Monte Rite: an Open Air Botanical Garden with Breathtaking Views Over the Dolomites

Monte Rite (2,183 m) is an isolated, rounded mountain just off the busy Boite valley, usually reached from Passo Cibiana (1,530 m) – the pass that connects the region of Cadore to the Zoldo area. It is situated between the municipalities of Cibiana di Cadore and Forno di Zoldo.

It is also one of my favorite spots in the Dolomites, and soon you are going to see why.

There are several good reasons for climbing up Monte Rite: the first, that it’s like being suspended in the air – quite a magical experience in itself. In fact, the top of the mountain is like a natural balcony that affords magnificent, sweeping views all over the Dolomites’ heartland at almost 360 degrees, thus revealing all its most renowned peaks.

The Antelao and the Pelmo are so close that you could almost touch them, while the Marmolada glacier glimmers away in the distance – an enticing call for another ascent, another day. And then, of course, all the other famous mountains of the Dolomites – the Tre Cime, the Civetta, the Tofane – are also visible, and can be admired in all their majestic beauty.

Another reason to climb up Monte Rite is the historical interest: there are still many memories of World War I around here, while the old fort on the top of the mountain has been converted into something completely different – and, most likely, unexpected.

Today, it is in fact one of the Messner Mountain Museums: there are now five of them, and the headquarters is located in Castel Frirmiano/Sigmundskron near Bolzano/Bozen. This one, also called Il Museo delle Nuvole( "The Museum of the Clouds” – the name in itself being quite self-explanatory, given the nature of the place), is mainly dedicated to the history of mountaineering, but also art (especially paintings of mountains).

If the content of the museum is interesting in its own right, the structuere is also noteworthy for the very modern, challenging renovation of the building (even though it is not of everybody's liking, I know) – perhaps setting an example that could be imitated for other similar structures in the area, as in Cadore old dilapidated forts abound.

As a matter of fact, more often than not the old military buildings tied to World War I (usually in prime locations, like here) are crumbling without an appropriate use: sad remnants of a sad era, they could be better employed in the present for peaceful purposes – a goal successfully achieved in this case, I would say.

But perhaps, my main reason for loving Monte Rite is that coming up here is like walking in an open air Botanical Garden – more so than in other places of the Dolomites, many of which, to some extent, would still display an interesting flora.

Here, however, we verge on the extraordinary – if anything, because the circular walk around the top (which takes two to three hours to complete, depending on your speed) contains most typical habitats of the Dolomites, contained within such a small space.

No wonder, then, that you will find along the path a few well-designed signs, explaining in quite a detailed fashion the different habitats that you will be crossing, as this trail lends itself to be used for educational purposes as well (both the renovation of the old fort and the signs were funded under a European Union scheme – as is often the case). For once, on the information panels, you will also find some text in English.

First, as you arrive at the top, either by walking or with the (much debated) help of the jeep service that will drive you up along the old military road – and provided you’re not completely blown over by the magnificent views – you will be greeted by a lush open meadow, very rich in flora.

Here, to begin with, and depending on the time of year, you will admire the delicately scented Black Vanilla Orchid (Nigritella nigra), several species of Campanula (such as C. barbata, C. scheuchzeri and C. cochlearifolia), Pinks – like Dianthus carthusianorum , for example – and Gentians (Gentiana ciliata, just to mention one).

Then, after allowing yourself time to take in the magnificent views – and perhaps visiting the museum – you can embark on the circular walk – and I suggest you take it anti-clockwise; that is, from the top meadow (it is signposted).

The path will first take you down along a rock wall where there are some small exposed sections (with iron railings). This is a paradise for one of the plants that are so quintessentially typical of mountain environments and of the Dolomites: the genus Saxifraga, rock loving plants (aptly suggested by their name – meaning “breaking the rock”) of which many different species can be admired here (such as S. aizoides, S. caesia, S. paniculata).

The only trees to be found in this area of Monte Rite are thickets of the crawling Pinus mugo, the European Dwarf Mountain Pine, whose essential oil (known as 'mugolio) was traditionally used in preparations for coughs and colds, as well as to make a refreshing balm that is particularly useful to apply on sore limbs after a long walk.

Over-collecting had at once endangered the population of this otherwise very common plant; nowadays, as it is available again but from sustainable sources, all the products containing mugolio are relatively easy to find in local shops and department stores.

Continuing down the path, you will then touch on various woodland habitats, ranging from the dark, cool and damp formations dominated by a mixture of coniferous (firs and spruces) and broadleaved trees, to the rocky and sparse – but also lighter and sunnier – habitats where larches thrive.

But it’s not only woodland; in fact, there are also a number of patchy meadow habitats to be found – such as the “tall herbs” association, so called because of the presence of stout flowering plants – like monkshood (Aconitum napellus and A. vulparia), Alpine lettuce (Cicerbita alpina), Lilies such as Lilium martagon, and the famous mountain Arnica (Arnica montana) – the prime ingredient of so many herbal remedies.

On this side of Monte Rite, mostly facing North, worth noticing is also the presence of species that provide an indication of soil type.

This applies, for instance, to the two most commonly found types of Rhododendrons in the Alps, the Alpenrose (R. ferrugineum) and the Hairy Alpenrose (R. hirsutum).

Both can be seen here, and if the first is an indicator of siliceous soil, the second signals the presence of a more calcareous subsoil. So, the second will also be the type predominantly found in the Dolomites, where only the little, occasional pocket of the other species is present – as it happens here.

The circular path around Monte Rite ends on the military road that most likely you will have walked (or driven) on your way up (the jeep service will also make a stop where the trail ends, should you desire to use it). From there, you can either walk down using the same road, or you can take a steep path branching off to the right, which will take you to Passo Cibiana more directly (and avoid the dust of the passing jeeps!).


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