[VAL GARDENA, BOLZANO] — We were on a long gondola ride heading up a long valley of undulating hills outside of the beautiful town of Ortisei, no doubt perfect ski runs in the winter. But it was summer, off season, so everything was super lush and green, hardly anybody around.

The lift pauses at one skier drop-off then continues on, up up up and over a steep massive wall of granite, still shaded by the stark morning sun, darkening the interior of the gondola so much that you had to take off your sunglasses.  Suddenly, you pop over the ridge and you’re thrust into the bright summer sun. Stammering to get your bearings again.

We scrambled off, the hustling gondola nipping at our heels like a border collie. And that’s when it hit us.

Hiking in the Italian Dolomites -- Seceda
The hike down from Seceda is a fantastically easy hike. You take a lift up and over this ridge, then hike down to huts for lunch and beer along the way.

This eerie Other World. A lush green carpet, the puffs of clouds dappling its folds with shafts of light moving across a great green and blue valley. Giant beasts of mountains thrusting to the sky. The only sound, cowbells clanging in the distance.

I frisked myself, making sure I wasn’t wearing a bright orange furry suit on a Teletubbies set. I looked around. Freakish. Unreal. After a rushed breakfast decision to come up here, little did we know we’d hit the jackpot.


Seceda Val Gardena

When you first hear about the Italian Dolomites and see the amazing pictures of the area, you want to do as I did and say “I want to go there.”  But trying to figure it out is kind of difficult because there isn’t just one mountain range, but more like a grid of mountain ranges, vast in area. But as you learn more you realize that it is really broken down to a range of valleys, each having its own mountains, its own geological characteristic. That’s why this whole area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Val Gardena is one of those prized valleys. Val Gardena is almost like a “marketing region” comprised of a string of villages that pearl up the valley floor — Ortisei, Selva di Val Gardena and Santa Cristina — dramatic mountains looming over every shoulder like a crowded New York subway car.

Val Gardena from the air
You can see the great Val Gardena valley as it wraps around the giant Sassolungo. Starting with Selva, the St. Ulrich and Santa Christina is clipped off on the left.

This was my second visit here, this time dragging my best friends along. My first trip was baffling, trying to piece it all together. It’s confusing because this has been an area in flux for thousands of years. First prehistoric, then its own isolated region of Ladin-speaking people cut off from the rest of the world due to its intense geography — the Ladin people and language dating back to Roman times, isolated from the world, but still maintaining their own ancient identity. Then it became part of Austria. Then divvied up again after the brutal WWI, where the front lines cut right through here, the spoils going to a reconstituted Italy.

Because of that history, what makes the Dolomites difficult is that everything is in three different languages. German. Italian. Ladin. Often used interchangeably. So, for example, the sweet village of Ortisei is also referred to as Urtijëi in Ladin and St. Ulrich in German. So bear with me. Even the Dolomites are also referred to as South Tyrol or Südtirol and Alto Adige.   And then the Dolomites spread across multiple regions, so you could be in Bolzano, Trentino or Belluno. It’s enough to drive you crazy. But I’m here to help.

In winter, this whole region has 1,200 kilometers of ski slopes, 450 lifts, and 50 small towns. All interconnected. Much of it above tree line. One ski pass and you can ski all of the slopes and lifts, and ski from town to town.

But in summer, this area is perfect for what I call by Mountain Strolling. All this turns to the lush rolling green carpet of grass and farms that it started out as. The sound of cow bells clanging in every pasture and valley. Chairlifts can take you on top of the mountains, often above treeline, and looping trails connect everything together. You can even hike from town to town, with a fantastic bus system that can take you back to your village.

Each day you just head out and decide how far, how long and how hard you want to go. Family-run “huts” called rifugios — really, cabin-like restaurants — are all along the way.  Perfectly spaced out about half-hour or hour apart from each other, serving panini or polenta with porcini, with a spicy red Lagrein to wash it down and a doppio espresso to propel you to the next happy hütte. Proper bathrooms and toilet paper in each hut provide confidence and comfort along the way.

It’s all so Civilized.

Everywhere you turn in lush, green Val Gardena you see these looming massifs, brooding over the valleys on all sides, like a Vulture Convention ready for something to happen. You’ve never seen anything like it. Vast crumbling walls jutting to the sky, each grouping having its own personality. I’m in heaven here.

Hiking Down Sassolungo to Rifugio Vicenza

Hike Around Sassoluno
When you get to the base, there’s a crazy two-person gondola that takes you all the way to the top, the split on the left. To get in, you kinda have to do a running start and then jump in behind someone and you stand the whole way. Best to bring a friend…

The Saslonch, Sassolungo or Langkofel is the highest mountain of the Langkofel Group in the Dolomites in South Tyrol, Italy. The name translates to “long peak” / “long rock” in all three languages.

This is a great hike. Actually a hike-down-to-lunch spot. You take a goofy two-man standup lift that you load-in like a Roman chariot to the top of Sassolungo (one of the most pokey-outest of the Dolomite formations). It towers over the entire valley.

Everyone hanging out on a mountain top, having a nice cold beer, some polenta and local mushrooms and a doppio macchiato to encourage the next three hours of hiking.

Sassolungo hiking route
You drive up to Sella Pass and there is a great big parking lot and lift. You take the lift all the way up to a crux between the steep mountains, then hike down to Rifugio Vicenza. A stunning location. Then you hike down and around the giant Sassolungo massif back to your car.
Hike Around Sassolungo gondola
When you see pictures of these goofy two-man gondolas on Instagram, you instantly know where it’s from.

You take a goofy two-man standup lift that you load-in like a Roman chariot to the top of Sassalungo (one of the most pokey-outest of the Dolomite formations). Some of the down part gets a little hairy and a little crowded, but worth it for what comes next.

The gondola drops you off at the waaaay top, in the crux between those two peaks above. From there, it’s jaw-dropping view down the steep scree chute on the other side. The first bits are a little hairy, it’s like rock skiing, without skis.

Looking down from Sassolungo
Sassolungo Rifugio Vicenza
The perfect place to put a restaurant. It takes about an hour to get down from the top to Rifugio Vicenza, steep and scree the whole way. But when you arrive, it’s about as cool as it gets. With a big deck and seating inside.
Rifugio Vicenza amphitheater
Rifugio Vicenza sits perched in its own amphitheater.

After lunch and a rest, you’re on your way down to the base of Sassolungo, which sits like a big upside tooth in the middle of the valley. The trail circles the base, with views of the deceptively massive Sella Massif wall across the valley.

Sella Massif

Two Hikes From The Top of Seceda

I mean, seriously. This place is ridiculous. So many amazing mountains. So many perfect hikes. Such a delightful way to get into the mountains. The Seceda hike is a four hour, two-beer, two-hut trek; my favorite so far. (Until the next one…)  You can make it longer if you want because you’re up on a giant plateau.

This is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most stupendous views of all the Dolomites.

view of sassolungo from Seceda Val Gardena

Here’s how it works: The hike is in the national park called Puez-Odle started with driving to the next town of Ortisei, you got to the end of the town and look for the Ortisei-Furnas-Seceda gondola, taking a cable car to Seceda, up above steep rocky cliffs and dumping us in the bright sun on the other side. The car makes a stop, but keep on it until the end at the top of the ridge. You’ll know when you’re there.

A huge basin opens below, rolling green and lush, like the set of a Teletubbies episode, pocked with hay barns and cow sheds and criss-crossing trails.

From there, you can see forever — it’s a national park studded with huge bizarre rock formations as far as you can see. You can go off in any direction, trails funnel you down the valleys to the base, stopping for nourishment along the way. No need to pack your food, or even water, family-run huts are every 40 minutes our so, serving up good food, cold beer, hot espresso and toilets that rival a Hilton. (P.S. if you find a Canon point-and-shoot camera at one of the huts, DM me!).

These are just crazy looking mountains. Perfect for a leisurely Mountain Stroll. This hike was particularly easy, you take a gondola up to this high point, then leisurely wind your way down past all the moo cows dinging their clalook for signs that lead you to the left towards Malga Pieralongia and Rifugio Firenze. It’s a pretty flat trail that scoots across the base of the mountains

Seceda Val Gardena view

First, Sidetrack Up To The Ridgeline of Seceda

But before starting the descent, head UP the hill to the steep but short trail behind the gondola, the Seceda ridgeline, you’ll see the trail go right up to the lip of the mountain. From here you get the single best view of the Odles, if not the entire Dolomites. Weather is created here. There’s a trail that you can follow all along the ridge, then cut back down, following the signs to Pieralongia and Rifugio Firenze.

Seceda Val Gardena mountains
flowers on trail Seceda
Seceda Val Gardena hiking the ridge
hiking along Seceda ridgeline
Seceda Val Gardena mist
hiker on ridge Seceda

From Seceda to Troier Hütte

Troier Hut is a small little rifugio about a third of the way down from the top of Seceda and an easy short hike if your short on time. It´s directly down the mountain from the Seceda lift and you zigzag your way down. Great goulash and pasta and incredible views. Then, after you´re stuffed you can just walk 20 mins down to a shorter lift that´ll take you back up to the top of Seceda. Or you can continue down the mountain and take a lift down from there.

Troier Hut busy lunch

Seceda to Pieralongia to Rifugio Firenze

Now you can get back to the trail to head to Pieralongi. You can see on the map above, you scoot across the top of the plateau. Mountains to your left, the amazing view to your right. Your head will be swiveling. Look for signs that lead you to the left towards Malga Pieralongia and Rifugio Firenze. It’s a pretty flat trail that shoots across the base of the mountains.

trail below Seceda Val Gardena

And once you see the devil horns popping eerily from the green carpet, you know you’re on the right track.

mountain view from Seceda ridge
trail to malga Pieralongia
view of Pieralongia

Malga Pieralongia is the rifugio stop on the way. Fantastic little place with a grazing cattle, stubborn mules and cold beer. There are big picnic tables for a group, or to nuzzle up next to strangers. You get a beer, order your food from the main cabin and they bring it out to you. There’s even a playground for kids, here, on top of a mountain.

Pieralongia donkeys
It was almost surreal to be standing here, pushing a button and then seeing it in front of me. A beer and my best friends 20m behind me. This formation is called Pieralongia and it looks like devil’s horns.
Pieralongia menirs
malga Pieralongia cabin

Then after a beer and rest, you head another 45 mins down to Rifugio Firenze. Time for another beer. First built in 1888, they have a much bigger deck and menu. From there, you can either walk down to town or cross the mountain and take a lift down to taxis or buses that wait at the bottom of the lift to take you back to your chalet.

Seceda peaks

This was is my favorite hike of the Dolomites, I’ve done it twice now. Not very difficult. Make sure you hang a left as you get off, we missed it, but there are incredible views of the backside of these mountains.

I can’t wait to go back.

Here’s more info on this hike, from the office Val Gardena website. The newly robust AllTrails post on Seceda — when I first came here, it was hard to find anything in English!

Where to Eat in Val Gardena

There are a lot of great restaurants in the many towns of Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva. Be adventurous and venture into a different village each night, they’re each just minutes from each other. It’s Italy, so if anywhere was bad, they’d be out of business.

These are the two nicest ones we’ve found.

Restaurant Tubladel

Restaurant Tubladel is on everyone’s Top 10 lists and there’s a reason. It’s really fantastic. We loved it so much, we went there twice. Then came back on our second trip. A typical stübe but with exceptional meals and service.
Restaurant Tubladel dining room
Tubladel diners

Sotriffer Ristorante Rosticceria & Wine Bar

Sotriffer Ristorante & Wine Bar is so great. Right in the heart of Ortisei, we just stumbled in to see if that had a table. Loved everything. Sit in the back room where they open up the windows to the cool mountain air. Came back on our trip two years later.

Here’s the TripAdvisor review of Tubladel. Love this place:

Here’s the website for the awesome second restaurant in Ortesei.Ristorante Rosticceria Grill Room di Luis Sotriffer

More Travel Resources for Val Garden and the Dolomites

Here’s a post I did on three great hikes in Alta Badia, the next valley over. Here’s a post I did on the nearby town of San Cassiano in the nearby Alta Badia.

Here’s a very recent article 36 Hours in the Italians Dolomites in the NYTimes.  Here’s a great overview article of the Dolomites in Elle Decor.   And this is the most useful and up to date guide to Val Gardena, the official website of the valley.

And a pretty good article in Travel & Leisure.  And a great Summer in the Dolomites article in the UK’s Telegraph.  And here’s Fodor’s super guide to the Dolomites.  And a fabulous big spread in the New York Times Travel section on eating and hiking in the Dolomites.  And a perfect article on Walking Holidays in the Dolomites in the UK’s The Independent.

And Lonely Planet’s guide to the Dolomites. And this video of the Dolomites in 4K will just blow your brain out.

12 Discussions on
  • I am so grateful for your post here about this dolomite region. I’ll be heading over from Kals am GrossGlöckner Austria in September 2019. As you said, it is hard to figure out where to start. But this was extremely helpful. Many thanks.
    Nancy Jarvis/SLC Utah

    • Wow, thanks Nancy! It took me a while to figure out. Hoping to make it back again this summer. I think the Italian Su Tirol is about 40 min drive from Innsbruck, but I’ve never come from that direction. I hope you like it. It’s so cool… and ruined my hiking here in Colorado because it is so much fun, the mountains so much more stunning. Have a blast. — Dan

  • Hi Dan, really enjoyed reading your post. My family are heading to the Dolomites in 2020 and are staying in Ortisei. Can you give me an idea approximately how long both hikes took to complete. We have are all quite fit and our youngest will be 9 at the time of travel and has done some decent walks on holidays before. Just trying to get a basic itinerary organised for our trip.

    Many thanks, Mark (Melbourne, Australia)

    • Thanks for the nice words, Mark! It’s a lovely lovely place. Sorry for the delay, I’ve actually been hiking all around Val Gardena with a bunch of friends all week! It’s even better the third time around. Most of the hikes are 4-5 hours if you stop and have some lunch and even a rest. And you can always cut short almost any hike and take a lift down instead of hiking to the bottom. I’ve been here with four other couples, each of varying stamina and interest and everyone found a great way to take as much participation as they want. It’s just such a fantastic family place, I’d say 80% of hiking groups are families with kids of all ages, even down to six month olds in napsacks. You’re going to love it. If you have other questions, feel free to shoot them my way. If you’re on Instagram, I’ve been posting a TON of pics from our hikes all week — under

      — Dan

  • Without a doubt the most useful and inspiring information about the Val Gardena on the internet. Thank you sooooo much! And I love that you’ve shared links to recent articles and websites too. This is an amazing resource and you’ve really made me certain that the Val Gardena is the place in the Dolomites we will go next summer (because, as you say, all the options are quite overwhelming). Thank you, thank you! I have bookmarked for future reference.

    • Oh wow, thank you so much Pepper! That means a lot to me. I just got back from another week in Val Gardena so should have some updated posts coming sometime soon. Thanks for writing!

  • Wow! thank you! such beautiful photos, I can’t wait! I’m going there in mid-June, staying in Ortisei…w/o a car but I think I’ll be just fine….

  • I’ve never been to the area before and I’m still confused on the hike from Seceda to Pieralongia – So, do I take the cable car in Ortisei? Is there only one cable car I get on or do I get on another after getting off at Seceda? Where do I park to catch the cable car? I really want to eat at the Rifufio Firenza…how for is it after I get off the cable car? Sorry for all the questions just trying to make sure I fully understand how to do this spectacular hike! Thanks so much!

    • Thanks for writing Tracey! Ask anything. I know, it’s very confusing until you get there…and even then. There is a gondola from the end of Ortisei, it’s a major gondola, so clearly marked. It has a parking garage from what I remember, or one nearby, the signs are clearly marked, head for the Seceda-Furnes gondola, all the street signs point to that and look for the parking P. You take the gondola all the way to the top of Seceda (there is a halfway stop to let people off, just keep going to the end at the top, you can’t miss it.). You actually come up the backside of Seceda and it plops you right over the lip. (If you get on google maps and turn on 3D you can zoom around to get oriented.) From there, the view is amazing of the whole valley and the big Sassalunga spikey mountain across the valley. You will see trail signs that head to each hut. Follow the Pieralungia trail and you scoot almost horizontally across the bowl (you can see that view in the 2nd pic of the attached album I’m linking below.

      HOWEVER I highly recommend you detour up right behind the gondola drop-off to the mountain ridge, you’ll see people going up there, it takes about 20-30mins. That’s the money shot view of the entire Dolomites, you walk directly along the lip of Seceda and the most dramatic shots in the Dolomites of the jaws of the Odle formation. Then, the trail will direct you back down to intercept the Pieralongia trail. You’re back on track. Rest at Pieralongia with a beer, then follow the signs down to Firenze hut. Have lunch. You can either hike down to Santa Cristina or Selva, or follow the signs to the Col Raiser gondola to take you back down. (You actually hike up a little for half an hour to Col Raiser as you can see on the map I built for you in the link.) Col Raiser drops you off in the Santa Cristina village, there is usually a bus or a taxi waiting or coming soon and will take you back to Ortisei. Trust it, it works. Skiing or hiking from town to town is a year-round thing in the whole valley. Here’s the link of the map I built for you. Green are the gondolas and red the hiking direction.’s Map. Hope that helps. Have a blast!

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow Us on Instagram @youshouldgohere