How do I even begin.. to describe a trip to Italy is beyond words. If I could pick two words.. it would be pure bliss. But really, words cannot even touch the total abundance of it all.
After flying across the world I arrived to Italy in the dark, starry skies. I could only see silhouettes of tall sleeping mountains. My curiosity was high. I checked into the Cristallo Resort, a beautiful hotel overlooking the town of Cortina D'Ampezzo. I was greeted with smiling faces - even though it was 2am, everyone was happy and cheerful. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings, fresh flowers decorated the entire hotel. Hand paintings on each wall and ceiling. Everything was decadent with so much attention to detail. My room was a dream. As I passed through the curtains I was blown away by the massive bed covered in soft white linens, a living space all to myself with couches, Italian chocolate treats, wine and double doors opening to a balcony. I giggled - feeling like a queen. I could only imagine what beauty I would rise to as I looked out the window to a sparkling little town below the dark mountain ranges.
I got into bed, excited for the week ahead. When I rose in the morning I peeked into the glorious sun beaming over a magical site. A fairy tale view. I couldn't believe what was right outside my windows.. lush green landscapes, a charming little town with a backdrop of the biggest - most magical - mountains I have ever seen. Needless to say, my heart raced with anticipation to explore this mystical place located in the middle of the Dolomites.
I met with Zach Allia, my side kick and photographer for the weekend first thing in the morning. We had breakfast and chatted about how excited we were to have the experience ahead.The first day I spent at the Hotel Cristallo was relaxing, I toured the hotel and was in awe of the care taken, the cleanliness and had an overall feeling that I was in a castle. Each person I saw greeted me with a warm smile. I enjoyed a massage which melted me into a relaxing dream. The soft oils and smells took me into a trance. I enjoyed lunch at the hotel, each plate served was almost too beautiful to eat. The plates were decorated and prepared with attention to each detail, satisfied every taste bud and the hosts were impeccable. I met our guide for the week, and was honored to be in his presence.
After resting we took a stroll into the charming town of Cortina D'amprezzo and I felt like I was in a Disney movie. Every building was charming, adorned in flowers and so well taken care of. The landscape was manicured beautifully with colors in every spectrum. The most vibrant greens, pinks, reds.. each home and building was unique and crafted so well. We ate dinner in town and enjoyed a classic Italian pizza. It was irresistible - unlike pizza in the states. I ate an entire pizza to myself and enjoyed good company with Zach and our host for the week. We shared conversation about the difference in lifestyle in Italy vs the United States and had an amazing time.
The following day, after cozying up in my fresh white linens.. my bed that made me feel like a queen. I rose to those gorgeous towering mountains and felt like I was on top of the world! I came down into the lobby, filled with flowers and smiling faces.. to greet our guide for the day who would drop me and Zach in the forest to take a hike in the fresh mountain air to Crota De Lago. As we made our way up the steep roads I expected our drop off destination to be hours away. After only fifteen minutes touring up the mountainside in a jeep, our guide told us we had arrived to the trail head. Amazing how this was only a handful of minutes away from the hotel! We hopped out and began our hike into the forest towards the lake. As we began hiking we could hear cowbells in the distance and were greeted by cows. I myself am and animal lover and was excited to see these beautiful creatures that were peacefully grazing in the fields between the forest trees. Fresh water streams were running through every field, waterfalls, wildflowers everywhere.. I felt like we were in a story book I have read as a child. Maybe somewhere fairies would live. Within a short distance we had made it to the top of our hike to a gorgeous lake nestled in the base of the Dolomites limestone walls. Adorable donkeys, friendly little creatures, greeted us as we came into the trail around the lake. We hiked until we had a 360 view, mountains surrounding. While standing in the lush green forest, crystal clear waters all around we had a mile high view of the town below us. The cool mountains winds were so crisp and clean. Wild flowers blew in the wind. I really couldn't believe my eyes. This was just our first day here in Italy and I was already fulfilled by our experience.
Later, after a delicious lunch at Malga Federa, that afternoon we headed back to the Cristallo and relaxed, spoiled with food and wine. We indulged in the amenities of the hotel. The warm pool with hand paintings of the Dolomites, images flowed right into the actual views which could be seen from every window in the hotel - towering mountains over the lush green hillside.
Our second day we woke to meet our smiling host and headed into town to pick up our bikes for the day. It was my first time on an E-Bike. I was pretty excited to get my blood flowing and adrenaline pumping. The bike path through town ran us through the green landscapes I could see from the hotel windows. We cruised through town and headed down a well manicured trail into the woods. Mountains overhead, I actually had to bend my neck to see the highest peaks. No matter where I was, there was always a 360 degree view. Just down the trail we entered rock and Limestone tunnels that took us literally through the base of the mountains, opening up into tall green forests. The clean air whipped by us as we sped through on our way to Lago Di Landro - a gorgeous teal colored lake at the base of giant sleeping mountains. It took us about 45 minutes to arrive and was an easy trek on the bikes. I knew we were getting close to the lake as rivers of clear water surrounded us on each side of the trail. When we got to Lago Di Landro I felt as though I was looking into a lake of sweet blue juice, something a photo cannot even capture. You have to be there to see it. As the clouds rolled over the sun the lake changed colors. I took my shoes off and stepped into the gorgeous sparkling water as I gazed into the expansive mountain ranges in each direction. Mountain tops still covered in glacial snow with glistening sunlight. It was hard to believe we just rode our bikes here, I felt worlds away. The trip home, we raced down the trail, enjoyed lunch at Rifugio Ospitale, an adorable charming restaurant half way back and off to the hotel to relax. We later met for a tour of the hotel. The beautiful room dedicated to Frank Sinatra, who has stayed at the Cirstallo in the past, was my favorite. Dinner was served at the Gazebo restaurant within the hotel. Service was very accommodating, so much care was taken. We sat with gorgeous mountain scenes in each direction. Each course was amazing, with dessert and coffee as we finished up. Wine was endless and we enjoyed each others company within the beautiful restaurant.
I rose to my third day in Italy and felt like I had already been on multiple vacations as each day already spent was an experience of a lifetime. We rose early to meet our adventure guide, a skilled climber and mountaineer of the Dolomites. We traveled only ten minutes by car and arrived at our trail head. Once again, it was amazing to me how close everything was to the hotel. In the States I am so used to having travel of a day or two in order to get to so many unique destinations.
We got our harnesses, helmets and hiked off into the deep forest. The air was cool and perfect for a hike. As we got about a mile into our hike I could feel mist in the air. We came around the corner and all of a sudden we were overlooking a massive waterfall, water spilling over the rocks below with the never ending views in each direction. We made our way down the switch back trail and came to our cable lined trail we would be hiking to get to places most people never get to see. Snapping our carabiners onto the cables, we made our way down narrow trails and into the waterfall. How many times have you sat on cliffs behind a 150 foot waterfall? My heart was pounding, and as a climber I felt excited - I was really in my element. I thought of my mother and knew this was something she would love. Something I could share the experience with her and she would be safe without having to use too much effort to arrive to. Our guide took us further into the woods and the number of waterfalls increased. Each fall was unique against the others, tall green grass, wildflowers, the smells and colors were a treat to my senses. We hiked behind other falls, crossed large bridges and went deep into the mossy woods filled with life. Not a house or another person in sight. We really were in the middle of dreamland. Nothing but nature. The weather was perfect as we were not too hot or ever too cold. I chatted with the guide about the local climbing and found out that some of the local climbs were actually taller than Yosemite climbs. I was simply blown away. As we hiked back to the car, I was wishing we had tents and could spend the night out in the forest.
Our final dinner was served at the Tivoli restaurant in town. We were greeted by the chef who was happy to see us and he took our recommendations for food. Serving after serving I seemed to be fulfilling every dream dinner I never knew I had. Each bite was satisfying to my taste buds, texture and all. Each serving was a production in itself, it might as well had been served with fireworks. Wine was paired with each meal. Our chef made sure to check on us throughout dinner and cheers with a drink to health and happiness.
I was sad this was our last night and wondered how I would cope with coming back to my normal every day life. I had the feeling that I had fallen asleep reading a fairy tale story and jumped into the pages.. now I knew I had been dreaming and was going to awake.
This trip has been the journey of a lifetime. The Cristallo is a resort that everyone must visit at least once in their lifetime. Not only is the Cristallo itself an experience.. outside every window, every door, in each direction is a venture into woods, out to lakes, mountain tops and into towns that have something to offer any type of explorer. Whether you take a jeep, go on foot, ride horses, bikes or simply take a hike, you will stumble upon visions of dreams. Places you can only imagine. I highly suggest to everyone I know to take this trip. Venture into this land of dreams come true. Although it is hard to come home, it is no longer a dream. I can close my eyes and know that is my life. I actually lived that. The experience will always be close to my heart and a story I will tell forever. I hope some day to go back.
If you are traveling to the Cristallo and/or into these areas of Italy please contact me with any questions about adventure. I am happy to continue sharing my experiences as they were some of the best in my life!