The Italian Alps… or Dolomites? Choosing Your Mountains in Italy

Cortina d'Ampezzo (wiki: Graeme Churchard)

Trying to decide between the Italian Alps… or Dolomites? If you’re looking for the perfect mountain vacation, you can’t go wrong with either one. (And, yes, both Italian mountain ranges technically belong to the Alps. But most locals call the range in Italy’s northeast corner the Dolomites, while those in the northwest, in the Valle d’Aosta, are the Alps).

Still, the Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites are fairly different. So if you’re having trouble deciding where to go for your vacation, whether for skiing, hiking, or just taking in the breathtaking scenery, here’s help!

Both Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites are excellent for skiing… but the Dolomites boasts a larger variety of slopes

Lots of ski resorts are scattered across both the Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites. But whether you prefer cross-country, downhill skiing, or snowboarding, the Dolomites, especially, have something for everyone. Their downhill slopes often are more varied, as well, while those in the Valle d’Aosta resorts often tend to be more intermediate.

Highlights in the Dolomites include the chic ski resort Cortina d’Ampezzo, Madonna di Campiglio, Val Pusteria, Val di Fassa, Val Gardena, and Sasso Lungo and Bolzano. A complete guide to the slopes, including pricing and lodging, can be found on the SuperSki website

Gorgeous Gran Paradiso National Park, in the Valle d'Aosta

Gran Paradiso National Park in the Valle d’Aosta. Photo by Soumei Baba

Both Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites have panoramic hiking trails… but the Valle d’Aosta offers more breathtaking views

Head to Gran Paradiso National Park for panoramas of endless green parks and mountains, with glimpses of local wildlife and rare flowers in bloom. Hiking trails are open all summer at every level, from those who want to take in the view at a leisurely pace to the more adventurous hikers and mountain bikers.

Plus, the area is less crowded than the Dolomites during the warmer weather—meaning trails are more tranquil, and accommodation more affordable, too.

Alps Dolomites

Sasso Lungo, Dolomites. Photo by Marco Lazzaroni

Both Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites are easily reached in northern Italy… but the Alps are closer to Milan or Torino, and the Dolomites are closer to Verona and Venice

Valle d’Aosta is located in northwestern Italy, very close to the French and Swiss borders, and can be easily reached in a 2-hour drive from Milan or Torino. Meanwhile, the Dolomites, near the Austrian border, are a 2-hour drive from Venice or Verona.

Unfortunately, either area is equally difficult to reach by public transport: Although there are a few train stations, and lots of local buses, getting to the ski resorts or smaller towns can be difficult (not to mention time-consuming!).

La Thuile (flickr: foshie)

La Thuile, Valle d’Aosta. Photo by Foshi (Flickr)

Both Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites have popular resorts… but head to the Valle d’Aosta if you’re looking for fewer tourists and a better deal

The Valle d’Aosta’s most popular destinations, including Gran Paradiso National Park, Courmayeur, La Thuile, Cervinia, Cogne, Gressoney and Aosta, the ancient Roman city, tend to be less crowded and less expensive than the main attractions in the Dolomites. Visitors of Valle d’Aosta can also find more off-the-beaten path towns to explore, both in terms of accessibility and prices, than their counterparts in the Dolomites.

Canederli in broth

Canederli in broth. Photo by Fugzu (Flickr)

Both Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites serve up some delicious comfort food… but the Dolomites offer more characteristic regional specialties

Specialties from the mountains are synonymous with comfort food: a piping hot plate of hearty food to keep warm, even in the summer! The Dolomites are famous for local delicacies like canederli (savory dumplings with a texture similar to stuffing) and apple strudel. Many dishes include ingredients like speck, a smoky cured meat similar to prosciutto, as well as deer, cabbage, chestnuts, yogurt, and berries. Wines and spirits of the area like Müller Thurgau white wine, vin santo dessert wine and grappa digestives can be found on most menus.

Valle d’Aosta also has characteristic food, of course (although you might mistake it for Swiss!). There, look for stick-to-your-bones specialties like polenta, fontina cheese, and fondue.

Still unsure which region to choose? Why not visit both?

The trip from Courmayeur to Cortina d’Ampezzo takes about six hours by car, passing through northern Italian towns like Bergamo, Verona, Padova and Treviso… so why not visit both? If not, of course, you can always come back!

Should you visit the Dolomites? Or instead head into the Italian Alps? Find out the pros and cons of each on the Walks of Italy blog.

7 Comments

  • Vincenzo says:

    Ehm…the italian alps or the dolomites…ignorance is a blessing?
    Both are in Italy!
    Here we are taking about Valle d’Aosta or Alto Adige!

    • Hi Vincenzo,
      Yes, of course! But for most English speakers who are considering heading to one of the two mountain ranges, as we say in the post, the “Dolomites” are considered the range of the Italian Alps in Alto Adige—while the Italian “Alps” are those in the northwest corner, on the border of the Valle d’Aosta, instead.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Jem says:

    Thank you so much, this article helped me alot!

  • Paul Nehlson says:

    Always wanted to visit the dolomites & hike there.

  • Edyta Miller says:

    This is so helpful,thank you! My husband and I did a 3 week hiking trip back in September/Oktober 2015. We covered Venice (hated it), Cinque Terre ( beautiful and relatively easy for us), Lago di Garda (absolute paradise for a hiker), and the Dolomites ( just meandering walks that had no end and the pinkish color of the mountains just took our breath away!!!!). I lived in Calabria for 4 years but my husband had never been to Italy before 2015. He fell in love!!! Told me that Italy is the only country in Europe he would love to visit more of:). We are going to Ireland this September but do not want to spend the whole 16 nights there. I was thinking about catching a flight to Milan from Dublin and renting a car and this time spending 1 week in Valle d’Aosta, it would be September 15/16- 22. Do you think this is good enough to explore the valley? Where to stay that is not touristy? We are avid hikers and love spending 8-10 hrs a day hiking. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Edyta,

      Wow, what a trip! We think Valle d’Aosta sounds like a great trip, especially for hiking! We don’t think you have to worry much about being in touristy areas, the entire region is really only frequented by fellow hikers and shouldn’t be too bad that time of year (most of Europe is back from their month-long August vacations). For really avid hikers, you can look into doing the loop around Monte Bianco. Though you won’t be able to do it all in that span of time, you could do just a part of it. There are mountain huts all the way around for you to stay and eat every night!

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