Unless you’re keen skier, chances are you might not have heard of Alta Badia.
Nestled in the heart of the Dolomite UNESCO World Heritage Site, this popular South Tyrolean resort in northern Italy is best known as being a venue for the FIS Ski World Cup for more than 30 years.
But head here in the summer months and you will be stunned by the incredible natural beauty of its breathtaking mountain landscapes and lush valleys, all waiting to be explored by bike or on foot.
Criss-crossed by miles of traffic-free trails, the region has earned Alta Badia the reputation of being one of the world’s best destinations for cycling holidays, whether your steed is a road, mountain bike or e-bike.
In fact, the region is home to the world’s highest e-bike sharing scheme.
Pinarello bikes are available at six docking stations over 6,600ft above sea level and each bike has three power settings designed to kick in when you need a boost.
This means even the least confident of cyclists will find riding a bike an uplifting experience.
And it’s free to take your bike by cable car or ski lift up to the mountain tops so you can cycle over the mountain ranges and enjoy the glorious views (two hours’ rental from €22/adults, €15 children aged 14-18).
Pick up e-bikes from the docking station in La Villa, then head up the Piz La Villa cable car for fabulous views of the La Marmolada – the tallest mountain in the Dolomites with its stunning glacier.
Everywhere you find bike shops offering rentals or servicing while lots of the hotels class themselves as ‘bike-friendly’.
What’s more, exploring on two wheels couldn’t be any easier, with a variety of events running across the summer including guided tours and special biking circuits with different difficulties designed for both families and more experienced riders.
But whatever you choose to do, you’re sure to work up an appetite and that was when I discovered food is hugely important here in the South Tyrol.
This year, two new Michelin stars were awarded to restaurants in Alta Badia, meaning the 15 sq mile valley now boasts an impressive total of six.
Norbert Niederkofler, chef of the restaurant St Hubertus at Hotel Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano – a town in the valleys known for its fine eateries – earned a third star to join just eight other restaurants in Italy with a trio of the prestigious gongs.
The summer season is when the tourist board hosts a menu of culinary events both up in the mountains and down in the valley towns.
This year also saw the new Sommelier in the Mountain Hut event – a chance for wine lovers to taste the region’s best wines with a sommelier 6,600ft above sea level (€18pp), along with cooking lessons conducted by the area’s best chefs (€15pp).
But the highlight has to be the Dining Under the Stars experience – a seven-course gourmet feast in the centre of Badia, at the foot of the church of San Leonardo. Priced at €73pp with wines, coffee and liqueurs, it’s well worth it.
Alongside its exceptional cuisine, the South Tyrol is also a historically rich area, thanks to its unique melding of Austrian, Italian and Ladin culture.
The local Ladin people distinguish themselves from their neighbours through their language and cultural appreciation of the landscape, farming and craft work.
A visit to the Santa Croce Sanctuary reveals a historic piece of Ladin architecture.
Starting in San Leonardo in Badia you can hike a nature trail that leads you to the foot of the La Crusc Pilgrimage Church, sitting at the base of the Mt Sasso di Santa Croce, 6,750ft above sea level.
There are also chair lifts that take you to the 600-year-old church with panoramic views over Alta Badia, and the valley towns of Cortina, Val Pusteria and Val Gardena.
And at the centre of this charming area is Corvara, the cradle of tourism in Alta Badia, buzzing with restaurants, bars, patisseries, tea rooms and chocolate shops.
It’s well placed for exploring the nearby towns of La Villa, San Cassiano and Badia and has seven chair lifts and gondolas to take you to the mountains.
Whether you follow the mountain trails on foot or by bike, you will come across mountain huts offering traditional food and drink – these are perfect refuelling stops.
Try ‘turtres’ (fried pastries filled with spinach), ‘panicia’ (barley soup), ‘bales da ciocie’ (bacon dumplings) or ‘Kaiserschmarrn’ (shredded pancake and jam).
For a refreshing and lightly alcoholic treat order a ‘Hugo’ (prosecco, sparkling spring water and elderflower cordial).
Some even offer accommodation if you’re tempted to stay the night and wake up to a sunrise like no other.
The Gardenacia Hut, which can only be reached by hiking from the top of the Gardenacia Chair Lift from La Villa, has comfortable rooms and a sauna with panoramic views of the Dolomites and the surrounding meadows (B&B from €44pp per night. Shower coins €3. Bag transfer service available for €20. gardenacia.it).
I was more than happy with my base, the family-run four-star Hotel Col Alto in Corvara, and its top-notch spa which has a pool and steam rooms.
As I eased my tired muscles at the end of an exhilarating day of cycling, I was already planning to change my next summer holiday from the beach to something 6,000ft or so higher.
BOOK THE HOLIDAY
Inghams offer a seven-night stay on half-board at the 4* Hotel Col Alto in Corvara, Alta Badia, Italy, from £866pp based on two sharing next summer. Includes flights from Gatwick, Heathrow, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds Bradford, Manchester or Edinburgh and transfers.
Book via tour operator Inghams or call 01483 791116.