The Dolomites named a World Heritage Site
The UNESCO World Heritage committee has recognised the uniqueness of this Italian mountain group and placed it under protection. The weird towers and crags are favourite motifs for postcards and paintings, though they also make a splendid backdrop for outdoor pursuits such as walking, climbing and skiing.
With an area of 141,903 hectares this protected area in northern Italy embraces parts of the provinces of South Tyrol, Trento, Belluno, Udine and Pordenone. Among the considerations which swung the decision to include the Dolomites in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's list of World Heritage sites are their geological history which is unique in the Alps, having been formed around 250 million years ago as a giant coral reef in the ancient Tethys Ocean. Today the sheer towers which make up the "Pale Mountains" alternate with deep valleys and gentle hills. In addition to its outstanding beauty and unique geological features the region is characterised by a diverse ecosystem rich in botanical variety and rare species of fauna.
Reinhold Messner often described as the greatest mountain climber of all time climbed all of the world's highest peaks and was first to conquer the Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen to aid breathing. Nevertheless he finds the Dolomites "perhaps not the highest, but certainly the world's most beautiful mountains."
"This highly distinctive mountain range is exceptionally beautiful," said Tim Badman, the IUCN's Special Advisor on World Heritage. "Spectacular pinnacles, spires and towers of limestone rise abruptly from gentle foothills. They are widely recognized as one of the most attractive mountain landscapes in the world," he said.
The South Tryolean Dolomites extend over the following holiday regions in South Tyrol: Rosengarten-Latemar, Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm, Val Gardena/Gröden, Valle Isarco/Eisacktal, Plan de Corones/Kronplatz, Alta Badia, Alta Pusteria/Hochpustertal.
Numerous hiking, climbing and mountain biking routes, downhill runs and cross-country ski trails lead holidaymakers deep into the Dolomites. The Sella Ronda circuit is spectacular from every perspective. Anybody who rounds the Sella massif, whether by car, on skis or by bicycle, is sure to return. A circular hike around the Sasso Lungo/Langkofel massif provides a glimpse into the heart of the limestone mountains. The easy Adolf-Munkel trail beneath the imposing Odle/Geisler-Spitzen is one of the most impressive walks in the Dolomites. The Hirzlweg trail leads along the foot of the mythical Catinaccio/Rosengarten chain of peaks. The "Rose Garden" is often named Bolzano/Bozen's home mountain for it is a dramatic spectacle viewed from the town (first ascent made in 1873 by the British climbers C. Comyn Tucker and T. H. Carson). Viewed from Europe's vastest expanse of Alpine pastureland, the Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm, the Dolomite peaks seem so close you could almost reach out and touch them.
Attention all extreme Alpine sports enthusiasts: the Dolomites are home to the world's most fascinating secured climbing routes. Called "Klettersteige" in German, or "Vie Ferrate" in Italian they provide safe access to some of the most scenic points high up among the barren rocks by means of ladders, iron steps and fixed ropes.
The 1200 km of downhill ski runs belonging to world's largest area of interconnected winter sports resorts, the Dolomiti Superski association, lead through the middle of the World Heritage mountains.
The cultural and language diversity found in the Dolomites was a further important consideration in including the region in the UNESCO list. The inhabitants of the South Tyrolean Dolomite valleys of Val Gardena and Alta Badia speak Ladin, not German or Italian, as their first language, a kind of Vulgar Latin which was widespread in the Alps in the declining period of Roman Empire. Road signs are in all three languages and dishes bear names such as Gnoch da zigher (Graukäse gnocchi) and Bales da cioce (Speck Knödel). This is where Alpine traditional fare meets with Michelin stars, no less than five of which shine in the firmament over South Tyrol's Dolomite valleys.