Val Gardena is a 20km valley stretching itself through the Dolomite mountain range in the South Tyrolean region of Italy.
Austria is a bit to the north and the valley actually belonged to the Austrians before the First World War, leaving a mix of Austrian and Italian influence. To add to the diversity, 90% of the population speak the ancient Rhaeto-Romanic language, Ladin. This is why you’ll probably hear the area referred to by three different names; ‘Gröden’ in German and ‘Gherdëina’ in Ladin as well as the more widely used Italian ‘Val Gardena’.
First and foremost, this is a stunning place to be; the striking Dolomites, or Pale Mountains, provide a rocky platform for climbing and mountain biking activities in the summer and all-things-snow come winter. The jaw dropping Puez-Odle Nature Park is just half the story of the area’s UNESCO world heritage status, with the iconic peaks of the Sassolongo, the Sella Massif and the Marmolada not far off.
Sporadically along 8km of the valley you’ll find Val Gardena’s three mountain villages, each with its own unique character. Entering from the west side, you first reach Ortisei (1236m), also known as St Ulrich. It has a pedestrian friendly centre and via a gondola, you also have access to the highest mountain plateau in Europe at Alpe di Siusi.
Continue up the road from Ortisei and you’ll soon meet up with Santa Cristina (aka Sankt Christina at 1428m); the smallest and quietest of the three villages. If you like to begin the day with a choice of runs, finish it off with a quiet drink and enjoy a bit of local history thrown in along the way, you’ll love it here.
Last, but the opposite of least, is Selva or Wolkenstein (1563m); the most well-known resort and the largest in culture and atmosphere. The closest of the three to an enormous skiing area, it also has a diverse and fun-packed leisure programme.