Do Americans visit the Dolomites?

Around 4.5 million Americans visit Italy every year. Data seem to indicate that only 2% of them discover the beauties of the Dolomites. This startling statistics points at a great opportunity to make it possible for more and more Americans to discover one of the most attractive mountain landscapes in the world. Kudos, therefore, to the Leonardo da Vinci Society and the Circolo Trentini for highlighting the  beauty of the Dolomites, along with the story of their icon – mountain climber Bruno Detassis – in an enthralling event at the Museo Italo-Americano in San Francisco.


The Dolomites are a mountain range in the Alps, namely in North-Eastern Italy. They are nearly equally shared between the provinces of Trentino, Alto Adige South Tyrol and Belluno. Also known as the “Pale Mountains,” they take their name from the carbonate rock dolomite, itself named for 18th-century French geologist Déodat de Dolomieu (1750-1801), who was the first to describe the mineral. UNESCO recognized them as “World Heritage” because of their uniqueness. They display a contrast between vertical forms such as pinnacles, spires and towers, and horizontal surfaces such as ledges, crags and plateaux, all of which rise abruptly above gentle foothills.

Their colors also provide spectacular contrasts between the bare pale-coloured rock surfaces and the forests and meadows below. The Dolomites are famous for skiing in the winter months and mountain climbing, hiking, cycling, as well as paragliding and hang gliding in summer and late spring/early autumn. And yet, when Americans think of the Alps they still seem to neglect this amazing treasure, which is just a short drive away from Milan, Venice, Verona and the lakes of Garda and Como.


Paola Tonelli, former Vodafone executive, now a leader of the Leonardo Society, did a fabulous job in presenting the story of her uncle Bruno Detassis  (1910-2008), the greatest “Alpinista” – Alpine mountaineer and climber – of his generation. The picture below shows him in his twenties while smoking his proverbial pipe. In his life he opened around 200 new routes, mainly in the Dolomites of Brenta, the westermost part of the Dolomites. His elegance and agility in climbing were legendary. But he was also a quiet man of integrity and wisdom.


He grew up in a working class family and shared his father’s ideals of a more equal society. In 1943, after having been deported in a concentration camp in Germany as a soldier after Italy’s armistice, he refused the offer to go back to Italy and fight along the forces of the collaborationist Salò regime. He loved the mountains and respected them in their overwhelming force, never risking his own or other people’s lives in the pursuit of adventure.

(Detassis was still climbing at the age of 82, as the video testifies)

Paola showed a few videos and images that captivated the audience. I am sure that several attendees are now considering spending their next trip to Europe in the Dolomites – the fittest of them on the paths created by Uncle Bruno Detassis.

(Thanks a lot to the Circolo Trentini of San Francisco for their acknowledgement and their work to promote Trentino in California)



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