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Begin with the easy Sentiero Ivana Dibona route just to the northwest of the town. It involves clambering up the rungs of an iron ladder and onto an awe-inspiring and very exposed wooden suspension bridge which takes you to the summit of 2874-metre Forcella Grande.


ANY ROCK CLIMBER WILL TELL YOU, SUN


WARMED LIMESTONE IS THE FINEST MATERIAL ON WHICH TO CLIMB


The pathways that you’re using were constructed during the First World War and take you past the remains of old military installations, and your high point comes quite early in the walk on the summit of the Cristallino d’Ampezzo, where you can enjoy magnificent views down towards Cortina and of the soaring peaks of the Dolomites which surround you in all directions.


From here it’s a relatively easy if long traverse, generally downhill, to the Sentiero Italia footpath at the end of the ridge. Stop along the way and enjoy a picnic lunch whilst relaxing on sun-warmed, south-facing crags with million dollar views.


You’ll be ready for some fine Italian food and wine after all this action. Treat yourself at the Michelin-starred Tivoli Restaurant situated below the Lacedel ski area with good views of the town, where mountain fare such as deer, or the prize winning tortelli de patate will satisfy taste buds and hunger pangs. Afterwards, head to Enoteca wine bar on Via del Mercato, where you’ll find a sensational range of over 700 wines to choose from, and it’s also a great place to meet the locals.


You can also enjoy the same excitement in the French Alps, the Tarentaise region, for instance, has several via ferrate. On the edge of Val d’Isere you’ll find two very challenging routes above La Daille. Both involve a good deal of exposure and even some overhanging sections, so are not for first timers, but easier options are to be found in La Plagne and above les Bettières in the Nantcroix Valley to the south of Les Arcs.


This latter via ferrata is a particularly good example of how these routes can be designed to provide fun for all the family; it’s divided into three sections, which become increasingly harder as you get higher, and at the end of each section there’s an ‘escape route’ that allows easy access back down to the valley. This means that if you’re at the limits of your climbing ability, on, say, section two, you can retire gracefully before taking on the final, overhanging third section.


80 | SUMMER 2017 | ONBOARD


In the nearby Beaufortain range La Tour du Jallouvre is another classic French via ferrata, located above, and easily accessible from, the Col de la Colombière above the resort of Le Grand Bornand. Limestone peaks rise above green, flower speckled meadows and it’s that limestone that helps make the climb so enjoyable, for as any rock climber will tell you, sun warmed limestone is the finest material on which to climb, with big holds and good grip being par for the course.


The 450-metre high route also has the customary series of iron steps and hand holds, all linked by a steel cable, which means that anyone with a head for heights can take it on.


©Dino Colli


This particular route is graded TD- (Tres Difficile minus); like British climbing routes ‘very difficult’ actually means ‘relatively easy’, so much so that when I did it I encountered a local shepherd accompanied by his young son using the route to access their flocks higher up the mountain.


That said, as the Jallouvre gets higher it becomes more vertical and more challenging until you eventually encounter the ‘crux’ section directly above what we and no doubt most other climbers call the ‘wobbly bridge’. Correctly known as ‘La Passarelle du Gypaète’ after the huge vultures of the same name that can be seen circling the crags and picking at the bones of fallen via ferrataists (only joking), it’s a 25 metre length of planks held together by various bits of steel cable and it sways above a drop of several hundred metres like a drunk at a wedding.


And herein lies the peculiar joy of climbing a via ferrata; you know that to all intents and purposes you’re safe and can’t fall more than a few metres; but you’re clambering up a sheer rock face the like of which, without a via ferrata, only the best rock climbers could access.


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