It was a still, windless night when my alarm buzzed me away before 5am, with the stars still twinkling outside and no light yet on the horizon in the heart of the Dolomites this past January.
Knowing I was in for a treat, I flung off the covers and bundled myself up with multiple merino layers beneath my ski gear. Today was going to be great!
While I have never professed to be a morning person, sunrise on top of 3000 meter mountain in the Italian Alps can tempt even me out of bed, as long as there an espresso or two thrown in there. I’m glad I can always count on that in Italy.
Come wintertime, there is a very unique experience offered in the Agordino region of the Dolomites. Every Friday you have the chance to take the cablecar to the top of the Marmolada mountain very early in the morning and watch the sunrise from the platforms at the top at 3,265 meters.
Known locally as the Queen of the Dolomites, I was excited to pay homage and was prepared to fangirl accordingly.
And breakfast at the Punta Serauta is included afterwards. Think bottomless bubbles, all the pastries and cakes, endless cured ham and meats (because Italy) and all of the cappuccino! All hail Italy!
You then can ski one of the most famous runs in the Dolomites, the 12 kilometer “la Bellunese” run back down to Malga Ciapèla, the longest run in the area.
You can also take the cable car back down if skiing or long runs aren’t your thing, or perhaps if you have wobbly tired legs from too much snowboarding the day before (I’m not speaking from experience here or anything…)
Learning to snowboard in New Zealand where there aren’t cable cars or gondolas to the tops of the mountains, I’m always so impressed by the infrastructure in Europe and their ability to built a way to the top of a massive peak seemingly with ease.
The famous Marmolada cableway to the top of the mountain is impressive, to say the least, and even if you don’t ski, you should definitely take a journey to the top on any trip to the Dolomites.
It’s made up of three segments that connect Malga Ciapèla (at 1,450m), with Coston d’Antermoja (2,350m), Serauta (2,950m) before heading all the way to the summit station at Punta Rocca (3,265m).
The day before while skiing below I could see the shimmering iconic Marmolada glacier below, and I was excited to head up to the top of the mountain for sunrise.
It was absolutely frigid and dark when we all piled in the huge cablecar pre-sunrise to head up to the top of Marmolada, packed in close with all our skis. With the windchill at a balmy -20° C, I was glad for the extra layers.
We were halfway up to the top when I realized I didn’t have my phone with me. Completely panicking I forced the guys we were with to use the “find my phone” feature only to confirm it was in the parking lot.
Phew, must have left it in the car. Onwards!
The history is strong in this part of the Dolomites, and during WWI the border between Italy and Austria-Hungry ran across the Marmolada, making it the frontline for fighting in the region. Soldiers lived in deep tunnels inside the glacier for years and warfare was conducted high up on the mountains. It was around then that the via ferrata system was created here.
You might have even heard about it once and a while in the news as the glacier retreats, sometimes soldiers’ belongings and even their bodies are rediscovered on the ice. Morbidly fascinating!
Being the absolute history nerd that I am, I was positively frothing to check out the Marmolada Grande Guerra: Museum of the Great War at one of the cableway stops – in fact it’s highest museum in Europe clocking in at 3,000 meters.
My Vallerret Markhof gloves were ESSENTIAL in these freezing conditions to take photos
The sky was just starting to lighten when we emerged on top of the world at the cablecar station of Punta Rocca.
So cold I can only describe it as white walker weather, you could only have your hands bare for a minute or two before you lost all feeling in your fingers. It was so cold that my breath froze on my hair into icicles and created a layer of frost on my camera where I breathed. If I had my phone with me, the battery would have surely died instantly.
Call me crazy, but I find that crisp frosty cold very beautiful. The snow sparkles and the world seems frozen in time, almost as if we were inside a snow globe about to be shaken. I love it.
And New Zealand has made me tough. Living in a cold place without central heating for years has hardened me up, and most people had either scattered back inside for breakfast or begun their first ski run down la Bellunese back down to earth by the time the sun actually began to peep out over the mountains.
I couldn’t believe it; they were missing the best part.
All of the sudden the mountains exploded with color, with Sella in the distance lit up orange and gold and beams of sunlight trickled between all the peaks in the distance. It was absolute magic.
It was in that moment, watching the world wake up from the top of the queen of the Dolomites that I fell in love with the Agordino. What a place! I truly felt her immensity and scale and privelage for getting to experience it in such a wonderful time of day.
And to be rewarded with treats and cake afterwards? And get to snowboard down? What. A. Day.
About 6 hours later we returned to the carpark only for me to discover that I hadn’t left my phone inside the car, rather it had fallen out of my pocket into the snow slush next to the door of the car and frozen solid. But to my delight, after sticking it into my pants for about 15 minutes, it de-thawed and worked just fun!
Have you ever experienced a sunrise like this from on top of a mountain? Have you met the Queen of the Dolomites? Spill!