If you’re looking for an easy road trip through Europe with scenic routes, the most epic mountain views, nature exploring, hiking, adventure, but also relaxation, wellness and gastronomy, then South Tyrol and the Dolomites are the ultimate destination for you too!
This area in Northern Italy has become quite popular on social media lately, as it's a photographers paradise, and can be reached in just 11 hours by car from the Netherlands passing through Germany and Austria.
South Tyrol is one of wealthiest regions of Italy, consisting of 80% mountains, 350 even higher than 3,000 meters, and home to the Unesco World Heritage Site: the mighty Dolomites. This extensive mountain range is spread out over several provinces in Northern Italy.
The Dolomites are perfect for hiking, mountain climbing and cycling, but also adventurous activities such as base jumping and paragliding in summer, as well as skiing in the winter months. There’s something for everyone and the views are impressive all around.
Besides these thrilling activities and views I love the fact that you can combine them with wellness and high quality cuisine, as these too are well represented in South Tyrol, and included at many hotels of this region. Making the perfect combination both in summer and winter, as you can read in these blogs: Ultimate gastronomy wellness holiday-South Tyrol and 7 things to do in South Tyrol-winter.
That's exactly why I love to stay at the 4 star Spa hotel: Hotel Plunhof in Ridanna-Racines, near Bozen.
End of July I went back to this family-run boutique hotel in South Tyrol for the 2nd time, and visited many spectacular spots throughout the region by car, most just a 1 hours’ drive away.
Get an impression through this short video, and I’ll happily tell you all about these epic locations in this blog. Of course with many pics my photographer friend Joyce and I took during our 1 week trip.
Highlights of South Tyrol
I love road trips, did many already, and especially at the moment traveling through Europe by car is the easiest way to stay flexible and safe in case anything changes with the corona restrictions and COVID measures.
Peugeot 2008 SUV, the ultimate road trip car
That’s why we decided to drive to South Tyrol in one the the newest and classiest models of Peugeot: the 2008 SUV for a bit more comfort and luxury on this long drive.
This robust car impresses with its rugged look, yet smooth lines and compact size, making it flexible and easy to park, while still providing that SUV feel and experience. This Peugeot model again has many special features, with of course the signature i-Cockpit®, a compact steering wheel, 10-inch capacitive HD touch screen, 3D instrument panel, Amplify and Focal®-hifisystem, and a Connect 3D navigation system.
This kept us updated in real time about the traffic situation, and risk zones, and made our road trip extra smooth, safe and comfortable!
For extra safety the 2008 SUV has the latest technological features and driving assistance systems to help you stay in your lane, with an additional rear camera view for smooth parking.
This new Peugeot definitely helped us feel safe enough to drive all the way to South Tyrol in 1 day, and enabled us to explore as much of the region as possible in only 5 days!
Luckily we are still allowed to travel to quite a few countries in Europe at the moment, just make sure to bring facemasks, and stay updated about the daily changing restrictions of the country you’re visiting.
But thankfully at the moment South Tyrol is still quite safe to visit! I can certainly recommend to rent or bring a car, as many places there are more difficult to reach by public transport. And with your own car you can arrive everywhere as early as possible to capture those stunning sunrises!
We did 3 extensive day trips to explore as much as possible of South Tyrol in the limited time we had. Hereby our favourites, which should not be missed when you visit!
Location: Str. Val d'Anna, 2, 39046 Ortisei BZ, Italy. €34 p.p. return ticket cable car, parking garage €4 per hour
This 2,500 meters high mountain top, located on the sunny side of Val Gardena, can be reached from Ortisei by cable car, with a stop in between. Make sure to take both rides to go all the way up to the summit, or stop halfway and hike further up for spectacular 360 panoramic views of nearly the whole of South Tyrol.
These spectacular mountain peaks, and wide valleys form the ideal base for hikes, climbing tours, and paragliding. It's one of the most Instagrammable mountain tops in the Dolomites, and well known for its spectacular jagged peaks, as you can see in this gallery:
Seceda was one of the most spectacular places we visited, and still easily accessible, perfect for mountain lovers and hiking enthusiasts of all levels. When you get off the cable car you will immediately see many stunning views, most just a short hike away.
There are several marked hikes you can follow here, all at an easy-moderate level, even all the way down if you want to stay for sunset after the cable car closes.
Besides beautiful mountain passes and peaks there are also many impressive lakes in South Tyrol. Unfortunately we only had time to visit 1, but certainly a good one!
Lago di Braies / Pragser Wildsee
Location: 39030 Prags, Braies BZ, Italy. Entrance is free, boatrental €25 per hour, and parking €2 per hour
Lago di Braies, also called 'Pragser Wildsee’, as it’s common that places in South Tyrol have both an Italian and German name, because this region used to be part of Austria.
It’s the largest natural lake of the Dolomites, listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and should be on everyone’s bucket list. I will happily show you why!
Located 1469 meters above sea level in the Alps, and known to many as the most beautiful lake in South Tyrol. The lake became quite famous on social media the past few years, because of its emerald green color and stunning water reflections of the mountain, extra spectacular at sunrise when the peak is lit up by the sun, if you’re lucky!
That’s why many photographers come here very early in the morning to capture this sight. We were quite surprised to see so many people already upon arrival at 6.30 am, but it was worth it for shots like this:
One of the most Instagrammable activities here is taking pics at the boathouse or in a boat, for which renting a rowboat is required. Do note that the boathouse doesn’t open before 9-10 am, depending on the time of year, and the price of €25 an hour is not cheap.
However the little chapel on the right side of the entrance is also a photogenic spot, built in 1904 at the head of the lake.
You can even do a scenic 4 km walk around the lake in about 2 hours, depending on your pace, making Lago di Braies a popular hiking spot as well.
From here it’s about a 1 hours’ drive to another Unesco listed mountain area, a real must if you want to experience the true beauty of the Dolomites.
This nature reserve combines perfectly with a visit to the lake, as it’s located in the same area, and is certainly one of the most memorable places I visited in my life!
Tre Cime di Lavaredo / Drei Zinnen
Location: 32041, Auronzo di Cadore, Italy. €30 entrance fee p.p. for the park, free parking
These 3 impressive peaks in the northeast of Italy are part of one of the most famous mountain groups of the Alps. This natural park is named after these 3 monolites, all about 3,000 meters high.
Do note that we arrived at 10 am, after waiting in line with the car for more than 40 minutes to buy the entrance ticket to the park and get to the parking, so make sure to schedule enough time for this.
Most hikes here are easy to moderate with many well-marked routes you can follow to and around the peaks. The trails lead past different alpine huts where you can stop for drinks, snacks or lunch, while enjoying the magnificent views.
The most common route is on the left side of the main restaurant above the parking: Rifugio Auronzo, which leads to the Lavaredo and Dreizinnen Hutte(/Rifugio). A stunning route which can be followed all the way round, but can get quite crowded too.
As a non-fervent hiker I found most routes do-able, but pretty steep at times with many loose rocks, so make sure to wear good hiking boots, go slow and most of all enjoy sights like these:
We only went half way and decided to hike back before the Dreizinnen Hutte, to take a more unique and less touristic route, which we found through Instagram. Also quite an easy hike, although steep and a bit scary at times, as part of the route leads you past high cliffs and abysses, without clear signage.
But it was so worth it for stunning views from the other side of the nature reserve and to get to this spectacular spot:
For this route go to the right starting from the Auronzo Hutte(/Rifugio) and walk all the way to the other side while encountering many Milka cows along the way😊
Proceed on the path upwards and then turn to the right, following these mountain peaks and enjoy the views, with hardly anyone around:
Val di Funes
Location: S. Giovanni, 2, 39040 Funes BZ, Italy, fee for church gate €4 p.p.
This green valley in South Tyrol is one of the most scenic and pure places of the Dolomites. In summer the rolling hillsides are filled with flowers, and many authentic villages with photogenic churches can be found here, with rugged peaks towering up behind them.
This provides a pituresque postcard setting, making it perfect for both photography, culture and nature enthusiasts!
The Odle/Geisler mountains are known as the most beautiful massif in the Dolomites and emblem of Val di Funes. The small villages here are as quaint as they get in South Tyrol, and at sunset the glow on the mountains looks spectacular above the dark forests.
But also the very Instagrammable St Johann Church, which can be found through the address above, is a popular photo spot and wonderful site to visit.
Do note that when we visited end of July, we had to pay €4 p.p. to get through the gate to the church, after which we found out that the path to the church was lined to restrict you from walking into the meadows, to protect the saplings during the summer months.
Quite disappointing to be honest, so unfortunately no pictures in between the flowers allowed here, in contrary to what you see in most Instagram pics taken here.
Other must visits in South Tyrol
Unfortunately we only had 3 days to really explore, so of course there’s much more natural beauty to be found here, as South Tyrol has many beautiful mountains, nature reserves, lakes and valleys.
Therefore I cannot wait to come back for more! On my list for next time are the following spots, also recommended to me:
Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm
Lago di Misurina
Le Cascate di Stanghe
Meran and the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff
Parasailing off Seceda
Climbing the Gran Cir peak at sunrise
Did you know this region of Northern Italy already, and if so did you visit all these spots in South Tyrol as well, or have anything to add?
I hope I could inspire your next road trip to one of the most beautiful nature areas in Europe. The ultimate destination for both nature, outdoor, culture, wellness and gastronomy lovers, with the perfect mix of Austria and Italy!
Do let me know when you go to South Tyrol, and find me for more tips here or on social media via the icons at the bottom of this page.