I’m admittedly obsessed with Lonely Planet travel guides. I’ve had a few different brands over the years but always come back to them. As soon as we found out we had orders to Italy, I went online and bought three. The Lonely Planet guide to Italy’s Best Trips has a photo on the front that immediately caught my eye. I knew I had to find this gorgeous little church nestled in the hills with the backdrop of stunning rocky mountains before we left Italy.
Although I loved using the Grande Strada delle Dolomite road trip plan in the book as inspiration, the major reason I wanted to travel to the area was to find some of these Instagram famous/picture perfect locations… so I decided to design my own road trip based off of some Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, and Instagram recommendations. We were able to find 50 euro round-trip flights from Naples to Venice/Treviso airport so we planned to fly up first thing Saturday morning, rent a car to explore, and fly back late Tuesday evening.
Stop 1 Bolzano:
After a 3am wake-up call and 6am flight, we landed in northern Italy! We quickly grabbed our rental car and hit the road! It took us about 2.5 hours to drive from the airport to Bolzano.
We stopped for a potty break about halfway through at a small gas station and this was our vista. A castle in the distance, snow capped peaks, and a modest farm house with sheep in the back yard. I knew we were headed the right direction.
Upon arriving in Bolzano, we pulled up a parking lot I found on google maps and I was floored when it was next to this stunning castle. Unfortunately,Castle Maretsch was closed, as it is used for private functions, but it was fun to get to see. It looks like something out of a Disney fairy tale.
Bolzano reminded me of my time spent in Austria many years ago so I decided to do some research. It appears this region flip flopped between Austria-Hungry and Italy until the Treaty of Saint-Germain in 1918, when it was awarded to Italy. Signage and business names are in both German and Italian and there is a lot of Austrian influence in the cuisine. Bolzano is also home to Italy’s most popular Christmas market that takes place November-early January. Although it was closed up by the time we arrived, but there were a few carvings left around the city that the girls enjoyed checking out. After enjoying a fantastic lunch, including some of the best pumpkin ravioli I’ve ever had, we took a quick sightseeing stroll around the city made the 15 minute drive to our hotel. We were all exhausted from the early morning and were looking forward to some sleep & relaxation.
Pardon the inclusion of some cell phone shots throughout this post. Sometimes the best camera you can have is the one that’s most convenient. lol
Stop 2: Castle Ruth
After a long night of catch-up sleep, we enjoyed the traditional Italian breakfast of meats, cheeses and breads and headed to Castle Ruth. Rick Steve recommends this little town as the ideal launching point for Dolomite adventures. Although it was a cute, we arrived pretty early in the morning and I was a little perplexed on what to do with the girls there. I decided to search TripAdvisor and came across the Chiesa di San Valentino. After seeing the pics online, I knew that’s where I wanted to head.
When we arrived, there were a couple residential houses in front of a ice and snow covered road. Afraid to get the car stuck, I had Andrew park and and I left him with the girls so I could scout. I headed on a slippery walk past a snow covered horse barn and there perched on a hill, was a tiny chapel with the dolomites rising behind. I snapped a few pics before returning to the car. Unfortunately it was too icy for the girls to manage the walk, but Andrew then took a turn and we were both glad we found this gem.
Stop 3: Sant’a Maddalena
Our next stop was Sant’a Maddalena. This is the location that inspired our whole Dolomite road trip. It was a hazy/cloudy morning and upon arrival we couldn’t see the Dolomites anywhere. After a gorgeous drive up and down a snow covered mountain we finally spotted the famous church down the hill. I was floored when we arrived and the beautiful Dolomites were no where to be seen. Although I wasn’t able to grab the shot I was hoping, for we still had a wonderful time playing in the snow.
Stop 4: Bressanone
Since our first two stops of day 2 were pretty quick we were able to fill in the end of day 2 with a stop in Bressanone. We walked around the adorable little town and ate at an amazing restaurant I found on TripAdvisor. When we walked in it was fancy!!!!! I knew it probably wasn’t the best place to eat with the girls but with a michelin star on the door I was determined to make it work. It ended up being our absolute favorite meal of the trip. The waiter, like most in this region spoke German & Italian and was sweet to the girls bringing them colored pencils and coloring pages. Of course, the girls were thrilled that they could order Mickey Mouse pizzas and I took our waiter’s recommendations and had the braised beef cheeks. The sauce was nothing short of incredible!
Fat and happy, we headed to my favorite hotel of the trip, Hotel Alpenfrieden. The hotel was located in a tiny little town of Maranza. It was modern and spotless… which I always appreciate. The girls were looking forward to the fact that it had an indoor pool and children’s play room but we were so tired from our day of sightseeing they ended up laying on the beds for a little and then going to sleep early. Andrew ran down to the bar to grab us a couple drinks and the owner’s son filled him in on the history of the hotel and their adorable family. Family photos are displayed all around the dining area of them dressed in traditional clothing frolicking in rolling alpine hills. These are the places I love to support. I highly recommend this hotel for anyone looking at staying in this are. The breakfast here included some of the best pastries I had on our trip and I do LOVE chocolate!
Stop 5: Lago di Braies
Day 3 started with a spectacular trip to Lago di Braies. Lago di Braies is an Instagram dream location. This is where all the young wanderlust travelers flock to photograph themselves in flowy gowns and floppy dresses with a background of breathtaking mountains and stunning blue water. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly jealous of those girls. Their hair, makeup and clothing always “on fleek.” (My reluctance to like that term tells me I’m getting old & uncool) Traveling with toddlers means I wear whatever is comfortable and have about 10/15 minutes to get ready before an “I’m hungry” meltdown ensues, lol.
Since we were traveling in the dead of winter, I expected the lake to be covered in ice but was hoping to get a few “insta” worthy shots. I never expected the lake to be so frozen we could walk on it! We spent about an hour walking around, playing in the snow and snapping pictures of the incredible beauty that surronded us and then went inside the little coffee shop next door to grab a couple drinks (my favorite winter beverage… vin brule) and a pastry. The girls were grateful for the chance to thaw out a bit. haha.
Stop 6: Lago Misurina
Time to hop back in the car and head to our next destination, Lago Misurina. Although I hadn’t expected to see it… and it wasn’t on my list… my jaw dropped when we drove right past Tre Cime di Lavaredo. This is one of the most famous Dolomite formations and we totally pulled a U-turn so I could stop to grab this photo from the side of the highway. I’m sure it would be an incredible location to hike to in the warmer months.
Upon arrival to Lago di Braies, we found another frozen lake. We enjoyed another delicious lunch and I tried my first punsch, a traditional German/Austrian alcoholic beverage. Not going to lie… I wasn’t a fan. I felt like I could breath fire after one small sip.
After lunch, we got back to exploring and playing. Trecking through a trail that cut right through the frozen lake and then around the perimeter.
As we were getting the girls back in their carseats, I got lucky enough to witness sunset in this gorgeous winter wonderland and captured what may be my favorite landscape shot of the trip.
Stop 6: Cortina
Day 3 ended with the quick drive to the famous town of Cortina. Cortina has been rated one of the most beautiful Alpine village and it’s no surprise. It is nestled in the center of awe-inspiring mountains and no matter which direction you look there is something beautiful to see. Cortina was home to the 1956 Winter Olympics and when we were there, they were preparing for the 2018 Ski World Cup. We ate dinner at a cute little restaurant across from our hotel and I did some research looking for sledding locations. Unfortunately on day 4 after a couple unsuccessful attempts I was not able to find a place to rent a sled so we headed back down to Treviso to walk around and enjoy a quick meal before boarding our plane. Although skiing is popular and found everywhere in the area, I do regret not finding a sledding location in advance. I stopped by a few places where I found locals sledding but they had all brought their own sleds and there was nothing to rent. Coming from Naples (and flying Ryan Air), bringing a sled wasn’t really an option but I probably could have visited one of the many outdoor shops in Bolzano or Bressanone to purchase one if I would have realized this in advance. Mom fail for trying to wing it.
Upon our return to Naples we are still talking about the gorgeous scenery, turquoise water and crisp mountain air. If we had more time in Italy we would definitely be returning in summer but with only approximately one year left we’re on to discovering new places. Feel free to reach out if you’d like more details or suggestions regarding planning your own Dolomite vacation. Thanks for stopping by!