A short hike from the center of Cortina
Today I want to describe to you an easy hike that starts in the center of Cortina and passes through Mortisa, leading to the Volpera Caves and Lake d’Aiàl, before descending to Lake Pianozes. From here, the hike continues to Campo and along the Convent road back to the center of town.
I would like to mention that visiting the Volpera Caves and Lake d’Aiàl are two possible options on the route I am proposing, and in this case, the travel time will be longer. However, these are two places worth visiting.
Like many other easy walks that can be done in Cortina, you won’t need a car, but you can start walking directly from the center of town. If you want, you can shorten the route a bit by taking advantage of the local public transportation service.
The shortest circular route, avoiding the visit to the Volpera Caves and Lake Aiàl, takes about 3 hours of walking from Piazza Roma to Piazza Roma.
If you also intend to visit the Volpera Caves and Lake Aiàl, the indicative time is about 5 hours.
The use of the city bus (to Mortisa on the outward and from Campo di Sotto on the return) reduces the time by about 1 hour.
The Volpera Caves are located in the forest south of Mortisa in Cortina d’Ampezzo, in the province of Belluno. They are mainly composed of the remains of a landslide, and are not caves of karst origin. Climbing routes and tightrope walking paths have been equipped on the walls of the large rocks outside the caves.
Among the present caves, the best known is the Bus del Fiedo (hole of the cold), first explored in 1997 by the Vicenza caving group.
Over the years, several explorations and surveys have been carried out, allowing the discovery of new side branches of the cave and the expansion of the complex. The cave system has a total planimetric development of 250 meters, a spatial development of 300 meters, and a height difference of 42.4 meters.
Lake Aiàl is located in Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Fedéra forest district, a beautiful forest to the southwest of the town. There are various ways to reach Lake Aiàl, and in some periods of the year the dirt access road is also opened to traffic. On the north shore of the lake, a charming, small refuge offers delicious dishes and excellent wines.
Lake Pianòzes is also located in Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Fedéra forest district, in the forest to the southwest of the town. Easily accessible by car in less than 10 minutes from the center of Cortina, Lake Pianòzes is a small gem where you can spend joyful moments with children. Here too, like at Lake Aiàl, an excellent restaurant allows you to taste excellent dishes.
The Strada del Convento is a dirt road that connects the center of Cortina with the hamlet of Campo di Sopra. It owes its name to an ancient monastery (convento in Italian) that stood there centuries ago. The Strada del Convento is closed to traffic and represents a convenient walk-through flower-filled meadows, with a magnificent view of the mountains surrounding Cortina.
The starting point is Piazza Roma, in front of the parish church of Cortina, the basilica of Saints Philip and James. From here, first of all, you need to reach the village of Mortisa. Note!You can also get to Mortisa by bus from the square, urban line no. 6
From the square, where buses depart, you must descend for about 50 meters alongside the busy main road. Now, next to the optician’s shop Igor Ghedina, you must take a narrow downhill alley.
Ignore a first flight of stairs on the left and continue downhill until another staircase. Descend, cross the bridge over the Boite stream and immediately after turn left and continue walking on flat ground for about thirty meters, until you take the steep road on the right that leads to Mortisa. You can also reach Mortisa by city bus, line no.6.
From the last houses of the village of Mortisa (Mortìja in Cortina language), a small road, to the south, enters the woods. It is the CAI trail no. 428.
The comfortable path initially crosses the grassy meadows rich in flora, and then takes you into the forest of conifers and beech trees, which in some areas is dark, mysterious and suggestive. Shortly after, if you pay attention, you will notice a junction on your right (west) and the signs that indicate the way to the Volpera Caves. Here an enticing option presents itself, to deviate from your path and visit the caves. Keep in mind that if you want to take a look at the Volpera Caves, the time required to fully explore this magical place is at least one hour.
It will take about fifteen minutes to get to the caves, a good half hour to navigate the tangle of huge boulders and cavities, and another fifteen minutes to descend back onto the trail 428. Maybe you can dedicate a half day just to the caves, on another occasion… to entice you, now I will tell you a little bit about the Volpera Caves.
The Volpèra Caves
The name Volpèra doesn’t just refer to the caves, but to the entire forest and the area below it. It’s easy to guess that the name comes from a group of foxes (fox in Italian is called “volpe“), which still inhabit this place. The caves originated from a landslide that detached from the overlying Crépa in ancient times. Crépa is the rock with a characteristic gallery on the road that goes from Cortina to Passo Falzarego.
On the outside, on the walls of the large rocks, the Scoiattoli and Guides of Cortina have equipped numerous climbing routes, thus enriching the number of climbing gyms in Cortina. In addition to the single pitches, there’s an easy via ferrata with suspended bridges on the large rocks. However, the path is closed to the public and accessible only when accompanied by a guide.
The crevices, which initially appear as simple spaces between collapsed rocks, are actually real caves, and some of them can be crossed thanks to short equipped routes. If you plan to venture into the caves, keep in mind that the equipped routes, although easy, still require a certain level of skill and familiarity in moving on pegs and ladders. Moreover, due to the humidity that characterizes this place, the ground is often slippery, and a fall can have serious consequences.
Among the caves present, the most well-known is the Buš del Fiedo (Hole of the Cold), protected by a bar, first explored in 1997 by the Vicenza cave group. Over the years, several explorations and surveys have been carried out, allowing the discovery of new side branches of the cave and the expansion of the complex.
The cave complex has an overall planimetric development of 250 meters, a spatial development of 300 meters, and a height difference of 42.4 meters.
To conclude, a curiosity about the place: the spirit of Maria de Zanìn roams the forest of Volpera. Legend has it that a young woman, named Maria di Giovannino, took refuge in Volpera to escape the advances of a Roman commander who had fallen in love with her. However, there is another version of the story. Maria de Zanin was an unmarried woman who was offended by a priest and decided not to go to church anymore but chose Volpera as a place for her prayers.
After visiting the Grotte di Volpera, it is suggested to return by the same road you came, avoiding dangerous shortcuts. You are back on trail 428. Continuing the hike, after passing the first uphill, you will soon come across a bridge that crosses the aqueduct pipeline, and shortly after a second bridge, the Ponte Òuto (named after the one that crosses the Rio Travenenzes, see “The legend of Gran Bracun“), which allows you to cross the gorge where the Rio Costeana flows.
Continuing to climb, you soon reach a crossroads: to the left, you descend to Pianòzes and Campo di Sotto, in the center, the path continues to Rio Fedèra and Gores de Federa, while to the right, trail 430 crosses a bridge and leads uphill to Lake d’Aiàl (1,412 m), often mistakenly referred to as Ajal.
If you wish, shortly after the last-mentioned bridge, near a bend, a well-marked shortcut allows you to reach Lake d’Aiàl along a more scenic route. From the crossroads to the lake, the path is short, just a few minutes uphill.
Note that at Lake d’Aiàl, in some periods of the year, you can also get there by car, starting from Campo di Sotto. The access road is dirt and open only at certain times of the year to protect the unique natural context where the refuge is located.
The lake owes its name to aiàl, a “clearing for charcoal”. The term aiàl is very common in Venetian toponymy and in our case identifies the entire forest south of the lake, where aiàde (plural of aiàl) used to be set up. Lake d’Aiàl also has another, older and less used name: Lake de Jàibar (from the book “Pale Names of Mountains” by Lorenza Russo).
The lake is truly small, but delightful, set in a magical natural environment. The small refuge, recently renovated, reflects in the waters of the homonymous lake and has a sunny terrace that allows you to savor traditional dishes directly on the lake, surrounded by the wonders of the Dolomites of Ampezzo.
The young manager has two great passions: the mountains and wine. Therefore, a stop at the Aiàl refuge is worth it 🙂 .
Returning now to the itinerary that leads to Lake Pianozes. You are back at the crossroads that you encountered when you left the Volpera forest and crossed the Òuto Bridge over the Costeana stream.
Instead of going up to Lake d’Aiàl, you preferred to walk downhill, discovering Lake Pianozes. The route is short and easy, but as always, it is advisable to wear suitable shoes.
As you can easily imagine, loafers or leather soles do not provide good grip on a dirt road downhill, and it would be a shame to ruin a pleasant and easy walk because of a ruinous (indeed…) fall!
After a short and steep descent, abandoning the road on the right side, a more than evident deviation of a few meters allows you to reach Lake Pianòzes (1,172 m), or Lake de Óltres. Pianozes is also the name of the entire forest south of the lake. The place is enchanting, especially in autumn, when the forest is tinged with a thousand colors.
Here, too, as in Aiàl, a well-stocked restaurant reflects in the waters of the lake. The chef of the Pianozes restaurant offers a traditional but innovative cuisine, and over 200 selected wine labels. If you prefer a quick snack, there is also a small kiosk. And if you have brought a packed lunch, you can sit in the shade of a tree, from whose branches the wonderful Dolomite peaks peek out.
The Strada del Convento
After visiting Lake Pianozes, the path continues with a steep descent along the paved road to Campo di Sotto. At the end of the descent, you must turn right and shortly after left, continuing on the main road towards Cortina. Note!You can also get to Cortina by bus from the nearby bus stop - Urban Line no. 2
Arriving at another crossroads (1,126 m), just before the Rocchetta and Cortina campsites, turn left and reach the last houses of Campo di Sopra.
At the end of the paved road, you will find a dirt road: it is the Strada del Convento (the Convent road). The place is so called because there was apparently a monastery there, documented since 1332. The nunnery was sold to the Zambelli family towards the end of the seventeenth century.
The road crosses a small bridge over the Rutorgo and initially climbs, crossing magnificent green meadows. After the first short climb, the dirt road becomes flat.
At the top, on your left (west), you can see the village of Mortisa, which you passed at the beginning of your excursion to the Volpera Caves and the lakes of Aiàl and Pianozes.
Near a crucifix, perhaps placed in memory of the ancient convent, a bench welcomes travelers.
Soon the road to the convent descends, reaches a bridge over the Boite stream, and then climbs very steeply towards the center of Cortina. Towards the end of the short climb, you will notice on your left a building that houses the veterinarian’s clinic. Behind the building is the ancient powder keg of Cortina. The small building was renovated in 2009, but unfortunately at the moment it is not in the best condition. In any case, it is a piece of Ampezzo history, and taking a quick look at it won’t take you more than five minutes.
Well, now you are back in town, just a short walk from the center that you can reach from here in a short time. As you may have seen, the road to the convent represents an easy walk that allows you to quickly leave the center of Cortina, to enjoy some tranquility in a magnificent natural environment.
In conclusion, I hope to have piqued your interest by telling you about two small but lovely alpine lakes, Lake Aiàl and Lake Pianozes. And about the Volpera caves, where if you listen closely, you may be able to hear the prayers of Maria de Zanin.