Hiking in the Dolomites!
The Dolomites are a mountain range mostly contained in the far Northern region of Italy called Southern Tyrol which borders Austria and Switzerland. Depending upon where you go, they are a spectacular two hour drive through the mountains from Lake Garda (where I was), 3 hours from Venice, or 4 hours from Milan. The landscape is unusual in so far as the mountains rise abruptly forming a vertical wall, which looks spectacular. The region feels distinctly non-Italian (picture Sound of Music), as it was annexed by Italy from Austria after WWI; German, Italian, and Ladin (the local dialect) are spoken and required on all signage. This place is perfect for hiking in the Summer and skiing in the Winter. Many are familiar with Cortina, but we stayed in the Alta Badia ski area.
There are literally thousands of hikes which vary by skill level. Each is very well maintained and marked. We used a guide (Filippo) because we were there for a limited period of time and wanted to be uber efficient (we are NY'ers after all). The hikes were very challenging, though no equipment required. We literally hiked 3 hours up the mountain pass to a peak (about 6,000ft) and then descended towards a natural lake filled with mountain water. We stopped for lunch at a nearby Rifugio (think mountain hut for hikers) and had the most amazing meal and probably the best beer I can remember; it wasn't the brand, it was how refreshing it was, the authentic ambiance (lederhosen and all) and the setting in the mountains. Many hardcore hikers entire itineraries consist of hiking rifugio to rifugio --- we opted for daytime hikes, and Relais and Chateaux at night ....