocked with cold weather clothes and other treasures. Gift shops had a wide array of Christmas and holiday-themed merchandise, and we bought several handmade ornaments to bring home for our Christmas tree.

Corso d’Italia is also home to a strong collection of cafes and restaurants, complete with outside seating to maximize people-watching opportunities.

The Local Food Scene in Cortina d’Ampezzo

As in most Northern Italian locales, the local cuisine tends to be lighter and less based on tomato sauces. We enjoyed meals at several local establishments, and there a couple of standouts we think you will enjoy.

Colorful flower boxes decorate the exterior patios of the alpine=inspired Chalet Tofani.

Pizzeria Vienna – Some of the most delicious traditional Italian pizzas we have tasted. We especially loved the Quattro Stagione pizza, which translates to “four seasons”. The tomato sauce and cheese-based pizza is divided into quarters, each representing a different season of the year. In one quadrant artichokes represent spring, and next with tomatoes represents summer. Following the pattern, the next quadrant represents fall with mushrooms. The final section is dedicated to winter with ham or prosciutto.

Pizzeria Vienna serves delicious pastas. pizzas and beers (credit: Cortina d/Ampezzo Tourism)

Up the mountain with insane views of the Dolomites sits Chalet Tofane. The absolutely exquisite dishes here match the quality of the location, with a broad variety of extra-fresh options colorfully presented. The dining room here reads like a mountain lodge, and the restaurant has an extensive outdoor patio with seating as well. We loved the dishes we sampled, including a popular ahi sashimi salad and a delicious grilled shrimp and green pea soup. Our entire group was pleased with their menu choices, and dessert with grappa was a nice topper.

The langostina in green pea puree was a highlight of our meal at Chalet Tofani

Local Specialities

Here are a few of standout dishes sampled on this visit. Of course all are pastas, because that’s the way we roll:

Tagliolini ai Mirtilli – A seasonal specialty, this pasta dish is surprisingly savory. It’s made from fresh blueberries in a creamy mascarpone sauce with salty speck, onions and garlic. We’ve been raving about this dish ever since we devoured it in that mountain hut on the via ferrata. (Detailed above.)

Casunziei – Half moon-shaped ravioli filled with a deep red beet mixture and served in a brothy sauce. This earthy combination was surprisingly light and wonderfully delicious. We’re told in the Spring the stuffing may switch to green, made from spinach or other locally cultivated ingredients.

Canederli – Gnocchi is one of our favorite dishes. The local version is made from rolled balls of  bread and speck (like an Italian cross between ham and bacon) or spinach. Although we did not get to try this dish on our visit, it sounds like something my Italian nana used to make when I was a kid. She prepared the spinach version, served in a light sauce and topped with copious heaps of shaved romano cheese.

Cortina’s own local version of gnocchi is incredibly delicious. (credit: Olga Mazyarkina)

Other Activities in Cortina d’ Ampezzo

Biking – There are more than 400 miles of bike paths throughout the area, with bikes available for rent at several locations.

Ice Skating – Home to the Olympics, Cortina d’Ampezzo has enjoyed a high quality ice skating rink for decades. It’s been recently renovated and upgraded to modern standards, perfect for twirling experts, speedy hockey games and shuffling beginners.

Golf & Tennis – A 9-hole golf course and plenty of tennis courts are available for play while the weather is clear in the Fall.

Prosecco  – It’s worth noting that the Italian wine region of Prosecco is nearby. Although we did not drive the 50 minutes down the mountain to visit, we consumed our fair share. The variety of Prosecco options is plentiful, and here is a list of wineries in Prosecco.

Vineyards of Breganze in autumn (province of Vicenza) by GitoTrevisan
The vineyards in Prosecco, Italy grow the real thing (credit: GitoTrevisan)

Places to Stay in Cortina d’Ampezzo

The accommodations available here are plentiful, with a wide range of options when you visit Cortina d’Ampezzo in the fall. From mountain chalets to ritzy resorts to lakeside campgrounds, there is something for everyone. We’re more the luxury resort kind of travelers, and we found a great option that was not too pricey and with plenty of historic charm.

Hotel lobby looking towards front desk at the Hotel Europa in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
The lobby of the Hotel Europa is a fun mix of old and new.

Hotel Europa – The guest rooms at Hotel Europa in Cortina d’Ampezzo have recently been renovated, and we loved the design and simplicity. With mountain views from pretty much every room, guests can enjoy super comfortable beds and bathrooms with heated floors. The lobby and public spaces combine historic mountain lodge charm with modern accents, and it all works well. It’s a very cozy environment positioned right at the top of the Corso d’Italia.

Bedroom interior with king sized bed and wood panel walls in the Hotel Europa, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
The bedrooms at Hotel Europa had been recently renovated with great warmth and style.

The restaurant here is also notable, with a vast breakfast array and a delicious dinner menu of fresh and seasonal locally-sourced ingredients. It should be noted that our experience with the service at Alpine Restaurant was impeccable.

Even the salad was artful when presented by Alpine Restaurant inside the Hotel Europa in Cortina.

Hotel Bellevue Suites & Spa – Located next door to Hotel Europa. We did not stay here, but wanted a spa experience nearby since our hotel did not offer one in-house. This hotel seemed more traditional in function and elegant in design. Our spa experience at Hotel Bellevue was excellent, with great massages and a huge spa facility with wet and dry saunas, water treatments, and relaxation area with Tibetan salt walls.

Hotel Bellevue spa interior, Cortina d"Ampezzo, Italy
The spa inside Hotel Bellevue is beautifully designed and executed.

Worth It to Visit Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Fall

Having read all the above, we hope you agree that a fall visit to Cortina d’Ampezzo is just the ticket. If you decide to go, it would be good to start planning now to arrange the best prices airfare and accommodations. And please tip your hat to sweet Maria Alessandra for recommending we visit here so we could share our experiences with all of you!

For more information about planning your trip, visit the Cortina d’Ampezzo tourism website for details and options.

Edelweiss blooming on a mountain meadow along the via ferrata in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
Edelweiss blooms along the high alpine trails in the Dolomites.

 

 

 

 

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