The mountains of the Dolomites are irresistibly alluring as they respond to the hour of the day.
Whether in summer or winter, they embrace a famous pinkish hue at sunrise; take on ancient bold colors as the day progresses; and are swathed in a returning glow of sunset red as dusk falls.
From December to April, they are a skier’s paradise with fabulous pistes and an arena for other winter sports, while during the warmer months they offer hiking, mountain biking and pursuits such as paragliding.
Surrounded by the ancient peaks of mountain groupings such as Tofane, Cristallo and Faloria, Cortina d’Ampezzo has been an outdoor sporting center for decades.
I visited as this part of the Dolomites sat on the cusp of the seasons, as the last snows of winter gave way to spring and the bright sunshine shrunk the final stubborn ski runs before the resort began a transformation into summer activities.
Staying at the luxurious Grand Hotel Savoia, I was greeted by its expansive reception, lovely rooms and suites with terraces and balconies, a fine-dining restaurant and welcoming bar, and a sumptuous spa to relax and rejuvenate in.
It is the only five-star hotel in the center of the town and has been a landmark establishment since 1912 in a region rich in geographical and political history.
As an area fought over during World War I and involved in the campaigns of World War II, the Dolomites have more recently been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its natural beauty, and have an aura quite distinct from that of the Alps further north in Europe.
As you step into the iconic hotel setting, the aroma and ambience is of warmth and comfort.
Refurbished in 2019, the artwork is modern and dynamic to reflect the ethos of the hotel, while the décor is inspired by the majestic qualities of the Dolomites with natural materials and wood that combined with an earthy colour palette for the textiles and soft furnishings.
Over the years, the 132-room Grand Hotel Savoia, part of the Radisson Collection, has also hosted distinguished guests including Sophia Loren, Charlton Heston, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Sir Winston Churchill.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is a renowned setting for winter and summer recreation with the Dolomites - a unique range of mountains created millions of years ago - providing the impressive backdrop.
Its reputation as a ski resort was enhanced by hosting the 1956 Winter Olympic Games, and that has been further affirmed with preparations now well under way for the 2026 Winter Olympics where the resort will host ski races and bobsleigh, sharing events with Milan.
“The 2026 Winter Olympics is an amazing opportunity,” explains Nicola Fucci from the Grand Hotel Savoia. “It is going to be something really big for Cortina.”
The games are a natural extension of the competitive winter sports held in Cortina, with the resort having hosted the FIS Snowboard World Cup, the Women’s Alpine World Ski Championships and the Snowboard Cross World Cup as well as classic-country races this season.
During the winter, the Grand Hotel Savoia aligns itself with various winter sports such as fat-biking, snowshoeing, snowmobile safari tours, heli-skiing, ice climbing, sledding, downhill and cross-country skiing, trekking, hiking, dog sled rides and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
With the onset of summer, that switches to hiking and walking trails to the beautiful turquoise lakes of the Dolomite region such as Lake Misurina or Lake Sorapis; mountain biking; or simply heading up the mountain on the gondola for a lunch on the terrace of a Refugio.
The interior of the hotel is open and light, with a space for every occasion within the lounges, dining areas and bars.
The 1224 Bar - a nod to the altitude of the location - has an expansive outdoor terrace and a wonderful cocktail selection, while the recently renovated Ristorante Savoy (with its enticing views of the mountains) has a wonderful menu and a wine list to match.
As we sit in 1224 with a Hugo - the definitive elderflower-inspired drink of the region - Nicola points out the magnificent peaks: Faloria to the east, Cristallo in the north east and Tofane to the west at 3244m, and all still snow-capped beyond April.
Nearby, the Three Peaks of Lavaredo are the most famous of the Dolomites and between 1915 and 1917 they formed the war front with many trenches, tunnels, and barracks still visible today.
The cuisine in Ristorante Savoy is nouvelle gourmet with locally-sourced ingredients that reflect the culinary traditions of the region, along with fresh fish from Venice, which is a couple of hours away.
Pairing world-class cuisine with spectacular views under the guidance of head chef Luigi Sarsano, who has been with the hotel for more than a decade, make dinner an evening to savor.
From a menu of inspirational dishes, I chose the prawns wrapped in bacon with a chickpea humus and leak confit to start with; a primo piatti of lemon linguine, tuna fish tartare and basil coulis; and an exquisite main course of duck breast, pear in cabernet infusion, rice Milanese style and potato puree.
The wine waiter Antonio expertly paired the food with a glass of Prosecco to start, a dry white Pieropan 2021 soave classico with the linguine and a light red Franz Haas pinot nero 2020 and a dessert wine of Nivole Moscato d’Asti from Michele Chiarlo to accompany my rhum baba (pictured above).
The menu, was tempting throughout with alternatives including sardines in bread crust, angus tartare, stuffed tortellino, veal stew and juniper sauce, tuna steak, and lamb and asparagus with carrot mousse.
Relax and rejuvenate
Taking the theme of relaxation a stage further is the sumptuous spa, with a large indoor heated pool and jacuzzi, steam rooms and saunas, a fitness area, and treatment rooms offering a range of therapies including restorative and energising sports massages.
Massages and bespoke beauty treatments include the 50-minute Aromasoul (aromatherapy rituals for body and mind); Body Active (intensive sculpting and re-mineralizing to boost post-workout effectiveness and to release toxins from the body); Body Strategist (treatments for more elastic, firmer skin and a redefined silhouette); Recover Touch (multi-vitamin, repairing and antioxidant treatments for the face); as well as face and neck treatments, a salt massage, or volcanic scrub.
“Our spa is a must,” adds Nicola. “It is an amazing place of relaxation after skiing or hiking and has everything for the body and the mind, or simply for a relaxing swim.
“We also believe in the importance of the five senses and have a fragrance partnership to provide the unique aroma of the hotel. Art is all around and important to us too.”
Pets are welcome at the hotel with aluminum bowls in rooms and a traveler’s manual for pet owners containing essential information including maps, helpful local contacts, and advice from veterinarians.
General Manager Rosanna Conti says: “We have seen the number of pet owners increase in recent years and understand it can be difficult to leave their four-legged friends at home. We are proud to offer our animal-loving guests a memorable experience in Cortina.”
Her dog, Dado, a seven-year-old Tibetan Shih Tzu, is the resident mascot of the Grand Hotel Savoia, which is also an active partner in the pet-related events and mountain walks taking place in Cortina over the summer.
Whether in the summer or winter, Cortina d’Ampezzo is an ideal spot to absorb the impressive views, shop, pop into a local bar, or take the gondola up the mountain.
After wandering through the town, I took the gondola up Tofane for a spot of lunch on the sun terrace at the Masi Wine Bar.
As I sipped my coffee, the last skiers of the season were making the most of the snow on the Al Druscie ski runs, while early season hikers were already finding their way along well-trodden routes.
From the gondola, you can see work already under way to construct the Olympic bobsleigh run for the 2026 games.
Soon after, the Savoia said farewell to winter and will reopen in June for a sporty summer clientele to take advantage of the mountain trails.
“The attraction is the natural and wild side of the mountains,” adds Nicola. “It gives people the chance to enjoy the flora and fauna or be on the mountains for trekking and mountain biking.
“The Dolomites are always such an impressive backdrop; and when you see the sunrise or the sunset on them, they turn an amazing color of pink and red.”
Whatever the season, whatever the time of year, whatever your sporting preference, the ambience, the welcome, and the stay at the Grand Hotel Savoia is unforgettable.
Mountain Bike Cortina (Credit - Michele Colferai)
Mark Nicholls stayed at the Grand Hotel Savoia in Cortina d’Ampezzo in early April. The hotel re-opens for the summer season on June 13. For reservations and to book, visit www.grandhotelsavoiacortina.it/en/ or call +39 04363201. The Grand Hotel Savoia also has the Rupi’s Kids Club, with further accommodation available in the Radisson Residences Savoia Palace, with its chalet-chic accommodation.