Dolomites Travel Itinerary: Three Days in the Italian Alps
When I returned from my 3 week honeymoon in Italy, I was of course asked which part of the trip was my favorite. This is an almost impossible question to answer because we explored such different regions of the country. Italy offers a unique mix of nature, food and cultural history and you can easily access the breathtaking mountains, valleys, and beaches in only a few hours. Every place we visited had the best of something! For example, Capri was my favorite beach town and the Brunello wine in Montalcino was the best I’ve ever tasted. This post focuses on the Italian Alps of the Dolomites, which in my opinion had the best hiking & natural beauty.
On our first day in the Dolomites we explored an area called Seceda. After a tiring climb to the base of a mountain we stumbled upon a little alpine hut that sold beer, german torte, and other snacks. After taking a sip of cold beer and looking out across a green meadow to the sharp peaks of the Twin Spires of Pieralongia, my husband looked at me and said, “This might be the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
The Dolomites are located in Northern Italy and have a strong Austrian-German influence. The area was actually part of Austria until World War I when Italy took control of the mountain region after the war. The mountains are considered a part of the Southern Limestone Alps that run through France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. When I first started planning my trip, I read through several blogs for tips on where to stay, where to hike, and what to eat, but there wasn’t a lot of information geared towards American travelers. After a lot of research, we decided that the town of Ortisei would be the best home base for our three day adventure.
A quick note: My husband likes to plan our hiking routes in advance and map out exactly where the trail head starts and finishes. He is used to carrying the National Geographic Topo Maps with us at all times to navigate and ensure we don’t get lost. These types of maps do exist and can be purchased ahead of time, however, hiking trails in the Dolomites are very well marked and easy to locate. Most areas of interest have clusters of interconnected trails that allow you to easily customize a hike on the spot and if accessible by a gondola, will have maps available to take with you. We recommend choosing an area to explore and selecting a route that fits your schedule and fitness level.
In this post, I share our three day itinerary and all of the nitty gritty details you’ll need to plan the perfect trip in the Italian Alps. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!
THE PERFECT THREE DAY ITINERARY
DAY 1: Hike Seceda and visit the Twin Spires of Pieralongia
While every view in the Dolomites is breathtaking, the contrast of sweeping meadows and sharp peaks in Seceda was pure magic. From Seceda, you’ll see the best views of the Odle Group (Geislergruppe in German) and get up close to the Twin Spires of Pieralongia.
The Seceda area is easily accessible from the town of Ortisei. After a quick breakfast and stop at the grocery store, we walked for about 10 minutes to the Furnes-Seceda cable car that brings you to the top of the mountain. The ticket is 30 euros round trip (as of June 2019), but you can also purchase a one-way ticket and choose to hike back into town, which in hindsight is the preferable option as it is all downhill on the way back. Before you take off up the mountain, ask the conductor for a map (free) so that you can easily navigate the trails when you reach the top. The ride takes about 15 minutes and you transfer from a small cable car to a larger funicular. Once at the top, you can choose which trail you want to take. We followed trail #1 which starts with a short but steep trek and then flattens out.
There are a number of trails you can take once you reach the top of Seceda and I don’t think you can go wrong. We chose to start on trail 2B so we could walk close to the Pieralongia spires. Right before you reach them along the trail there is a small hut serving drinks and a special cake covered in yogurt. We stopped here for lunch (we packed it ourselves) and ordered two local Forst beers and a yogurt cake. This was the moment my husband said “this might be the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
At each turn, the trails will be very well marked and with your map you can either make a loop or find your route back to the town of Ortesei. We hiked for about 5 hours total and then headed back down the mountain in the cable car.
Tip: Keep in mind that if you aren’t hiking back to town, you’ll have to climb back up to the cable car. We weren’t very mindful of this and huffed and puffed uphill for over an hour to get back to the car.
DAY 2: Explore Lago di Braies, the Earth Pyramids of Platten & Cruise through Val di Funes
If you’ve ever been on instagram, you’ve probably seen a picture of Lago di Braies. Pictures of this lake have been popping up all over the past few years and for good reason - it’s absolutely breathtaking. Lago di Braies (also known by the German name Pragser Wildsee) is about an hour and a half drive from Ortisei. It gets extremely crowded in the late morning/early afternoon, so we were on the road by 8AM, hoping to arrive before the tourist mob. When we arrived, there were only a few other people at the lake and luckily no wait for boat rentals (cost: 25 euros for 1 hour).
We stayed at the lake for about 2 hours, spending an hour on the water and then walking the circumference of the lake to take in the views. By the time we were off the boat, it was so crowded that the trail around the lake was like waiting in line for a Beyoncé concert. After our mini-hike, we grabbed a picnic table to eat lunch and then hit the road, planning to stop at a couple of interesting spots on the drive back.
I had done a lot of research on the Dolomites but it wasn’t until the day of our road trip that I came across the Earth Pyramids of Platten. I found them through a random search of clicking locations on Google map that happened to be on the route back to Ortisei. After seeing a couple of pictures, I was determined to check them out. The Earth Pyramids of Platten are a group of naturally occurring rock and sand formations that have formed over hundreds of years by massive storms and extreme climate. The pyramids are located about 45 minutes from the lake, about equidistant from Ortisei. There are free parking lots as you approach the forest that holds the pyramids and it takes about 30 minutes to hike to them. It’s mostly up-hill, but a short and worthy hike to see these natural wonders.
After spending some time admiring the earth pyramids, we jumped back in the car and headed towards Val di Funes, an alpine valley thought to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Dolomites. Val di Funes (also known by the German name Villnosser Tal) is a lush valley surrounded by towering cliffs of the Italian alps. It required only a short detour from our route back to Ortisei. The most famous spot in Val di Funes is the church of San Giovanni. We put this into our GPS as a final destination and enjoyed the views from the car. Once we arrived at the church, we parked and went to explore and snap some pictures of this quaint church and the rocky backdrop of the Dolomites mountains.
After a day of exploring and an incredible road trip through the Dolomites, we headed back to Ortisei for dinner. Check out our where to eat section for recommendations!
DAY 3: Adventure through Alpe di Suisi
It’s hard for me to choose a favorite between Seceda and Alpe di Suise (German: Seiser Alm). These locations are easily number one and two on the “most beautiful places I’ve ever seen” list. While Seceda positions you up close and personal with the cliffs of the Dolomites, Alpe di Suise takes you into a fairytale alpine valley, the largest in all of Europe, on a plateau that stretches for 52 km2. It can be reached from the Sieser Alm cable car that leaves right from downtown Ortisei. It costs 20 euros round trip (as of June 2019).
We didn’t plan out exactly where we would go once at the top since we knew we’d have a lot of options. The trails are all marked very well and there are even buses that can take you up some of the more hilly sections if you’re too tired to hike back. I recommend starting your exploration of Alpe di Suise with an espresso at the Sanon hut. They have lawn chairs that look our across the valley so you can sip your cafe and plan your trek. We decided to head toward trail 9 which takes you on a loop around the valley. There is a steep section where we passed some friendly alpine cows. We stopped off to have lunch and a beer about half way through our day and then hiked back up to a convenient chair lift that saves you about a 50 minute hike back up to the cable car (costs 5 euros). The entire day, my mouth hung open at the views, and I would go back in a second. Don’t miss this one.
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The best way to get around in the Dolomites is to rent a car. We booked through Sixt and picked up our car at the Bolzano train station. Ortisei itself is very walkable so we did not need a car while we were in town, but on Day 2 we ventured out of town to explore and having a car was extremely convenient. Most hotels have free parking in the area and if you get an Airbnb, opt for one that comes with a parking spot. If you’re from the US, get an international drivers permit. We picked ours up from AAA before the trip and it came in handy when Daniel was pulled over (whoops).
If you’re an avid Uber/Lyft rider like we are, it’s also important to note that these services are not offered throughout most of Italy. When you’re in the smaller towns, it’s also very hard to find a cab.
The closest Airport to Ortisei is Venice Marco Polo Airport. From there, it takes just over three hours to drive to Ortisei. You can also take the train to Bolzano from any major city in Italy. If you’re coming from the US, I’ve found that flights are almost always cheapest in and out of Rome so another option would be to fly there and then take the ~4 hour train to Bolzano. You can rent a car directly from the Bolzano train station from a company called Sixt.
WHERE TO STAY
We chose to stay in Ortisei because of how accessible it is and the abundance of Airbnb options. While it is a bit farther to some of the main Dolomites tourist attractions such as Lago di Braies, we rented a car so weren’t limited by where we stayed. Ortisei a quaint town with cute shops, good food and unlimited hiking options that you can access by taking a Gondola ride right from town. We chose to stay at this Airbnb right in town. It had everything we needed and some nice extras (a sauna, for example). If you prefer staying in a hotel, there are a lot of options to choose from. The Adler is known for being the nicest (and most expensive) hotel in Ortisei. If we go back, we’d love to stay there for a few nights.
WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT
Being in the northernmost part of Italy, the cuisine in the Dolomites is heavily German and Austrian influenced. There are of course traditional pizza and pasta options, but the dominating specialties are Schnitzel, Strudel and Tris di Canederli (a type of dumpling that often contains speck, a local smoked ham). When I travel, I like to try the local cuisine, so we held off indulging in traditional Italian pasta plates considering Bologna was the next destination of our trip.
Each morning we woke up and stopped at a cafe for an espresso and croissant. We bought ingredients from the grocery store to pack our own lunch since we were out exploring during that hour of the day. For Dinner, we tried a few spots in Ortisei that did not disappoint. Below I share all of the places we ate.
This was a cute cafe in the main area of town. It was the first one to open so when we were up super early (jetlag) we came here for breakfast. It’s pretty average and serves pasties and coffee.
Another cafe in town that we stopped at both the first and second day. The croissant and espresso were both better than what we had at Cafe Haiti so we definitely recommend this spot.
On our first day in town we stopped at Despar, a local grocery story, to pick up ingredients to make lunch. We purchased lunch meat, mozzarella, fresh rolls, tomatoes and basil to make sandwiches. We also bought fruit, yogurt and snacks. Through my experience traveling, I’ve learned that hunger escalates any challenge you face, and I suffer from Hangry-ness (Hunger = Angry) so I always like to carry snacks. We bought enough for two people, three lunches each plus snacks, and spent only 40 euros.
We loved this place! It is a local restaurant that serves a variety of dishes with Austrian influence. It’s also a wine bar and they have delicious and affordable wines by the glass and bottle. Your meal will start with a free appetizer and an assortment of bread. We shared the mixed salad (I needed some greens), Carne Ensalada (a local specialty) and the Maltagliati pasta, which is a type of pasta from the Emilia-Romagna region that translates to “poorly cut” noodles. We ended our meal with the best strudel I’ve ever had, topped with cream. The carne ensalada tasted like corned beef but was less fatty, and was served with warm beans and grilled vegetables. The pasta dish was absolutely delicious, served with a mix of vegetables as well. The wait staff was extremely welcoming and helpful. I highly recommend this place!
La Cercia caught my eye because of the perfect people-watching location. This tiny wine & cocktail bar has a few seats outside facing the main drag of Ortisei and is located right across from the Alder Hotel. We stopped in for an aperol spritz and decided to order a meat and cheese plate to munch on before dinner. The waiter asked if we wanted the medium or large plate, and I immediately said large. Little did I know, the large was enough to feed a family of 4, for an entire day. In result, our aperitivo turned into a full dinner of meat and cheese. Whether you come here for a quick drink or make it a full meal, this is a great place to stop in during your visit.
Stube Vives was a recommendation from our waiter at La Cercia. We asked “where do you eat?” and he replied that Stube was his favorite spot in town. While this was our most expensive dinner in Ortisei, the food was absolutely delicious. We ordered an appetizer of deer tartare and a bottle of local red wine to start. After browsing the menu, Daniel convinced me that we had to try the cacio e pepe which is simply pasta with butter and pepper. It was a great meal so if you’re looking to splurge, make a reservation!
While we didn’t make it here, this was recommended by our Airbnb host, a few locals and is on pretty much every list you can find about Ortisei. This is a fine dining restaurant with a Michelin star. We decided not to try it and picked Stube Vives instead, but with the reviews it has, I thought it was worth adding to our list!
Our Airbnb had free parking next to Pizzeria Cascade and it was the first restaurant we saw when we arrive late on our first night. If you’re looking for a quick, comfortable spot where the wait staff speaks English, this is a good option for a meal. If we weren’t starving, however, we most likely would have chosen a more local spot.
WHAT TO PACK (WOMEN’S GUIDE)
Our trip to Italy was a full three weeks with only 3 days in the Dolomites. I knew I’d need to pack differently for the Italian alps vs. the beaches of Positano, but I try to be a minimalist when taking long trips because luggage just slows you down.
As I researched the Dolomites, I had a lot of trouble understanding what I really needed to pack. How intense were the hikes? Did I need my hiking boots or would sneakers suffice? Was it going to be hot and dry or did I need to prepare for precipitation? Luckily, I decided to just go with my gut and it worked out pretty well. Yes, you do need hiking boots (unless you don’t plan on hiking). It was warm (not as hot as the rest of our trip), but in June it rains almost every day in the late afternoon.
To save you the stress of deciding what to pack, I’m sharing my list below. I’ve linked everything for easy shopping and some are affiliate links which means if you purchase any of the items, I may get a small monetary reward. Thanks in advance!
TBP INSIDER TIPS
>In Europe, you’ll need euros. You can bring cash and exchange money at the airport or get a no-fee debit card like the one I have from Fidelity. It’s super easy and free to get, and will allow you to take out money from international ATMs with no fees. You just load it up in advance.
>We spent only three days in the Dolomites but you could easily spend a week there and not run out of things to do.
>In the summer, afternoon thunderstorms are very common. It rained every day we were in the Dolomites! On the first day, we got caught in it. After that, we timed our treks to end by the time it would rain and missed them entirely. I recommend checking the weather and planning ahead.
>If you plan on driving, you’ll need an international drivers license to drive legally in Italy. Before Daniel and I came on the trip we thought this was a scam, but when we got pulled over for speeding (I’m looking at you, Daniel), the policeman asked to see this and let us go with a warning. Here’s the info to get one.
>If you’re coming from the USA, you don’t need a visa to enter Italy.
>To get data on your phone in Italy, stop at a TIM store when you arrive to the airport or train station. You can purchase a SIM card that will give you an Italian number and data for the trip. This was really helpful so we could navigate around using google maps.