Cortina, the pearl of the Dolomites

Few alpine resorts can boast such a high concentration of famous and extraordinarily beautiful mountains like Cortina. Yes, because from the Conca d’Ampezzo everywhere you look, over the green woods you can see mountains, mountains and mountains. And what a mountains! Set at an altitude of 1224 meters at the bottom of the Boite Valley, the famous tourist resort occupies the northernmost portion of the province of Belluno, on the border with Alto Adige, and is surrounded by a crown of mountain groups that has no equal. To the west lies the imposing Gruppo delle Tofane, to the northeast the Pomagagnon dominated by the characteristic jagged profile of the Cristallo Group; the Sorapiss rises to the southeast, while the Croda da Lago-Cernera and del Nuvolau Groups close this dizzying horizon. Together these mountains form the so-called Dolomiti Ampezzane, and represent a true paradise for every hiker, mountaineer and skier. Suffice it to say that the beauty of 400 kilometers of trails is counted, 300 of which in the municipality of Cortina. It is no coincidence that the most famous trekking in the Dolomites passes through here: the Alta Via delle Dolomiti n ° 1 and the n ° 3. There really is something for everyone, from the easiest and relaxing walks through pastures and woods, to the historical itineraries on the places of the Great War, to long and demanding hikes between wild valleys and dolomite crode; from the ferrate (there are about twenty of them, from the historical ones to the more athletic and spectacular modern tracks) to mythical ascents on large walls where important pages of the history of alpinism have been written. And when does the snow come? Directly from Cortina you can reach the three districts (Tofane, Faloria-Cristallo, Lagazuoi-Cinque Torri) where there are the beauty of 34 cableways that serve 66 tracks, for a total of almost 120 kilometers of descents! And even for those who prefer silence and tranquility, there is no shortage of possibilities: with snowshoes and seal skins you can go back to the woods and valleys staying away from the noisy ski carousel, especially on Croda da Lago, the only mountain group of the Ampezzo Dolomites without lifts .

Given the particular orography of the Conca d’Ampezzo, enclosed by large mountains separated by high mountain passes (Passo Falzarego, 2105 m, Cimabanche Pass, 1530 m, Tre Croci Pass, 1809 m), there is almost no information on prehistory in this area, even if some finds of a primitive burial at Mondeval, between Pelmo and Croda da Lago (VI millennium BC), lead one to think that the dolomitic arch was inhabited already in ancient times by the Paleovenan tribe. Few news even in the following epochs, when the Ampezzano first underwent the Etruscan influence, starting from the VI-V century BC, then saw the Roman occupation. It is in this period that the first settled communities give life to the collective ownership of the land (pastures and woods), laying the foundations of what will later become the Regole d’Ampezzo, so important for the history and the local economy and living reality and heard again today. Little changes for the inhabitants in the centuries to come, with the succession of different dominations, including the Serenissima between 1420 and 1508, ended with the occupation by the Habsburgs and the separation from the Cadore to enter the sphere of Austrian influence. Dominations that have not substantially changed the way of life of the Ampezzani, dedicated to breeding and agriculture, with modest commercial exchanges. After a brief Napoleonic period, Cortina returns permanently under Hapsburg control, remaining faithful to the family even during the revolutions of 1848, a fact that was rewarded with extensive reforms and autonomy. At the end of the nineteenth century the Ampezzano was “discovered” by the rich Middle-European nobility first, by the French, English and American bourgeoisie then, attracted by the magnificent Dolomite scenery that Cortina offers. And if in nearby Cadore tourism is still far to come, and there is a strong phenomenon of emigration, in the Ampezzo they begin to open the first luxury hotels and get ready to welcome the first skiers, so much so that in 1903 the Ski club Cortina. A short “golden period” destined to end tragically with the Great War, which sees in Ampezzano one of its most dramatic theaters. Between 1914 and 1915 the male population of Cortina is almost entirely called to serve the Austro-Hungarian army on various fronts, while the country is almost abandoned by the military, which stand along the defensive posts on the surrounding mountains, so that the May 29, 1915, the Italian army took possession of Cortina without almost being shot. And hostilities move to the mountains, with a grueling trench war on Col di Lana, Monte Piana, Passo Falzarego, Tofane and Cinque Torri, just to mention the most important places. Tunnels dug into the rock to place explosive charges, interminable cannonades, bayonet assaults and asphyxiating gas; rain and snow, intense cold in winter and hot in summer; hunger, hardship and disease: these are the ingredients that characterize the hostilities around Cortina and that cost the lives of thousands of soldiers on both sides. A war that left indelible marks on the territory, today still perfectly visible and in many cases restored for unmissable excursions on the edge of history, such as the open-air museum of the Cinque Torri or the gallery of Lagazuoi. After the hostilities have ended, and with Cortina returning definitively to the borders of the Kingdom of Italy, the tourist development of the area resumes. In 1921 the Dolomites Railway was inaugurated between Calalzo di Cadore, Cortina and Dobbiaco (active until 1964 and today a fine example of transformation on the cycle path) and after the crisis of 1929 the village became a renowned tourist center, very frequented by fascist hierarchs . Between the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s, the first ski-lifts were built, giving a significant boost to the tourist development of the whole area. The Second World War does not directly affect Cortina, but it also suffers its effects because of the Nazi military occupation after 1941, when many citizens are precepts in the Wehrmacht and sent on several fronts. For obvious reasons, in 1944 the Olympic Winter Games, assigned to Cortina, were not disputed, but after long vicissitudes they re-found them for the 7th edition of 1965. In the Fifties, the country saw an upheaval, with new and large reception facilities. , improvements in the road network, the construction of the ice stadium, the jumping ramp, the bobsleigh track and numerous ski lifts. In 1965 everything is ready and the Winter Olympic Games take place in a climate of great euphoria, decreeing the definitive success of Cortina as a winter tourist resort. The rest is recent history, with the economic boom that brings thousands of tourists into the country, the infrastructures that grow and improve continuously, the offer that also extends to the summer season, bringing on the Ampezzo Dolomites no longer just daring mountaineers, but even a wider audience looking for new scenarios and new emotions. The predominance of the cold season over the summer is becoming increasingly thin, and despite every winter the slopes and the streets of Cortina are extraordinarily crowded with tourists from every corner of the world, in recent decades the inhabitants have been able to grasp the evolution of alpine tourism , offering a wide range of outdoor activities. There are not counting the mountain huts and shelters that offer excellent food and overnight stays at altitude, some plants are open even in summer, the trail network is taken care of and signaled, special paths for mountain bikes are born. And if in some ways the cliché of Cortina remains as a “exclusive” destination for a glossy magazine, it is equally true that the territory of the Conca d’Ampezzo is a unique, wonderful place, where everyone can find his space, in the crowd like in solitude, in adrenaline fun as in the silent contemplation of the majestic dolomitic scenarios.


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