Italy’s Dolomites: scenery, food and culture

Italy’s Dolomite mountains are famous for their scenery, and rightly so, but the region is very different from the rest of Italy in its food and culture. Below are some highlights of a recent trip.



An Italian friend and I were relaxing after lunch at an outdoor cafe in Bressanone’s sunny main square a few months ago (photo below) when she gasped: “Did you see that? The woman at the table next to us just ordered a cappuccino. At two o’clock in the afternoon. And the server took her order without batting an eye!”


Bressanone Brixen Italy Cafe


We watched the cappuccino lady, assuming she was foreign (cappuccino is considered a breakfast drink in Italy so is rarely ordered after about 10 am). But it became clear that she was a local, and my friend, who is from Turin, commented that in this part of Italy – which is bordered by Austria and Switzerland – she felt like a foreigner. Over the next few days we had fun discussing cultural differences we saw. Here are some you can put on a checklist for your next trip:


Two – or more – languages in the Dolomites


bolzano Bozen autostrada sign Italy


Every Italian region has dialects, but they aren’t printed on signs or in written form anywhere. In the Dolomites, in addition to local dialects (the most famous being Ladino or Ladin, spoken near Bolzano) everything is written in both Italian and German.


Store opening hours Bolzano Bozen Italy

As someone who loves photographing signs, I had a field day taking photos of road signs, stores, and the bakery below. This guy actually struck a pose for me, thank you kind sir (read the full story behind this photo on Facebook).


bolzano bakery backerei Italy


Traditional Fashion in the Dolomites

Apart from the people walking around the center of town carrying skis, the average person on the street dresses about the same as anywhere else in Italy. But the traditional dress is closer to what you’d see in Germany or Switzerland or Austria.


bolzano bozen Italy typical clothing


 Hearty Food in the Dolomites

Not surprisingly, there is lots of hearty mountain food here: salami, breads with nuts and seeds, strong alcohol, mushrooms, and lots of cheese. If there’s one food that is a must-try, though, it’s canederli, which are pretty much big meatballs with different sauces and flavors. Here I ordered the canederli trio: one tomato, one mushroom, and one spinach.

canederli bolzano


This is locally made “speck”, another must-try.

Speck Bolzano Bozen


Hearty mountain bread at the bakery, perfect for taking on a hike.



And last but not least, apple strudel.



Punctuality is important in the Dolomites

The first time my husband and I went to the Dolomites, we arrived at the breakfast room at our hotel at the shockingly late hour of 9 am, and almost missed breakfast, which was from 7.30 sharp to 9.00 sharp. Then, we hiked past 4.30 pm when the lifts stopped running, so we hiked down the mountain rather than taking the lift. Then, we stopped for a beer at the bottom of the hike before heading back to our hotel, only to discover that the buses that ran through the valley stopped running about 5.30 pm, so we took a taxi back to our hotel. By the time we got there (I believe it was about 6.30 pm), the hot tub had closed. We adapted somewhat, and for the remainder of our trip we made it to breakfast. But we never did get back in time for the hot tub hour.



I find the cultural differences of the Dolomites fascinating, but that is really an added bonus, because the area is really (and deservedly) famous for its beautiful hiking (and unique hiking), biking, and skiing. And my advice as a trip-planner is: because it’s so different from the rest of Italy, adding a week in the Dolomites is a great way to create a very balanced overall itinerary.

All photos by Madeline Jhawar 

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