The mountainous belt between the rivers Adige and Piave and between the Val Pusteria and the Belluno area, south of the Alps, is dominated by the mighty peaks of the Dolomites.
The Pale Mountains, as they were once known, owe their special qualities to the unusual mineral makeup of the dolomite rock. In the light of late afternoon, the mountains take on a distinct pink glow, turning redder as the sun descends. The rocks trap light and play strange tricks with it, an effect known locally as enrosadira.
History, too, is ensnared in these precipitous passes. Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces clashed brutally here in World War I. The mountains are laced with tunnels and chiseled with the vie ferrate, or “iron roads,” man-made narrow climbing paths, evidence of the struggle for control of this notoriously hard-to-master aerial borderland.
The people of the valleys are, like the rocks that surround them, separate and unique. Despite the comings and goings of various empires and armies, the locals here are neither Italian nor Austrian. They are Ladin, and speak a language descended from Latin, preserved by isolation and protected by nationalistic pride.