Culture & Language
While the Dolomites region is located in Italy, it is so close to Austria that culturally, it feels Austrian or German. In fact, there are three languages that are predominantly spoken in the region: Italian, German and “Ladin”, an ancient dialect that was spoken by the earliest inhabitants of the region. Today, roughly 30,000 people in the region still speak Ladin. You will notice that city names will typically be in Italian, German and often Ladin. Example: Ortisei (Italian), St. Ulrich (German), and Urtijei (Ladin). Most street signs will also be bi or trilingual. Most people speak at least conversational English, so communicating with locals should give you no problems.
A brief history of the region
The Austro-Hungarian and Italian border ran through the Dolomites from 1866 to 1918. South Tyrol, Trentino and Cortina were all Austrian. After Italy joined the Allies in 1918, the mountain front ran through the region from 1915 to 1917. In April of 1916, Italy tunneled beneath the Austrian position on the Col de Lana, triggered it with explosives, and blew it up. The gash can still be seen on the mountain. Of course, we know how the war ended and today the entire region is part of Italy, though its earlier Austro-Hungarian culture remains strong.
Beyond being a fantastic outdoor adventure destination, the South Tyrolean region is also very well known for its traditional handicraft of woodworking. The Val Gardena valley specifically (where Ortisei is located) is known for it’s Christian figures and nativity scenes. In fact, in the village of San Cristina you can find the world’s largest hand-carved wooden nativity scene.
Gastronomy in the Dolomites
The region's crossroads history is evident in the fusion of Italian and Austrian flavors, resulting in a unique culinary blend. Ancient transhumance traditions, where livestock is moved between highland and lowland pastures, have influenced dishes centered around dairy products, from creamy polenta with melted cheese to hearty dumplings known as "canederli." Wild herbs and berries found in the mountains often find their way into culinary creations, adding a foraged touch to the gastronomic experience. Culinary festivals celebrate this rich heritage, offering a platform for the showcase of local delicacies, while modern tourism has spurred a harmonious integration of traditional recipes with contemporary interpretations, ensuring that the Dolomites' culinary story evolves alongside the mountains themselves.
Top Foods to Try
Tris di Canederli: Canederli are essentially giant dumplings made of bread. When we say big, we mean big - they can often be the size of tennis balls! The tris di canederli are a trio of dumplings, usually containing speck (which is a type of cured ham similar to prosciutto but only made in South Tyrol), and often served “en brood” or in a broth like soup.
Game meat: Game meats are big in this region. Most typical type of meats are cervo (deer), daino (fallow deer), capriolo (roe buck), camoscio (a type of goat-antelope which is native to Europe) or stambecco (mountain goat).
Polenta: Polenta is often referred to as “the bread of the Dolomites”, meaning that you’ll find polenta on the menu just about everywhere! In the summer it will typically be served grilled or fried and cut up into slices, often topped with parmesan and freshly picked, local mushrooms.
Apfelstrudel: Just like it sounds, this is apple strudel but like you’ve never had it before!
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