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The Dolomites in mid-June 2023 – Day 8: Santa Croce

July 31, 2023
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Last year, the meadows around Santa Croce were probably our favourite walk, and we went back there on our last day.

So, with fine weather forecast, we caught a bus down the valley to Badia, and then the chairlift up to Santa Croce at around 2050m.


In 2022, Helen stayed at the top around the Rifugio, while I made the 750m descent to Badia.  To paraphrase my diary of the day, I was utterly exhausted by the end of it, but happy.

This year we planned to be a little more sensible, and to descend as far as the Ranch Hut at around 1750m, and then to retrace our steps.  We figured a 300m ascent would be less gruelling than the long descent.

Our objective was to reach the meadows around the Ranch hut again.  Last year these were wonderful.  But we had seen photos of them looking even more spectacular in previous years.


In weather like this, an ascent in a chairlift through the clear morning air is always a joy.  Up, past the church, past the farms and the hay being mown, past cows and vegetable gardens and hikers making the long climb.

At the top of the first lift there is a children’s playground.  Then a short gondola ride to the church at Santa Croce.

Familiar plants

We set off straight away.  The plants we encountered were mainly familiar ones – banks with cushions of Dryas octopetala, and the long spikes of Pedicularis elongata unfurling in the sun.

Though the sheets of Crepis aurea we marvelled at last year were notable by their absence – more evidence of the late season.  There were yellow daisies everywhere; I think this was a salsify, possibly Scorzonera aristata.

Dactylorhiza majalis

The path crosses several wet gullies and streams, which contained magnificent stands of Dactylorhiza majalis.

Acinos alpinus

The rock-thyme, Acinos alpinus, chose to grow in the path itself, rather than competing with the meadow plants.

Astragalus alpinus

This lovely purple and white vetch is Astragalus alpinus.

Gymnadenia conopsea

The sheets of Fragrant orchids which we loved last year were just opening, including a few white ones.

Platanthera bifolia

Among the Fragrant Orchids, the creamy spikes of Lesser Butterfly orchids were also opening.

Nigritella nigra subsp rhellicani

And, as we saw at the Gardena Pass, first flowers showing on the vanilla orchids.

x Gymnigritella suaveolens

We were pleased to find the hybrid we had seen last year between the Fragrant orchid and the Vanilla orchid.

Horminum pyrenaicum

Dragonmouth (Horminum pyrenaicum) is not an orchid, but is every bit as striking.

Papaver rhaeticum

In several places we came across yellow alpine poppies, again growing in the limestone rubble of the path.

Dactylorhiza majalis

We took a side path across a wider area of damp, and were delighted to find that this population of Dactylorhiza majalis contained pale forms, and white ones.

Dactylorhiza majalis – white

Our path took us to the top of a rise, with wonderful views.  The Geum montanum I hoped to see here were over, and many of the meadow plants we saw last year were not yet out.

Gentiana punctata

But the flowers on Gentiana punctata and Pulsatilla alpina subsp apiifolia were still fresh.  Both were finished last year.

Anthyllis vulneraria

Parts of this mound were almost a monoculture of Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria).

Here, we stopped and discussed the plan.  Helen was happy to sit in the sun on this mound, surrounded by flowers.  She wasn’t keen to make the descent to the lower meadows, only to have to climb back up again.  So we agreed that I would go on my own.  On condition that I would stick to the main, well-used track, and return by 3pm.

Pedicularis palustris

Descending again through the marshy area, I encountered Kingcups(Caltha palustris), and Marsh Lousewort (Pedicularis palustris).

Dactylorhiza majalis

And of course, more stands of marsh orchids.

Gentiana acaulis

One bank, probably shaded for part of the day, held plants of Gentiana verna and Gentiana acaulis, with flowers in good condition.

Pedicularis verticillata

The red lousewort on drier banks was Pedicularis verticillata.

As I started to descend the wooded scarp, there were wonderful views of snow-topped mountains to the north and west.

But more importantly, some of these views included glimpses of the meadows below.  And those meadows were splashed with yellow and pink.

Geranium sylvaticum

In the woods, I saw Geranium sylvaticum in the usual blue and purple, but also in a very pale pink.

Pseudorchis albida

One meadow, to the right, held a mass of Fragrant orchids (Gymnadenia conopsea).  But amongst them, there were many Small White orchids (Pseudorchis albida), just coming into bloom.

Horminum pyrenaicum

Beyond that there was a meadow dominated by the blue spikes of Dragonmouth.

Painted Landscape

After that, I was down in the meadows I set out to reach.  This bit of the account is going to read a bit oddly, because there is nothing I can say, except to show you pictures.

These meadows were an astonishing spectacle, composed mainly of familiar flowers: yellow buttercups and hawkweed, red/pink Ragged Robin (Silene floscuculi) and Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), orange Crepis aurea, primrose Yellow Rattle, pink Fragrant orchids, blue Horminum pyrenaicum, white cow-parsley and magenta Sainfoin (Onobrychis montana).  The combination was glorious, as though someone had poured paint across the landscape.  This is absolutely what I come to the mountains to see.

In places there were huts, clearly used as a weekend retreat.  What more could you wish for at this time of year ?

Aquilegia atrata

I crested a rise, passing plants of Aquilegia atrata; the valley beyond was glowing with buttercups.

I was in heaven; for a while I lost track of the time, and could have stayed till nightfall, in silent comtemplation.

Eventually I roused myself; Time was pressing, and the return climb would be slow.

Coming back across that vast tract of colour, I found a few individual plants to photograph in the damp belly of the valley.

Tofieldia calyculata

Our first flowers this year on the little yellow asphodel.

Platanthera bifolia

A Lesser Butterfly orchid, amongst a mass of Colchicum autumnale leaves.

Pedicularis comosa

A rather different Lousewort, with a tight, twisted yellow spike – I think this is Pedicularis comosa.

After this, I was ascending slowly, stopping regularly for photos, and to get my breath back.

Now I got to the steep bit.  I stopped every time a tree shadow crossed the path.  It was hot, and I was panting, concentrating on putting one foot slowly in front of the other.  Very much a bottom gear ascent !  I was glad to be carrying two litres of water, though not much of that was left now.

Dactylorhiza majalis

Eventually I reached the level section at the top, with the marsh orchids en masse.

And there was Helen, coming down from the rise to meet me.  Wearing my spare sunhat to protect the back of her neck.  We found a bank to sit on in the shade for a while, and then set off back to the top of the gondola.

Daphne striata

Approaching the church, we found a magnificent specimen of Daphne striata, with wonderful scent.

One more bank covered with Dryas octopetala, and we were there.

Unfortunately, the Rifugio by the church looked very busy.

So we descended the first level to the playground area, and found an almost empty café there.  Another customer was drinking beer out of a boot-shaped glass, but we chose elderflower and sparkling water.  Then I discovered that the dessert menu held a sundae containing ice-cream, cream, and two shots of expresso.  Really, an affogato deluxe. I was almost fully restored.

Then it was back on the chair lift to descend to Badia.

Saponaria ocymoides

I had my camera out to try to capture the banks covered with Tumbling Ted (Saponaria ocymoides).  They aren’t brilliant pictures, but they do give some idea of the display.

Wonderful views all the way down.

The bus back was on time and straightforward.  There was lovely light on the steep descent around the back of Sassongher.  I managed to get a snap of the lovely garden of lupins we admired at La Villa every time we went up or down the valley.

Soon we were crossing the bridge in Corvara, and returning to our hotel in the shadow of Sassongher.  Although the climb had been hard work, my legs were in much better shape than after descending to Badia the previous year.  And my goodness, it was worth it.

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