Sixteen of us spent a July morning hiking in the Dolomites along the historic Valley of the Mills path, located about 3 hours north of Venice. Called La Valle dei Mulini or Val di Morins in Italian and in local dialect, respectively, the Valley of the Mills is just that: a valley that houses about ten or so historic wooden mills. I’d read about this walk in Bell’Italia magazine a few years ago and had wanted to visit. As is the case pretty much everywhere in the Dolomites, this hike was off the beaten path and yet extremely user friendly:
The historic mills still run on Thursdays in the summer time but they no longer grind wheat. The rushing river they rely on for power is still rushing, though, so it’s easy to see how everything works. Following the path, visitors can see exactly how the water from the river is guided through the mills, and can see the machinery behind the whole wheat-grinding operation. You probably won’t find a description of the Valley of the Mills in any English guide book, but there are written descriptions along the trail in three languages: Italian, German and Ladino, the local dialect. English speakers can download the free Word Lens app, and point a smartphone at the sign for instant English translation.
Since you can explore the mills in any order, we let the kids’ curiosity guide our group, and we followed them to the mills they thought were the most interesting. The trail is wide and while not paved, my sister-in-law managed to push a stroller on much of it.
To get the water from the river to the mills, tree trunks carved into a gutter shape are used to funnel water from the fast-flowing river:
The water flows through the wooden gutters, created from interlocking carved-out trees, and direct the water from mill to mill. Our guide pointed out that the smaller end of the tree trunk always fits into the larger end, making the gutter system water-tight.
In the photo below, you can see how the gutters feed into the mills:
Here you can see that the water fed into the mill makes the water wheel turn — if the wheel’s in place, of course, which it isn’t in the photo below. We were there on a Tuesday so the mills were not running, but normally when the water hits the wheel, the wheel turns, putting into motion the cogs and wheels which ultimately cause a heavy stone to rotate, grinding the wheat.
The kids had a great time climbing all over the gutters and following the rushing water.
We followed our hiking guide on trails into the hills for a couple more hours. The farms in this area of the Dolomites are grouped into clusters of a few houses who would work together and share resources, including the mills. Every group of farms shared a giant ladder-like structure near the house. Any guesses on how this was used?
They are drying racks for the wheat, after it was harvested and before it was brought up to the mills to be ground.
After our hike, we sat down at for a fantastic hot lunch at Luch de Vanc.
This type of walk is exactly what I love about hiking in the Dolomites: the trails are well-marked, historically interesting, great for hikers of all abilities, and you’re never far from a delicious hot lunch!
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