Heading to Italy’s Dolomites
It was partly my own mistake. I had set the GPS for the town of “Laste”, where my Airbnb was located, not realizing that there were several towns with a version of this name in the South Tyrol region of Italy. By the time I realized this, I was already more than 100 km from the course.
The good news, since you read my words and look at my photos, is that I have lived to tell my experience. The best news? I totally know how you are feeling right now, and I wrote this post from that place of understanding.
The logistics of visiting the Dolomites
It should go without saying, but the most important preparation to do before your road trip in the Dolomites is to hire a car. I would personally recommend doing it at Venice Airport, even if you don’t get here by plane – just take a bus from Santa Lucia station. Car rental points near Venice Mestre station in the Dolomites themselves are likely to have fewer vehicles and at worse prices.
Once you have your car, I recommend that you set your GPS for where you are staying. Many travelers base themselves in Cortina d’Ampezzo, a practical but posh town that looks more like Switzerland or Austria than Italy.
Where to go in the Dolomites
Tre Cime di Lavaredo
For me, these three adjacent mountains are the most impressive landscapes of all the Dolomites. In addition, the path around them is relatively easy, which makes Tre Cime di Lavaredo accessible to the majority of travelers. Note that you will have to pay a huge fee of € 30 to park here; arrive early if you don’t want to have to walk away from your 30-euro parking spot.
Another must-see place on your road trip in the Dolomites Sorapis Lake. Although the hike from the parking lot to this jewel-colored lake takes only 90-120 minutes, it is known to be rather strenuous, requiring the use of ropes and often seeing travelers at or near the cliffs edge. Personally, I didn’t find it difficult or scary, but it’s largely a matter of personal opinion.
Val di Funes
The good news? Seeing the famous church in the Dolomites above is basically a matter of setting your GPS for the Val di Funes city of Santa Maddalena, and following the instructions. The trick? The Church of Santa Maddalena is not the one you are looking for! Instead, you will want to focus on the Church of San Giovanni, a little closer to the mountains that rise behind the two churches.
When I first arrived in the city of Moena on my road trip in the Dolomites I assumed I had made a wrong turn and accidentally arrived in Austria. Whatever country this colony belongs to, one thing is certain. It will be one of the most beautiful places you will see while crossing the Dolomites, especially if it is towards the start of your trip.
Because I stayed far enough west of Cortina d’Ampezzo, I actually had the privilege of browsing Passo Giau twice, one on the way to Tre Cime and Sorapis, and another on the way back. However, even if you end up having to go out of your way to visit this magnificent mountain pass, I assure you: it is worth all the effort you need to develop to see it with your own eyes.
Depending on how much you want to hike or rock climb, and the pace at which you generally like to travel, I would say most travelers can get by spending 2-3 nights in the Dolomites. This allows you to use most of the first day to reach your Airbnb, leave early on the second day (possibly doing two hikes in a single day), and spend your third day (if you have one) as you see fit. seems.
On the other hand, it is quite possible that your road trip in the Dolomites will last a week or more, especially if you plan to continue north into the Austrian Tyrol region. This would be logically consistent, given that the Italian Alps have more in common, culturally speaking, with the Alpine regions of Austria and Switzerland than with anywhere else in Italy.
Other FAQs about visiting the Dolomites
Is it easy to drive in the Dolomites?
For me, driving in the Dolomites was really painful. As well as being very twisty, with often poor visibility, the roads in this part of Italy are often not made for two cars, let alone two modern-sized cars. When you add to that the high speed locals tend to drive, it’s not a pretty picture for someone who hasn’t driven a lot in Italy.
What should not be missed in the Dolomites?
The most emblematic mountain view of the Dolomites is Tre Cime di Lavaredo, three stone “chimneys” that absolutely dominate the landscape where they are located. Other famous destinations in the Dolomites include the milky blue waters of Lake Sorapis and the famous Church of the Dolomites in Val di Funes.
When to visit the Dolomites?
Personally, I love to visit the Alps (both in Italy and in Austria and Switzerland) during the summer, when the sky is blue, the air is warm and the sun is plentiful. However, the Dolomites are also beautiful amid the autumnal colors of late September and early October, as well as during the snowy winter months. Keep in mind that the trade-off of seeing the landscapes of the Dolomites covered in snow is much more difficult driving conditions – you will need snow tires!
The bottom line
I hope that you are now much more comfortable taking a road trip in the Dolomites than before arriving at this position. Once you’ve made a clear list of attractions and experiences and made sure it’s right for the length of your trip, exploring the Italian Alps quickly goes from hell to heaven. The most important thing to remember is that getting here takes time – almost all of the interesting sites required hikes of several hours; driving can be slow due to the narrow winding roads and not so good drivers.