5 Days in the Dolomites
The Dolomites mountain range is located in northern Italy straddling the autonomous region of Alto Adige (also called South Tyrol) and Veneto. This little corner of paradise characterized by mountains with steep peaks and many lakes will delight hikers and lovers of wide open spaces. The best way to discover this region where Austrian and Italian culture mix is to opt for a road trip in the Dolomites by car (or van) in order to be completely free in the choice of the itinerary and the sites to visit. .
Follow us during our 5-day road trip in the Dolomites and South Tyrol through this blog article where I give you my advice, the must-see sites not to be missed, our favorite accommodations to know where to sleep in Dolomites and hiking ideas.
This trip took place at the end of June 2020 just after the deconfinement of the COVID-19 epidemic, which explains the low number of tourists in a region that is usually very busy. It was great to be almost alone, but the downside was that not everything was open or accessible yet.
On site you will notice that all the places have two names because the region of South Tyrol has 3 official languages including Italian and German (the 3rd being Ladin , a Romance language). I mentioned on the blog the names of the sites to see in Italian and in German so that you can find your way around.
Road Trip to the Dolomites: how to reach South Tyrol?
Two solutions are available to you to visit the Dolomites: either come with your vehicle from France or opt for the plane to Italy then rent a car on site (I will not talk about public transport even if are well developed in the region).
Coming to the Dolomites with your vehicle
Given the number of kilometers and the price of the tolls, it is the solution for those who do not live too far from the Italian border or who opt for a road trip of several weeks (visiting the rest of Italy or extending to Austria or Slovenia ). This is the option we chose because after South Tyrol we visited Innsbruck and southern Bavaria .
Rent a van or motorhome
It is quite possible to make a road trip in the Dolomites in a campervan, van or motorhome. The roads are nice and wide and there is no difficulty driving in this mountainous area. You can rent a van near you or fly in and rent it once you arrive in Italy. It’s up to you to see according to the route you have planned and what is the cheapest.
Our itinerary in the Dolomites: 5 days and 300 km
The map below represents the route of our road trip in the Dolomites with the main sites to see. From Merano to Lago di Braies this represents a 300 km journey that we completed in 5 days. It is obviously possible to opt for other routes especially if you stay a week or more. Some sites like Santa Maddalena are out of the way and will require a return trip.
Day 1: Merano
Most travelers arriving by car in South Tyrol choose to land in Bolzano, it is the largest city in the region and the closest gateway to start a road trip in the Dolomites. For our part we preferred Merano located 30 km further north. The city will easily hold you back for a day and more if you want to take advantage of its thermal baths. You can find the complete article to visit Merano on the blog.
Day 2: Lake Carezza (Karersee)
This morning we leave Merano towards the Lago di Carezza, 58 km away. Before looking into this road trip in detail, I imagined a lake lost in the middle of the forest and accessible via a hike. I was quite surprised to see that it was actually along the SS241 road, you just have to go through a tunnel the few meters from the parking lot to the lake. Lago di Carezza (1,534 m above sea level) suffered a storm in October 2018 which destroyed a large part of the fir forest. I was afraid to see only a forest of dead trees but in the end the magic of the place still works, just don’t frame the photos too far to the right!
The lake has magnificent colors which earned it its nickname of rainbow lake, the mountains are reflected admirably in it. It is the most beautiful lake we have seen in the Dolomites. A path allows you to go around the lake but the most beautiful point of view remains on the road side.
Parking : €1 per hour (€10 for motorhomes).
|Accommodation around Lago di Carezza
Church of San Giovanni in Ranui in Santa Maddalena (St. Magdalena)
From Lago di Carezza we turn back to take the direction of Santa Maddalena, the fastest route requires passing through the outskirts of Bolzano. Along the way we stop in the village of Castelrotto (Kastelruth) which has a charming church and above all a Spar supermarket in order to buy something to make sandwiches for lunch.
The small village of Santa Maddalena is home to the famous San Giovanni in Ranui (Sankt Johann) church which has become an Instagram star in just a few years. The setting formed by this Tyrolean-style church set in a field with the Dolomites mountains in the background is worthy of a postcard. The concern is that more and more tourists came to this private land without necessarily respecting the place, the owners got fed up and ended up closing the field and establishing a paid entrance.
Today you will have to pay €4 per person to approach the San Giovanni in Ranui church (it is not possible to enter it) not including parking (€4 per day or €2 from 1 p.m. ). Fortunately there is a free solution to enjoy the panorama, 200 m before the entrance to the hamlet is a wooden platform with a view of the church and the mountains. At this level it is possible to park for free on the side of the road but there is little space. Forget the photos and videos with your drone they are prohibited (it is a private property).
Before leaving Santa Maddalena, go through the center to enjoy the magnificent view of the village church with the mountains in the background (it was also my wallpaper at work). To be able to reach this point of view you have to take the road located at this junction, except that now and contrary to the Google Map photo there is a prohibition sign except residents. We decide to go anyway, after all there is no one there and we are the only tourists in the area. It was without counting on a farmer who blocked the road with his tractor a few hundred meters further, shouting at us to go back where we came from. We didn’t even bother him on this single lane road, no no he came down from his farm on purpose with his tractor (like the guy was motivated). The solution to reach the viewpoint was to walk all the way back, so we gave up. Here is the position of the viewpoint on Santa Maddalena if you want to try your luck.
|Accommodation in Santa Maddalena
Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm) : the highest alpine pasture in Europe
The Alpe di Siusi is a vast mountain pasture dedicated to grazing extending over 52 km² and at an altitude between 1,680 m and 2,350 m, it is the highest mountain pasture in Europe. In summer you can go hiking or mountain biking and in winter skiing.
If you want to hike in the Alpe di Siusi you will find on the official website many routes ranging from leisurely walks to multi-day trekking with big gradients. For our part, we contented ourselves with getting there by car at the end of the afternoon because the road is only open from 5 p.m.
How to climb the Alpe di Siusi?
- Cable car : from the village of Ortisei a cable car operates from the end of May to the beginning of November from 8am to 6pm (7pm in summer). The return fare is €18. Parking on site.
- Bus : it is possible to get on the bus, you will find all the information on this page.
- Car : there is a road that goes up to Alpe di Siusi but it is forbidden to take it between 9am and 5pm under penalty of a heavy fine (unless you have accommodation, of course). This is the option to choose if you want to come for a sunrise, for example. The junction of the road to go up to Alpe di Siusi is located 2 km south of Castelrotto ( Google Map ).
Day 3: Seceda
The Seceda mountain (2,500 m) located in Val Gardena makes some of the essential stages during a road trip in the Dolomites, the view there is simply magnificent. To reach Seceda you have the choice between:
- Take the gondola and the cable car from Ortisei (34 € round trip per person) which will take you to the summit in fifteen minutes.
- Taking the hiking trail and its 1,275 m drop is the best way to discover the landscapes of the Puez-Odle natural park.
We chose to take the cable car because the elevation was too great for Madame. At the arrival of this one you have to climb up to the orientation table then follow the ridge path to admire the view. From the summit it is possible to continue your hike via several paths.
Regarding the simplest car park is to use the one located under the cable car. The rate between 7am and 7pm is €1.5 per hour with a maximum of €8 (if you stay all day) and €0.3/h between 7pm and 7am. There are 2 hours offered if you use the cable car.
Le village d’Ortisei ( Ortisei in Val Gardena )
Be sure to take a trip to the charming village of Ortisei (1,236m) when you climb to Seceda or Alpe di Siusi. Ortisei is a very touristic village but during our road trip to the Dolomites it was quite deserted. It is characterized for its pedestrian shopping streets and its many remarkable buildings (including woodcarvings). We took advantage of the calm of the place to eat our sandwiches on the village square.
|Accommodation in Ortisei
Les cols de montagne Passo Sella and Passo Pordoi
After leaving Ortisei we take the SS242 road towards Col Sella (passo Sella – 2,244 m). The road winds through magnificent landscapes with the “Torri del Sella” a mountain with 5 peaks as a backdrop. We then take the SR48 road towards Cortina d’Ampezzo passing through another mountain pass, Passo Pordoi.
Obviously this whole region lends itself to hiking, you will find many trails there. From the Pordoi pass (2,240 m) a cable car takes you up to the Sass Pordoi (2,950 m) to contemplate the superb panorama.
Day 4: Lago di Sorapis
Cinque Torri Hike
The Cinque Torri (not to be confused with the Cinque Terre ) are a mountain complex made up of 5 rocky spurs very close to Cortina d’Ampezzo. To reach this massif, you have to take a small mountain road from the SR48 to “Rifugio 5 Torri” or take the chairlift (€17) to Rifugio Scoiattoli. From here there are several hikes to choose from, the most famous of which is around the Cinque Torri (Giro delle Torri).
The Cinque Torri, Cortina d’Ampezzo and Lago di Sorapis are located in Veneto and no longer in South Tyrol, as the Dolomite chain straddles these two regions.
Sorapis lake hike
- Elevation : +200 meters / -200 meters
- Duration : 4 hours
- Distance : 10,4 km
- Altitude : between 1,725 and 1,925 m
- Difficulty : medium ★★ ☆☆☆
Before leaving for this day’s walk, we take two sandwiches at the excellent Fiori pastry shop (annex of the Fiori hotel ), they are made on request with good local products (ham and cheese among others). Once our picnic in our pocket, we take the direction of the starting point of the Sorapis Lake hike at a place called “Passo Tre Croci” ( Google Map ).
The Lago di Sorapis hike is one of the must-see sites in the Dolomites and you won’t be surprised to find a lot of people there. Again as we were just after the COVID-19 deconfinement there were no crowds and I was able to park along the road just in front of the starting point sign. In normal times it is better to come very early to avoid the hordes of hikers.
The weather is not sunny at all today there is a lot of fog. The hike begins with an almost flat path in the forest where you pass through a snowslide (or a stone scree in the middle of summer) then it climbs a little more before reaching the lake. There are a few passages quite exposed to the void but a metal handrail (like the one I had seen during my hikes in the Lofoten Islands ) allows you to help yourself. In the end, we don’t really see the void, which is good news for people with vertigo. We suffered several showers on the way up, between the mist and the rain I didn’t take the camera out once.
Once at the “Rifugio Vandelli” (the Sorapis lake refuge) there is so much mist that you can’t even see the lake. Suffice to say that we are quite disappointed. Finally we take advantage of a slight dissipation of the fog to take some pictures of the lago di Sorapis but we will never see the mountains that surround it. The weather in the Dolomites (especially in the mountains) is very uncertain even in summer.
On the way back it’s even worse, there’s only fog (so much the better you can’t see the void) and rain. With this weather we go back to the Fiori hotel and enjoy the snack offered (and hop a good Sacher torte with a tea).
Day 5: Tre Cime di Lavaredo
- Elevation : +230 meters / -230 meters
- Duration : 3 hours
- Distance : 8 km
- Altitude : between 2,293 and 2,451 m
- Difficulty : easy ★ ☆☆☆☆
The next day the weather did not improve, we had planned two days of hiking in the Dolomites and the weather had to let us go at that time. Too bad we have no choice, this morning is devoted to the hike of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (round trip to the Locatelli refuge) because we then have to continue our road trip towards the north of South Tyrol and then Austria .
To reach the Tre Cime you have to go by car to the huge parking lot of the “Rifugio Auronzo” (2,293 m). Take out the wallet because the price of the toll leading to the Tre Cime is exorbitant: 30 € for cars and 45 € for motorhomes.
The start of the hike is on a wide dirt road that is almost flat (it is used by vehicles to supply the refuges) until Rifugio Lavaredo (2,345 m). There is so much fog that you can’t see 50 meters away, which is why I didn’t even recognize the Tre Cime when we were at their feet. It is only by heading towards the 3rd refuge (Rifugio A. Locatelli – 2,402 m) that we begin to see the famous 3 peaks behind us. For a nice view, climb to the caves located above the Locatelli refuge.
This hike is really easy which explains why it is very busy, it’s the only time during our road trip to the Dolomites where we saw people, I dare not imagine what it must be like in normal times. Try to come as early as possible.
Lago di Landro (Dürrensee) : a touch of the Rockies
The lago di Landro being at the edge of the SS51 road in the direction of the lago di Braies, we take the opportunity to make a photo stop even if with this cloudy weather the lake does not give its full potential. With its larch forests and snow-capped peaks, you could almost imagine yourself in the Canadian Rockies. To reach the viewpoint facing the mountains, you have to take the wooden bridge that crosses the river to the far north of the car park, then walk through the forest to reach the sandy shore of Lago di Landro.
Lake Braies (Pragser Wildsee) : the star of the Dolomites
As if by magic, the sun appears at the end of the day when we arrive at the lago di Braies (1,495 m). The lake is one of the most beautiful sites to see in the Dolomites and it would have been a shame to have fog again. This lake is very popular on Instagram, you have certainly already seen the photos of its wooden boats. It is possible to rent them (the price is quite high, 19 € per half hour) but during our post COVID-19 trip everything was closed. A path still allows you to go around the lake (about 1 hour) but the best photo points are on the side of the hut which rents the boats.
There are several car parks on the road leading to the lago di Braies whose prices differ somewhat, we used the P2 whose price is 5 € per day (a person comes to cash and gives you a ticket). If you want to sleep facing the lake, you can spend the night in the mythical Hotel Lago di Braies.
The Lago di Braies was the last stage of our 5-day road trip in the Dolomites, the border with Austria being very close, we went to visit Innsbruck in the Austrian Tyrol then the south of Bavaria in Germany .
Where to sleep during a road trip to the Dolomites
If you don’t want to change accommodation each time, you can visit the Dolomites by choosing only two drop-off points. This will allow you to explore the western part of the Dolomites grouping the lago di Carezza, Alpe di Siusi, Seceda and Santa Maddelena then the eastern part with the Cinque Torri, lago di Sorapis, Tre Cime, lago di Landro and lago di Braies.
The regions of Ortisei and Cortina d’Ampezzo are two excellent base points for visiting the Dolomites. As these are two very touristy towns, you will have to look in the surrounding villages to find accommodation at lower prices. This is what we did by staying in two superb addresses that I recommend: Pension Haus Tirol 12 km from Ortisei and Hotel Fiori 12 km from Cortina d’Ampezzo.
I hope that the report of our 5-day road trip in the Dolomites will inspire you to discover this magnificent region and help you plan your itinerary. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the blog comments below.