Time of year
I visited Val Gardena from the 9th to 18th May. While we were initially a bit devastated that some of the hikes and cable cars were not possible due to the time of year (and additional unexpected snow), we benefitted hugely from having no crowds. Everything was simpler, more relaxing and more efficient. The annoying aspect was that several eateries were closed while we were there but this meant we got to try small local places that we may have otherwise overlooked. It is extremely crowded during Summer so the time of year is something to consider.
We flew from Dublin to Innsbruck with Lufthansa. From there, we hired a car from Megadrive (booked through rentalcars.com) and drove across the border to Ortesei in Northern Italy (Approx 1hr 15mins). One thing to be mindful of is tolls, I think we spent about €12 on tolls so have some cash ready. The rental company also charge you a fee if you’re going over the border.
On some stretches of road the toll booths just dispense tickets. Later when exiting the road you put the ticket in the machine and it calculates the price. There are speeding cameras and police everywhere along the motorways. Waze is a an app similar to Google Maps that alerts you to where there might be cameras.
Days 1-5: Ortesei
Ortesei is the most beautiful village in Val Gardena. It is nestled in between mountains, with easy access to the lifts and hikes. There are several shops and restaurants and a huge range of places to stay. We stayed in a gorgeous one bedroom apartment near the town (Tip: we found our apartments on AirBnb but then found they have their own website which is cheaper to book through). The apartment had everything we needed and felt cosy and authentic. The views were stunning and it was close to town, albeit up a bit of a hill.
Hiking to Seceda:
Seceda (nearly): Most people get the cable car from Ortesei but this wasn’t running while we were there. We attempted to drive to Col Raiser Almhotel and start from there but the snow was so thick that we parked HERE and set off walking. The hike was absolutely stunning despite the deep snow. We hiked for a couple of hours but the snow prevented us from getting further than the Almhotel. We then walked back down the road which really saved our legs. For information, the hike from the Almhotel is 90 minutes uphill and apparently very well worth doing.
Walk to Selva Gardena (The Luis Trenker Promenade)
This is a one hour easy walk from Ortesei to Santa Cristina. This is a great walk if you want to get out and see Val Gardena without committing to an intense hike. The views over the towns are gorgeous and there’s great photo opportunities. We visited the Tervela Waterfall in Santa Cristina and wandered around the woodland. There is also a circular walk which is open in all seasons. You can also continue another hour to Selva Gardena (2 hours).
We started close to Zanser Schwaige (Refuge) and followed a little trail along the river. The paths are really well sign-posted but we managed to get a bit lost due to the snow. Despite the snow and showers this wasn’t too challenging and the trees provide good cover from the elements. When we reached Peitlerkofel we could not believe the views. This was a definite highlight for me. This hike took 3-4 hours but it will probably take you less if you aren’t in heavy snow. Afterwards, we had something to eat in Zanser Schwaige which is across from the carpark. Sorely needed having been out in the snow for so long.
On the way back to Ortesei we came across Chiesetta di San Giovanni in Ranui by accident. It’s a gorgeous little church in the middle of a large meadow. Apparently it’s one of the Dolomites biggest photo opportunities. If you can stop by it is well worth it.
We moved to Rasen-Antholz for the next few days. To be honest, I wouldn’t really recommend the area or hotel (Hotel Koflerhof) we stayed in. Instead, stay in the nearby town Bruneck that is a little more lively with shops, bars and restaurants.
Lago di Braies
We drove to Lago di Braies (approx. 50-60 minutes). The roads were great and the lake was stunning. We actually went twice it was so beautiful. There is a trail around the lake (approx 5km) and relatively flat which offers incredible views and photo opportunities. You can rent little boats, but we were too early in the season for this. It was very tranquil but still the odd Instagram photoshoot. Parking is about €6 for 2-3 hours so bring coins. There’s also a hotel and a couple of small food places at the lake if you want to enjoy a snack or coffee. We were grateful that there were no crowds as this is a big issue during peak season.
On the way back from Lago di Braies we came across another beautiful lake – Lago di Dobbacio, again with a gorgeous restaurant beside it. Lago di Braies has serious crowds during the Summer so Lago di Dobbacio may be a better option for some tranquility. This also has a walk around it and is well worth stopping. Parking was free as far as we could tell.
Do not attempt this outside of season. The snow is extremely deep and the area is prone to snowstorms. We attempted some of it, but we couldn’t even get as far as the loop walk even after several hours of tough hiking. That one literally ended in tears. However, in peak season it is extremely popular and well recommended on most travel blogs.
Day 8 to 10: Alpe di Siusi in Kastelruth
After this, it was back towards Ortesei for some spa time and relaxation. We treated ourselves to two nights in Abinea Dolomiti Hotel which is situated above Ortesei. This set us back €227 per night, but it was absolutely incredible. Everything about this hotel is amazing. The spa was out of this world, there were endless different rooms and relaxation areas. There was also a pool on the roof, and once a week they open it for a moonlight swim where you can relax with a drink.
Again, we were very lucky with the time of year so it was not crowded at all. You sit at the same table every day for every meal and the whole place feels very intimate. There is a three course meal each night for €35 each. The food was delicious with a choice of meat and fish every night – they will put something vegetarian together if you ask though this is just generally removing the meat. We spent most of our time flaked out in the spa reading or else in the pool. It was the perfect pick-me-up after all the hiking.
Miraculously, one of the main lifts in Ortesei opened ahead of schedule so we took a trip from Ortesei to Alpe di Suisi for the experience. This cost around €20 each and was well worth doing (https://www.funiviaortisei.eu)
As a vegetarian, food was a big struggle on this trip. There were effectively no options for vegetarians except cheese. Cured meats are the hallmark in all meals, and bacon is sprinkled over EVERYTHING. My partner eats meat but also struggled a little with the lack of choice. There is plenty of seafood on offer. I’m not sure this area is ready for vegans just yet.