The nine Dolomite mountain groups, spanning 142,000 hectares and given 85 hectares of border areas for a total of 231,000 hectares, are spread over five provinces: Trento, Bolzano, Belluno, Pordenone and Udine.
The Dolomites have joined the world’s other cultural and natural wonders on the World Heritage List. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s World Heritage Committee unanimously approved Italy’s bid at its meeting in June 2009 in Seville, Spain.
The nine groups include the Pelmo and Croda da Lago mountains in the Veneto region between the Cadore, Zoldano and Ampezzo valleys; the Marmolada massif between the Trentino and Veneto regions, boasting the highest peak in the Dolomites (3,343 metres) and the largest glacier; the Pale di San Martino, Pale di San Lucano and the Belluno Dolomites, mostly in the Veneto region but partially in the Trentino region; the Friuli Dolomites and Oltre Piave mountains, the furthest to the east and divided between the Friuli provinces of Pordenone and Udine; the Settentrionali Dolomites between Alto Adige and the Veneto regions including the Cadini peaks, the pale mountains of the Sesto Dolomites, the austere Ampezzo Dolomites, the lunar Dolomites of Fanes, Senes and Braies; the Puez-Odle mountains in the Alto Adige region and now a splendid natural park; the Sciliar, Catinaccio and Latemar mountains between Alto Adige and Trentino; the Brenta Dolomites, the furthest to the west, still home to the brown bear and all in the Trentino; and the Rio delle Foglie, a deep gorge with exposed layers of prehistoric rocks strata revealing the secrets of their creation and what the climate and the environment were like 250 million years ago.
Rifugios: then and now
An alpine refuge (mountain hut, or rifugio in Italian) is a building located in mountainous areas, generally far from inhabited centers, intended to accommodate mountaineers and hikers. In the past it was used to help travelers crossing the Alps who needed a safe place to spend the night and seek shelter in bad weather. It generally offers basic hotel services: communal bathroom, kitchen, bedrooms and dining room.
In recent decades though, with the development of mountain tourism, the idea of ‘shelter’ has completely changed: many of our alpine Rifugios have transformed into small hotels (sometimes with luxurious features) which, although in some cases they continue to offer essential services, nowadays they host not only climbers and hikers but also tourists and skiers seeking to experience a night or more on the mountain without compromising the comforts of a hotel.
These Rifugios, renovated or designed from scratch by local architects aware of the local environment and the surrounding, are often an example of eco-sustainability and self-sufficiency, standing out for their efficiency in respect of nature and traditional rustic style.
Eco-sustainable Rifugios: technology and energy saving
A couple of decades ago, when in Italy the word ‘recycling’ became part of daily life, Rifugio owners swiftly followed in complying with the procedure, even though the locations and altitudes in which these are built made it difficult to carry out the task.
Some Rifugios started with simple separation of glass and paper items, to then extend their commitment to more varied aspects. In fact, there are many levels of eco-sustainability that can be favored in a structure located in the high mountains, yet overall in recent years we have seen an increase of general awareness and improvements by Rifugio owners.
Well-planned energy-saving measures and well-functioning energy management technology was implemented to reduce operating costs and even increase the comfort of guests. The task is particularly challenging when it comes to hundred years old buildings, yet the passion and commitment by local architects turned seemingly impossible designs into reality. It’s still a work in progress though, for many buildings have not yet seen such improvements, the road to zero environmental footprint is long but promising.
Many millions of Euros have been invested by provincial and regional authorities throughout the years to help owners renovating and implementing eco-friendly technologies, here is a list of Rifugios built according to the principles of environmental sustainability. Inside these properties guests can find a self-diagnosis and environmental data detection system, an emergency call point and a computer connected to the Internet via satellite.
Piz Boè Alpin Lounge Alta Badia
Rifugio Bella Vista
High altitude sustainable architecture:
Lagazuoi Refuge, Cortina d’Ampezzo
“The Dolomites have always been a heritage for the local communities and our culture has always been marked by the duty of care toward our territory, despite the inevitable development of tourism. Now this heritage has been universally recognized by UNESCO and we must be proud of it.
With this in mind we strive to preserve the authenticity of our Rifugio, which was built by our father, yet we also embrace technological improvements in the field of energy saving and ecological compatibility as to allow mountaineers to find the right balance between tourist modernity and unspoiled nature.”
The protection of our heritage starts with small daily gestures
Several major steps have been made toward securing a cleaner environment, these range from the renovation of pre-existing Rifugios to the fitting of latest technologies and daily routines that benefit the environment over the long haul.
- Thermal insulation to create a barrier between the warm air inside the building and the cold air outside, and vice versa. The better this barrier is the less energy needed for heating during the cold winter months.
- Green energy self-sufficiency (solar panels) to reduce the production of co2. Solar power systems derive clean, pure energy from the sun. Installing solar panels helps combat greenhouse gas emissions and reduces the collective dependence on fossil fuel.
- Eco-friendly kitchen appliances: All smart eco-friendly major appliances use less energy than their not-so-smart ancestors; that is one cornerstone of eco-friendliness. Newer technology in these machines will help slow the electric meter.
- Management of water resources: design of a complete off-grid hydrogen cycle, including an adapted electrolyzer, able to withstand critical water conditions of mountain environments, and a hybrid storage system.
- Locally sourced food: non-industrial fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat, honey etc, don’t need to travel far. Local farmers of the Dolomites and the Trentino Alto Adige region produce plenty of organic food to satisfy the demand.
- Waste management: an accurate separation of waste and collection system in designed areas
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy systems for all
In accordance with goal 7 of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, we remind you that the commitment to greater attention to our environment must be shared, and we are all called upon to actively contribute to the protection of our home.
Article written in collaboration with Sarah Alfreider and IDM Sudtirol
*This article was originally published in Travindy (https://travindy.es/) and has been reproduced in Dolomite Mountains with the translation provided by the author.