By Nancy Besharah – I wiped the pastry flakes off my fingers and finished my espresso before heading outside to round up the kids. Even though we had hiked deep into the Dolomites alpine for almost two hours, the boys, then ages 5 and 7, weren’t slowing down. After devouring buttery apple strudel, they raced outside to explore the Dolomites alpine playground, complete with a charming tree house, wooden climbing structure and farm animals.
We were at Utia Malga Saraghes, one of our favorite rifugios or “mountain refuges” comprising a vast mountain-hut system throughout the UNESCO-designated Dolomites mountain range in northeastern Italy. Situated in the Italian Alps, Alta Badia region, a 9-mile valley of expansive, green meadows resting at the base of the gray, tooth-like peaks, about four hours from Milan, the Dolomites rifugios tempt hikers to leave the trail for a meal, snack or overnight stay.
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Offering delicacies like homemade pastries and local specialties including speck, a lightly smoked ham, along with inviting seating options, stopping at one of the rifugios means parents don’t need to pack loads of snacks to keep kids happy while hiking. In addition to providing comfortable seating and clean bathrooms, parents will also appreciate the alluring and impossible-to-pass alpine playgrounds located at many the rifugios.
To get you started on planning your own Italian Alps adventure, here are three of my family/s favorite rifugios and alpine playgrounds in the Alta Badia valley.
Dolomites Stop #1: Utia Malga Saraghes
This enchanting Dolomites rifugio is an easy hike with older children or a day trip with younger hikers. With easy trail access from San Cassiano, a small village we use as home base, walk past the Piz Sorega gondola station toward trail 22, as noted on the Alta Badia hiking map, and follow the trail markers to Saraghes.
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Much of the stroller-friendly gravel path leads through an alpine meadow, where the rhythmic clang of cowbells will celebrate your ascent to about 1,000 feet (300 meters) above San Cassiano. The hike to the rifugio will take one to two+ hours, depending on kids, age, and ability.
Plan to spend time at Saraghes watching the animals, exploring the playground and refueling in the restaurant.
Dolomites Stop #2: Utia Piz Sorega
The playground at Utia Piz Sorega is world-class with an interactive water feature, slides, zip-line, and more. Explore with the kids or chill out in a lounge chair while soaking up the Dolomites alpine ambiance.
To access the Piz Sorega lodge and alpine playground, follow a trail for a minimum of 90 minutes (about 1,500 feet or 466 meters in elevation gain) from the village of San Cassiano. If you don’t feel like fighting gravity, hop on the Piz Sorega gondola in San Cassiano for a short ride up the mountain. (You can purchase a lift pass at the Piz Sorega station.) Bring a stroller on the lift for free or rent one on the mountain if you need a set of wheels to transport a little one once you reach the top.
You can either hike back to San Cassiano or return via the gondola. For more Dolomites adventure, follow one of the many well-marked trails leading farther into the alpine from Utia Piz Sorega.
Dolomites Stop #3: Utia Pralongia
The Pralongia mountain hut, located an hour or two past Utia Piz Sorega, depending on your pace, is a challenging hike for young children, so plan to use a stroller or baby backpack. The playground is basic, but the Dolomites views are spectacular. Oh, and the apple strudel is delicious!
If You Go:
The Alta Badia region is easily accessible by car from Milan, Italy (four hours), Venice, Italy (three hours), or Innsbruck, Austria (two hours). Base yourself in one of Alta Badia’s six charming villages, we enjoy San Cassiano, and spend five days or more exploring the extensive trails, rifugios and playgrounds located throughout the Dolomites. For the best hiking, plan to visit the Alta Badia region between June and September.
Keep in mind this region also receives over 300 sunny days per year, so be sure to pack for the sunshine. The area is also cooler than lowland areas, with summer temperatures averaging 66 degrees during the day and 50 degrees at night, so be sure to pack layers.
Where To Stay In The Dolomites
San Cassiano offers a broad range of accommodation and dining options, and is an excellent base for exploring the Dolomites region.
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Nancy Besharah is the publisher of Luxe Travel Family, a travel blog intended to inspire families to explore the world. She lives in British Columbia, Canada, with her family, and loves running, hiking, biking, gardening and exploring beaches everywhere.