The Dolomites – no other mountain range in Europe has such a resounding name! They are among the finest and most spectacular regions of the world, representing a complete unity of natural and cultural landscapes which evolved over centuries. The stark contrast between the rugged and massive rock formations rising abruptly on one hand and the gently rolling meadows and valleys on the other is unique. This landscape can thank its existence to the emergence of the "Pale Mountains" which started around 270 million years ago as a coral reef in the primordial sea of Tethys. Besides having a rich geological past, the region also features exuberant vegetation: The mild climate influenced by the Mediterranean Sea to the south has resulted in an enormous variety of flora, with more than 2,400 plant species. No wonder that even the uniqueness of this region has been recognized by UNESCO, the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture, which, in June of 2009, declared the Dolomites as a World Heritage Site.
The Dolomites are a holiday paradise of the first rank. The beautiful scenery provides diverse sporting and recreational opportunities for hiking, climbing, Nordic walking, running, cycling and mountainbiking in the summertime to skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and the biathlon, snowshoeing and ski touring in the winter. These are action and adventure sports such as kayaking, rafting, canyoning, paragliding, and kiting. The names of many of the mountain ranges found in this region are legendary: the Three Pinnacles, for instance, or the Sella, the Schlern / Sciliar, and the Rose Garden, the Geisler and the Puez Group, and the Sassolungo – or the highest peaks of the Dolomites, the Marmolada (3,343 meters above sea-level) – magic-sounding names, not only for mountaineers! The valleys and villages, such as the Val Gardena / Gardena Valley, Alta Badia and Corvara, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Sexten / Sesto, or the Fiemme / Fleims Valley are world famous and stand for vacation, holiday fun and sporting events.
The "Pale Mountains" with their harsh and often bizarre massifs, have fascinated people for generations. They form the basis of many legends and myths, and are the backdrop for stories of witches, gnomes, ghosts and knights, of which now belong to the narrative treasure of humanity, like the famous legend of King Laurin's rose garden.
But the Dolomites were also always the scene of real historical events. Here, different ethnic groups –Germanic tribes, Slavs, and Italians – settled. And there is also the small linguistic group of Ladin-speakers whose rare language found safe refuge in the inaccessible reaches of the Dolomite valleys. Further, all of Europe's major trading routes led through the Alps, and naturally conflicts were a recurring theme in this region. Most recently, the Dolomites were the scene of bloody battles during the First World War. The traces of this devastating war, bunkers and fortifications, trenches, supply trails, and military cemeteries, are still visible today.
On the other hand, the juxtaposition and interaction of different ethnic groups also resulted in a cultural flowering and a cultural variety which is unique in the Alpine region. The many magnificent monuments, fortresses, castles, churches, monasteries, and historic city centers give eloquent testimony. This heritage is alive even today, as is evidenced by the fantastic festivals and art projects found across the entire region.