Who never wanted to take a winter holiday trip to the inside of a chocolate box painting, or maybe a 007 snowy landscape backdrop? (Minus all the explosions and chase scenes on the ski slopes, of course.) In Cortina d’Ampezzo, a beautiful valley city with over a thousand years of history, home of the majestic Queen of the Dolomites Alps, you can!
Marmolada, also known as Queen of the Dolomites, is the reigning and highest mountain in the Dolomite Alps, one of the most sought-after winter destinations and ski slopes in the world. Nestled right at the heart of these Dolomite Alps sits the kind of Italian, kind of Austrian, kind of Ladin historic small town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, located in the region of Veneto, in Northern Italy.
The list of attractions seems never-ending, including winter sports structures, skiing, luxury shopping, local artisanry and craftsmanship, Ladin cuisine, aprés-ski attractions, historical architecture and monuments, and, of course, the beautiful surroundings: Anywhere you turn to, a panoramic view of the snowy Dolomite Mountains greets you.
The first recorded mention of Cortina dates back to 1156, and archeological tomb findings prove there were people in the Ampezzo region as far as the 6th-millennium B.C.
Ampezzo was part of the Holy Roman Empire in the middle ages, later on, conquered by the Republic of Venice. After 1511 it became a part of the County of Tyrol, under Habsburg rule.
It bounced back and forth from Napoleonic rule to the Austrian empire, to Austria-Hungary until the heights of World War I, where it became officially Italian, removed from the Tyrol to the Province of Belluno.
The Dolomite mountains were the bloody stage for many battles during the World Wars, moments of touristic boom for the aristocracy and even the Italian fascist upper echelon, to weathering hard blows from the wars.
Cortina was meant to host the 1944 Winter Olympic Games, but they were canceled due to the war. It then hosted the 1956 Winter Olympic Games, which boomed its popularity worldwide and set it on the map as a winter tourism destination, though it had previously been a favored spot among the first British “tourists” and alpinists in the 19th century, and of upper-class tourists in the early 20th century.
During touristic seasons, the population of Cortina d’Arezzo more than quintuplicates, going from around 7.000 to 40.000 people in the seasonal months, both in summer and winter - though it’s in the winter the city truly shines.
Skiing and Winter Sports
Cortina d’Ampezzo has a long history with winter sports. It was established definitively was a tourist attraction must by the 1956 Winter Olympics and is set to co-host the upcoming 2026 Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics with Milan. It has also been the 2021 Alpine World Ski Championships host city.
Cortina holds skiing facilities for professionals and amateurs alike, with many skiing schools across the peaks, which hold 95% of snow coverage from December to April. It is also home to a professional ice hockey team, SG Cortina.
Other winter sports like ski mountaineering, curling, ice skating, figure skating, snowboarding, sledding, and extreme skiing are popular activities in the region. In summer, people enjoy mountain climbing, mountain biking, trekking, swimming, and tennis in Cortina.
Shopping and Craftsmanship
Cortina has a strong craft center and market that dates back to the 19th century when German holiday travelers enjoyed their handmade products and furniture. Today, it has its own Arts Center.
In Corso Italia, one of the most famous Italian shopping streets, you can find handmade toys, woodwork, metalwork, artisanry, and antiquaries, side by side with sports gear and luxury stores such as Gucci, Bulgari, Céline, and Bennetton.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is made up of snowy mountains on the back of charming snow cabins with balconies filled with flowers, Hungarian-style 19th-century mansions, 17th-century castles, and the green tones of its medieval church tower. It almost looks like a fairy tale town. With such an extensive history, it's no surprise Cortina has so many landmarks in such a small town.
Cortina has many museums, such as the Great War Open Air museum, set atop the Marmalada mountain (which makes it the highest museum in the world!), featuring Great War dated trenches and the Musei delle Regole d’Ampezzo, which holds a paleontology museum, an ethnographic museum, and a modern art museum.
It also features many historical landmarks, medieval castles, churches, basilicas, and forts.
Cortina is regarded as one of the best ski resorts in the world, with high-quality structures, mountain lodgings, and famous aprés-ski accommodations.
One of its centenary hotels, the Miramonti Majestic Grand Hotel, was featured in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. It’s still just as majestic, and even features a 007 themed room available to book.
Cortina has accommodations for whatever visitors look for, luxury vacations, spa getaways, scenic mountain stays, and rifugios - smaller, cozy lodgings and BnB’s often also featuring restaurants. A real refuge in the mountains.