The Dolomites, Italy
The Dolomites is not a typical stop for many who visit Italy in fact, I would not have known of its existence if not for my random clicks on Google Maps. I was drawn to images of its dramatic mountain landscapes, a refreshing change from the other popular cities in Italy. Located in northeastern Italy, the Dolomites is a mere 3 hours train ride from Milan or Venice. The closest major city, however, is not within Italy but in Austria. Innsbruck is only 1.5 hours drive away.
Planning a trip to the Dolomites could be daunting with it’s seeming inaccessibility but do not let that deter your plan. I promise it will be well worth your efforts if you enjoy being in the mountains!
The Dolomites was part of Austria generations ago but was annexed by Italy after World War I. For that reason, you get to experience an intriguing mix of cultures in these mountains. Every place of interest or town has at least 3 names - in Italian, German, and English. In Val Gardena, a valley in the Dolomites, the locals speak up to 4 languages - Italian, German, English and a native language, Ladin.
We took Trenitalia from Milan to Bolzano. Bolzano is the closest you can get to the Dolomites by train. We checked into a very (adult only) adorable guesthouse - La Cort My Dollhouse. Chic, spacious room with a balcony that overlooks the town of Ortisei - one of three towns in Val Gardena. In addition to providing delicious breakfast and complimentary dishes in the late afternoon, La Cort My Dollhouse also offers a range of spa and sauna facilities that may be used at no charge.
Our initial plan was to rent a car from Bolzano to drive in the mountains but car rental companies only operate in the mornings on Saturdays (we arrived in the afternoon). It was a blessing in disguise as navigating the narrow and winding roads is challenging, more so for us who are used to driving on the left (Europeans drive on the right). We relied on the free public buses that service Val Gardena and hired a taxi driver to visit places that are further out.
Timo from Taxi Leo, a father and son duo, is an excellent guide. He is fluent in 6 languages, speaks perfect English. He drove us around in a comfortable Mercedes van and shared a lot about the Dolomites on our road trips. His rates are reasonable too (we compared quotes from several taxi companies). We hired Timo for one and a half days, Day 1 and 2 of our time in the Dolomites.
Our Dolomites ItineraryDay 1: Maso Runch Hof
Day 2: Lago di Braies + Val di Funes
Day 3: Seceda
Day 4: Alpe di Siusi
Probably the least expensive Michelin guide restaurant in the Dolomites. 38 Euros per person for not one or two but SIX courses. Simple, everyday ingredients cooked to perfection at this cosy Alpine farmhouse set in beautiful surroundings. Grappa is then served on the house to end the meal. Warm service at this family-run establishment. Be sure to go there with an empty stomach!
Lago di Braies / Pragser Wildsee
Blend of turquoise and blue waters glistening under the morning summer sun, with the Alps in the backdrop. We walked around the lake at a leisurely pace to admire the scenic beauty before our eyes and also to people watch - many paddled a boat on the lake while others sat on the sand to bask in the sun. The walk was relatively easy until after the halfway mark where we had to climb upwards before making our way down again. View from the slight ascend was gorgeous though. Pause to catch your breath and also to take some photos.
Our road trip continued at Oberegger Alm - a stop I planned for lunch that turned out to be a destination itself. From Lago di Braies, Oberegger Alm is an approximately 30min drive up high into the mountains. Our local taxi driver, Timo, whipped out his phone to take photos of the stunning views the moment he got out of the car. The establishment was still packed with lunch crowd when we arrived at 2.30pm, we waited a while to get a table.
“Food looks good”, Timo remarked as other customers were being served their meals. We relished in ours. Timo had a plate of cheese with onions, I had local dumplings in soup, the husband had tagliatelle with local forest mushrooms, and we shared a plate of beef. All splendid dishes. Timo was wowed by both the surroundings and the authenticity of the food at Oberegger Alm that he saved its location on his Google Map.
Val di Funes
This place was made popular because an image of the St Magdalena church is one of Windows screensaver images. The church amidst lush greenery is a sight to behold.
La Cort My Dollhouse is a 10min bus ride to Ortisei. In Ortisei, there are cable cars that take you up to Seceda and Alpe di Siusi. We bought a one-way cable car ticket to Seceda ridgeline because we wanted to trek our way down. Prepare to stand in complete awe of the incredible views that surround you when atop the ridgeline. Take your time to explore the different footpaths and admire nature at its best at every turn before making your descend.
We took approximately 3.5 hours to trek back down to Ortisei, not including the time we stopped to refuel at one of the many mountain huts. If you are not a seasoned trekker or do not have a proper pair of hiking shoes, I highly recommend to purchase a two-way cable car ticket and not attempt the descend on foot. The downward paths are steep and filled with gravel. Imagine walking on a floor of marbles. We lost our footing several times and sustained minor injuries because we were not in the right footwear. Our trail then led us into the forest where pathways are narrow with sharp bends. I am glad we made it out unscathed. My thighs ached for 2 days after.
Alpe di Siusi
Alpe di Siusi is the largest high altitude Alpine meadow in all of Europe. We bought a two-way cable car and chairlift ride this time. There is no specific or must-take route. Just walk the meadow where your feet take you and admire the rolling greens, alpine huts, cattle and horses. Time seems to slow down here. Before we knew it, we have already spent three hours prancing around.
We have not encountered poorly made meals in the Dolomites. There were no fancy ingredients but every dish was delicious. Fruits were sweet, vegetables were crisp and fresh. Water is safe to consume from the tap there is no aftertaste unlike the tap water in Milan. “It comes from the mountains,” the locals will tell you with pride. There are also many water refill stations in town when you are out. Have a reusable bottle with you, there is absolutely no need to purchase bottled water in the Dolomites.
Summer temperatures in the Dolomites while we were there was at an average of +5 degree Celsius versus last year. The locals do not use fans or air-conditioning, we felt the heat 100%. Climate change is real; do not let anyone tell you otherwise.