Stroll Through This Beautiful Little Italian Town For The Best Views Of The Dolomites

If you've got your sights set on visiting the Dolomite mountain range, look no further than the quaint alpine village of Ortisei. Also known by its German name, St. Ulrich and Urtijëi in Ladin, Ortisei is the ultimate gateway to sightseeing, outdoor activities, and cultural exploration in Northern Italy. And for the best views of the Dolomites, all you have to do is take a stroll! Ortisei's history goes back centuries, with archeological evidence of prehistoric human settlements. Today, the town's architecture is a mix of traditional Tyrolean and modern styles. The wooden facades of buildings and numerous sculptures that dot the streets showcase Ortisei's 300-year tradition of wood carving. For 200 years, Ortisei has been recognized as an international center of wood carving. 

As the largest town in the Val Gardena Valley, this hidden gem holiday destination hosts over 700,000 overnight guests per year. To put the number in context, there are only 5,700 guest beds and 4,830 inhabitants in this little Italian town — servicing nearly a million annual visitors. Most locals speak Ladin, an ancient regional dialect, with only around 10% speaking German and 7% speaking Italian. 

The village is situated at an altitude of 4,055 feet, surrounded by the soaring peaks and spires of the Dolomites, a 350,650-acre UNESCO World Heritage Site. These dramatic mountains and the ravines between them provide a "Dolomitic landscape" to the town and offer endless opportunities for adventure, from hiking and mountain biking in the summer to world-class skiing and snowboarding in the winter.

Ortisei: the gateway town to the Dolomites

For those eager to immerse themselves in the breathtaking beauty of the Dolomites, Ortisei is the perfect starting point. The town is well connected to several major ski areas, including a world-famous Sellaronda circuit, through a network of lift systems. In the warmer months, these lifts also serve hikers and bikers, providing easy access to high-altitude trails. Hiking trails crisscross the landscape, leading to serene alpine meadows, peaceful forests, and rugged mountain peaks. The Seceda and Alpe di Siusi are two destinations where the beauty of the Dolomites unfolds in all its glory. Swim in the lake Laghetto di Fiè, complete a cycling route, and take stunning photos of wildflower carpets — there is much to do. 

Another unique way to ascend the Dolomite mountains is by the Resciesa Funicular (a mountain railway system), which provides easy access to trails leading to some of the region's most stunning viewpoints. Tickets cost about $20 for a single ride and $30 for a round trip. Additionally, day trip packages with toboggan rentals are available during winter. After purchasing your ticket, embrace the mountain air as you ascend 7,200 feet above sea level. 

Regardless of your activity up top, before heading down, you can find the Resciesa Chalet and Restaurant. For those seeking a Pils beer and some local cuisine, this alpine pitstop will welcome you to feast in its traditional dining rooms or the outdoor sun terrace. They also offer charming accommodations crafted from natural wood.

Local cuisine, culture, and travel tips

You might be surprised to find out that, despite being located in Italy, Ortisei's cuisine is more Austro-Hungaric than Italian! Before 1918, the region was Austrian; and this culture remains to this day. The local cuisine literally puts history on a plate, with knödel (bread dumplings), goulash, game meats, and apfelstrudel for dessert. For dining, look no further than Paratoni, a family-run, 800-year-old farmhouse serving traditional cuisine with the freshest ingredients.

The Museum de Gherdëina provides insight into the area's history and art, featuring an impressive collection of wood sculptures, local artifacts, archaeological discoveries dating back to the Stone Age, fossils, and exhibits on Ladin culture. Admission is free for those under 18, around $10 for adults, with discounts for seniors, families, students, and individuals with disabilities.

In order to get to Ortisei, you can fly to the nearest airport in Bolzano and then arrive in the town via rental car in about an hour. For a place to stay, one option stands above the rest — the circa-1547 Hotel Angelo Engel — one of the most gorgeous, historic hotels you can book in Italy. Beyond Ortisei's scenic beauty and rich culture are the warmth and friendliness of its people. Travel forums always praise the kindness of the locals in this little Italian town. When visiting Ortisei, you will get more than just the best views of the Dolomites; you will experience a beautiful culture eager to share its traditions and way of life.