Fly to Venice; transfer to Villabassa.
The ideal start to visiting this vast area is a walk straight from the hotel through the very pretty, flower filled Braies Valley. We walk through small villages and farmland until we reach the magnificent Lago di Braies (Pragster Wildsee), one of the 297 glacial lakes of the area. It is certainly one of the most beautiful thanks to being surrounded by jagged peaks that are reflected in the extraordinary mirror-like surface of the lake. We follow the route of 'SS hostages', the leaders of 19 countries who were freed after the First World War by the inhabitants of Neiderdorf/Villabassa. Challenging grade weeks will also include a traverse across the flanks of Croda Rossa (Hohe Gaisle), famous for the way it gleams red in the sun, before descending to Ponticello (Bruckele).
We walk amongst beautiful wild flowers on our climb up to the summit of the Strudlekopf (2307m). We stop at the Durrenstein hut in the early afternoon for a rewarding homemade apfelstrudel. On our descent down the valley, we explore fortifications and tunnels from the First World War on our return. Challenging grade weeks ventures first to the summit of Durrenstein (2950m), a majestic peak which boasts views all the way to the Austrian Tyrol After a short stop at the summit, we traverse across to towards the Strudlekopf, a route which offers exceptional views across this range of colourful jagged spires.
Today we visit the Kreutzberg Pass with its Napoleonic trenches and we also enjoy a quick stop in a wonderfully hospitable mountain hut for some local Kaiserschmarren, a filling pancake dessert that is usually accompanied by homemade apple or plum sauce - just don't have one all to yourself! Challenging grade weeks enjoy an extended walk towards the ridge and could include a climb up Col Quaterna or Knieberg (2503m) alongside the Austrian border.
A free day to relax in the hotel's wellness centre or take a self-guided cycle ride around this wonderful area. Alternatively, you can make your way to Bolzano to visit a museum dedicated to the Oetzi, the 5000 year-old 'iceman' whose remarkably well-preserved body was found in 1991 high on a glacier on the Austro-Italian frontier. Or you could journey to the attractive provincial capital of Lienz in Austria, where it is possible to sample some Austrian hospitality.
We enjoy a memorable circuit around the famous 'Three Chimneys', or Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Set amid one of the classic mountain groups of this area, our circuit around these impressive peaks is certainly a highlight of the week. Challenging grade weeks take a more challenging and exposed route, which includes a spectacular traverse across the scree beneath Mt Paterno or Paternkofel (2722m) and may include a visit to the Bullejochhutte.
To complete the week, we take the amazing attacking route of the Austrians up to the summit of Monte Piano (2324m). Using an impressive network of safe paths, bridges and ladders, we find ourselves upon the flat-topped mountain surrounded by some of the most impressive scenery in the Dolomites. It is the site of an open-air museum dedicated to the First World War where trenches, dugouts and shell craters can be seen amongst the many alpine flowers. On our return, we have time to spot the brilliant blue gentians, alpine white edelweiss and bright saffron that create a beautiful scene around Lake Misurina, thanks to the beautiful pink off the limestone rock. Challenging grade weeks enjoy a dramatic traverse of Mt Piano's summits, including an exploration of the exposed gun galleries.
To Venice; fly to London.