The Dolomites are part of the Southern Tyrol. One portion is Italian, one portion is Austrian, and the rivalry of the two nations is keen. Under a warm summer sun, the quaint little villages seem half asleep, and the inhabitants appear to drift dreamily through life. Yet this is more apparent than real for, in many respects, the people here are busy in their own way.
Crossing this region are many mountain ranges of limestone structure, which by water, weather and other causes have been worn away into the most fantastic fissures and clefts and the most picturesque peaks and pinnacles. A very great charm is their curious coloring, often of great beauty. The region of the Dolomites is a great contrast to the rest of the Alps. Its characteristics do not make the same appeal to all. This is largely not only a matter of individual taste and temperament but also of one’s mental or spiritual constitution, for the picture with its setting depends as much upon what it suggests as upon its constituent parts. The Dolomites suggest Italy in the contour of the country, in the grace of the in-habitants and in the colors which make the scene one . of rich magnificence. The great artist Titian was born here* and he probably learned much from his observation of his native place.
Many of the mountain ranges are of the usual gray but such is the atmospheric condition that they seem to reflect the rosy rays of the setting sun or the purplish haze that often is found. The peaks are not great peaks in the sense that we speak of Mont Blanc, the Jungfrau, the Matter-horn or Monte Rosa. They impress one more as pictures with wonderful lights and strange grouping.
If the reader intends some day to visit the Dolomites he is advised to enter from the north. Salzburg and the Salzkammergut, so much frequented by the Emperor Francis Joseph and the Austrian nobility, make a good introduction. Then by way of Innsbruck, one of the gems of the Tyrol, Toblach is reached, where the driving tour may properly begin. Toblach is a lovely place, if one stops long enough to see it and enjoy it! It is not very far to Cortina, the center of this beautiful region. The way there is very lovely. And driving is in keeping with the spirit of the place. It almost seems profane to rush through in a motor, as some do, for not only is it impossible to appreciate the scenery, but also it is out of harmony with the peace and quiet which reign.
For a while there is traversed a little valley quite embowered in green, but presently this abruptly leads into a wild gorge, with jagged peaks on every side. Soon Monte Cristallo appears. This is the most striking of all the Dolomite peaks. At a tiny village, called Schluderbach, the road forks, that to the right going directly to Cortina, the other to the left proceeding by way of Lake Misurina. Lake Misurina is a pretty stretch of water, pale green in color and at an altitude of about 5,800 feet. On its shores are two very at-tractive and well-kept hotels, with charming walks, from which one looks on a splendid panorama, picturesque in extreme.
From Misurina, the road again ascends, becoming very narrow and very steep. The top is called “Passo Tre Croci,” the Pass of the Three Crosses. The outlook is very lovely, with the three serrated peaks Monte Cristallo, Monte Piano and Monte Tofana, standing as guardian sentinels over the little valley of Ampezzo far below, where lies Cortina sleeping in the sun, while in the distance shine the snow fields of the Marmolata. Just as steeply as it climbed up one side, the road descends on the other side, to Cortina. This place is the capital of the valley and altogether lovely; beautiful in its woods and meadows, beautiful in its mountain views, beautiful in the town itself and beautiful in its people.
Cortina has much to boast ofan ancient church and some old houses; an industrial school in which the villagers are taught the most delicate and artistic (and withal comparatively cheap) filigree mosaic work; and a community of people, handsome in face and figure and possessing a carriage and refinement superior to any seen elsewhere among the mountaineers or peasantry. In the neighborhood of Cortina are many excursions and also ex-tended rock climbs, but those who go there in the summer will be more apt to linger lazily amid the cool shade of the trees than to brave the hot Italian sun on the peaks!
After a few days stay at Cortina, the drive is continued. There are many ways out. You can return by a new route to Toblach and the Upper Tyrol. Or you can go south to Belluno and thence to northern Italy. Or a third way and perhaps the finest tour of all is that over a series of magnificent mountain passes to Botzen. This last crosses the Ampezzo Valley and then begins the ascent of Monte Tofana, which here is beautifully wooded. Steepness seems characteristic of this region !
It is hard to imagine a carriage climbing a road any steeper than that one on the slopes of Monte Tofana! If narrow and steep is the way and hard and toilsome the climb this Monte Tofana route most certainly repays one when it reaches the Falzarego Pass (6,945 feet high) which is certainly an earthly Paradise! One can not aptly describe a view like that ! It is all a picture ; as if every part was purposely what it is, here rocky, here green, here snowy, with summits, valleys, ravines and villages and even a partly ruined castle to form a whole such as an artist or poet would revel in.
After a pause on the summit of the Pass, again comes a steep descent, as the drive is resumed, which continues to Andraz, where dejeuner is taken. One can not live on air or scenery and even the most indefatigable sightseer sometimes turns with longing to luncheon ! Then one returns with added zest to the feast of eye and soul. And at Andraz, as one lingers awhile after luncheon on that high mountain terrace, a lovelier scene than that spread before the eye could scarcely be imagined. In-deed it is a “dream-scene,” and as seen in the sleepy stillness of the early afternoon, when the shadows are already playing with the lights and gradually overcoming them, it seems like fancy, not reality.
Again the carriage is taken and soon the road is climbing once more, this time giving fine views of the Sella group of peaks and going through a series of picturesque valleys. At Arabba (5,255 feet), a pretty little village, the final ascent to Pordoi begins. The scenery undergoes a change. It becomes more wild and barren and the characteristics of the high Alps appear. The hour begins to be late and it becomes cold, but the light still lingers as the carriage reaches the summit of the pass and stops at the new Hotel Pordoi (7,020 feet high) facing the weird, fantastic shapes of the Rosengarten and the Langkofel, on the one side and on the other the snowy Marmolata and the summits about Cortina.
The following morning the start is made for Botzen. The way steadily descends for hours, past the pretty hamlets of Canazei, Campitello and Vigo di Fassa, surrounded by an imposing array of Dolomite peaks. After crossing the Karer Pass the scenery becomes much more soft and pastoral. Below the pass, most beautifully situated is a little green lake called the Karer-See.
At Botzen the drive through the Dolomites ends. At best it gives but a glimpse of this delightful region ! That glimpse leaves a lasting impression, not of snowy summits and glistening glaciers, but of wonderful rocks and more wonderful coloring and of great peaks of fantastic form, set in a garden spot of green. And Botzen is a fitting terminus. It dates far back to the Middle Ages. It boasts of churches, houses and public buildings of artistic merit and architectural beauty and over all there lingers an atmosphere of rest and refinement, refreshing to see, where there might have been the noisy bustle and hopeless vulgarity of so many places similarly situated.
There is plenty going on, nevertheless, for Botzen is quite a little commercial center in its own way, but with it there is this charm of dignified repose. One wanders through the town under the cool colonnades, strolls into some ancient cloisters, kneels for a moment in some finely carved church and then goes out again to the open, to see far above the little city that beautiful background of the Dolomite peaks, dominated by the wonderfully impressive and fantastic Rosengarten range, golden red in the western sun. With such a view experience may well lapse into memory, to linger on so long as the mind possesses the power of recalling the past.