South Tyrol & The Italian Dolomites
A Mountain Lovers Paradise
A Locals Perspective
South Tyrol was our last stop on a month long tour du force through Europe, and Quin and I looked a little worse for the wear. We met Florian in the lobby of Hotel Lamm. He would be our guide, chaperone, and friend in South Tyrol over the next few days. Long hours, lots of miles, and few showers had taken their toll over the last few weeks, but it wasn’t until that moment, in this beautiful hotel in Northern Italy, that I felt like an intruder in another world.
Flo smiled kindly as he introduced himself. He didn’t seem to notice our disheveled appearances or the garbage bag of dirty laundry we were toting around. He gestured toward one of the plush sofas in the lobby, where we sat to discuss the itinerary for the next week. Struggling to focus on the conversation at hand, I sipped intently on an apple juice that had magically arrived a few moments earlier. It was so good. I stared into the golden liquid wondering why it was so much better than any juice I’d had before. By the time my brain resurfaced, I’d missed a lot of the details, but it didn’t matter. I was happy to just let South Tyrol happen to me. If the juice was any indication, our time here was going to be nothing short of extraordinary.
Flo was waiting at the car before the sun came up on our first full day in South Tyrol. It was unusual to ever meet the people behind the emails for a tourism job, let alone actually travel with them. I was happy to have a local along for the ride. Not only did Flo know all the best photography destinations, he came armed with a wealth of information on South Tyrol’s history. As it turns out, the area now known as South Tyrol hasn’t always gone by that name. Nor has it always been part of Italy.
Modern-day South Tyrol, an autonomous Italian province created in 1948, was part of the Austro-Hungarian County of Tyrol until 1918. It was annexed by Italy following the defeat of the Central Powers in World War I. As a result of the region’s unique history, South Tyroleans suffer from a sort of identity crisis. As Flo joked, he’s too reserved to pass as an Italian down south, and too flamboyant to fit in with his German family just across the border. Not quite Italian, no longer German, South Tyrol is a world of its own. A world where Austrian mountaineering culture, German practicality, and Italian romance converge to create a perfect storm of rich culture and stunning scenery.
Set against a stunning mountain backdrop, Alpi di Siusi is famous for its rolling pasture lands, and picturesque country homes. It’s worth waking up early to watch as golden light floods the valley with the rising sun. The entire area harkens to a simpler time, and when it was time to leave I found myself feeling inexplicably nostalgic for a place and people I had only experienced briefly.
Alpi di Siusi is closed to private traffic daily from 9 am to 5 pm, so if you are not staying in the area, you’ll need to park your car at ‘Campaccio - Compatsch,’ (a small village just outside of the Alpi di Siusi region), and continue by cable car or bus, or arrange for a taxi to drive you the rest of the way.
After you are done exploring the hillside, make the short walk to Sanson Hut for a delicious brunch. Now that you’re full, it’s time to get up into those mountains! We hiked to the Rifugio Alpe di Tires mountain hut via Forcella Denti di Terrarossa/Rosszahnscharte. The way up consists of relentless switchbacks, but you’ll forget all about the slog once you see the views at the top! On the way down, stop to grab lunch at the Mahlknecht hut. You deserve it!
Don’t rest for too long though, because there’s so much more to see! After completing the hike, we swung by the hotel to regroup before heading to Pass Gardena for sunset. Pass Gardena is a beautiful mountain pass with hiking trails, winding roads, and a quintessential hilltop chapel - Cappella di San Maurizio. All of them make excellent subjects for photography, and it’s worth spending a couple hours here. Once the sun sets, it’s time for another taste of local cuisine! Head down the road a few minutes to Chalet Gerard for dinner.
Rise and shine! Today is another early one, but it’s worth every minute. There are some places you see photographs of that never quite live up to the hype. Lago di Braies is not one of them. Sure, the secret is out about this gorgeous location, and you definitely won’t be the only one there. Even so, it won’t disappoint. Get there as early as possible to watch the sun rise over the mountains and illuminate the brilliant emerald green lake. Early morning is also generally the calmest, giving you the best chance for mountain reflections in the lake. Rent a boat for a unique perspective!
Now it’s time to check into Hotel Rosalpina. Charming in its own right, with cozy wood furniture, friendly service, and a restful cabin vibe, the views at Hotel Rosalpina truly set it apart. Having mastered the art of bringing the outdoors inside, nature is alive in every suite, with panoramic windows that showcase breathtaking views of the Dolomites. For the best unobstructed views, make sure to ask for a room on the top floor.
After what is sure to be a relaxing afternoon enjoying the Hotel, drive to the Val di Funes. Perhaps most well known for the Church of St. Johann in Ranui. The church belongs to the Ranuihof farmstead and can be found in the Ranui meadows alongside the farm. It stands out in the imposing mountain landscape, and begs to be photographed. Santa Maddalena, also known as St. Magdalena, is a lovely medieval church also worth visiting while you are in the area.
Make sure to leave plenty of time to explore the Val Di Funes. The entire region is stunningly beautiful, and it’s worth getting a little lost driving down the small country roads - each with their own unique vantage point of the valley below and the Dolomites looming in the distance.
Before leaving Hotel Rosalpina for Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Peaks), make the relatively short drive to Lago di Carezza. The Lago di Carezza hike (also known as Karersee) belongs on everybody’s Dolomite bucket list. The surreal colors of the lake, the pretty forest, and the surrounding mountains, make the walk feel utterly magical. The best time to view the lake is at sunrise or sunset when the mountains light up with alpenglow. With that being said, the color of the lake is probably most brilliant when the sun is higher in the sky. Basically, you can’t lose!
Plan on spending the rest of the day at Three Peaks where it’s well worth sticking around to enjoy sunset. Until then, perhaps the best way to experience the area is to complete the 10.3km long Tre Cime di Lavaredo Loop trail. The loop circumnavigates the three massive pinnacles rising up from the rolling scenery of the Dolomites - giving the park its name. There’s a number of other trails worth wandering down if you want to explore the area further. Each one offering a new view of the three peeks, and the surrounding mountains.
Spend the night at one of the many quaint hotels in Dobbiaco.
For your last day in the Dolomites, leave South Tyrol to make the hike up to Lago di Sorapis. This beautiful hike takes in all the scenery one expects when in the Dolomites, but the reward is entirely unique. The color of Lago Sorapis is a stunning baby blue - truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen. While this 13.5km hike is on the longer side, the vast majority of it covers easy terrain. Most of the elevation gain happens in the last couple kilometers, and there are a few places that will require easy scrambling.
At the time, we weren’t aware that there is actually a Rifugio up at the lake. Rifugio Vandelli al Monte Sorapiss is an accommodation option if you’re interested, and it would be a great way to capture the lake at dawn and dusk when fewer people are around. If nothing else, it would be a great place to grab a snack!
A special thanks to South Tyrol and Florian for hosting us in their beautiful corner of the world. You can find much more detail about South Tyrol, the Dolomites hiking, itineraries, and accommodations at www.suedtirol.info ! As always, all ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. Photos in collaboration with Quin Schrock.