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The Dolomites in mid-June 2023 – Day 12: Pralongia Plateau Revisited

August 7, 2023
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The weather forecast for our last day was unpromising, so Thursday would be our last chance to get up high.  Fortunately it dawned bright and sunny.

We decided we wanted to return to the Pralongia Plateau, to complete the walk we had to curtail on Day 3.

This was a spectacular walk, through seas of flowers, with wonderful views.  So, like Santa Croce, there will be many photos, and not much to comment on, just enjoy the glory of these meadows.

Gymnadenia conopsea

Flowers covered the meadow leading down from the gondola station.  But the yellow cups of Pulsatilla alpina subsp. apiifolia, which we had so admired a week previously, were all but gone.  In their place we saw massed ranks of Fragrant orchids (Gymnadenia conopsea).  Among them, patches of Phyteuma orbiculare stood out, with deep navy blue spheres amid the yellow buttercups.

Trifolium alpinum

In the meadow at the bottom of the slope, the Fragrant orchids were now fully out. The alpine clover (Trifolium alpinum) was spectacular, backlit by the sun.

Again we found many other orchids here, including:

  • Vanilla orchids (Nigritella nigra subsp. rhellicani),
  • Frog orchids (Dactylorhiza viridis),
  • Round-headed orchids (Traunsteinera globosa), and
  • Lesser Butterfly orchids (Platanthera bifolia).

But the star of the show was the hybrid we found in 2022 between a Fragrant orchid and a Vanilla orchid (x. Gymnigritella suaveolens), whose flowers were just opening.

Moneses uniflora

I made another fruitless search for Coral Root orchids among the pine trees.  At least this time the flowers on the Single-flowered Wintergreen (Moneses uniflora) were open.

Pinguicula vulgaris

At the damp end of this meadow, Pinguicula vulgaris was still in full flower.

Menyanthes trifoliata

We had decided to take a short cut this time, on the magic carpet (the Braia Fraida chairlift).  That would take us back across the plateau to near where we abandoned the walk last time.  Walking across to the lift across a very damp valley we encountered Bog Bean (Menyanthes trifoliata) in flower.

This area of the plateau was clearly very damp indeed.  From the chairlift we saw huge areas of purple Marsh orchids (Dactylorhiza majalis), mixed with the white heads of Cotton-grass.

When we got higher, on drier ground, there were banks covered with Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).

As we set off, the meadow to our right was shining with Pulsatilla seedheads.

Saxifraga rotundifolia

In a shady dip we passed Wood Stitchwort (Stellaria nemorum), flowering with Saxifraga rotundifolia.

Helianthemum nummularium

Soon we came back out into sunny meadows crammed with flowers, including Rock Roses (Helianthemum nummularium).

Gymnadenia conopsea white form

In this multitude of flowers and seedheads, it was hard to distinguish the white spikes of Lesser Butterfly orchids (Platanthera bifolia) from white forms of the Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea).

Gymnadenia conopsea

These meadows were roped off, to prevent mountain bikes sailing across them, and were absolutely bursting with flowers.  The dominant species was the Fragrant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea).

Nigritella nigra subsp. rhellicani

Amongst the Fragrant orchids, you can see dark blobs in some of the pictures.  The short triangular ones are Vanilla orchids (Nigritella nigra subsp. rhellicani), just opening.

Neotinea ustulata

But in this picture the dark blobs are not Vanilla orchids, but the flower-spikes of Burnt Tip orchids (Neotinea ustulata), with the lowest flowers just opening.

Onobrychis montana

On the other side of the path, the meadows swept down and away across the plateau, towards the high mountains beyond St. Cassiano, Piz Lavarella and Piz Conturines.  Onobrychis montana provided splashes of bright magenta.

In another shady dip, we passed what appeared to be raspberries.

Rifugio Utia de Bioch

At Utia de Bioch, one path leads off north-eastwards towards Utia Las Vegas and Utia Piz Surega (rifugios and a gondola station down to St Cassiano), with Piz Lavarella and Piz Conturines behind. Another route continues southwards.

To the south we had views across meadows of dandelion heads and buttercups, towards the black rocky ridge of Sas de Mezdi and Porta Vescovo, with the white mass of Marmolada looming behind.  In the south-west the Sella massif loomed, with good views of the walks at Boe and Vallon.

We followed a path southwards along a ridge towards the Rifugio Alpina Pralongia.  Meadows to our left (north and east) were a sea of flowers: buttercups, rattle, forget-me-nots, sainfoin (Onobrychis montana), lousewort, and thousand upon thousand of Fragrant orchids.

Beyond, to the east, we could see the sharp peak of Pico Setsas.

Onobrychis montana

In places, the banks and meadows shone magenta with Sainfoin (Onobrychis montana).

Centaurea nervosa subsp. nervosa

Elsewhere, we found big clumps of knapweed in bud (Centaurea nervosa subsp. nervosa).

As we got further south, the views westwards got better and better, across the meadows to Vallon and Mt Sassongher towering above Corvara.

Onobrychis montana

Again, more banks of magenta Sainfoin (Onobrychis montana).

The Rifugio Alpina Pralongia was closed for building work.  As we got closer to it, we started to see Martagon lilies in bud in the meadows beside us.

Mountain Peaks

To our left, we could see clearly the cable car station and rifugio atop Mount Lagazuoi.  To our right, the steep valley which ascended behind our hotel, leading up to the col at the back of Sassongher.  From there, the energetic can ascend to the top of the peak, but even the col is a gruelling climb.

Rhododendron ferrugineum

Some slopes bore carpets of Rhododendron ferrugineum.


As well as the purple spikes of P. verticillata, the creamy yellow spires of P. comosa were coming into bloom.

Lotus corniculatus

This was a lovely neat plant of Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).

Trollius europaeus

Behind us we could see the path stretching back across the plateau, and then beyond, down the valley northwards, to the snow-capped mountains in the distance, on the border with Austria.  In the foreground, massed Trollius europaeus.

From the Rifugio Alpina Pralongia there were fantastic views in all directions:

  • the distant view of Rifugio Utia de Bioch, with the mountains behind
  • westwards into the Puez Group behind Sassongher
  • south-west to the Gardena Pass.

Rhododendron ferrugineum

Now our path turned westwards, downhill towards the Rifugio Punta Trieste, where there was a chair-lift which would take us down to the Campolongo Pass.  Here we walked through thickets of Rhododendrons.

Orchis mascula subsp. speciosa

Back out in the meadows, I found another colony of the local form of Early Purple orchid (Orchis mascula subsp. speciosa), with its rather different flowers, and purple-streaked stem and leaves.

Traunsteinera globosa

The lilac bobbles of scabious waved among the grasses, but something didn’t look quite right.  On closer inspection, they turned out to be Round-headed orchids (Traunsteinera globosa).

We could still see Marmolada to the south, and Vallon to the south-west.  Here the meadows had an orange accent from Crepis aurea.

Veratrum lobelianum

The buds had opened on just one plant of Veratrum lobelianum.

Rifugio Punta Trieste

When we reached it the Rifugio was almost empty (mid-afternoon), and decorated with sculptures of owls.

But the meadows here were spectacular, with the cliffs at Vallon as a backdrop.

Campolongo Pass

After that, we took the chair-lift, with lovely views of Corvara, passing over sheets of ox-eye daisies as we descended.

I wanted to visit the top of the Campolongo Pass to photograph two plants that I had seen from the bus.  After examining the time table, we discovered that we could get a bus going from Corvara up the pass. Then we would have 10-15 minutes at the top of the pass before the bus coming the other way.  If we missed it, it would mean waiting for an hour.

The meadows at the top were full of flowers, burgeoning with buttercups, Pink Campion (Silene dioica), and Bistort (Polygonum bistorta).

Aquilegia hybrid

The first plant I came for was a puzzle – a tall clump with lilac flowers.  This turned out to be a garden escape – an attractive Aquilegia grown widely in the area.

Campanula barbata

Finally, we reached the patch of Campanula barbata I had seen.  In 2022, we saw these everywhere, but this year, in most places, they were only just starting to flower.  It is one of my favourite alpines, so I wanted a picture.

After a mad rush back along the road, with the bus coming, we returned to Corvara.  We detoured up  to the little church at the top of the hill, with its churchyard full of iron crosses. Then down, past the Posta Zirm Hotel, and the summer bedding outside the restaurants, back to where we were staying.

Image of Jon Evans Jon Evans

Jon lives and gardens on the north side of the Hogsback on the border between Hampshire and Surrey, on a heavy clay soil. He is a long standing member of the AGS and has been treasurer of the local group in Woking for many years. He is interested in bulbs of all sorts, particularly those from South Africa, and has recently achieved his Gold Medal at shows.

However, he is best known within the AGS as an enthusiastic amateur photographer. For about 10 years he was responsible for organising the artistic and photographic section of the AGS shows around the country, and also for organising the show photography. During this period, he set up and ran the AGS Digital Image Library. He still visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors, and is actively involved in other plant photography, both in gardens both public and private, and on outings to view and photograph wild flowers in the UK.

If you have any comments or queries for Jon, you can contact him direct at