Travel through time: the first explorers of the Agordo Dolomites

Now I ask you, if the view from that truly sublime height is not beautiful, magnificent, varied, and boundless to any side you turn your eye, equipped with a good telescope, and does not deserve the grateful and healthy effort of getting it? What are the spectacles of our cities towards this, a place where can you restore your body and soul?

“Impressioni e desideri dall’Agordino”
Pietro Mugna, 1856

Today, just like in the past, the beauty of the Conca Agordina enchants the visitor.

The scholar, mountaineer, and priest Pietro Mugna loved to refresh the spirit in the quiet of Agordo and was the first to narrate the grandeur of the panorama. Like him, there were many great mountaineers, explorers, and scientists who, attracted by the untouched peaks and the particular geological conformations of the Dolomites, chose the Agordino as a base camp for their expeditions.

Agordo achieved such notoriety and attendance that in 1868, the engineer at the mining plants of Valle Imperina and friend of Quintino Sella, Pietro Mugna from Turin, founded the first Dolomite section of the Italian Alpine Club in Agordo, the fourth in Italy after Turin, Aosta, and Varallo. Even today, looking at the Hotel Miniere, a building overlooking the main square of Agordo, it is possible to imagine the first meetings that were held on the ground floor of the Hotel Tomè (later Hotel Miniere). We wonder which and how many expeditions were born within these walls!

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the tradition of the Grand Tour in vogue among the European aristocracy led great men and women (especially the English and German ones) to visit Italy, often traveling from Venice to the Agordine Dolomites.

The famous mountaineer W.D. Freshfield, in his “Diario Dolomitico” (1865), describes with full involvement the adventurous journey to reach Agordo by carriage, where he is preparing to embark on the first great mountaineering traverse of the Dolomites up to San Candido. This is how Freshfield describes the San Lucano Valley:

The more we advanced, the more the beauty of the landscape around us grew. On our right rose the walls of the Pale di San Lucano, stupendous rocks culminating in three imposing towers. In many parts of its walls, the precipices are perpendicular (absolutely and not in that vague way in which this word is often used by the French and others) and smooth as if they were newly built walls.


Let’s go back to the great men and women we were talking about. Two of them were the English friends, Amelia Edwards and Lucy Renshaw: in the summer of 1872, they embarked on a tour in the Dolomites from Venice to Bolzano via Agordo and Cortina. Amelia talks about their unique journey in “Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys: A Midsummer Ramble in the Dolomites“. This book is a real tour that we can now retrace in 30 stages thanks to the Alta Via Amelia route.

Now as then, the Conca Agordina preserves the magic of “midsummer wanderings”. Among untouched mountains, it is still possible to relive history and explore unknown valleys.

Francis Douglas
Francis Fox Tuckett
John Ball
Douglas William Freshfield
Paul Grohmann
Amelia Edwards