Anita Rani: “The Dolomites are otherworldly”

In BBC2's Wild Escapes, Rani and former marine JJ Chalmers embark on a three-day adventure in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains

Anita Rani in Italy's Dolomite Mountains

The Dolomites look spectacular on screen. What are they like to visit?

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Whatever anything looks like on TV, it’s always enhanced a million times to be there in the flesh. I’ve never been anywhere quite like it, especially when we were at the peaks – the Dolomites are otherworldly.

Were you surprised to hear yodelling in northern Italy?

It was a really interesting place – I didn’t realise how Austrian it is in South Tyrol. It was part of Austria until the border moved, so they are German-speaking and look very different, but happen to have Italian passports. You get two cultures for the price of one in the Dolomites.

South Tyrol in autumn
South Tyrol in autumn

Were you tempted by the lederhosen?

What I get up to in my own home… I wasn’t, but we saw quite a few people wearing national dress and not even for an occasion. They’re very proud of their Austrian heritage.

Do they eat pasta or dumplings?

We did eat incredible pasta, but when we got up to South Tyrol, it was hearty mountain food – lots of amazing cheese, lots of meat. We met artisan food producers making delicious products in their own homes, just for local consumption.

You tackle the highest mountain in the Dolomites. Do you have to be an experienced climber to do a via ferrata, one of the area’s climbing paths?

There are different levels of difficulty and you pick a route according to your strength and stamina. We had to be hooked in and every time you stop to think, you go, “Oh my God, what am I doing, clinging to the side of a mountain?” But then you forget about the fear and enjoy the beauty of it. I would highly recommend it.

How was it staying in a mountain hut?

What a delight the rifugios are – to find these places in the middle of nowhere. The rooms are basic but clean and cosy, there’s a great local meal and fine wine, then your head hits the pillow and you wake at sunrise! It’s one of those truly unique experiences that you won’t get anywhere else in the world, and you don’t have to be super-fit or young to get up to them – you can take a cable car to the one that we stayed in.

Rifugio Lagauoi
Rifugio Lagauoi

How about the hay bath you tried in an Alpine spa. Did you feel five years younger, as the farmer promised?

I don’t know how I felt after that; I smelt like I was presenting Countryfile! We didn’t have a translator so we had no idea what on earth was happening and it didn’t look like any spa I’ve ever been to before. It’s meant to open up your airways and be very good for rheumatism.

JJ and Anita enjoy a hay bath
JJ and Anita enjoy a hay bath

What time of year did you go?

October. It was out of season, but we still had lots of good weather. It’s the southern side of the Alps, so they get the sun for longer.

What was the highlight for you?

Being on top of the Dolomites – walking around by myself, watching the sky turn pink as the sun set, then watching the sunrise in the morning. Having those moments to myself was very special. I’m desperate to go back there for a holiday – I’d like to do a via ferrata with my husband.

Does he share your spirit of adventure?

He’s scared of heights… But we’ve learnt to compromise: we do an epic adventure at the beginning of a holiday and end with spending time on a beautiful beach somewhere, so we get a bit of both.

What’s your idea of holiday hell?

A sun lounger around a pool with a million other people. No thank you!

What were your childhood holidays like?

We used to visit family around the world, so we’d disappear to India for the summer, or stay with relatives in New York for six weeks. I love visiting other cultures and I guess that comes from those trips – sitting with my granny learning how to cook Indian food the traditional way.

So where’s your next holiday?

I love city breaks and I’ve never been to Venice, so I’m going there to learn about the Renaissance dream and float around eating gelato.

Wild Escapes is on BBC2 on Friday 25 May at 7pm


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