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A shell called "Cow's Hoof"

Like an island of tranquility, the ADLER Lodge ALPE is itself an island in a sea of gently undulating meadows set against a bizarre backdrop of jagged mountain peaks. For where an oasis of relaxation now exists, all was once water.

The ancient ocean of Thetys drowned the Alpe di Siusi 280 million years ago. Algae, sponges, shells and coral settled on the sea floor, and over the millennia deposited enough limestone to create huge reefs – some up to 2,000 metres high – today’s Dolomites. One particular shell, known colloquially as “Cow’s Hoof” and as “Megalodon” to the experts, is now considered the index fossil of the Dolomites – the fossil used to predict the relative age of various rock layers. The earliest mountain dwellers believed these fossils were the footprints of “wild women”. They collected and placed them outside their huts to ward off evil spirits.

In 2009 the remarkable limestone mountains of the Dolomites were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status: a paradise for hikers and climbers, who usually do not realise they are holding on to a branch of coral or standing on an ancient shell, or the footprint of a dinosaur. So on your next walk, be sure to keep your eyes open!