This section of the italian Alps offers some exhilarating hiking, often subject to snow, ice and scorching sun in the same day. There are plenty of opportunities for day-walks: routes are well established and well signposted, and there are suggestions in this chapter for walks in some stunning scenery that are within average capabilities. For more ambitious walking over a number of days, you might consider tackling one of the longer trails, known as alte vie (literally “high ways”). Four of these run north–south between the Val pusteria (pustertal) and the Veneto; four from the Val d’isarco (eisacktal) south; and two from Bolzano, with plenty of mountain huts along the way for meals and overnight accommodation. Some of the initial ascents are strenuous, but once you are up on the ridges the paths level out and afford stupendous views across the valleys and glaciers. parts of the trails are exposed, or have snowfields across them, but there are usually detours you can take to avoid these.
A network of mountain huts – rifugi (refuges) – allows you to stay at high altitude without having to dip down to the valley for meals or accommodation. Solidly constructed, usually two- or three-storey buildings, they provide dormitory accommodation (and often double or quad rooms if you book well ahead), meals and a bar. These days, most have hot showers. Blankets are provided, but you must bring your own sheet sleeping bag – if you don’t have one, you can usually buy one at the hut for around €10. Run by enthusiastic and dedicated staff, rifugi are open from 20 June until late September, and many also operate in the skiing season; we’ve given opening periods as a guide, but these are still subject to weather conditions. if you’re planning a long trek that relies on rifugi for accommodation, you should definitely call ahead; at the same time, you can check that the place isn’t likely to be packed out by a large party – nobody is ever turned away, but overflow accommodation is either on a mattress in the bar or, in extremis, the hen house.