The First World War in the Dolomites

Guided historical WWI walks with Collett’s Mountain Holidays

Learn about the ‘White War’ with local Historian Isabelle Johnson
dedicated WWI historical walks from mid August to mid September with John Scanlon

Some high level areas will fascinate those interested in World War I. Fighting broke out here between Italy and Austria in 1915, as the border between the two countries ran through these mountains. Committed to the Russian front, Austria abandoned political boundaries and retreated to defendable mountain tops and passes. In snow and freezing temperatures, a tragic and inconclusive conflict ensued, as both sides pushed for high positions in the massifs, ingeniously building fortifications, trenches, look-out posts and miles of tunnels. Much of it is still here.

WWI Fort on Passo Valporola

In trenches at the Cinque Torre
open-air museum

Such was the proximity of the two sides, hand-to-hand combat was common and troops slept within earshot of the enemy. On one occasion the Italians constructed some 1100 metres of tunnels to explode a mine beneath Austrian positions. The Austrians heard them and retreated in time.

Winter 1916 was bitter and 10,000 men died in avalanches, one alone killing 4000 on the Marmolada. Neither side won and with little recognition of the actual events, the region’s destiny was determined far from the battle zone in Paris in 1919.

Tunnels on the Italian front lines
near Lagazuo

Cinque Torre open air museum

First World War trenches at Sass de Stria

Today there is an open-air WWI museum at Monte Lagazuoi and Cinque Torri. It is a popular location for walkers and several high level routes converge on the area, featuring remnants of the fighting.

Fitter walkers will enjoy the high level trails leading to this historical outdoor arena. However, access is also provided by a dramatic cable car that takes you to a spectacular 360° panorama at Rifugio Lagazuoi. From the cable car, you will see Lagazuoi’s face with its ledges and observation posts, each one an off-shoot from the labyrinth of tunnels that exist in the mountain, which are safe and open for you to explore. A single pass will give you access to the cable car, the chairlift ascent to Cinque Torri just down the road and the nearby indoor museum at the Tre Sassi Fort.

First world war walks with Collett’s Mountain Holidays

join local Historian, Isabelle Johnson, in some of the Dolomites’ most spectacular scenery

Each Wednesday throughout July and August, you can join a fascinating and spectacular war walk with Isabelle Johnson, a local war historian. The walk starts near the Tre Sassi Fort, explores trenches around the foot of Sass de Stria, ventures into the Goiginger War Tunnel before summiting at a point with arguably the best 360° panorama in the area before returning to the fort, where you can tour the museum if you wish.

The Walk: An approximately 4 -5 hour circular walk involving a sharp ascent of about 200 metres on a narrow panoramic path to some interesting Austrian First World War trenches, fortifications and shelters in a spectacular position. The descent is in the little known Goiginger tunnel with its artillery positions and look out posts. The descent ends with a ten minute section on a narrow unmarked scree path.


The walk involves steep sections both in ascent and descent, partly on loose scree paths in exposed positions. Surefootedness and a head for heights are essential.

Isabelle is an English Historian living in the area. She is not a qualified mountain guide. She is a historical guide, who charges for her time and knowledge. You join her at your own risk.

To guarantee participation, please pre-book this walk with our UK Office before your holiday.

Cost – €20 per person payable locally directly to Isabelle on the day of the walk.

Like all activities supplied by third parties, these First World War Walks are technically nothing to do with Collett’s Ltd, even though advertised by us. Your contract is with the supplier and not with us. We are not responsible for the provision of any third party excursion or for anything that happens during the course of its provision by the supplier.

Exploring the extensive Italian tunnel system at Sass de Stria

Investigating the tunnels on Lagazuoi

The First World War with John Scanlon during August and September

join Dr John Scanlon on dedicated WWI Walks in the Dolomites

John Scanlon is a semi-retired GP with a big personality and a profound interest in World War I history. He has been visiting the Dolomites with Collett’s for many years to explore the terrain that characterised a unique military struggle that unfolded here between 1915 and 1918 between the Austrians and the Italians.

This terrain happens to be at the heart of some of the most spectacular mountain scenery you will find anywhere in the world. So you can combine a fascinating historical subject with breathtaking moderate and high level walks, punctuated by trenches, tunnels, protected paths (formerly troop paths) and other poignant remnants of a tragic conflict.

For several years we have talked with John about the possibility of offering dedicated WWI walks to our guests – over and above those offered by Isabelle Johnson each Wednesday through much of our summer season.

John is now semi-retired and so he has been able to put together a programme of walks and evening presentations, which he will be offering free of charge to guests who holiday with us this summer between mid August to mid September. John will bring together all the knowledge he has acquired during his previous visits. We guarantee that guests who choose to join him are sure to be fascinated by these days out, which will be as rich in WWI history as they are rich in stunning alpine scenery.

John’s walks will be based on a weekly programme that will effectively repeat itself during his month with us in the Dolomites. Each week he will offer you the chance to explore different features of the area, much of which is effectively an open-air WWI museum. You might choose to attend one of John’s presentations in the evening. We can assure you these will be as entertaining as they are interesting, such is John’s ability to engage with people. Either way, the presentations will give you a chance to gain some in-depth knowledge of a truly amazing military chapter, which featured incredible hardships for those that fought here.

1916 & 2012 First World War command post on the Martini Ledge, Lagazuoi

One of the many Italian trenches
at Cinque Torre

These walks are offered on the same basis as our flower walks and you join them entirely at your own risk. There is no additional cost and you are welcome to dip into the itineraries day to day as you please. Each evening at Office Hour you will be able to find out what walk is being offered by John the following day, although it is likely a programme for the week will also be available to you.

John’s itineraries include the Col di Lana, which offers one of the best 360 panoramas in the Dolomites. He will also include walks at Lagazuoi, the Valparola Pass, the Sas di Stria and the Cinque Torre area. Most of these walks are actually featured in our Ideas and Information files for self guiding, so it should be easy for you to assess whether they are suitable for your level of fitmness. Whilst having a car with you will guarantee your participation in all of John’s itineraries, many of John’s walks will be accessible by public transport.

You should prepare for these itineraries as you would for any other mountain walk by studying the map and assessing suitability for you and your party. Some walks – notably those featuring the recently restored tunnels of Lagazuoi – will also require a helmet (available for hire in resort) and torch/head torch, so bring a torch if you have one.

At your own risk

You join our organised itineraries and make use of our ideas & information at your own risk. It is important that you understand that whilst our own walkers have substantial local knowledge and are familiar with the routes which our organised walks follow, they are not qualified mountain guides.