(Alta Via 1) The valley ahead, Malga Fanes Grande

The Alta Via 1: A guide to the trek

Walking guides - see all our background pages


Bare facts

The Alta Via 1 is a walking trail through the Italian Dolomites, for 120km (75 miles) from Dobbiaco in the North to Belluno in the South.

The highest point reached by the standard route is 2,752m (9,029ft) and the height gain on the route is around 6,665m (21,833ft).

Trekkers typically take 10 days to complete the trek, give or take a day or two.


Best bits

Some of the AV1's most exhilarating and exacting walking comes around Passo Falzarego and the old battle sites from World War One. Optional sections with cables let the walker explore the steep rocky hillsides and tunnels, including the famous Galleria Lagazuoi.

Towards the Southern end of the route, the character changes slightly as the massifs become more distinct. The AV1 rounds Monte Civetta to its West. (These latter stages are a bit more bold than the earlier ones. The general theme remains, but the 9th stage across the Cime de Zita is a full day in the open mountains.)

A final night is spent in an almost pastoral location yet still high in the mountains, just before Forcella la Varetta and the final roll down to the valley. Such charming spots are what make the AV1 distinct.

The circuit of Monte Pelmo is a variant to the main route... the classic Giro di Monte Pelmo... that you will see mentioned but that we find hard to recommend to any trekkers, due to its loose scree, exposed sections, and committing situation.

Photos from trips: Alta Via 1


Names - a brief note

Alta Via Uno would be the full title of the AV1, in Italian. Translated, it simply means High Route One. German is the language at the start of the AV1 and on the maps that we include in your info pack, you will see the route marked as the Dolomiten Hohenweg... again, the High Route of the Dolomites.


Is it for me?

The joy of trekking
There is great satisfaction in completing stages of a long-distance trek, even more so when it's a famous one like the AV1. There might be times when the climb seems too much effort, and when you encounter bad weather; at such times the goal keeps you going. Equally there should be days when you feel all-powerful, tackling the mountain trails as if they were paths in the park!

One of the best feelings on trek can be nearing the end of a stage, once you're well into the walk, knowing that you've ticked off another leg of the quest. At such points you've also got an evening in a new village to look forward to. Travelling in a self-sufficient manner through the charming yet stunning terrain of the AV1, this all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying holiday.



The AV1 waymark on a rock in the Dolomites
The AV1 waymark on a rock


Can I manage it?
The AV1 is manageable for normal fit mountain walkers who are happy to walk for between 4h and 8h per day along a long-distance trail. It will greatly help your enjoyment of the trek to arrive fit at the start, used to walks of similar distance and height gain to those that you are about to face.

One tough stage is the initial climb of 900m (2,952ft) from Lago di Braies to reach the high mountains. If the day's optional detour to the Croda del Becco is taken, it is a day of fairly solid ascent!

The spacing of huts determine the distances each day, of course, and we can book many variations on our schedules according to how our clients want to approach the AV1. If you'd like a fast dash or a trip that minimises the longest days, we suggest our 8-day trek as a starting point. On the other hand, to savour the scenery on a slower schedule, we suggest our 12-day trek.

For those wary of walking the AV1 in one go, it is possible to spend a rest day at any of the huts on the trail, but better is to divert to a nearby town. There aren't many that are convenient or that have enough going on, but it's possible. Our normal schedule spends one rest day in Cortina, a fine Italian town that comes alive in both Summer and Winter. It is a half-day's walk or a bus ride from the AV1 route.

Of course, the AV1 can also be tackled over two holidays each fitting into a week. We offer both the North and the South halves and each makes an excellent trip in its own right.

Long weekends are quite possible too, as indeed are trips of any length. Please contact us and we'll plan a trek for you over a suitable section of the AV1.

What's it like underfoot?
Underfoot you will experience a variety of tracks and trails on the AV1. Standardly the mountainous sections run on single-track paths that can be rocky in places, sometimes with steps but mostly just the bare earth. Mud is not a problem in the same way as on paths in the UK, for example! Tracks are also common - perhaps gravel forest roads, ski pistes, or rough tracks for vehicles over agricultural land. There are some sections of country lanes, and on occasion some busier roads for example on the final walk to La Stanga.



Inside the church in Cortina
Inside the church in Cortina


Is the route obvious?
The AV1 is waymarked quite well throughout its length. Waymarks vary from paint flashes denoting that you are on some path (but which one?!) to dedicated AV1 waymarks which are a big numeral '1' inside a triangle. However, it is essential for all parties on the AV1 to have at least one competent navigator with a map and compass, for those situations where the route is not marked at a turning or where the clouds have closed in. The best maps for the route unfortunately still have mistakes. Our routecards, notes and maps give you all you need to complete the trek under your own steam.

During each summer season, snow falls on typically two or three or more occasions. It tends to go away equally quickly and tends not to be deep at the altitude of the AV1, but for the time it remains it can make navigation even more challenging. Under a cover of snow, ground features are hidden and reliance on map and compass skills is key.

Is it technically difficult?
The AV1 is first and foremost a walk. There is no glacier walking and no rock climbing. Especially of note in the Dolomites, an area famous for its via ferrata, there are no via ferrata sections on our AV1; we take the variant to La Stanga which avoids a via ferrata on the Schiara.

There are however some sections where the path crosses rocky and steep ground, plus sections with metal cables as handrails over normal Alpine walking terrain. Some stages cross open, unforgiving terrain without easy escape routes: full days of mountain walking calling for self-reliance especially in wet weather with bad visibility.

More than most of our routes, how difficult the AV1 is for any group depends heavily on the options chosen each day. For the strongest walkers the AV1 offers variants to the main route that take in steeper and looser terrain at the upper end of the Alpine walking scale. Equally, other variants offer smoother terrain, missing harder sections. It isn't possible to complete the AV1 on foot without at least some sections of loose ground with steep drops to the side, and the 9th stage which is relatively exposed to the elements and high up. Please contact us and we'll be happy to describe the difficulties in more detail. Your rouetcards contain detailed information about likely hazards on the trail.

Unseasonal weather
The typical summer's day in the Alps brings hot sun, perhaps with occasional rain or afternoon storms, but in any case paths clear of snow. However, fresh snowfalls occur each summer on a handful of occasions. Most often, these leave a coating of an inch or two on higher passes only, and they disappear in a day or two. However, sometimes the snow stays for longer periods and is deeper. While the AV1 should be approached as a summer Alpine trek, with snow quite unlikely, it is wise to know that snow can fall even in summer.

We show this photo in order to be clear what an unseasonally wintry day can mean for the terrain underfoot. This is the path to Forcella del Lago (2,486m) on the AV1; the path climbs steadily up to the Forecella which is the obvious notch in the cliffs.



The AV1 waymark on a rock in the Dolomites
Snow on the approach to the Forcella del Lago, on the AV1


When to go?
Our Alta Via 1 season runs from mid-July to mid-September.

This short season is imposed by the weather: the chance of late-Spring snow patches remaining into early July across the higher passes, and the chance of the weather deteriorating into late September. Because we can't predict the weather for the coming summer, we have to set these dates in advance.


Where to stay

The AV1's accommodation is a major attraction of the route. The bulk of the trek is provided with mountain huts at a high standard, rather than hotels, because the route stays high in the hills except for five road passes. At start and end, and over any rest days, there is a choice of luxurious hotels, more modest hotels, campsites, and auberges with a mix of rooms and dormitories.

Most accommodation is family-run, even in the larger places such as Cortina. We enjoy the variety of the places we have found; we aim to give a true experience of the Alps and of the Alta Via 1. In Cortina if you take a rest day there, we book our splendid and comfortable hotel in the centre of the action.


The route

Here's a brief guide to the places and experiences on the AV1, on our normal 10-stage schedule.



The summit of Croda del Becco above Rifugio Biella
The summit of Croda del Becco


Stage One
The AV1 starts at Lago di Braies, the mountain lake at the Northern edge of the Dolomites. Dobbiaco is the town to the North East that we stay in for a first night; the walk from Dobbiaco to the Lago is a pleasant and agricultural stroll of half a day. The first climb from the lake, up to Rifugio Biella at 2,300m (7,545ft), is stiff but varied. At the col just before the refuge, there is an optional ascent to Croda del Becco, a lofty peak at 2,810m (9.219ft) with exceptionally wide views.

Stage Two
In profile, this second stage of the AV1 drops steadily to Rifugio Pederu and its roadhead, then climbs steadily to Rifugio Fanes at 2,060m (6,758ft). The terrain is solid, being largely on wide smooth tracks in the mountains, but with optional and rockier paths. The descent to the roadhead is notable for the mountain road in tight hairpins, as tight as can be imagined on this precipitous hillside, that marks the final section. To meet a truck here is quite a sight.

Stage Three
The next stage crosses a mass of landscape on this high ground, with the Alta Badia region close but largely unseen to the West. Stride out on easy tracks past Malga Fanes Grande at 2,102m (6,896ft) to begin the steady climb to Forcella del Lago at 2,486m (8,156ft), a window onto a new world. A narrow window at that! A steep descent on switchback paths to the lago mentioned can be skipped by a longer variant path that we describe too, in our routecards. A long steady haul uphill to Rifugio Lagazuoi brings you to the AV1's highest point at 2,752m (9.029ft).

Stage Four
Today the progress is Easterly, instead of Southerly. It must be so in order to see the best of the Falzarego and Cortina areas before the AV1 heads further South. In the morning is an optional excursion down the Galleria Lagazuoi, a restored World War One tunnel built originally by Italian troops to attack the Austrians who held the Lagazuoi summit. Torches are needed! Back on the ridge, evidence of the war remains in the fortifications and even the old barbed wire. The AV1 weaves in and out on this rocky day before dropping in zig zags to Rifugio Dibona at 2,083m (6,834ft). The hut is not far, realtively, above Cortina and this is how our rest day in Cortina is built in.



A metallic roof on this hut just above Cortina
A green hut roof near Cortina


Stage Five
From Cortina or Rif Dibona, we walk on to Rifugio Nuvolau at 2,575m (8,448ft). The Nuvolau hut is one of the best-sited on the route, on an airy perch with cliffs on two sides. Various routes can be taken today, via the Cinque Torri or five towers, a rock formation high above Cortina. A longer alternative is possible, missing the Nuvolau hut and Passo Giao entirely, instead passing Rifugio Croda da Lago to the East, and meeting again at Forcella Ambrizzola.

Stage Six
In descent from Rif Nuvolau is a steep and loose section helped by cables and ladders. A straightforward alternative is possible too. The AV1 crosses the important road pass of Passo Giao, then takes to open hillsides around the back of Monte Formin. These are grassy and wide plains giving easy walking. After Passo Ambrizzola and the convergence with the alternative route, the AV1 strikes a generally donwhill course over pastures and through woodland, to the charmingly sited Rifugio Citta di Fiume at 1,918m (6,292ft).

Stage Seven
We cannot recommend the Giro di Monte Pelmo, in this context a near-circumnavigation of this famous Dolomite mountain, today because the terrain is unusually steep and loose. The normal AV1 takes a more relaxed course through open woodland to Passo Staulanza, then to Rifugio Coldai at 2,132m (6,995ft) on the flanks of Monte Civetta... the next bold plug of rock passed by the AV1. The routes have converged again.

Stage Eight
Completing the route around Monte Civetta is today's goal, and reaching Passo Duran at 1,601m (5,252ft). Terrain and paths are good, generally, with some rockier steps as a series of spurs are crossed. There is a grand sense of scale to today's walking, with the aspect of distant hills changing from West to South throughout the day. Passo Duran comes as a minor road pass, tranquil by evening, and a friendly base for the night.



The last of the sun at Passo Giao on the Alta Via Uno
The last of the sun at Passo Giao


Stage Nine
Now entering the final massif of the AV1, the route takes to slightly more remote hills, though with the same pattern of daily life and with similar bold scenes of dark forest and light rock. The first aim is Rifugio Pramparet in its high pasture. Large open combes are crossed on the way. The final notable ascent of the trek is almost to the summit of the Cime de Zita, to a col at 2,395m (7,858ft) called Forcella de Zita Sud. Then it's all downhill to Rifugio Pian de Fontana, a small hut on a grassy shelf at 1,632m (5,354ft). Restful and pastoral are the words here, despite its position on the edge of high mountains.

Stage Ten
A short final stage takes you briefly uphill to Forcella la Varetta at 1,701m (5,580ft) before a long descent through woods to Rifugio Bianchet and the winding track to the road. This is the Agordo to Belluno road, which we meet at La Pissa near La Stanga, for buses to Belluno. This finish misses out the difficult via ferrata descent from the Schiara; while a bus ride into town is not as natural a finish as walking, it works nicely and it keeps the whole trek at roughly the same level of trekking difficulty with no need for via ferrata equipment. Congratulations - you've reached Belluno!


The AV1 in context

The AV1 relative to treks in the UK
Compared to most treks in the UK, the AV1 has lower daily distances but similar ascent. The Coast to Coast route in England, for example, has an average stage length that is twice as long, as per our normal schedule. Of course, the altitude is higher throughout on the AV1, as it is on most Alpine treks.

The AV1 relative to the TMB and the Walker's Haute Route
The AV1 adds a third fascinating option to the classic duo of the Tour du Mont Blanc and Walker's Haute Route. Compared to the TMB, the AV1 has less daily distance and elevation gain. A lot of the AV1's distance runs along good solid and wide tracks, making progress quick and easy.. but importantly, those rocky and rough sections are perhaps more demanding than those on the TMB, with some quite bold mountainous settings. More sections of the AV1 have steep drops to one side or other, than the TMB. The AV1 is a trek in and across the mountains, as opposed to the TMB's gentler terrain set apart from the main massif. The AV1's uphill walking is more spaced out; there are fewer solidly uphill sections taking all morning, for instance. Compared to the Haute Route, the AV1 is less challenging overall, but with one day (the 9th stage) that some might feel approaches the Haute Route's level of risk. Here we compare all three treks in a table:

Conclusion
On the face of it, these three routes are similar, being treks of about a fortnight in the Alps. However, the Haute Route is significantly the toughest of the lot, and will not suit as many people as the TMB and AV1. So, the TMB is a good all-rounder but still tough, the AV1 needs more 'mountain sense' and occasionally balance, and the Haute Route is fairly specialised and suitable only for trekkers with particularly solid experience and strong fitness. This is our comparison based on our own research: each trek has different possible configurations, each giving a different feel to the route. Please ask us any time for more details; with details of your walking experience we can suggest which trek you might enjoy most.


Trek the AV1 with Alpine Exploratory

Alpine Exploratory offers three self-guided options for the AV1, plus one guided trip. We're also pleased to book shorter or longer sub-sections of the route according to your available dates. Please contact us to discuss options.

Our self-guided holidays give you what you need to complete the route under your own steam. We book your accommodation in a mix of huts and hotels and we give you our detailed routecards, the local maps, and lots of notes. Importantly we will advise on the ideal schedule and accommodation to suit your approach to the AV1. As well as the full route from Dobbiaco to Belluno we offer half-routes which we call North and South. These end and start, respectively, in the resort of Cortina which is off-route and nearly half-way.

Our guided trip is similar but gives you the benefit of an Alpine Exploratory leader to show the way.


Guided and self-guided holidays - see our full range


Research 2017

Joy O'Flanagan at Alpine Exploratory Joy O'Flanagan
Joy will lead Alpine Exploratory's 2017 AV1 research, in July



Trips 2017

Alpine Exploratory offers the following holidays based on our Alta Via 1 research:

Dolomites Alta Via 1
Dolomites Alta Via 1 (Guided)
Dolomites Alta Via 1 North
Dolomites Alta Via 1 South



City breaks after trekking

Our Alta Via 1 holidays come with notes on the following cities, in your info pack:

Venice in Italy
Innsbruck in Austria
Munich in Germany

City breaks after trekking





Map showing the route of Alpine Exploratory's Alta Via 1 walking holiday






Happy clients

"Excellent, stunning setting, long hike up... Stunning views, we certainly enjoyed the electrical storm that raged around us at meal time.

"We had a really lovely time, the weather was good, only got a soaking when we walked down into Cortina, as if the mountains where damning us for leaving. The scenery was stunning. Thank you so much."

Richard Wheeler, UK
(Alta Via 1 North)







Happy clients

"Amazing rock formations and mountains.

"Amazing for our last night. The owner was the cutest and the most helpful with keeping us informed re. the weather."

Pamela Robinson, US
(Alta Via 1)







Happy clients

"A good trip, organised and supported really well by the team at home (thanks Chrissie!)"

David Tolcher, UK
(Alta Via 1)


Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.
About us