Northern Italy (Part 01): The Dolomites
Over the last few summers, we have really appreciated time in the Alps to reconnect with nature, breathe fresh air, and hike. This time around we shipped off to the Austrian-flavored province of South Tyrol in Italy; South Tyrol was previously part of Austria but annexed by Italy in the aftermath of WWI. (Note that the area is bi—and in some areas, tri—lingual. Most place names have German and Italian versions. We will mostly refer to the German names.) The Dolomites are a relatively unknown and inexpensive corner of the Alps, popular mostly with Italians, Austrians, and Germans and served as our home base for the first four nights of our trip.
We flew into Venice, picked up our Fiat 500, and drove over Pordoi Pass and Sella Pass to the village of Kastelruth. We stayed in Hotel Villa Kastelruth, which from our room’s balcony offered views to the towering mountains that sit behind the town. And the dinners at the hotel (which over four nights included spare ribs, beef brisket, gnocchi, bacon dumplings, baked potato, tofu with lentils, cream of garlic soup, mozzarella salad, tomato salad, lemon cake, panna cotta, ice cream) were incredible! Kastelruth is a nice base with good hotels and proximity to hikes. Check out the church in the center and take in views of the town from the viewpoint at 46.569910, 11.560044.
Nearby Brixen is a pleasant little town. Hofgarten was blooming with vivid colors when we visited and Piazza del Duomo was pulsing with just the right amount of people—not too few, not too many. The charm was magnified by the ubiquity of bicycles—it seemed every resident had one! We walked through the center of town, to Ponte Aquila, and along the Eisack River.
Nearby Kirche St. Johann in Ranui is a charming little church with a large and imposing backdrop. Visit the church up close (we parked near the restaurant Waldschenke), then use a zoom lens from around 46.636814, 11.721633 to capture it in all its glory. Afterward we drove up to Kirche St. Magdalena for more views and grabbed lunch (again, with a view) at Dreimädelhaus (potato ravioli, spinach ravioli).
Lake Braies was not in our original plan, but having seen photos of it before and realizing how [relatively] close we were, we couldn’t say no! Once there, we thought we’d get on the lake in a rowboat, but this is a very popular activity and the wait was over an hour. We opted instead to walk partway around the lakeside path. With the limited time we had, we’re actually glad this is how we chose to spend it.
The main draw for us in this part of the mountains was hiking. Our first day-hike started at Seis for the gondola up to the Seiser Alm, Europe’s largest high-altitude Alpine meadow. We originally planned for a relatively short hike, but the amazing views kept beckoning. We ended up hiking 12 miles, following trail 7 from Compatsch toward and around Plattkofel. Then we cut across toward and past Zallinger, took the chairlift down to Saltria, and grabbed a bus back to the gondola.
Our second day-hike started at St. Ulrich for the gondola back up again to the Seiser Alm. We took it easier this time around, following trail 6a down and then cutting across a temporary trail through high grass to Malga Sanon, where we stopped for lunch (turkey schnitzel, spaghetti). Then we took trail 6b to a chairlift and back up toward the gondola.
As enjoyable as the mountains are, we were ready for a slight change of scenery. Stay tuned for our drive to and four-night stay on Lake Como!