Guest writer Carol Santora shares her experience in the Dolomites:

Cortina D’Ampezzo is a charming Italian city nestled in the magnificent Dolomiti Mountain range, a lovely 1 hour, 45 minute drive from Venice. Home of the 1956 Winter Olympics, Cortina offers incredible hiking in summer and skiing in winter.

We are partial to the classic Hotel de la Poste – location, location, location! It is set in the heart of the city, central on the pedestrian walk with plenty of strolling, shopping and people-watching activity. On two of our four visits to this unique city it has hosted cycling events, with both bicycle and motorbikes in abundance. When you drive the switchbacks of the Dolomiti, it makes Tuscany look like child’s play!

Landing in Cortina might be confusing to a first-time visitor. You might wonder if you are in Switzerland, Germany or Austria. In fact, Cortina was a Hapsburg/Austrian territory until after World War I when Italy took possession. The nearby Tre Sassi Fort is a fascinating little museum dedicated to this transfer. The architecture, food and dialects all reflect this historic cultural interplay.

Speaking of food, you might be unfamiliar with the term Casunziei.  It refers to delicate moon-shape ravioli indigenous to this region. There are two varieties, Rossi (red beet) or Verde (spinach) with butter and cheese sprinkled with poppy seed. I am so partial to Casunziei Rossi that it is a priority everyday we are there! As you might imagine, you can find a variety of wonderful restaurants and trattorias  – some necessitate a car, but most you can make a hiking destination. One of our favorite lunch sites is Ristorante Lago Scin (Lago Scin 32043) due north. You can sit outside and enjoy a lounge chair after your repast. If you can find a Hofstatter Pinot Nero Riserva, do so. It is not sold here in the states. Our dinner priority is Da Beppe Sello (Ronco 68), a small, quiet, charming restaurant – except on our second visit this trip. There was quite a buzz because the Fiorentina  (or Florence soccer squad) was dining in a private room in the back! This is not a big seafood region, so try the local meats, fresh pasta and vegetables. As well, we saw a plethora of pizza varieties consumed this time around and developed our own new favorite, one with perfectly sautéed spinach. Lastly, the Ristorante “Baita Pie Tofana” is a must (Rumerlo – 32043; Tel.0436 4258) offering all the regional specialties and great wines.

One can hike or ski in Cortina in every direction – all magnificent and challenging. One day we visited Lake Misurina, about 15 KM from the city.  We later discovered that in February, it is the home of a very unique polo event: The Cortina Winter Polo Audi Gold Cup. Those treasured ponies actually play on the highly groomed ice. The thick carpet of snow on the lake is compacted to 5 cm.  The ponies have special cleat attachments fitted to their hooves to get a good grip and provide traction; they do not slide. What a sight to behold!  By the way, the ball is red plastic. This past year the Hotel de la Poste team took its first championship cup!

Travel must always be challenging. Expect the unexpected. In Italy, each region has a surprise in store.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”~ Saint Augustine

CM Santora travels extensively and we are lucky enough to have her share her experiences with us.  CM Santora is a professional photographer.  To learn more about her and her photographs, go to http://cmsantora.com.

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