We flew to Venice and caught the train to Villabassa, via Verona.
Albergo Lago di Braies which is situated on a beautiful turquoise lake surrounded by forests and mountains and is the starting point of the Alta Via 1.
After a good night's sleep and a morning cup of coffee laced with grappa (a strong Italian liquor), we set off bright and early. The coffee with grappa became our morning tradition during the hike. It wasn't long before we realized that the quality of our maps wasn't great. Countour lines and distances were not very accurate at all and we reached our first Rifugio way before we'd planned. After stopping here for something to eat, we decided to keep going to the next Rifugio which didn't look too far away, but yes, it was indeed much farther away than depicted on the map! We didn't have bunks booked but were hopeful that they would have room for us. The scenery was amazing and constantly changing from mountains, rocks, forests and moors. Although the trails were steep and narrow, they were not too difficult. We eventually arrived at Rifugio Pederu and got a fantastic room in the attic all to ourselves complete with fresh, clean bedding. No sleeping bags required here :) We spent the night eating and having a few beers.
The next day began with the customary grappa laced coffee followed by an almost vertical climb. We were pretty tired by the time we got to the top and even though our planned destination Rifugio Lavarella was closer than we'd thought, we decided to stay there anyway. We were surrounded by stunning mountains, scenery and lots of trails, so we hiked around, ate a huge lunch and messed around at a nearby lake. The signposts along the trails were great, probably better than some of our maps!
Our next destination was Rifugio Lagazuoi, situated at 9,028 ft on top of a rocky crag full of caves and tunnels that were carved into the mountain below during World War 1. We hiked for a long time before we reached our planned lunch stop Rifugio Scottoni which was about half way. Scottoni is situated in a huge meadow/valley surrounded by rocky peaks. We could smell it before we saw it, the scent of roasting meat was amazing. Lunch here was a great experience, surrounded by beautiful scenery, drinking big beers and eating tasty barbequed meat. It was hard to get going again, in fact we should probably have just stayed here for the night but we pressed on. Onwards and upwards, we climbed for the rest of the day, it was brutal! All the time we could see Lagazuoi in the distance, never seeming to get any closer. This part of the hike was all rock and scree and it was tough going to be honest. We finally reached the Rifugio, checked in and dumped our stuff on our bunks. This time we were sleeping in a large dormitory with 17 other people. Cheap again, but not too luxurious :) The 360 degree view from up here was spectacular. You could see for miles. We were surrounded by sheer cliff faces and jagged mountains and the drop directly below the Rifugio was steep and scary.
The next day after our grappa coffee, we climbed around some of the rocks and explored the labyrinth of underground tunnels inside the mountain with our headtorches. It's hard to believe there were men (Austrian and Italian troops) fighting battles here, although the scars on the rock give you some idea. You can read some information about it here. It was steep, rocky and crumbling and here is the husband giving me a heart attack :)
We made it down to the bottom after a lot of fun scrambling and had another coffee with grappa. As we were sitting enjoying our drink, a man sat down next to us and asked us if we could show him the receipt for our drinks. Apparently he was a plain clothes policeman trying to catch out the owners of the cafe for tax dodging. We thought at one point that we were in big trouble too, but he let us go after warning us about obtaining proper receipts. Crazy!
Next up was another huge climb towards the massive Cinque Torri. We were getting used to blasting up trails now so it wasn't a problem although the boys were giving me a hard time about the lack of use and the weight in our backpacks of the unused carabiners, slings and sleeping bags!
Rifugio Palmieri, a lovely place next to a lake.
The next day after a couple of grappa coffees and a huge breakfast, we traversed trails through forests and across rock faces. It was spectacular. We could see were were slowly losing height and decided that we would stop our hike in Zoldo Alto at the Albergo Bosco Verde where the husband and I had stayed before on a ski trip. We also knew that we could easily get a bus from here down to Belluno and then continue by train to Pordenone to stay with a friend who lived close by. We had a nice, hot shower, stuffed our faces, drank too much and all had a fabulous night's sleep in huge, comfy beds :)
So that's a brief summary of our Alta Via 1 experience taken from my fuzzy memory. It was one of the best holidays I've ever had and I would love to do it again one day. I've probably forgotten a lot, but this would be a very long blog post if I posted everything, so think yourselves lucky :) Our very last journey here in Italy was on a water taxi from Venice across the lagoon to the airport as the sun was setting, such a beautiful and poignant way to end our trip. Happy travels y'all!