• The Curious Traveler

A Conversation with Claudio Vecellio, Boundless Journeys’ Dolomites Guide

Guests of Boundless Journeys trips often rave about how our guides really set our trips apart from our competitors. This interview is part of a series designed to showcase the amazing people that make traveling with Boundless Journeys so special. 

Here, guide Claudio Vecellio shares his thoughts on what appeals to him about our Italy: The Dolomites Traverse tour.

Man's selfie with Dolomites mountains in background

Claudio Vecellio

1) Can you please tell us a bit about yourself, and how you found your way into the world of professional guiding?

Hi everybody, I was born and raised in Cortina d’Ampezzo, one of the most famous towns of the Dolomites: I spent my childhood wandering into the mountains, hiking, scrambling, climbing, skiing and learning local traditions and history from my family. Years ago I had decided “to grow” and have a “normal” job, therefore I attended Trieste University to become an engineer. After some years working for different firms, the mountains called me back. I took advantage of 35 years of experience in the mountains and I attended the course to become an International Mountain Leader. Now the mountains are my office, the shoes my spreadsheet, the backpack my desk.

2) You have been the core of Boundless Journeys’ trips in the Dolomites – for a few seasons now!  What is it about the Dolomites and Ladino/Italian culture that you find so endearing?

The Dolomites are unique! I’m not saying it because it’s my home, but even UNESCO recognized the uniqueness of the landscape and the geology of the Dolomites. There isn’t just one iconic mountain, the whole Dolomites create a show of jagged spires, towers, plateau, cliffs that resemble a cathedral facade… Every day is different, there are a lot of natural monuments. The different layers of rocks have different colours, sounds and steepness, from gentle slopes covered by flowers to overhanging cliffs.

The Ladins have lived in the Dolomites for a very long time. We are in a pivot position between the German and the Italian worlds, and the traditions reflects the old ways of living: i.e. the livestock spend the winter in the barns and the summer in the alpine pasture, there are times of the year for cutting trees, others to carry logs to the sawmill…

A cabin in the midground, Dolomites mountains in the background

3) What is so special about this trip for you and our guests?

The Dolomites Traverse has different layers of experience, nature, history and tradition are deeply linked together; a (boring) description can be chronological.

Everyone knows the extinction of the dinosaurs happened 65M years ago. The Dolomitic rocks are much older and we learn it step after step: the first hike starts on volcanic rock 280M years old, other days we walk around (and in between) coral islands 240M years old, we cross tidal flats 205 M years old.

The landscape of the Dolomites was carved out from the stones mainly by the mighty glaciers that happened during the last ice age (from 110,000 to 12,000 years ago), and it is still possible to see the U shaped valleys.

Humans started wandering in the Dolomites just after the end of the ice age, there is a Neolithic (8000 years ago) burial place that is touched during one of the hikes. The archeologists found not just the skeleton of a 40-year-old hunter, but also the equipment for the afterlife: flint knives, a necklace of deer teeth and other deer antler objects.

There are hints that suggest humans frequented the Dolomites before and during the Roman Empire, but recorded history started during the Middle Ages. There are the first documents of the churches. Many of them were rebuilt in the Renaissance and Baroque style. During a hike in the woods, we visit one of the oldest and more venerated churches. The nearby refugio was a relief for the pilgrims, now it works also as a really good lunch stop.

Suddenly history became History: World War I was fought in the Dolomites between the Kingdom of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; both nations now are totally different. During the tour we visit tunnels, tranches, and foxholes of that period. There is also another sign of what happened: the Ladin culture has different shades, a little bit of Austrian in Val Gardena, true Ladin in Val Badia, a little bit of Italian in Cortina d’Ampezzo. During the 7 days, we eat different interpretations of the same traditional dishes. The landscape isn’t totally natural, the farming created clearance in the dark green woods to create light green pastures. 

4) What would you say to prospective guests out there about why they should choose to travel with Boundless Journeys instead of other, more corporate (larger) operators?

Just two words: quality and care.

The quality is planned at least one year in advance, and is relative to all of all aspects of the tour, from the hotels, the transfers, the refugios for lunch, and even the trails.

Leading small groups allow us to take care of all the guests, they are not just a number, they are people that desire to make new experiences during the tour.

5) Why do you think it is a good idea to join a guided group trip to experience the Dolomites rather than on your own / independently?

Both options are good:

– the second one works for trials and errors;

– we know life is too short to make all the errors, it’s better to use other people’s mistakes to improve in the services; joining a guided trip everything is smoother, it is possible to be focused only on the experience.

6) Finally, where is next on your travel bucket list?

Living in the “old Europe”, it’s easy to cross the borders and do an overnight or a week, it’s not a lot of time. Anyway, the culture changes, as well the smells, the tastes and the sounds; in the last couple of months I went skiing in Austria, Slovenia and in Montenegro and I returned home with my legs hurting and my mind free. To attend a course, I went to the western part of the Alps, really close to Mont Blanc; fortunately I had some free time :-D.

Before the summer season I am going to bikepacking along the Drava River, crossing Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. The planning is very easy: from home I will jump on my gravel bike equipped with fast rolling tires and I pedal till the afternoon. Then I will pitch the tent. And again.

At the moment I am rescheduling a mountain bike holiday in Moab (second half of October, hopefully). Unfortunately I’ve been planning to go for years but something always stopped me, like Covid, two jobs and even a (ex)girlfriend. Is 2023 the lucky year? Otherwise Plan B is ready.

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