Italian Dolomites by Van

This year’s big trip with Jolien was planned right after my Alps By Scooter tour. We’ve gone South-west, North, so this time it would be (South-) East, from Tirol through the Alps and Dolomites to the Balkan. No big plans were set, we’d see where we go and only had a few comitted dates set with nearly a month to travel.

As Austria was rainy, we crossed into Italy at Reschen the same day we took off. We did a hike that didn’t turn out a great success: bad unclear signage and maps had us take the quick, steep path down. Our campsite for the night on the mountain was great though, and we managed a better hike in the morning to the little chapel we’d seen all day yesterday.

After a day with quite a bit of driving  from Reschen through Merano, Bolzano, we got to val di Funes in the late afternoon, with light becoming just right. We were heading for a famous little chapel, the image you see in all the tarvel brochures about the Dolomites as it provides such a striking backdrop. You’ll notice this type of quest as a bit of a recurring theme 😉

Kirche Sankt Johan in Ranui

Hilariously, they’ve even set up a photographers platform, a sort of “X Marks the spot” for the perfect photograph. It was populated by a few Asian photographers who had set up at least 2 tripods per person. We walked further to the chapel, where there were very few people at this time of the day.

We had another photographic hotspot on our to-do for the next day, we continued to laion through Gufidaun, over a very nice, tiny road leading to some great views. That evening really made us feel like we were driving in some kind of Alpine fairytale wonderland!

Again I’d seen the Alpine meadows of Seceda on Instagram (I think it was from a post by the hilarious @youdidnotsleepthere) and wanted to see it for myself. It’s not some amazingly far off deserted place: there’s multiple cablecars to the top, though non of it is cheap. Straight to the top costs 30 euros per person return, so we opted for the slightly cheaper and more active option to ride up to Col Raiser and hike the rest to Seceda. That turned out excellent!

The weather was perfect, it’s not too steep anywhere (one self-proclaimed badass hiker was still hurting from our steep hikes the last few days), and there’s plenty of paths to connect. It’s not exactly deserted: plenty of people have little huts there, multiple skilifts and even some (very good) restaurants.

Seeing it with my own eyes makes the photos and hassle some people go through to take “camping” pictures with a tent there even more funny.
It’d be a pretty horrible and awkward place to sleep, not to mention there were clear signs prohibiting it, and there are at times seas of fluo-dressed hikers crawling all over the landscape!

Passo Gardena
Lago di Braies and its famous boathouse

We continued on to the next item from our Instagram-fueled hitlist, the Lago di Braies. Also known as the Pragser Wildsee, due to the Sudtirol province’s bilingual nature. Several photographers, influencers and like-addicts were taking pictures around sunset, so we joined in. It was then we started feeling a bit weird about the whole Instagram-inspired thing. Not that it was that busy, but people were climbing on the boathouse or flying drones, both of which you’re not supposed to do there.

We had different planes. We wanted to beat the crowds and the very high boat-rental prices by kayaking the lake at sunrise. We got up somewhere between 5:30 and 6 in the morning, yet (un)surprisingly even at that time the area round the boathouse was full of photographers. I didn’t know if we should feel guilty or gleeful, lowering our, scratched and patched brightly colored boat into the lake in front of their lenses, breaking the perfect glasslike reflections. Especially after reading up on the lake and people recommending to rent the 30-per hour retro wooden rowboats because “they look better on Instagram”!

etting up early also means you have a lot of time in the day, so we took it easy, driving through quiet valleys in the morning glow, heading back into the Dolomites, as the lake lies a bit on the edge. 

We stopped at an amazing spot to chill after the early awakening. I’d seen some vans parked here during my Scooter tour a week or so ago, and it turned out much better than I thought. We contemplated visiting the Tre Cime Di Lavaredo which you can see in the distance. Like most things in the dolomites, you have to research quite a bit: how to best drive there and plan a logical route, where to park without paying a fortune, what access costs, where we can safely sleep (semi) legally, etc.. The Tre Cime turned out a tough one: driving up with a car over 2.1m high would costs 45 euros. Sleeping up there, which makes sense after a sunset or sunrise hike, would cost another 25. After having spent over 100 euros on cable car rides the past days, we decided to skip out on this one and just continue on. The whole over-populated, expensive aspect of the Dolomites was becoming a bit much.

Once we drove past Misurina towards Auronzo di Cadore, everything seemed to change. Much less traffic and people, things didn’t look as polished or expensive anymore, and it felt more like Italy. We stopped at a restaurant with a huge parking and absolutely no customers at dinner time. It felt strange, people spend huge sums in the Dolomites, yet nobody ventures an hour away from the hotspots.

We had our sights set on a really nice spot through the Park4Night app, yet our GPS had a little surprise for us before we got there. We could have known. The road through Val di Preone started off with a “10km/h max, no barriers” sign. They weren’t kidding, the van couldn’t even take the hairpin corners in one go, we had to do 2-point turns in some of them. Jolien was doing well on the wheel, I only took over when she stopped and the clutch started smelling bad. Luckily we only ran into one other vehicle on an easy stretch!

Cerdevol Cunilla

We’d found out about a very cool swimming hole closeby and spent a few hours there. When things got a bit crowded, it started raining: most people took off, but after retreating to the van for 15 minutes we had the place for ourselves again!

Keeping with the slow theme of the day, we drove a bit, enjoyed some amazing Italian gelato in Tarcento and finally headed towards the border. Crossing into Slovenia near Uccea was very inconspicuos. 

The route we took can be seen below, marked in red.

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