When the excitement of the Festa had subsided, we were free to abandon ourselves to the excursions in which the neighbourhood of Cortina abounds, and to which the guide-book earnestly calls every right-minded traveller. A walk through the light-green shadows of the larch-woods to the tiny lake of Ghedina, where we could see all the four dozen trout swimming about in the clear water and catching flies; a drive to the Belvedere, where there are superficial refreshments above and profound grottos below; these were trifles, though we enjoyed them. But the great mountains encircling us on every side, standing out in clear view with that distinctness and completeness of vision which is one charm of the Dolomites, seemed to summon us to more arduous enterprises. Accordingly, the Deacon and I selected the easiest one, engaged a guide, and prepared for the ascent.
Monte Nuvolau is not a perilous mountain. I am quite sure that at my present time of life I should be unwilling to ascend a perilous mountain unless there were something extraordinarily desirable at the top, or remarkably disagreeable at the bottom. Mere risk has lost the attractions which it once had. As the father of a family I felt bound to abstain from going for amusement into any place which a Christian lady might not visit with propriety and safety. Our preparation for Nuvolau, therefore, did not consist of ropes, ice-irons, and axes, but simply of a lunch and two long sticks.
Our way led us, in the early morning, through the clustering houses of Lacedel, up the broad, green slope that faces Cortina on the west, to the beautiful Alp Pocol. Nothing could exceed the pleasure of such a walk in the cool of the day, while the dew still lies on the short, rich grass, and the myriads of flowers are at their brightest and sweetest. The infinite variety and abundance of the blossoms is a continual wonder. They are sown more thickly than the stars in heaven, and the rainbow itself does not show so many tints. Here they are mingled like the threads of some strange embroidery; and there again nature has massed her colours; so that one spot will be all pale blue with innumerable forget-me-nots, or dark blue with gentians; another will blush with the delicate pink of the Santa Lucia or the deeper red of the clover; and another will shine yellow as cloth of gold. Over all this opulence of bloom the larks were soaring and singing. I never heard so many as in the meadows about Cortina. There was always a sweet spray of music sprinkling down out of the sky, where the singers poised unseen. It was like walking through a shower of melody.
From the Alp Pocol, which is simply a fair, lofty pasture, we had our first full view of Nuvolau, rising bare and strong, like a huge bastion, from the dark fir-woods. Through these our way led onward now for seven miles, with but a slight ascent. Then turning off to the left we began to climb sharply through the forest. There we found abundance of the lovely Alpenrosen, which do not bloom on the lower ground. Their colour is a deep, glowing pink, and when a Tyrolese girl gives you one of these flowers to stick in the band of your hat, you may know that you have found favour in her eyes.