My husband went on this trip recently with 14 friends, including Joanne who did the write-up below. I was at home recovering from an injury :(. Joanne includes everything from the itinerary to the transportation and packing list to hotels/shopping/restaurants in Cortina and Venice. Enjoy!

Hiking in the Dolomites:


How to Get There:

Our home base for the backpacking trip was Cortina, about a 2 hour gorgeous drive from the Venice airport. From the airport, I hopped on the Cortina Express bus, a large coach type situation with comfy seats and wi-fi. You can also book a car and driver. Either should be pre-booked (see below). The bus is about $25 each way. A car/driver is about $350.


Cortina is small so walking everywhere is easy. The Cortina vibe is a cross between Gorsuch (the high end alpine clothing/lifestyle catalog) and Patagonia. The streets are full of hikers and bikers in sporty attire, stocking up on provisions at La Cooperativa, a 7 floor hub of activity in the center of town. The outdoor cafes are full of stylish Italians sipping cappuccinos. And, the shopping is most satisfying! With a strong dollar, no sales tax, a 12% refund on goods over 155 euros, and lackluster shopping in Seattle, I had work to do! The pedestrian walking street is chock-a-block full of an inspiring combo of sporting good stores and hi-end luxury goods, from Patagonia to Gucci. I think every cool European sporting goods manufacturer has an outpost in Cortina. I’ve listed my favorite shops below.

Hut-to-Hut Hiking:

For our hiking trip we opted for “hut to hut” (mountain huts are called rifugios) backpacking (we did a portion of the Alta Via 1 but there are many trails to consider) and we booked it through Macs Adventures. It was a self-guided (no guide) trip and we carried our essentials from location to location (about 15 pounds with water). Macs secured our reservations for the rifugios during the hike as well as the Cortina hotels for the nights before and after the hike. They also recommended the structure for the trip. An excellent app with downloadable maps (the trails are super well marked – think of a hiking superhighway with trail numbers and signage) and other helpful information made it easy to navigate. My backpacking packing list is below.

There are many ways to hike in the Dolomites without having to carry a pack or spend the night in a rifugio. You can book a nice hotel in a cute mountain town like Cortina, use it as basecamp, and spend your days doing day hikes in the area. There are options to take gondolas and chair lifts up a hill, have lunch at a rifugio, and hike or get a lift down. Or, you can backpack and hike from rifugio to rifugio. We did a combo, doing day hikes from Cortina prior to starting the hut-to-hut portion of the trip. Full itinerary is below.

Backpacking in the Dolomites is very civilized! Camping is prohibited, unless it’s an emergency. All on-mountain overnight stays are in rifugios, most of which are privately owned and operated, many by families, and passed down from generation to generation. Yes, they were all super clean with wi-fi, full bars, and abundant menu options. Yes, they all had clean bathrooms, hot showers and wait for it – blow dryers! Yes, private rooms are available in some of the rifugios but we slept in bunk rooms. With ear plugs and Ambien we slept as you’d expect when you share a room with 8-12 other adults!! Our rifugios were all half-board – they included dinner, bed, and breakfast. And yes, the food was fabulous!

The hiking was very straightforward with jaw dropping scenery and plenty of steep ups and downs. The network of rifugios made things easy and tasty as there was always a delicious pit-stop along the way! We began our days with a buffet breakfast and lots of cappuccinos. We hit the trail around 8 and stopped a few hours later at a rifugio for snacks, usually hot apple strudel (with or without whipped cream or ice cream) and cappuccinos.

Around lunchtime, we’d stop at another rifugio for lunch (often steaming plates of pasta), and a few hours after that we’d settled into our rifugio for the night. We had plenty of time to rest in the afternoon, shower, play cards, meet people from all over the world, and just hang out before a hearty mountain dinner was served, along with cocktails, beer and wine. This is not a bad way to backpack!

See full itinerary and packing list below.


After the hike, I braced myself to brave Venice in July. I was prepared for high temps, humidity, and summer vacation crowds. I found crowds where you’d expect them (St. Marks Square, the main drag to the Rialto) but I mostly stayed away from those places. And the crazy summer worldwide summer weather included Italy, but to my benefit, as the temp in Venice never went above 80. Lucky me!! I’ve been to Venice many times and I spent hours and hours strolling the calles, crossing bridges, visiting museums, shopping, and eating. I spent a half day in the neighboring countryside visiting some architecture (Carlo Scarpa’s Tomba Brion and Palladio’s Villa Emo) and a few small towns (Asolo, Treviso) with my cute driver, Aldo. My notes for Venice are also below. I would attach a pack list for the Venice portion but I took only 2 dresses (the Quince linen dress and this Indyeva shirt dress) and Birkenstocks!

Trip Itinerary:

Day 1: Transit

Flew to Venice, took the Cortina Express bus to Cortina. Rented trekking poles at Snow Service, across the street from the bus station. Checked into Hotel Pontechiesa – a 3 star bare bones nice hotel a little out of town on a river. Walked to town and hit the Corso Italia (pedestrian street) and had gelato at Lovat. Shopped at La Cooperativa – 7 floors of EVERYTHING including hardware, notions, clothing, camping gear, shoes, housewares, groceries, etc… and wandered to Moncler, Golden Goose, Gucci, Piambo, La Sportiva, and the Mountain Shop. Dinner: Janbo – great piadinas!

Day 2: Day hike

Public bus to Tre Cime (three chimneys) – a UNESCO site – to hike. On Tuesdays in the parking lot next to the bus station is a fabulous market with food, hiking clothes, cashmere sweaters, shoes and more. It opens around 8 and closes just after lunch. Super fun! Tre Cime gets very crowded so it’s best to take a public bus because buses get entry priority, whereas cars have to queue for the limited spaces. We did a great hike around the three chimneys (around 8 miles and 1500’ of up) and returned to town on the bus. It was a great way to get over jet lag and acclimate to the altitude. Once back in Cortina I got gelato at Alvera and walked around. A huge thunderstorm blew through town so I did what I had to do – shopped at Marinotti, a beautiful store that carries a lot of brands that are hard to find in the US like Aspesi and Velvet Mountain (really cute cord pants and skirts). I also took cover in Piambo which is owned by OVS and I liked its array of cheap chic clothing. We had drinks at Hotel Cortina and a large group dinner at Ristorante Il Cirmolo. We all tried the traditional Cortina dish of casunziei: ravioli filled with beets. Surprisingly yummy!

Day 3: Day hike

Moved to Hotel de la Poste – an old world hotel on the main Corso. Very nice and a perfect location! We did a day hike from town (4,000’) up to Rigugio Mietres (5643’) for apple strudel and hiked back down the hill in a thunder and lightning storm, around 9 miles and 1600’ of elevation gain. More gelato at Embassy and more shopping at the many sporting goods stores, looking to add an additional layer to my hiking wardrobe because of the cooler weather and rain: La Cooperativa, La Sportiva, Patagonia, CMP, Dynafit, Millet, K Way, Due e Due, Norrona, and North Face just to name a few. There was another afternoon thunderstorm. Dinner at Croda Cafe.

Day 4: Backpacking starts!  

We took taxis to our start point at Lago di Braeis (5000’), about a 45 minute drive. We hiked up up to Rifugio Biella (7,679) for lunch and then on to Rifugio Sennes (7000’) for the night. 7 miles, 3200’ of up, 1000’ of down.

Day 5: Hike

Rifugio Sennes to Rifugio Pederu for coffee and cake and on to Rifugio Lavarella (6,700’) for the night. 7 miles and 1800’ of up, 2000’ of down. Rigugio Lavarella is conveniently Europe’s highest microbrewery. They even had beer ice cream!

Day 6: Hike

Left Rifugio Laverella with sack lunches and hiked to Rifugio Lagazoui (9,028’). This was an epic day with a lot of up and some vertiguous down. 10 miles, up 3800, down 1350. Passed lots of WWI trenches and tunnels. Rifugio Lagazoui is at the top of a chair lift. Some of our group with sore limbs took a detour to avoid the steep up and down and up to get there. From Rifugio Lavarella, they walked to a small town, picked up a bus that took them to the base of the chair lift, and met us at the rifugio!

Day 7: Hike

Rifugio Lagazuoi to Rifugio Dibona (6,709’) for coffee and apple strudel. Walked on to Rifugio Scoiattoli (7,398’) for lunch – very crowded because it is at the top of the 5 torri lift. Short but steep hike from there to Rifugio Averau (7933’) where we were staying the night. We dumped our packs and did a side hike up to Rifugio Nuvolao (8500’) for a drink. 12 miles, 3000’ up.

Day 8: Hike

Instead of heading 6000’ downhill (ouch) back to Cortina we decided to leave our packs at the Rifugio and do a loop around Nuvola based on intel from a man from SLC who said it was the best hike ever. It was about 7 miles with 1500’ of elevation gain and it was beautiful. After the hike (and a snack) we picked up our packs and started downhill toward Cortina via the 5 Torri chair lift, Cortina Skyline gondola, and finally a taxi cab! We checked into the Hotel Ambra and after hot showers, pizza at Ampezzo and gelato at Da Po, we hit the town for some last minute shopping. Scarpa shoes and CMP jackets were trending for our group, along with Cortina t-shirts and hats. We had our final dinner at Hotel Cortina.

Days 9-12: Venice

I took the bus back to the Venice airport and began a three day stay in Venice. See notes below on activities/restaurants/shopping.

Cortina info:



Cortina Express: bus Venice airport to Cortina:

Car Service: Pantarei Chauffeur Service. 

Car Service *39 3356396083

Car Service: +39 349 6638454


Hotel Pontechiesa: 3 star, a short walk out of town.

Hotel de la Poste: 4 star, old-world, center of town.

Hotel Ambra: 4 star, more modern, near center of town.


To find the best gelato, look for the longest line and get in it.

Da Po – conveniently located across the street from the bus station and next door to the trekking pole rental shop! This place is known as the best and had the longest lines to prove it.

Embassy – on the main pedestrian walkway, next to La Cooperativa

Lovat – off the Corso ½ block

Alvera – at west end of Corso


Everyday Clothing/Shoes:



Louis Vuitton

Golden Goose



Franz Kraler


La Cooperativa



La Sportiva

The Mountain Shop (Dynafit)


Due e Due

Rock and Ice Mountain Store – Scarpa distributors

La Cooperativa


Sotto Sopra – great housewares and cashmere socks and slippers!


Venice Info:



Hotel Flora & Novecento: Owned by the same family, near one another, and I’ve stayed at both through the years. I prefer the Novecento – it is smaller, only 11 rooms. It is under construction now so I stayed at the Hotel Flora and really liked it. Both are centrally located between St. Mark’s Square and the Accademia bridge.


I took a water taxi to and from the airport to town. It is pricey but it’s quick and quite a way to arrive and depart! I just walked to the dock from the airport and hopped on. It is about 140 euros each way (ouch). You can book through a taxi company beforehand but I found that to be more expensive.

For my driving trip to the Veneto, I met a driver at Piazzale Roma (across the canal from the train station) and booked it through Belt Connect. T + 39 041 926303.




Venice is known for its seafood and I’m not a huge seafood fan so I’ve always struggled a little bit here. Some favorites:

For lunch, I love Rosticceria Gislon tucked away near the Rialto bridge. Some shop girls at Al Duca d’Aosta told us about it 20 years ago and I went everyday for lunch on this trip. It is a no frills spot popular with locals with food displayed on the countertop that is warmed up and served to you. The roast chicken and veggies definitely hit the spot!

Backpacking Packing List:



Clothing for hiking:

Other packed clothing:

Foot Repair/First Aid:








Chrissie Kremer



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Ahhh, Tuscany in the fall! I am just back from a wonderful week with girlfriends in Italy. We stayed in a beautiful villa/bed & breakfast called Podere Salicotto near the town of Buonconvento, which is south of Siena and Florence. As most of us had been to Florence and the general area before we took it slow, explored new places we hadn’t been to before, and took our time over meals and time together.

Podere Salicotto has 7 bedroom(s), a beautiful pool and views of both the sunrise and sunset given it’s (its) hilltop location. A delicious breakfast is served outside each morning (weather permitting) or inside by the fireplace, and then you are on your own for lunch and dinner. Below are the highlights of the trip.

Day 0 Wed:

Arrived Florence in the early evening. Taxi to Hotel Davanzati which has an amazingly great location (couple blocks from the Ponte Vecchio) in the heart of Florence at a reasonable price, that includes breakfast. Dinner a couple blocks away and wandered to the Ponte Veccio and the other side of the river a bit after dinner.

Day 1 Thurs:

– Wandered Florence until 1pm. Visited the Opera del Duomo Museum, the Duomo, the San Lorenzo market, the Santa Maria Novella perfume store (beautiful – located in an old chapel) and the Ferragamo museum (note that they rotate exhibits and they don’t always feature their products…), followed by lunch.

-Picked up rental cars near the airport (Alamo and Sixth) and then drove to 1.5 hours to Buonconvento Tuscany.

– After settling into our beautiful lodgings we drove to the Abby Abazzia Monte Olivetto Maggiore to hear the monks sing – amazing.

– Then had a wonderful dinner at (Locanda Paradiso) – a quaint, local spot with a menu on the chalkboard and just a few tables. It is in the little town of (Chiasure). Apparently, an American woman is buying up the town and turning it into an artists retreat

Day 2 Fri:

– Amazing breakfast that stretched out a couple of hours outside under the pergola, followed by some walks and pool time as we got over jet lag.(Buonconvento) town visit.

– Drove to visit the Bosco Della Ragnaia Garden (underwhelming) followed by dinner at La Locanda de Costello in the beautiful town of San Giovanni d’asso. Very nice dinner and friendly chef (Massimo) and staff. Amazing fish and white truffle options. Get there in time for sunset!

Day 3 Sat:

– We had an amazing guide named Jerry for the day who picked us all up and took us to Siena. He had arranged for us to visit one of the Palio Contrada headquarters (Siena has different ‘Contradas’ that compete in the Palio races each year, and we visited with the Giraffe Contrada). It gave us an amazing history and understanding of the passion surrounding the Palio. Our tour included viewing all of the beautifully painted banners that the Giraffe Contrada has won over the years – an amazing opportunity.

– Lunch on the main square and then a visit to the so so so beautiful Siena Cathedral – may be my favorite church anywhere. Drove home.

– Dinner across the street and down the road from our villa at another villa/restaurant (not a standout in terms of ambiance or food).

Day 4 Sun:

– Another great tour day with Jerry – this time to Florence. Most of us had been there before so we said we didn’t want to do the Ufizzi etc this time. Our day included, amongst other things, the outside of the Duomo (much better with a tour guides info about it!), the San Lorenzo market for leather bag shopping, lunch at Signorvino (on the Arno, looks like a wine store but also has a lovely restaurant on the water), and then took our time at the Santa Croce church which has amazing soaring ceilings and so much history (many famous italians buried there). Then off to the lookout over Florence at Piazzale Michelangelo and home.

– Dinner in Buonconvento at (Ristorante) Roma, sitting outside on the beautiful main walking stree inside the city walls.

Day 5 Mon:

– Spent the day in the beautiful walled city of Montepulciano. Wandered, shopped, grabbed a bite – a beautiful city to do all of those things in!

– Stopped to view the ‘Chapel on the hill’, (Vitaleta) Chapel – a small chapel perched on top of a hill in Val d’Orcia. Can view it from the road or visit it all the way in person.

– Visited the town Montalcino which has a fort and a beautiful small town to wander and shop in.

– Dinner at home

Day 6 Tues:

– After another long breakfast, a day of rest poolside, of walks nearby etc.

– Town visit in Buonconvento. Aperol spritz in town at local bar.

– Pizza at home

Day 7 Wed:

– Back to monastery to hear the monks chant and to have a further look around.

– Drove for an afternoon tour (need to book ahead) at the beautiful La Foce gardens. Wonderful gardens and hourlong tour, with a fascinating history during World War II especially. They also have a lookout from there on the cyprus trees that wind up the hillside drive that is a popular photo op – so good view of that from here as well.

– Dinner at (Boccon Divino) just outside Montalcino. Very upscale, with a beautiful view (small portions that were a bit underwhelming though…).

Day 7 Thurs:

Off to Florence airport and home!

Note: The week after we were there other friends has an amazing tour of Assisi with a terrific guide through GuruGuides (free tour, you just tip the guide). They highly recommend both the place and the guide service. Their guide who they LOVED was Alex Gabriel .

Day 1:

Arrive Rome airport (we came in from a week in Switzerland so no jetlag)Transport to 47 Hotel in Rome. Really nice hotel with a great location. Walked to dinner at Antica Pesa where we ate on the back patio for a special birthday dinner that we had booked ahead of time. Incredible meal – one of the best ever.Hotel: 47hotel r

Day 2

Wandered through Rome in the morning – other families we were traveling with took a Vatican tour with Context Travel who we had used during a prior trip to Rome and who are great. Picked up rental car at EuropeCar in Rome city center and drove the few hours to le Ripe villa in San Castiagno dei Bagni.Our villa Le Ripe is about half hour walk from the village, and a fairly long drive from any other larger town. It was booked through Home Base Abroad. It is a beautifully furnished home with three bedrooms in the main house and three others in the guest house. Rolling lawns down to the pool and views to die for. We could have a local woman come in and make up breakfasts and dinners and the food was simply incredible. Such good food each and every day in such a beautiful location!

Day 3 Relax. Swim. Read. Repeat. Dinner in town at Daniela restaurant.

Day 4 Day trip to Siena, which was about a 1.5 hour drive. Visited the main square, wandered the back allies, ate gelato (of course).

Day 5 Hang at villa . Pasta making class. Dinner at villa.

Day 6 Florence Trip. The other two families had a tour of the city via Context Travel. We had been to Florence before so we didn’t join the tour, but instead went to our favorite gelato store, visited churches, shopped a bit and soaked up the beauty of Florence. We all had a great dinner in the middle of a courtyard, watching Florence evening life unfold around us. After dinner drove back to the Villa.

Day 7 Villa time. Trip to amazing hot sulfur baths. Final dinner at VillaDay 8 Drove to Rome and flew home.

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