My wife and I, both passionate photographers, recently came back from a South Tyrol (Dolomites) photography trip.
We were guests of the local tourism office who wanted us, along with a group of social media influencers, to experience the beauty of this place and of course tell the world about it.
The Dolomites are a mountain range located in South Tyrol, part of the Alps in Northern Italy and a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We reached the Dolomites by flying-out of London Gatwick to Venice Marco Polo, followed by a long drive of 3-4 hours going up North.
Luckily the journey was filled with pure amazement around every corner... sometimes rudely interrupted by absurdly fast corners, thanks to our driver for bringing us back to reality!
We eventually reached our destination. Alive but probably with our skin a new shade of pale green.
Our destination, the village of San Vigilio Di Marebbe, is a small and typical alpine village at the foot of the mountain and its ski slopes, in the Ladin part of the Kronplatz region.
What is Ladin?
Ladin is the local language and the inhabitants of the region. It sounds a little like a mix of German and Italian, well that's my best way of describing it anyway but I'll probably offend a few who'll disagree with my most basic description.
We stayed for two nights at the excellent Excelsior Hotel, a four star property with quite honestly the largest spa we'd ever seen. Hard to resist!
I can appreciate a good hotel, I have worked for 20 years in luxury hotels including Intercontinental, Como and Sofitel.
The General Manager and staff were welcoming, friendly, professional and attentive to all our needs but without being over the top which is often a problem in luxury hotels.
After a couple of expertly mixed Negronis and Whiskey Sours followed by a lovely dinner made-up of the best local delicacies, knackered we headed for a good night's rest.
Aside from being a little too warm, we slept like babies. The cocktails may have helped or maybe it was the mountain air...
Not wishing to waste any time the following day, we left the hotel at 5.30am in order to get a shot at the sun rising over mountains.
A bumpy thirty minute journey in a van, to which we'd been given exclusive access, saved us an hour and a half trek which at that time with no breakfast was quite a relief.
The van took us all the way up to 2000+ metres altitude to Fanes-Sennes-Prags Nature Reserve, a nature park covering covers an area of 25,397 hectares.
This place could be best described as highland, very rocky, full of spruces, with many crevices and extremely colourful flora. Streams run across the landscape and cows with bells gently graze around. These cows in the winter are brought back down into the valley where temperatures are kinder.
We stopped at a refuge or mountain hut for breakfast at 9.30am, absolutely starving having not had any breakfast on the recommendation of our guide. Our bellies empty but our souls full... but our bellies empty... still.
Here we were served coffee and a delicious home made apple pie which the local lady prepared, most likely something she could do her eyes closed from habit of doing it so well.
After breakfast and thanking her for her hospitality, we had a little wander around the refuge and farm.
And then I saw him.
His hair blowing in the wind, looking at me, we made the connection.
Not just any donkey, the cutest donkey in the world, here in the Dolomites waiting for us.
He knew exactly what he was doing with that irresistible cuteness and not one traveller went by without stroking him and giving him some love.
This below is my new friend, landscape photographer Loic Lagarde, who also had an interest in these furry cuties.
Of course my wife Chrystall could not resist him either.
I also found some chicken who were surprisingly calm around me so decided to take a portrait of them.
After filling my SD card with farm animal photographs, I felt it was time to continue on our journey.
Along the way we came across more animals and of course cows.
Our entire group was mesmerised.
The cameras of course came out again in force in what could best be described as the re-enactment of some WWI trench battle.
These gentle cows had a lot of patience as even though we approached them with the utmost respect, we still were strangers on their turf, looking like silly billies.
The Dolomites are fairly young apparently in terms of rock. Only some 190 to 225 million years old that is.
The bare rock really offer a beautiful contrast with the grass and flora and is a photographer's paradise with opportunities everywhere!
The walk back in the afternoon cast a different light on what we'd already seen and allowed us to take more shots... of course stopping by the farm on the way.
We eventually made our way back to the hotel, exhausted but with our heads filled with memories and SD card filled with JPEGs.
Finally, on our last day, we headed up to Kronplatz this time using the ski lifts to save our precious Londoners' legs.
Kronplatz is right above the village of San Vigilio and is a beautiful place.
There you'll find the Zaha Hadid Messner Mountain Museum, which frankly is a James Bond villain secret lair disguised as a museum. A concrete building encased in the mountain.
Fabulous place and the last apparently the late Zaha Hadid designed before recently passing away.
Kronplatz is also home to paragliding, mountain biking and many other summer mountain activities.
The view there isn't the view we had in Fanes-Sennes-Prags Nature Park but it still offers that serenity you get anywhere you go in the mountains but nowhere else in the world.
A place to take a moment and reflect, away from the usual noise. It allows you to turn your mind from a wild river to a gentle and calm lake. Something rare.
Sunday lunch came and went, with an abundance of mountain cheese and smoked meats, and we headed back to Venice to catch our flight back to London.
We were there for three days which I don't feel is enough to enjoy this place without rushing. Something the organisers didn't think through resulting in us being rushed everywhere and totalling a very low 20h sleep in four nights.
The journey itself from door to door took nearly 12 hours.
This is a location you need at least a week to enjoy fully and make the most of.
What remains in my mind is the incredible memory of this raw nature and amazing place and of course how we held-on to dear life during the car transfer.
I highly recommend hiking the Dolomites in the Summer, maybe walking from mountain hut to mountain hut. A healthy holiday for sure and a change from urban living.
Plus the food, I insist, is really very good, that is if you like sausages, bread and cheese!
I hope you enjoyed this change from my usual urban photography.
I will aim in the future to write more travel photography blogs for you all.
(all photos ©Nicholas Goodden and most shot with the Sony A7RII and a manual focus 50mm lens)