Joan Johnson – AT Travel Manager travelled to Italy with Etihad Airways and DOLOMITE MOUNTAINS S.r.l. If you would like any further information or to discuss with the AT Escapes team about creating your own tailored escape, please get in touch with us on 1300 130 464 or email us at

I was picked up from Venice Mestre station together with other participants and we were driven  about an hour to the beautiful prosecco grape growing area of Follina.

We stayed at the very elegant Relais & Chateaux Villa Abbazia which is named after the 12th century Romanesque abbey and cloisters just across the road.     The hotel’s La Corte restaurant has a one star Michelin rating and we had a delicious meal under the stars in the garden.   Giovanni, the owner of the hotel, is also a hiking, skiing and cycling guide, and he took us on a 3 hour hike along the trails and tracks through the vineyards and forests.

We visited the Marchiori winery where it was explained to us that the steep slopes of the area are perfect for growing grapes for prosecco – and of course we had to taste the product.

A 1 ½  hour drive to Cortina d’Ampezzo where we stayed at the Luxury Collection, Virtuoso property,  Hotel Cristallo Resort & Spa, with the biggest spa in the Dolomites and panoramic views of the mountains.   This hotel is located about 2.2 kms outside of the village of Cortina and they have a shuttle service that will take you and pick you up after.

We met our mountain guide and hiked the loop of the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo, probably the most famous landmark of the Dolomites.  We had a funny experience as the intention was to have lunch at a refugio which we were looking forward to, but it was closed when we got there.   One of our party had two apples in his backpack, which was cut into little slices to feed 8 of us – something like the loaves and the fishes!  No one complained.

This whole area is a WW1 open air museum where remnants of the war between the Italians and the Austro Hungarians can be found.

The third night we spent in a refugio – very nice twin bedded accommodation for each and private bathroom.  Cosy bar and good mountain dinner.   Great spot for aperitivo on the veranda to watch the sunset.

One day we did via ferrata which none of us had done before – it was exciting, thrilling and scary for us beginners.   We were 6 people and two guides, each guide took 3 people linked together with a rope.   We wore helmets and harnesses and slowly made our way up the iron way, clipping our carabiners onto the steel cable, and then releasing them and clipping them on again when we found footholds.   At the end of the iron way, we hiked over rocks and through snow drifts to reach the summit of the mountain –  what views!!

We did via ferrata on the way down and through a chimney from where we abseiled down.

What a fabulous experience!

A 30 minute transfer took us to Passo Valparola to begin a hike towards Mount Setsass.   Very varied hiking trail – carefully across big areas of scree, across rocks and boulders, and through beautiful green meadows covered in spring flowers, to reach our picnic lunch!   No, not a ham and cheese roll, but 2 chefs and a waiter came to the Hotel Rosa Alpina hut in the mountains where the chefs had cooked our sumptuous lunch, and tables were set with white table cloths and wine glasses  – with aperivo before.   We would not have been able to hike back to our next stop, the Hotel Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano, so we took the cable car down.

The last night was at the 5 star Virtuoso property, Hotel Rosa Alpina which has a 3 star Michelin chef, Norbert Niederkofler.  We had our aperitivos at the table overlooking the kitchen and he spoke to our about his ideas and menus.   He sources his ingredients from local farmers and doesn’t use any ingredients that are not from the mountains, eg no olive oil or lemons and lemon juice as olive trees and citrus  do not grow there, no fish from the sea.

Agustina is the passionate owner of Dolomite Mountains S.r.l and gave us a small sample of what her company can do.   From arranging transfers, mountain guides, picnics in the mountain, they do hiking, biking, climbing, via ferrata, skiing, snowshoeing, ski touring, gourmet – as well as now have started hiking etc in Sardinia.

I really can recommend them for arrangements in the Dolomites.

Travel Top Tip:

I flew Etihad Airways and treated myself to a business class upgrade for $940 at Sydney airport for the leg Sydney to Abu Dhabi – great value, but subject to availability at the airport only!