Eco-cultural tourism

Eco-cultural tourism

Book a mountain walking holiday with us and you’ll discover the Dolomites are more than meets the eye. Beyond the sweeping panoramas, a deep, yet subtle story is constantly unfolding. This is the story of a landscape-in-formation; of majestic peaks, but also bucolic alpine and subalpine pastures, and bustling alpine towns. We characterize our experience as ‘eco-cultural tourism’ because it’s about the way this story unfolds before you as you walk through this landscape.

Is there such a thing as untouched wilderness in the Alps?

The Dolomites UNESCO World Heritage Site was originally proposed as a cultural landscape (a milieu of nature and culture in an ongoing relationship at the landscape level). This landscape narrative was not acceptable to the UNESCO commission because of a problem with specificity: the entire alpine arc can be considered a mosaic of cultural landscapes. In the end the outstanding universal value of the site was argued on the basis of its geological and geomorphological importance, and the unique beauty associated with the dolomitic structures. Thus, the Dolomites received recognition for their ‘natural heritage’, but a quick glance at a postcard or map will quickly reveal that this area is far from the ideal of unspoilt nature.

Let’s refigure the question: can you find untouched wilderness in America?… Really?… let’s think about this for a moment. In the Americas we are accustomed to having our nature ‘natural’ and our culture, well… highly anthropogenic, if not downright industrial (and unsightly!). Beginning from the Muir and the great American wilderness movement, we enclose our nature in parks. We escape to these parks, hoping not to encounter another human, or lay eyes on a man-made structure during our visit: we can be no more than mere visitors in these landscapes. Somehow we don’t maintain these expectations when we make our ‘escape’ to the Alps. Stopping mid-hike to walk into a bar in an alpine chalet for a drink—something quintessentially European in character—becomes an unmentionable blasphemy on God’s creation if inserted into an American context.

The food! The wine!

Of course, getting into the mix of nature and culture doesn’t always involve a trip to the bar. Italy’s alpine populations are fiercely proud of their open pastoral landscapes, their rows of vineyards, and also less renowned cultivated counterparts including patchworks of home vegetable gardens, chestnut and walnut groves, and fruit orchards.

And here’s the core of the nature/culture issue (at least as far as tourism in the Dolomites is concerned!): the food culture. Remember, besides pizza and lasagna, Italy brought the world the Slow Food movement. The key to Italy’s strong position in foodie-land is the express tie between nature and culture articulated through one of our most basic bodily functions. Italians are leaders in the western world when it comes to tying what they eat to ‘territory’ (territorio). Territory is the combined, localized manifestation of climate, ecology, culture, history, raw soil, and seeds. In America we talk about ‘heirloom varieties’. In Italy, we’ve reached a level of appreciation (verging on obsession) for local varieties. So much so that nearly every valley in complex geographical regions such as the Dolomites has a local cuisine based not only on local recipes, but also local varieties of squash, cabbage, corn, grain, radicchio, chicken, and so-on.

Ok, that’s all nice and cultural, but what about the ecology?

The sight of a herd of cows or goats, accompanied by the sound of bells might be unwelcome to the wilderness purist. Think of the fragile alpine meadows! This is a common preconception, however. Much alpine biodiversity can be attributed to traditional patterns of cultivation and the transhumance—the seasonal cyclical movement of domestic herds of sheep and cattle from valley to alpine pastures. Grazing keeps patches open and introduces an important ‘disturbance’, attracting birds, wildflowers, and pollinators. There’s also a great deal of interest in ‘cultivated biodiversity’ on the part of scientists trying to address growing cracks in the world’s food system. As a living cultural landscape, the Dolomites have much to offer in these regards.

We seek to break down the ‘nature-by-day, culture-by-night’ dichotomy which is typically implicit in mountain tours. Whether you join us for two days or ten days, we make sure you get an experience that respects the place, the people, and the landscape. Walk, don’t run (or rush) your way through our little corner of the world, and you’re sure to be rewarded.