Mountains, forest, tumbling rivers and clean air – Cortina d’Ampezzo is a runner’s paradise. And then there are the apres-run cocktails…
Cortina d’Ampezzo lies in northern Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, some of which still cradle smooth white patches of snow in summer time. But, when the weather warms up, most of this renowned ski resort’s frozen landscape gives way to green fields and forests, clear lakes and mountain streams. And with the thaw, runners, hikers and mountain bikers hit Cortina’s trails.
Something of a running mecca, this year Cortina has already hosted a 120km ultra marathon, a 50km trail run and a straight 30km run to the neighbouring town of Dobbiaco. There are plenty of vertiginous rock-strewn routes zig-zagging up and down mountain slopes. But there are also some good, gentler trails for those who, like me, enjoy a run around for an hour or so to make room for another delicious pasta dinner…
On a recent visit, I met local runner Marianne Moretti-Adimari. Here she explains why Cortina is a brilliant place to run – and I try out one of her recommended routes, followed by a whopping slice of cake and a rather nice local aperitivo.
‘I’ve been running for years now – I started as a teenager running in Norway, where I’m from, then ran the streets and parks of London for years after I moved there. For the last three years, I’ve been running in the splendid Dolomites.
I generally participate in all the races, short and long, that take place in the area. In winter, I do ski mountaineering races and cross country races to keep up my fitness when snow prevents me from running.
Running in Cortina and the Dolomites is about more than just getting physically fit. The beauty of these mountains blows my mind every time I am out there – the mountains lift you, inspire you, give you energy, make you fly. It soothes your mind and spirit and makes you feel at one with the nature around you.
My most recent race was the Cortina–Dobbiaco 30km run over a mountain pass along the former Dolomite railway – I ran it for the fourth time this year in a time of 2hrs 18mins, which is a 7-minute improvement on last year. The race was the brainchild of Gianni Poli, a New York Marathon winner who trained for marathons and did his race preparation in Cortina. I also ran my 4th marathon in Venice last November, and again achieved a personal best of 3hrs 25min. The great thing about long-distance running is that you only get better with age! Now, in my 40s, I am the fittest I have ever been, and am setting new personal bests in every race I participate in (long may it last…).
Cortina is an ideal place to run for beginners as well as professional runners. I started out on the flatter routes along the former Dolomite railway and along the river. There are many great runs in the forest going down the valley. I then progressed and always found new challenges and routes that pushed me a little further. The list of my favourite routes is endless, from the mountain route around Tofana de Rozes, starting at the Dibona refuge, to the two-hour loop I do from the village of Fiames, which takes in the Val di Fanes waterfalls.
In the mountains the weather is always somewhat unpredictable – make sure you are equipped for sudden weather changes – in particular if you go for longer runs. The
altitude will take a few days to get used to, so start easy - but you will really see the benefit when you return to sea level.’
My Cortina run…
I took Marianne’s advice and went for an 8km run in a loop from Cortina – a good one if you’re not quite used to running at altitude but want to challenge yourself with some decent hills and uneven terrain. The hiking map of Cortina, available in most hotels and in the Tourist Information Office in Cortina, has walking and running routes clearly marked. The best time for non-ski sports is from June to October, when there’s plenty of sunshine and temperatures can reach mid- to high-20 degrees centigrade.
The route: Cortina – Mortisa – Lake Pianozes – Campo di Sopra – Cortina
I left the town in the from the Park Hotel Franceschi in the west of Cortina, crossing the River Boite and climbing the hill up to the village of Mortisa, with its barn-like houses and carved balconies, laden with red geraniums. One elderly man was in a field, gathering grass for hay and piling it into a wheelbarrow. Mortisa is a very pretty first landmark, which made the uphill climb worthwhile.
The fun really begins after Mortisa, when the asphalt road turns into a woodland path, sometimes muddy, with tree roots creating bumps along the way. The trail goes through evergreen forest, where towering firs are eventually cut through by a foaming river, spilling over boulders. This stretch still has a fair number of uphill climbs, but the stillness of the trees, the trickle of tiny streams and the scattering of yellow and purple wildflowers along the way are a winning combination.
After crossing the river, I took a left off the forest path path and onto a very welcome downhill stretch of road leading Lake Pianozes. The water rippled in a slight early evening breeze as families ordered rounds of coffees and beers at the waterside cafe. Children ran and played around the lake as their parents and grandparents watched.
Following the road round and down, the final part of the route cut through the fields below Mortisa and the village of Campo di Sopra, with its tiny chapel and beautiful houses, again with carved wooden balconies hung with flower baskets.
The villages here and Cortina itself are pure Alpine style and feel more like Austria than Italy – the area itself was Austrian until after the First World War.
As the clouds gathered over the mountains, I ran back into town past Cortina’s stables and headed straight for my favourite bakery for a post-run treat. Pasticceria Alvera, on the main shopping street of Corso Italia, is open all day and I congratulated myself with a slice of traditional grano saracena – a local buckwheat and almond sponge with raspberry jam in the middle and an icing sugar heart sprinkled on top…
Then I washed it down with a refreshing Spritz Aperol at nearby bar Open Space – a friendly hang-out which is also open all day and late into the evening.
A Spritz Aperol is very much the aperitivo of choice in Cortina, and rightly so – the mix of Aperol (a traditional aperitif including bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb), prosecco and a dash of soda water, with lots of ice and a slice of orange, is an ideal après run…
Running at altitude definitely had me puffing more than usual (I’m used to pounding the streets of London) – but the scenery, fresh air, beautiful villages and post-run rewards made it a memorable run which I’d love to repeat.
For more information on running routes, hiking or any of the other outdoor activities Cortina has to offer, go to Cortina Turismo.