Mountain Retreat: Dolomitenhütte
One of the most beautiful rooms in Tirol? The floor-to-ceiling windows at the Dolomitenhütte offer spectacular mountain views.
Perched high in the Lienz Dolomites, the Dolomitenhütte is run by a lady with an eye for detail and a love of nature. Visitors can look forward to a mountain retreat offering wonderful views and a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of valley life.
Ever dreamt of being protected yet exposed, at the heart of the action yet a million miles from civilisation? A place in the clouds shielded from wind, snow and rain? A remote spot on the edge of a precipice? That feeling of being in lighthouse in the North Atlantic battered by the waves but warm and cosy inside. Or maybe an underwater research station by a coral reef? A place of meditation, reflection, introspection. Those of us who don't live in an Atlantic lighthouse or know someone with their own diving school in the tropics can experience the same feeling at the Dolomitenhütte in East Tirol. Perched high in the mountains, its Panorama Rooms offer some of the most spectacular views you can imagine.
During the summer months the hut is popular with rock climbers, while in winter is attracts tobogganers and those keen to enjoy the landscape. There is also some good ski touring for both novices and experts. East Tirol is a region known for its snowy winters, so by early January you may well be lucky enough to find the hut buried under many metres of snow. From the town of Lienz, the largest in East Tirol, it is just a short drive to the road which winds its way up to the hut.
The area around the hut is a true winter wonderland.
Snow, snow and more snow! East Tirol is a region famous for its heavy winter snowfalls.
The Dolomitenhütte enjoys a spectacular location perched on the edge of a sheer rockface.
The hut is run by Scarlet Olesova. Her vision is that of a mountain retreat, a kind of hermitage high in the mountains inviting guests to relax, recover and reflect on life. The location could not be more spectacular – perched on a rocky precipice overlooking the Dolomites. The hut can be reached on foot or on skis. While Scarlet does not want the Dolomitenhütte to be a luxury hotel in the mountains, it is important to her that guests are offered a certain level of comfort. Book early if you fancy staying in one of the Panorama Rooms with their floor-to-ceiling windows.
Scarlet Olesova didn't grow up in the mountains. She was born and raised in a town, studied in a city and spent years working in Germany. So how did she end up running a hut in the Dolomites? "I was here on holiday," she remembers. "I got talking to the man who owned the hut at the time, and he told me he was thinking of selling up so he could retire." Scarlet certainly doesn't give the impression of a person who is easily overawed, but taking on task of this scale – running one of the most well-known huts in the region as an outsider who had only been here on holiday a few times – certainly requires a healthy portion of courage. As if that wasn't enough, she decided to redesign large parts of the hut when she took over. We sit in front of a roaring log fire and, with a glass of full-bodied red wine in hand, she tells me what inspired her to take on such a task: "I wanted to get up in the morning, look out of the window and see the truth."
The Dolomitenhütte is a one-woman show: Scarlet Olesova has created a mountain retreat high in the mountains above Lienz.
Clearing the terrace early in the morning after heavy snowfall overnight.
The hut is an architectural highlight in its own right with larchwood tiles on the facade, wood-panelled snugs inside and a large terrace overlooking the mountains. However, the rooms are without a doubt the main highlight with their floor-to-ceiling windows giving visitors the impression they are standing on the edge of a precipice. The views are like something from the top of a skyscaper, but instead of streets and shops you look out over trees and mountains stretching as far as the eye can see. In a place like this, bad-weather days are anything but a chore. Simply lie down on your bed and watch the clouds roll in.
And ... relax. What better way to reflect on the important things in life than by gazing out of a window like this?
So far, so luxurious. But didn't Scarlet say she didn't want to run a hotel in the mountains? "True. We are a hut, not a hotel," she emphasises. "I want people to know that running water, electricity, television, mobile phone reception and all these things can't be taken for granted, especially in the mountains. I suppose that's the difference between a hut and a hotel." At the same time, the Dolomitenhütte has a wine menu many hotels would be proud and serves healthy and hearty food freshly prepared in the kitchen. What's good, I ask. Scarlet recommends "Schlipfkrapfen", a classic dish from East Tirol. Locals say that a woman from East Tirol must be able to make a good batch of "Schlipfkrapfen" before she gets married, Scarlet tells me with a wry smile.
We decide to explore the area around the hut on skis. Thomas Gaisbacher, a local legend of the freeski scene, can often be found early in the morning on a powder day carving fresh tracks into the snowy Dolomites near the hut. Consulting his guide on ski touring in the area, we decide to take on the easiest of the tours in the book: the Auerling. It is a short hike up and ski down that takes just half a day, though more ambitious skiers can then make their way up to the Karlsbader Hütte for more action.
Staying at the hut is an experience in itself, but don't forget to head outside and explore the area on skis.
The terrain around the Dolomitenhütte is full of steep ridges, spines and couloirs.
Powder descent back to the hut.
The next day we join Scarlet for a ski tour up to the Karlsbader Hütte. We make fast progress in the forest as she picks her way skilfully through the rocks and trees. When we reach the hut we decide to continue up onto the Ödkarscharte ridge, according to Gaisbacher's guide a "classic spot known well beyond the region". Scarlet takes the lead again, making tracks in the snow for us to follow. Up at the top we have several descents to choose from, including the easy route we have come and the steep Teplitzerrinne couloir. We decide to take the intermediate option: the Mohammedanerkar followed by the Kerschbaumer Törl. The descent is great but not without its challenges. The guidebook informs us that it is considered of "average difficulty", meaning there is plenty of (even) more difficult touring in the Lienz Dolomites for experienced skiers with lofty ambitions.
Back at the hut I start packing my things and take a moment to enjoy that view one more time. Scarlet tells me how thrilled and moved many of her guests are after visiting the Dolomitenhütte for the first time. What is it, I ask, that summons up such emotions? "It's not just the landscape. It's the peace and quiet. It acts like a mirror: the deeper you gaze into nature, the more you begin to reflect it in your own words and behaviour."
It is an experience Scarlet Olesova has made herself. When I ask about the most interesting experience she has had since taking over running the hut, her answer is short and to the point: "Learning who I truly am."
High and Mighty: The Winter Huts of Tirol
Tradition, seclusion and the power of nature. This series takes a look at the most beautiful winter huts in the mountains of Tirol.