Welcome to Toblach in the South Tyrol, a jewel of a place in the glittering splendour of the Dolomites. Known also by its Italian name of Dobbiaco the picturesque town is famous as both a meeting and a departure point.
It is here in the Pustertal that the Bavarian and Italian cultures come together to compliment the charm and character of the region. The architecture and language remains largely Germanic and a strong tradition of Tyrolean costume is evident for all to see. Yet the dash of Latin flair is never far away. It has embellished churches, infused the local mountain cuisine with a hint of the Mediterranean and given the local commerce a cosmopolitan flavour. If ever you were to imagine a place that balances the pragmatism and efficiency of Germanic culture with the style and passion of all that is Italy, then the Val Pusteria, and Dobbiaco in particular, could be that place.
It is here also that waters part. To the east flows the Drau on its long journey to join the Danube and empty into the Black Sea, whilst to the west flows the Rienz to feed the Adige and the Adriatic. Below the town is the watershed in Toblacher field where two rivers rise and water divides. Youthful, fast-flowing and crystal clear, the rivers appear as if snow fed quicksilver ribbons that adorn the shallow valley floor.
With a superb climate and stunning scenery it is little wonder that Toblach became a magnet for European nobility in times gone by. The world’s leading composer at the time, Gustav Mahler was a famous resident adding culture and glamour to the existing geological wonders. The stately Grand Hotel bears testament to the town's rich past and it has been beautifully restored to house a museum, youth hostel and a flourishing programme of regular concerts and events, which any visitor is sure to enjoy.
In a nutshell this is Toblach, our meeting point and our parting point. It is here that your trekking holiday in the Dolomites really begins and from where each day we will head off to explore the natural splendours of the adjacent peaks.
The mountain scenery, as you would expect, is stupendous, with the breathtaking Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the jewel in the crown. These three statuesque dolomite towers are one of the most iconic sights in the European mountains. Cima Grande, standing at 2999 metres is a famous test piece for budding Alpinists, one of the five great North Faces of the Alps, and presenting a unique challenge of 100m of vertical rock. The mountain day walk to Tre Cime or Drei Zinnen is one of the many trip highlights and an experience that will linger long in your memory.
The region has much to compliment the stunning geography. For wild flower enthusiasts the thin limestone soils are awash with wild flowers. June and July are the best times to visit if Botany is your passion but throughout the season you will find a host of species blooming in the alpine pastures. Likewise military historians will know that this area was the scene of many battles during the First World War. The fighting in the surrounding mountains between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Italians was indecisive yet bloody. During your week of walking we will pass many relics of this conflict, from heavy artillery emplacements, sniper posts and isolated garrisons. On your free day there is further opportunity to indulge your interest with a visst to the open air museum near Cortina.
Other activities that are within reach on your rest day are a train journey to Bolzano. Here you will find the world famous Iceman museum. A groundbreaking exhibition of artefacts that were discovered along with the well preserved mummy of Otzi- the iceman in a nearby glacier. He is Europe’s oldest natural mummy. The scientific analysis of the mummy and his belongings offer one of the best insights into the life of our ancestors. The display, over four levels, highlights the in-depth techniques used to scrutinise Otzi’s last meal, his injuries and recent illnesses and even his tattoos, all offering a unique picture of life in 3300BC.
In the other direction to Bolzano is the nearby Austrian border, just 8km from Toblach. Lienz the nearest town on the Austrian side is a lovely day trip. With a rich cultural history and lots of tourist cafes and restaurants it is a seductive place to while away a few hours. It is easily accessible by bus and train, although my favourite is the 40km downhill bike ride followed by a train journey back to Dobbiaco. If all this sounds like hard work then you can always stay in town - there is an outdoor pool and sports complex, nearby Lake Dobbiaco and regular free concerts at the Grand Hotel ballroom.
The trekking here is amongst the best I have ever experienced, challenging yet rewarding. So if you have never visited this corner of the Alps I'd definitley recommend you put it on your list. It’s a week that I’m sure will live long in your memory.
Written by Tim Myers - Tour Leader