We decided to spend a sporty last-year-week enjoying the often neglected, however remarkable, Italian wilderness and possibly wildlife in the National Park Fanes-Senes-Braies in the Italian Dolomites. So we prepared our backpacks, borrowed two couples of snow rackets and left for Trentino region.
Our destination was Lavarella Mountain Lodge, a refuge set at 2050 mt in the heart of the natural park. You can get there by a 2 hours long walk leaving from the last lodge accessible by car, Pederü Lodge. We arrived at Pederü in the early afternoon, left there our car for the week (it offers free parking) and started our climb towards Lavarella.
For something more specific on wildlife, check my strictly wild posts!
They trail is wide and clean and it’s easy to walk even with backpacks on. The lodges offer the possibility to go up by snowcat but we preferred not to slack off. The walk should take around 2 hors but, even if packed, we literally run it in a bit longer that an hour. We were rushing trying to get to Lavarella before sunset, happening at 4.30 pm.
Warm smiles and homemade cookies, the first bite of the infinite kindness of our hosts, the family that runs the lodge, welcomed us. A quick pit stop in out small but cosy double room and off to a steaming shower, always available in the shared bathrooms. The lodge also has a barrel sauna that you can request for 10 euros.
Our first dinner, a set menu based on our half board arrangement, was rich and definitely satisfying. They offer traditional recipes and everything is made of local products and handmade by the hosts, always willing to adapt to any dietary requirement if only informed with a bit of advice.
Our days started with abundant breakfast and a morning excursion, followed by lunch in the lodge and a lazy afternoon to recover from our crazy hikes. Dinner, a chat with other guests and great night’s sleep. We were pampered at every dinner, prepared with care and, despite our half-board arrangement, inclusive of starter, first course, main course with sides and dessert. If I really have to identify some cons, I’d say that, when the number of guests increased, a little bit too long passed from one course to another (and, it might be just my impression, but dessert sizes grew a bit smaller) but I really have only positive memories on our culinary and, especially, human experience at Lavarella.
Every morning, our hosts would share tips based on the weather and about the best hikes –they were super useful for orientation and always available. Almost every day, when leaving, we met Anna – who followed us with incredible patience and kindness from when we booked to when we left – coming back from her morning runs in the snow.
There are around 6 itineraries around the lodge, for 6 days deep in wilderness. On these steep trails, some of which accessible if well trained and expert, we encountered chamois and snow-white birds whose name I’ve forgotten to ask (any help in identifying them?) besides hares, foxes and ungulates’ tracks.
There are at least a couple of trails that are accessible to everyone, while others require carefulness. Nothing impossible though, despite my being a total newbie with snow and snow rackets. With a good physical preparation and/or a guide, it’s possible to enjoy even the steepest and most exposed paths.
These were for sure 6 days of good “working out”, having tried to fit each excursion in around 3 hours despite the difference in altitude to cover, a day of strong wind and technical difficulties. If you want to use this timing as a benchmark, be aware that indeed I have no experience in snow but I train hard throughout the whole year and we took almost no breaks.
One peak was particularly tough, with a slippery uphill share and very steep, a frozen passage that made us regret not having crampons and a glacier swept by strong winds. We reached an Austrian outpost that served to defend the territory from Italian troops during the war.
Another feature excursion leads to the pass behind the lodge. The way back surely is the fun part, as we crazily sped through, sliding down on out belly and bump on the snow covering the steep gorge. It was definitely worth a try.
The best part of being the first to arrive when the lodge opened for winter is that the majority of trails were not tracked due to the fresh snow covering them. We had to autonomously identify and track them – not without getting lost multiple times. The most impressive of these occasions occurred when we completely lost any sort of signalling, blinded by snow, so we ventured up to the crests on the opposite side of the valley we were meant to cross to try to sort a path out from that higher point of view. A group of poor excursionists decided to follow our misleading steps, just to reverse and go back after breaking their backs to reach the first wrong peak – probably sending us a few curses. But they were too quick in giving up: after hundreds of detours, we managed to close the trail wondering between snow and wind, coming back just in time to ask Anna a mug of hot chocolate.
On our last day, we rented a couple of little sleighs and slid right to Pederü Lodge parking lot, between speed contests, trying to avoid snowcats coming up and getting stuck on gravel.
Overall, it was a wonderful, super tiring and wild 6 days and I regret not having dedicated much time to Italian mountains and wilderness before – we even enjoyed a bit of wildlife. If you are more expert than I am, please share some tips and top destination across the country (keeping in mind I don’t ski) and give Park Fanes a try!