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Slow Travel in the Dolomites of Italy

The Dolomites in Italy - Becco di Cuzze
Walking towards Becco di Cuzze in the Dolomites.

Slow travel is a way to go back to historical and cultural origins, to the way people used to move from one place to another while immersing themselves in nature and getting back in touch with a more authentic or traditional way life. There are areas in the Dolomites that offer a view into all aspects of rich local tradition in relatively unspoiled nature. I wish to explore one unique area in order to be your host and guide to a traditional world not offered by some modern resorts geared more towards mass tourism.

When you hear words such as Bondì! (Good morning) or che fasto? (What are you doing?), you know you are somewhere in the Dolomites.

Pink twilight views, a climbers’ paradise, Tyrolean villages, stylish resorts …there is far more to the Dolomites—nestled within Italy between the Austrian border to the north and the Venetian plain to the south—than such stereotypical images that certainly have an understandable allure.

The Cadore area, in the heart of Belluno Dolomites, has a great deal to offer travelers seeking traditional cuisine, culture and customs. At the same time, the region does not lack the panoramic views and facilities offered by other, more modern, mountain resorts.

Visiting the Traditional Village of Zoppè di Cadore

Last summer we visited Zoppè di Cadore, a small village at an altitude of 1,426 meters (4,678 feet), somewhat secluded from other villages. And this was not our first visit.

Life has not always been that easy up there, since in the past seasonal emigration was common out of economic necessity. For example, skilled ice cream makers from Belluno Dolomites emigrated to other European countries or across the Ocean, selling their exquisite gelato artigianale (homemade ice cream).

We really appreciated the ethnographic museum, featuring many aspects of past life and folk traditions. Much space is dedicated to the Scarpet (typical footwear used in the past) manufacturing techniques. During summer fairs, it is often possible to see local women hand-sewing Scarpets using a traditional technique. Scarpets can also be purchased in shoe shops, but these are made in a different and unique way.

Scarpet at the ethnographic museum
Exposition about the Scarpet at the ethnographic museum in Cadore.

Scarpets were also worn by the Ladins, the early inhabitants of Rhaetic origins of the Dolomites area. Nowadays, people can be seen wearing traditional clothes during village fairs or folk events.

Most people in Zoppè and other Dolomites areas speak Ladin, a recognized minority language that is taught in some schools, along with Italian. Ladin has connections to Latin and Romansch, one of the languages spoken in Switzerland. There are variations of Ladin, or dialects, which vary from place to place. The Union dei Ladign de Zopè has published its own Ladin dictionary. If you are interested in the Ladin language, the main seat of the Istituto Ladin de Dolomites is in Borca di Cadore.

The ethnographic museum offers a great deal of space to the history of charcoal burners, as well. Poor families could derive a small income with the production of charcoal from wood. Charcoal was primarily sold to fusine (forges) in the Valley of Zoldo in order to fuel fire required when melting iron extracted from local mines. Some resourceful people wished to hand down the tradition, so almost every summer a Poiat (coal cellar) is built on the outskirts of Zoppè. The construction of the cellar requires skill and patience, since the fire must be fueled night and day.

On the last day, a village fair takes place in which sacks of charcoal can be purchased, as well as DVDs and other material connected with Ladin culture. We had lunch there and spent time watching women hand sewing the traditional Scarpet.

The European charcoal burners association in Germany aims to promote traditions in European regions where charcoal burners’ and similar ancient works in their original form are preserved.

Exploring Areas Surrounding Zoppè

The mountain road that leads to Vodo di Cadore (see travel information below) made us feel as if we were traveling back in time. Silence, nature in its unspoiled form, a fairy tale like atmosphere, and respect for soldiers who monitored the Cadore valleys were among the images and feelings evoked when we explored this area. We also absorbed the sights of imposing trees, green meadows, and picturesque Tabià (rural barns used for sheltering hay and cattle).

If you wish to explore the area, you might leave the car near the Rifugio (mountain hut), which lies along High Route 3 (Alta via n. 3). It serves meals and offers information about the surrounding area. From the Rifugio, walk about 1.5 km back to Zoppè along the road: an easy trek will lead you to Becco di Cuzze, where the remains of some Great War trenches and artillery emplacements can be visited. Another easy walk along CAI (Italian Alpine Club) path 493 will take you to Palù de Serla, a peat-bog (torbiera), covered with colorful droseras.

Mount Pelmo from Rifugio Talamini
Mount Pelmo from Rifugio Talamini.

Food Specialities from the Dolomites

At this point one may want to try from some of the most typical Dolomites dishes, which include:

  • zuppa di porcini (mushroom soup)
  • zuppa di ortiche (nettle soup)
  • ravioli stuffed with game (venison, for example)
  • polenta e capriolo (maize porridge with roe deer meat)

As a dessert gelato artigianale con frutti di bosco (homemade ice cream with local soft fruit, raspberries for example) is a must.

The many varieties of grappa (a clear and strong alcoholic drink made of grapes) that comes flavored with local herbs such as juniper or with other fruits.

For an inexpensive eating you can try Alimentari (produce stores), selling among other things:

  • locally produced honey and apples
  • formaggio di malga (semi-cooked or semi-hard cow or goat’s cheese made in shepherds’ huts)
  • Schiz (full-fat cows’ milk cheese shaped in square moulds)
  • puccia con speck del Cadore (traditional bread with smoked ham)

If you have cooking facilities you may want to try the following recipe:

Gnocchi Seasoned with Walnuts and Cheese  

Ingredients for 4 people
  • 500 grams stale bread
  • 300 grams malga cheese
  • 100 grams walnuts
  • 100 grams butter
  • 100 grams grated grana cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 glass of milk
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • parsley
  • a pinch of salt

Cut the onion into small slices and brown in oil.

Cut bread and malga cheese into small cubes.

Open eggs and place them in a big bowl together with the bread, malga cheese, onion, parsley, milk, flour, and salt.

Mix everything and shape the mixture into small gnocchi, using a spoon to help mold (images and videos are available online to illustrate).

Boil the gnocchi for 15 minutes in plenty of salt water.

When gnocchi are ready they will rise to the surface. For best results do not put all gnocchi into the water at exactly the same time.                                                                                               

Season the gnocchi with grana cheese, crushed walnuts, and melted, browned butter. Serve hot.

Transportation To, From, and Around Zoppè

  • Getting to Zoppè by public transportation is relatively cheap and offers you the opportunity to meet local people, but does require time and patience.
  • If you wish to do so, you may catch a train from Padova or Venice to Belluno.
  • A local bus from Belluno train station will get you to Forno di Zoldo, where you will have to catch another bus of the same company up to Zoppè.
  • If you are travelling by car, the journey via Forno di Zolfo is faster. Road conditions are good but in winter you must be able to use snow chains.
  • A less known mountain route from Vodo di Cadore will take you there passing through isolated and scenic woods. If you choose this option, be sure that the route is not closed due to heavy snowfalls or bad road conditions.


For those not wishing to stay in up market hotels, Zoppè is the right place to visit, since accommodations are mainly found in apartments rented by local people. Look out for “Civetta – Accoglienza – appartamenti” when you arrive or in your online research.

Eating Out and Other Practical Information

A Locanda in the village serves traditional dishes. An Alimentari store (supermarket) sells food and toiletries. Other facilities include the Town Hall (with an internet cafe), a bank, a church, the post office, a coffee bar, and more.

Tourist information offices:

Dolomiti: The Mountains of Venice

For more information on the slow travel movement in Italy from an Italian perspective, including many ideas and articles, visit the Italian site Il Movimento Lento.

Best Time to Go

Public transport runs all year round. If you wish to go trekking or experience folk fairs, the best time to go is during the spring or summer since most events take place at that time. Of course, travel peak season always involves more visitors as well, but that does not diminish much of the unique experience.

With a keen interest in languages and other cultures, Lara Giavi has backpacked in all continents while between jobs. Based in Tuscany, she now tries to reconcile her travel with work and care of her family.

Related Topics
Cultural Travel
Independent Travel
Italy: Articles and Essential Resources

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