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South Tyrol & The Italian Dolomites

Europe


The best things to do in the Italian Dolomites!

A Mountain Lovers Paradise

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.


The rooftop pool at Hotel Lamm, overlooking the Dolomites.

The rooftop pool at Hotel Lamm, overlooking the Dolomites.


Early morning light at Alpi di Siusi in the Italian Dolomites.

Early morning light at Alpi di Siusi in the Italian Dolomites.

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.

Day 1 : Exploring The Mountains Around Alpi di Suisi

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. There will likely be quite a bit of walking involved.


The view at the pass just before heading down to the Rifugio Alpe di Tires.

The view at the pass just before heading down to the Rifugio Alpe di Tires.

After you are done exploring the hillside, make the short walk to Sanon 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!


The trail up or down from Rifugio Alpe di Tires.

The trail up or down from Rifugio Alpe di Tires.

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.


Pass Gardena in the Italian Dolomites at sunset.

Pass Gardena in the Italian Dolomites at sunset.


The light just got better and better as the sun set over Pass Gardena in the Italian Dolomites.

The light just got better and better as the sun set over Pass Gardena in the Italian Dolomites.

Day 2: Dolomites Bucket List

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!


Don’t miss the opportunity to take a row boat out on  Lago di Braies!

Don’t miss the opportunity to take a row boat out on Lago di Braies!

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.


The view from our room at Hotel Rosalpina. The hotel has undergone a huge remodel since this photo was taken and is now called FORESTIS.

The view from our room at Hotel Rosalpina. The hotel has undergone a huge remodel since this photo was taken and is now called FORESTIS.

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.


The Val di Funes in the Italian Dolomites.

The Val di Funes in the Italian Dolomites.


The Val di Funes in the Italian Dolomites.

Day 3: The Three Peaks

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!


Lago di Carezza hike (also known as Karersee) in the Italian Dolomites. It is my understanding that you are no longer allowed to go down to the lake. There is now a walkway with a railing to guide.

Lago di Carezza hike (also known as Karersee) in the Italian Dolomites. It is my understanding that you are no longer allowed to go down to the lake. There is now a walkway with a railing to guide.

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.


Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Peaks) in the Italian Dolomites is a hiking paradise.

Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Peaks) in the Italian Dolomites is a hiking paradise.


Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Peaks) in the Italian Dolomites.

Day 4: Dolomites Hiking

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!


Lago di Sorapis in the Italian Dolomites.

Lago di Sorapis in the Italian Dolomites.

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.

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  1. Kirtan P. says:

    Spectacular photography, Jess!!! Thank you for sharing all of the details 🙂 Were you able to visit the inside of the church?

  2. Oreste says:

    Ciao Jess! Come staiii? :-))
    I really hope that you guys enjoyed Italy, as always spectacular photos, amazing views! Next time I suggest you.. go straight to Sila and Pollino National Park 😉 pretty sure that you ‘ll love it!
    Baci

    • Jess Dales says:

      We absolutely loved it! I really hope to return someday, and when I do hopefully I can check out the locations you have suggested. Thank you so much for the recommendations!

  3. Tahoe55 says:

    Jess,
    Your photos never disappoint! Specifically I love the contrast between the rolling hills and the majestic mountains in the background. Thank you for sharing this wonderful adventure.
    Tahoe55

    • Jess Dales says:

      Aww thank you so much! Glad you figured out how to leave a comment. 😉 I think that you would really love it over there. Good food, beautiful scenery. . . what more can you ask for!

  4. Did you rent a car while you were there? Sorry if I missed that part!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hey! Yes, we rented a car while we were there, and I’m definitely glad that we had it. Really came in handy for the days that we just wanted to drive around and look for views at our own pace.

  5. Elsie Rodriguez says:

    I love your photos! What camera do you use? How long did it take you/ Quin to perfect your photography skills? As always it was a pleasure to see your amazing and lovely photos ❤️

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you so much Elsie! I shoot with a Sony a7rIII now. Quin started taking photos about 4 years ago, and we started working together about 3 years ago. It’s been quite the ride!

      • Guillaume - says:

        Hi Jess! Amazing photos indeed, they remind me when I was there, years ago! I saw you’re using the Sony A7r III which is a great camera. Now the question: which lenses did you use during the South Tyrol / Dolomites trip?

        • Jess Dales says:

          Hi Guillaume. Great question! Most of the photos were taken with the Sony 16-35 F4. However, a few were taken with Sony FE Zoom 24‑240mm, and if I’m not in the photo then I took it with the Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM lens. Hope that helps!

  6. Allen Burton says:

    So love your writing and, of course, the fabulous photos – inspirational
    This place is on my list. I have spent months over the years in the Lago Maggiore and Lago Como areas which are beautiful and charming- but the Dolomites are spectacular
    Thks

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you very much Allen! Always so nice to hear. I was fortunate enough to spend a couple days in the Lago Como area before heading to the Dolomites, and it was so lovely! I’m sure it only gets more enchanting with time. 🙂

  7. Daniela says:

    Oh Jess, such a nice post and the pictures are beautiful. I will definitely put SouthTyrol in my bucket list. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you Daniela! It was a very special trip. I’m so glad that you are adding it to your bucket list. I have no doubt that when you make the trip you will love it!

  8. Kate says:

    Loved that you noticed the apple juice immediately…it’s the first thing we buy when we arrive in South Tyrol…well actually second. Wine is first. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this and gushing over your stunning photography. Can always tell when I come across your images. You and Quin have a rare talent — a style all your own that instantly captivates and inspires!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thanks so much Kate! And that’s too funny about the apple juice. Quin doesn’t drink, so he was ordering it every night at dinner and of course everyone thought he was crazy (because wine lol), but it truly was sooo good.

  9. Hi Jess! Curious what time of year you guys visited? I’m debating between spring and fall, but worry there’ll be too much snow in the spring. Summer would be ideal, but I assume it is crowded? Thank you!

  10. MD2 says:

    Tour du Mt Blanc was spectacular, and now I know there is another, possibly even more gorgeous region to get me back to Northern Italy! So incredible! Your post is a nice relief from the gray, drizzling Seattle backdrop out my office window.

  11. Ricky says:

    Stumbled across your blog while looking for a good camera bag. It’s amazing how much better looking at photos properly is than being subjected to a tiny screen scrolling through Instagram…it’s like night and day.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Oh for sure! Photos look so much better on a big screen. For what it’s worth I’m traveling with a Peak Design camera bag right now, and really loving it. If you’re interested it’s the backpack in my Holiday Gift Guide. Although I still really like the camera bags I listed in my camera gear blog as well.

  12. Daniël says:

    Hey Jess, this article is amazing! I am planning to go end of December. Has Florian ever mentioned that December would also be a good month? Is it very snowy out there? Or would you recommend to go in summer only? Thanks in advance!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thanks so much! Really glad you liked it. Florian did say that it is very beautiful in the winter as well. But it would be a completely different trip because it definitely does snow there. I don’t think you would be able to do as much hiking. Instead it would probably be more suited toward winter activities like skiing, snowshoeing, and relaxing.

  13. Redwane Irrou says:

    hey Jess, its me again … your huge fan …. the article is awesome!!! I waited for it so long ha-ha…… I have 2 questions:
    1/ would you propose to me a simple itinéraire?
    2/ about the budget, it was expensive?

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi there. This blog is actually already meant to be a simple itinerary. If you look, you’ll notice that it is broken down into days.

      As far as budget goes, we stayed at very nice hotels, but you could do the trip on a much less expensive budget.

  14. Jessica says:

    Hi Jess! Huge fan of your guides and pictures! We are traveling with out toddler who is prone to motion sickness…would there be a good base you recommend to minimize driving but see a good amount of places?

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hmmm that’s a tough one. I think it would really depend on what you are most interested in doing while you are there. I have to admit that we did quite a bit of driving every day on this trip to see all of the places that we wanted to photograph. I think I would suggest narrowing down the locations that you are most interested in, and then seeing if there is anywhere centrally located to those spots. Sorry I can’t give you more specific advice!

  15. Katrina says:

    Hi Jess, Love your article as it came at the perfect time as I am planning for my trip in Late May!

    Do you think having a tour guide was super helpful, if so, how were you able to book for Florian 🙂

    What time did you have to get to Lago di Braies? I’m debating between staying at Hotel Pragser Wildsee or driving very early in the morning.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Katrina! I’m supper happy to hear that you liked the article. Florian is not actually a tour guide. Sorry for the confusion! He works for South Tyrol’s tourism board and we were working for him on a job to promote tourism in the area. I definitely don’t think you need any sort of guide, as long as you do your research before hand. Have a wonderful trip!

  16. Katrina says:

    Hi Jess!
    How were you able to book a tour guide or find Florian for your travels?

  17. Jess W says:

    Hi Jess,
    Thanks for the detailed post! Always love yours and Quin’s photos. If you had stayed longer or went back to South Tyrol again, what else would you like to see/do?

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hey Jess! To be completely honest I would probably just give myself more time to explore some of the areas that we went. It would be nice to be able to do more hiking, and get farther into the mountains. One area I didn’t make it to that I would like to see is Seceda.

  18. Su says:

    Hey Jess, thanks for the post, the photos look amazing. Do you know if there are ways to get through this area by hiking similar to Mt. Blanc or would you recommend getting a car?

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Su! I don’t know if there are any long distance type trails like the TMB through the Dolomites. For the places we went, you would definitely need a car. Sorry I don’t know more about that!

    • Georg Bergmeister says:

      Hey su, there are many long distance tracks in the dolomites… you can hike from hut to hut! Look for altavia in the dolomites! And jess your blog is wonderful! Greetings from southtyrol…. georg

      • Jess Dales says:

        Thank you so much for your insight! I really hope that I can return someday to explore more of the area. And perhaps do some longer distance trails!

        • Georg Bergmeister says:

          You are welcome…if you need some information feel free to contact me on insta (goggo7) or email! Ciao

  19. Nicole says:

    All I can say is that you are one of the most spectacular photographers I have ever came accross ! I have read thousands of blogs (particularly travel blogs) and most all of them have some fantastic photography, but you are by far the most outstanding ! Most of the time the saying “pictures don’t do it justice” is true ….but NOT with yours! You capture a moment and it’s scenary so well ! I’m assuming that several people are taking the photos since you are in many ?

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Nicole!! Thank you so much for the comment. Seriously so nice of you! I work a lot with @everchanginghorizon, so he takes most of the photos that I’m in. ☺️

  20. Kelly G says:

    Love this itinerary! Your post and photos have inspired me to plan my own trip to the Dolomites this spring and I’m really leaning on your suggestions 🙂 I’m trying to figure out where you started your Day 1 hike (and looking for a great brunch spot) but can’t find any mention of Sanson Hut anywhere! Do you know if this hut goes by another name or can you give me the general area?

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Kelly! So glad to hear that you are planning a trip to South Tyrol. It is so beautiful. I did a little digging, and realized the reason you can’t find "Sanson Hut" is because there is a typo. I’m so sorry!! We parked the car at ‘Campaccio – Compatsch’ took the taxi into Alpi di Siusi, and then walked to SANON Hut for breakfast after we were done photographing the area. Here is the link! https://www.sanon.it/

  21. Christelle says:

    Hi Jess,
    Your photos are spectacular, the article is very well written. Great Job. I shared it on my Pinterest @thesisterhoodoftravelingladies

  22. CarolRV says:

    Hello Jess!
    Loved the post, my bf and I are going at the end of april, and this was of great help!

    Also, I wanted to ask you what camera did you use to take these pictures? The quality is just mindblowing!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Awesome! You are going to love it. Most of the photos in this blog were taken with a Sony a 7rIII. If you want to know more about the camera gear we use while traveling I wrote a blog about that too! 🙂

    • Agostinho Wolfart says:

      Oi Carol. Vocês foram este ano, no final de abril? Estou planejando viajar para as Dolomitas no início de maio de 2020. Nesta época, todas as estradas já estão liberadas? Não há mais neve interrompendo rodovias? Algum conselho, ou advertência? Vocês ficaram em que tipo de acomodação? Muito obrigado.

  23. Grace says:

    Hi Jess! Thank you for sharing your itinerary and gorgeous shots of South Tyrol! We’re hoping to visit the Dolomites in July this year, but I was reading websites that warned about the limitations on the amount of vehicles they let people in on a daily basis into the Dolomites. I was wondering if you’ve encountered any of that during your trip? Also, was it difficult to get around while in the Dolomites even with a rental car?

    Thank you so much!

    • Grace
    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Grace! I’m so excited to hear that you are planing a trip to the Dolomites. It is so pretty! We found it quite easy to get around the area with a rental car. It does get quite crowded at many of the popular spots though, so I would suggest arriving early in the day for parking when possible.

      The only place I remember cars not being allowed was the Alpi di Siusi area. And even then, it just meant walking or hiring a driver. Best of luck!

  24. Jana says:

    Nice pictures! I was in some dolomites hotels last year, the landscape is just wonderful!

  25. Ron says:

    Hi Jess! Super nice photos! I would like to ask which month did you go? The weather looks perfect and the landscapes are so stunning!

  26. Meghan Case says:

    Jess could you give me the address to the Hotel Rosalpina? We are planning a summer trip there! Thanks, Meghan

  27. Emily says:

    Hey Jess, I love following along with your adventures and seeing your beautiful photos! My fiancé and I are eloping in the Dolomites this May/June. Your blog has given us a lot of ideas! Also, very excited to try this Apple juice you speak of! Thanks a lot for sharing the details of your trip!

    • Hi Emily! That’s so awesome to hear. Such a beautiful place to celebrate your love. It really does have the perfect combination of so many things that I love – mainly great hikes and food! Have a wonderful trip. 🙂

  28. Hey! Been seeing your Austria and Dolomite content and reeeeaaally loving it! Just making me want to travel again!

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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