Should I book the AV1 for 2021?
It is no exaggeration to state that the Dolomites AV1 is one of the world’s most beautiful treks. And it is therefore no surprise to learn that it is also very busy. In a normal year, in July and August, almost every bed in every refuge, gîte and hotel will eventually be booked up and not just by AV1 trekkers: weekenders and day walkers also want to experience this magnificent terrain.
Of course, Covid changed the world and 2020 was a very different year. Travelling to the Dolomites was a challenge for those who did not reside in Continental Europe and few English-speaking trekkers have walked this year. Even the number of UK trekkers willing or able to cross the English Channel was very small. Those that did find a way to get to the Dolomites had an overwhelmingly positive experience: walker numbers were far fewer than at any other time in recent years and you could sometimes book accommodation at the last minute. Often people had to move heaven and earth to get there but they were richly rewarded, enjoying an exceptional Alpine ‘honeypot’ without the crowds.
Italy had its serious Covid outbreak before other western countries and as a result, it was one of the first to recover. Whilst Covid is still present, it appears that the situation is being kept under control. Those that did trek in 2020 have mostly reported that they felt very safe. The rifugi, by all accounts, handled Covid very well and the sanitary and distancing measures that they put in place seemed to please most.
However, I think that those desperate to walk the AV1 should not put plans completely on hold. The Dolomites trekking season is very short (approximately 10-12 weeks depending on the year). With a popular trek like the AV1, it can be difficult to get the stars to align to get on the trek within this short period. And these days, it is very difficult to plan the AV1 at the last minute if you are not camping.
We do not get much notice when governments change rules or when airlines start up flights again. If you have not done some planning and preparation before that happens then you will probably miss out. Those who have already done their homework will be able to move faster.
Furthermore, because so many people missed out in 2020, there is going to be massive pent-up demand for the AV1 in the next few years. And the rifugi will probably continue to run at reduced capacity in the next few seasons. Accordingly, AV1 accommodation for the foreseeable future is going to be like gold dust.
So, this is what I think you should do:
Plan your itinerary now: buy the guidebooks and maps; work out how many days you want to spend on the trek; design an itinerary that matches your capabilities and vacation schedule; and make a list of the places you want to stay. Take your time. Get yourself into a position to be able to start booking accommodation the moment that you feel it is right to do so.
Forget about flights for now: those can be booked later on, if and when, they become available. If they do not become available, then you have not wasted any time: your itinerary planning work will still be good for the following season.
Consider booking AV1 accommodation: there are ways of booking accommodation so that it can be cancelled later or moved to future dates. Most of those who booked for 2020, but could not travel, obtained refunds or were permitted to shift their dates to subsequent seasons. If done right, you should not lose any money if you have to cancel or postpone. If booking accommodation independently, choose rifugi/hotels that allow cancellation or amendment. Or book with a self-guided/guided tour company that allows you to cancel or change your dates.
In any case, most accommodation requires only small deposits of €15-20 so the risk is not huge. If you start booking in October 2020, then you should get the choice accommodation: private rooms, etc. If you wait until flights open up next year than you may get nothing.
If travel is impossible next year then you should have lost nothing more than a little time. On the other hand, if you do not put the work in now then it seems likely that you will miss out with the accommodation operating at such reduced capacity.
Please feel free to ask me any questions!
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blogs about life on the Knife Edge