Most Beautiful Places In The Dolomites
Found in the north eastern corner of Italy, the peaks, valleys and settlements of the Dolomites are a World Heritage Site. It took UNESCO until 2009 to work out what its visitors have known for years – the area’s unique character and geology make this a very special place indeed.
The Dolomites are a year-round destination, offering excellent skiing in winter and endless hiking opportunities in summer. The food’s great – it is Italy after all – and there’s no shortage of things to see.
But sometimes, all we need is a pretty view, so here’s a roundup of some of the most beautiful places in the Dolomites to inspire you to plan your next trip.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo
This trio of mountain peaks are spectacular. Comprising Cima Piccola, Cima Grande and Cima Ovest, they form part of the border between Italy’s South Tyrol and Belluno provinces.
The craggy peaks are no secret and hikers throng the paths in summer. Instead, pick a fine day in autumn after the crowds have dispersed to see this magnificent corner of the Dolomites at its most photogenic.
Under clear skies, you might see fluffy marmots scampering about on the grass or pause a moment to appreciate the golden leaves of larch trees in the sunshine.
Lago di Sorapis
The adjective ‘breathtaking’ is often applied when describing places, but it’s hard not to use it when describing the Lago di Sorapis.
The contrast between the gnarled grey rocks that frame this remote mountain scene and the vivid turquoise of the lake below is truly magnificent. Tiny particles of glacial flour suspended in the water reflect light and are what gives the lake its milky appearance and vibrant colour.
Make the effort to reach Lago di Sorapis on foot; the only other way to reach it is by helicopter.
Cascate di Fanes
The Rio Fanes tumbles downhill, leaving a trail of potholes, rapids and waterfalls in its wake. The Cascate di Fanes is the largest, a glorious waterfall that’s one of the highlights of the Dolomiti d’Ampezzo Natural Park.
There are two curtains of water which, when combined, have a total drop of about 120 metres. The lower one is the pretty Cascate di Fanes di Sotto, while the upper part, which you can walk behind, is the Cascate di Fanes di Sopra.
Visit in spring, when the waterfalls are at their fullest because of melting snow.
Merano nestles in the foothills of the Dolomites and this delightful spa town is as pretty as its surroundings. Austrian until 1918, its architecture is enchanting.
The 83 meter tall clock tower of the Gothic Chiesa di San Nicolò dominates, but there are many more well-preserved buildings from the medieval period and the Belle Époque to admire.
Follow Sissi’s Path out of town to reach Trauttmansdorff Castle, the favorite retreat of Empress Elisabeth. Its immaculately maintained terraced garden is a treat for the eyes.
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Lago di Braies
Also known as the Pragser Wildsee, the Lago di Braies is one of the most dazzling lakes in the Dolomites. According to local folklore, it is situated at the gateway to the underworld kingdom of Fanes.
In fact, its creation was rather more mundane: a mudflow deposited rocks to create a dam and the lake formed behind the blockage.
Located in the Fanes-Sennes-Braies nature park, the water is a bright emerald green, in exquisite contrast to the surrounding landscape. A wooden jetty and rowing boats for hire add to its charm.
Catinaccio Massif, or Rosengarten in German, stretches for five miles from Mount Sciliar in the north to the Passo di Costalunga in the south.
It is simply extraordinary against the setting sun as the mountains redden – locals call it Enrosadira. In folklore, Laurin, the dwarf king, lived in a subterranean palace made of glittering quartz but his pride and joy was the rose garden at his door.
But dusk is neither and that’s why the mountains turn a pretty shade of pink just once a day.
The Pordoi Pass
The views from the top of the Pordoi Pass are remarkable. It’s an adventurous drive to get up there with countless hairpin bends to navigate, but from the top you have an uninterrupted view of the Marmolada, the Dolomites’ highest peak, Sass Pordoi and Sassolungo.
Hop on a cable car to reach the peak of Sass Pordoi, 2950 metres above sea level and you unlock a 360° panorama of an even wider yet equally beautiful area. On skis or on foot, it’s hard to beat.
Lago di Carezza
Situated in the Val d’Ega, the jewel-like Lago di Carezza is sometimes dubbed the Rainbow Lake or even the Fairytale Lake.
On a fine day, when its emerald green water shimmers in the sunshine, it’s not hard to see how it got either nickname. Subterranean springs replenish the water, but snow melt means the lake is highest in spring and summer.
In winter, the lake often freezes over and a thick layer of snow blankets the icy surface, allowing the mountains of the Latemar range their time to shine.
Bolzano (Bozen to German speakers, though the majority here speak Italian) is the capital of Italy’s South Tyrol province.
With a glut of historic churches, attractive piazzas and streets lined with colourful townhouses in all kinds of pastel shades, no matter which way you look there’s a pretty view.
Vineyards and forests clad the lower slopes and it’s a pleasure to take a stroll along the banks of the rivers Talvera (Talfer) and Isarco (Eisack) which meet here.
Drag yourself away from the scenery long enough to pay a visit to a Neolithic mummy called Ötzi the Iceman.
No matter what time of year you visit, the sight of the jagged outline of Becco di Mezzodì reflected in the millpond calm water of the Lago Federa is jaw-dropping.
At 2,603 metres above sea level, the peak is the highest of the Croda da Lago chain. The lakeshore is framed by a row of larch trees, equally bewitching whether they bear the oranges and golds of autumn against a dusting of early snow or stand out in vibrant green against the azure blue of a summer sky.
Val di Funes
Time appears to stand still in this delightful valley, also known as Villnöss valley. A scattering of tiny villages punctuates flower-strewn Alpine meadows backed by unspoilt woodland.
Behind them, rocky mountain peaks promise adventure for those keen to tackle via ferratas at loftier altitudes.
In the countryside of the Puez-Odle Nature Park, you’ll have to share the space with chamois, deer and marmots as eagles circle overhead.
The town of Bressanone, aka Brixen, is the oldest in the South Tyrol, with a past that can be traced back over 2500 years. Today, it is elegant and charming.
Its medieval core is crammed with churches and historic buildings in a plethora of pastel shades, while a stone’s throw from the cafés and shops of the town centre you find yourself among chestnut and apple orchards or beside rows of well-tended vines.
Regardless of where your feet take you the mountains of the Dolomites loom large in the background.
Lago d’Antorno is often overlooked by visitors to the Dolomites, who flock to the better known Lago di Misurina up the road.
Their loss is your gain, as you stand on the shore gazing at verdant conifers and the outline of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo reflected in the still water.
It’s a tranquil spot and has an understated beauty. Turn your back to the road and appreciate the natural setting, unsullied by human influence save for a small wooden bridge. Sometimes less really is more.
Tiny Val Fiscalina barely stretches for three miles from end to end, but this extraordinary place is one of the most beautiful valleys anywhere in the Dolomites.
Take a walk from the village of Moso. You’ll pass through the gorgeous Three Peaks Nature Park to fetch up at the Rifugio Fondo Valle mountain hut. Along the way, let nature work her magic: lush green pastures dotted with weather-beaten wooden barns lead to dense larch forest.
As the seasons change, the delicate crocuses of spring give way to deep blue gentians and bold orange Turk’s cap lilies. Throughout, the imposing peaks of the Dolomites stand sentinel, as they have for millennia.
Pretty Chiusa (German speakers will know it as Klausen) nestles in the midst of a forested valley. Only the spire of its church pokes above the rooftops – this low-rise town coexists with the landscape and enhances what nature provides.
Cobbled streets lead to Gothic churches, centuries-old inns and colourful townhouses. Since 1687, Chiusa’s most iconic landmark, the Monastero di Sabiona, has perched on a rocky spur overlooking the town; it’s still a functioning nunnery today.