The Lagazuoi Cable Car at Falzarego Pass
Mount Lagazuoi Cable Car
Located in the heart of the Grand Dolomites of northern Italy is a very special place that is considered sacred ground to many Italians. The Falzarego Pass is just one of a number of high mountain passes that visitors can traverse as they cross the Grand Dolomite Highway from Bolzano to the winter resort town of Cortina d’Ampezzo. For sheer beauty and an unobstructed 360 degree view of the majestic Dolomites it doesn’t get much better that this. From the top of the pass, the Lagazuoi Cable Car will whisk you to the summit of Mount Lagazuoi in just a few minutes. What awaits you at the top is not only a stunning view but also an incredible story.
What separates this particular location from the many other beautiful mountain passes across northern Italy is that this was the site of an incredible battlefield during the First World War. As inconceivable as it may seem, these high mountains of the Dolomite Range served as the front lines as the Italian and Austrian armies slugged it out during WWI, not only against each other, but also against the elements.
The pre-WWI border region of Italy and Austria had been disputed since the end of the Third Italian War of Independence in 1861, when the independent state of Italy was first created. With the onset of World War I the Italians switched their allegiance from the Triple Alliance, and instead sided with the Triple Entente. Italy had been promised that this disputed territory would be granted back to them following the war if they sided with the Triple Entente and declared war on their former allies; Austria-Hungary and Germany, which they did in 1915.
Triple Alliance: Alliance between Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy
Triple Entente: Alliance between Russia, Britain, and France
Pre WWI map of Triple Alliance
Although Italy had the superior numbers, the warring sides soon bogged down into a bloody front that stretched across the Dolomites. From 1915 to 1918 the Austrians held the strategic high positions of the Dolomite range including Mount Lagazuoi. The Italians, very much wanting “their” mountains back waged a three year campaign to drive the Austrian army out of the Dolomites. The Italians were hell bent on displacing their unwelcome visitors and put up a bloody and relentless siege of the area. Incredibly, tens of thousands of soldiers lost their lives in these mountains, many to avalanches and the elements as well as the fighting.
The ultimate fate of the border between Austria and Italy was never really decided on the battlefield, as the two countries pretty much fought to a draw. With World War I winding down in other parts of Europe the regions destiny was instead decided at the negotiation table in Paris in 1919, rather than in the mountains of northern Italy. As was promised to Italy when they switched their allegiance at the start of the war they were granted this beautiful region of the Dolomites, and a new border with Austria was formed.
Today, this area offers visitors an opportunity to experience the majestic scenery of the Dolomites as well as a look into the past. The area is littered with reminders of the battles that took place here almost 100 years ago. In their effort to retake the peak of Mount Lagazuoi the Italians dug miles of tunnels into the mountain in a plan to place explosives just below the summit. The hope was that when they blew the top off of the mountain they would also blow the Austrians off of their strategic position. The plan ultimately failed as the Austrians figured out what the Italians were up to and retreated, only to return after the Italians literally blew the top off of the mountain.
For the adventurous soles out there, today you can walk these tunnels much as the soldiers did decades ago. In addition to the tunnels there are other remnants of the war from gun turrets and bunkers, to rusting shell casings and fortified trenches. The entire top of this mountain is considered to be an open air World War I museum with great views to boot. As you ride the cable car to the top of Mount Lagazuoi you can still see some of the tunnels piercing the side of the mountain.
Even if you are not a history buff the Falzarego Pass is worth a stop. If you are driving the Grand Dolomite Highway, presumably you are here for the scenery, and the view from the top of Lagazuoi is definitely one that you will long remember. Once at the top you can hike the actual Austrian Troop Trail along the ridge or venture into the tunnels below the summit. One can only begin to wonder what it must have been like to be waging a war in this beautiful location.
Hours and Fees
The summer schedule for the Lagazuoi Cable Car is from May 24 to October 10 and this depends on the weather conditions. A one-way ticket (you can hike up or down) on the cable car will cost you about 10 euro while a roundtrip ticket will cost about 15 euro. The cable car departs every fifteen minutes and the first run of the day starts at 9am. The last ride down is at 5pm and the ride only takes approximately three minutes.
The Falzarego Pass is at 2117 meters (6946 feet). The Lagazuoi Cable Car goes up to 2762 meters (9062 feet). Dress appropriately as the weather atop Mount Lagazuoi can be quite different from down below.
There is a refuge area at the top of Mount Lagazuoi that has some artifacts from World War I. There is also a restaurant and café along with an Inn with basic accommodations for those wishing to spend the night atop Lagazuoi. The Inn here is one of the highest mountain top Inns in all of northern Italy and in the winter the area serves as a ski destination. The terrace at the station offers unparalleled views of the Dolomites in all directions.
The Falzarego Pass is located right on the Grand Dolomite Highway, SR48, at the junction with SP24, and is located just a few miles to the west of Cortina d’Ampezzo. There is ample free parking and in addition to the cable car lift station there is a small chapel, a hotel and restaurant, and a souvenir shop. If you wish to explore the tunnels you can also rent helmets and flashlights here.
A visit to the Falzarego Pass and Mount Lagazuoi can be made in a day trip from Venice, and we even had time to spend a few hours in Cortina d'Ampezzo. If you happen to find yourself in this beautiful and unique corner of Italy I would highly recommend that you take the time to ride the cable car to the top of Mount Lagazuoi. It is a trip that you will not soon forget.
Ciao for now.
© 2013 Bill De Giulio