Photographed at the and surroundings
Kindly supported by the holiday region Three Peaks in the Sextner Dolomites.
The mighty, mighty Dolomites. When we grew up, those rugged mountains and lush green valleys have been some sort of a second home for us. No matter if the Austrian or Italian side, this area is where we went climbing, hiking, swimming, here we spent our school holidays together. The second ever vacation without our parents (the first one was a major letdown and therefore doesn’t really count, anyway) took us to Toblach and the memories made are for a lifetime. We felt free, lighthearted and above all completely carefree. We had pizza, paste, and perfect weather in that beautiful region, one or the other holiday crush and loads and loads of ice cream.
It’s been at least ten summers, altogether that we spent in, around and top of the Dolomites. And even though we are now living in Iceland and not constantly seeking the wilderness of another country, anymore - we just last year paid one of our all-time fav’ places a week-long visit. We fell in love, all over again and decided it was about time to write a travel guide to the Three Sisters holiday region almost as extensive as our Iceland guide. With ten years of roaming those mountains under our belt, it’s written with all our knowledge and lifeblood. Therefore, and without further ado: our “Three Peaks Dolomites Travel Guide” including everything from preparation, hot to get there, accommodation and restaurants to must-sees, favorite hikes and all the beautiful lakes you simply have to visit.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(simply click on where you wanna jump to)
2. What do I have to know and keep in mind before booking?
useful info to have at hand when traveling the Dolomites
For emergency calls (including police, ambulance, emergency doctor and fire brigade): 112
State police +39 0471 947611
Emergency Traffic information centre +39 0471 20 01 98
Hospital Bolzano (35-40 km) +39 0471 90 81 11
Pharmacy S. Cristina +39 0471 79 21 06
Pharmacy Selva +39 0471 79 51 42
Emergency medical service - Nives square in Selva Tel. +39 0471 794266,
Dolomiti Sportclinic - Purger street 181 Ortisei Tel. +39 0471 086000
The area code is +39
- https://www.dolomitimeteo.it/en/ (weather forecast)
- http://www.alpineroads.com/passstatus.php (Road conditions of the mountain passes)
- http://www.val-gardena.com/en/ (the Val Gardena homepage)
- https://www.drei-zinnen.info/en/ (the Three Peaks homepage)
- https://www.suedtirol.info/en (the South Tyrol homepage)
The wildlife in the Dolomites / South Tyrolean region is rich. Squirrels, badgers, martens, ermines, and hares - which all belong to the weasel family - can be spotted in the mountains. There are over 115 species of birds to be found (among them owls like the super cute and often tiny pygmy owl), the most majestic certainly is the golden eagle. Deer, chamois, ibex, mouflon, and lynx roam the area and well, then there's the brown bear, of course.
The fauna might be even more impressive with all the variety (1,400 types of plant life) the region has to offer. Above all might very well stand the rare "Edelweiß" but there are other flowers, that stand out as incredibly unique, as well. We won't bore you with the Latin names and very details but look out for purple plants (looking like bellflowers) blossoming on rocks and in cracks on an altitude of 2000 meters. Or the tiny yellow blossoms that grow on an altitude of even 3000 meters. You will experience the Dolomites as a colorful and blossoming paradise of plants.
The Three Peaks region is incredibly busy during the summer months so you should plan your trip well in advance. Since the timeframe for hiking is narrowed down to three months backpackers and mountain lovers flood the Dolomites. In order to rent a car and book a room at one of all the magnificent stays (or as mentioned before, one of the mountain huts) you should start booking early.
The currency in the Dolomites is Euro (both in Italy and Austria), the language either Italian and German (though people in the area tend to speak both). There are secluded valleys where the locals speak a very own language called ‘Ladin’, which derived from Latin and can be understood by neither Italians nor Germans.
The Dolomites are vast, include at least 18 major peaks and several very charming mountain villages where the inhabitants sell amazing food from local and seasonal ingredients, handmade woodcarvings and way more. Even though it can get quite busy - compared to the rest of Italy the Dolomites are still remote and crowd-free.
Since tourism attracts mainly outdoor sports fans almost, every town has an incredibly well-equipped gear store. Seriously, we bought at least two pairs of our hiking boots in some rather secluded town in the Dolomites!
Despite being tucked away in the mountains, most villages have small health centers where you can get help and treatment in case of an emergency. Same goes for pharmacies so no worries if you forgot Aspirin. We would still strongly recommend a travel insurance since the mountains are, well… the mountains. The unexpected can happen and a rescue team can cost you a fortune. So whatever company you chose for insurance - make sure off the beaten path adventures are covered and all rescue, medical and repatriation cost included.
Wild camping is strictly prohibited in either Austria and Italy. There is an exception for a one night bivvy but that only applies to National Parks in Austria. Since the Dolomites are a UNESCO world heritage we would absolutely not risk to wild camp there and get caught! Rather opt for one of all the incredibly beautiful campsites we will introduce to you!
3. How do I best travel to the Sextner Dolomites?
Getting to the Dolomites is fairly easy. When visiting from neighboring countries and you don't mind a long drive than taking the car is a good choice. If you are visiting from abroad then there are countless airports you can consider. Renting a car in Munich and driving the last 330 km would be a great solution since the roads are very scenic and you will need a car, anyways. Other than that, there is Venice, 190 km away, if you want to combine your stay with some busy city sight-seeing. Or the beautiful Austrian town Innsbruck, 130 km away. Closer than that would only be Bozen with 100 km of distance to cover. Even though there are loads of trains connecting all the previously mentioned airports to the Sextner Dolomites we would absolutely advise to rent a car in order to be truly mobile.
5. Restaurant Recommendations and mountain huts to dine at.
If you don’t gain a few pounds while vacationing in the Dolomites you’re doing something wrong - no matter how much you work out, the food is just THAT good. Every single holiday we’ve rolled ourselves into bed at night and just could never get enough of all that traditional yumminess. Dumplings (especially the ones filled with cheese), Schlutzkrapfen (Pasta), perfect Italian pizza, Palatschinken (sweet pancakes) and gelato as far as the eye can see should make every true lover of cuisine deeply happy. We feel like we’ve tested every single restaurant available in the area by now and want to give some insight into those places you most definitely should visit.
Helm Hotel Pizzeria
The "Helm" hotel traditional Tyrolean restaurant is incredibly rustic and incredibly good so during our last trip to the Dolomites, we found ourselves at that very Pizzeria three (!) times in a row. Our husbands just loved the stone-oven baked "Diabolo" and had to get one, again and again. We personally preferred the Dumplings (they come garnished with butter and parmesan) and the "Apfelstrudel" but apart from the food, it's the atmosphere and awesome decor that makes the place so special.
It's an old house, the floors are squeaking, in the sunroom is find a massive fireplace. Cozy pillows and blankets, rustic wooden barrels and candlelight complete the quaint place. The prizes are ok, the restaurant is open daily from 12 am - 2 pm for lunch and from 5 pm - 12 pm for dinner. It's great food in an amazing atmosphere and we can truly recommend the pizza, pasta, dumplings, and desserts.
At this previously mentioned place, you will get served one of the most unique dinners possible. Most of the ingredients served are grown directly on the organic farm and hand-picked and processed by the family. Besides the beautiful house overlooking the Dolomites, the family owns several meadows and fields in the valley, as well. Maria (the owner) loves animals and doesn’t serve any meat so her dishes are all vegetarian, mostly even vegan.
The dinner we had at “Unterstein” was nothing short of perfect. Fresh hand-picked salad with home-made cream cheese, then the main course of beetroot dumplings, fried elderflower and homemade rhubarb compote for dessert. The beer came from a local organic brewery and the lemonade Maria made out of handpicked herbs and flowers (SO GOOD!). There are only four tables at “Unterstein”, a fireplace and some rocking chairs.
Michelin starred Tilia
It's a one of a kind experience to have dinner at chef Chris Oberhammer's Tilia in Toblach. Not just because of the indeed excellent food, the great selection of wines and the charming and highly professional service but also because of the amazing atmosphere. A small glass house right in the middle of a field of wildflowers, they only have three tables on the terrace and five inside. The guests are seated on comfy armchairs, the music is subdued and by Ludovico Einaudi - filling the room with even more magic.
The view of the mountains is incredible, the food even more so. Our personal highlights have been the truffles risotto and the dessert - chocolate praliné with chocolate ice cream so rich in taste it has no equal. Of course, such an experience comes with quite some money but even though our credit cards were silently crying we didn't regret a single cent.
Mountain huts you can deliciously dine at:
It's a stark contrast to previously introduced "Tilia" but there are a few places up in the mountains that we wholeheartedly recommend for a savory lunch! Following this link, you will find an overview of all mountain huts and "Almen" in the Sextner Dolomites, incl. opening hours. The page is a good tip for all those who would like to indulge in a piece of cake or a nice portion of dumplings after an exhausting hike. We especially liked the "Alpe-Nemes" hut since it is a nice walk up there, a beautiful view and really good food.
Another recommendation would be to order a "Brettljause" (a huge platter of cheeses, ham, veggies and more with some butter and bread) at the "Plätzwiese". Other personal tips are the "Obstanserseehütte" and the "Bonnerhütte" as both offer a great view and local, seasonal food. (To be fair though, we visited a lot of huts in the area and have not once been disappointed with the food.) Last but not least you might wanna check out the "Langealm" (Three Peaks area) from which you can see the three majestic mountains and where everything is homemade.
6. Sight-seeing: lakes, villages, abandoned places and more
We don’t know about you but we just LOVE mountain lakes. Turquoise water so crystal clear that you feel as if you would spacewalk surrounded by massive peaks. The Sextner Dolomites and Three Peaks region offers several of those lakes. The well-known “Pragser Wildsee” (also known by its Italian name “Lago di Braies”), the “Toblacher See” and the three lakes up in the valley of the Three Peaks. Spending a holiday in the area doesn’t necessarily mean hiking, only, you can also go for a swim, row, kayak or just chill in the sun. Mix up your mountain adventures with a plunge into the cold, a picnic on the lush green grass, amazing dinners and a little sightseeing.
Dolomites incredible mountain lakes.
The most famous lake ( also known as the "pearl of the Dolomites") of the entire region is located in the nature park “Sennes-Fanes-Prags” and has been the set of quite a few movies and series by now. It’s also one of the Outdoor and Nature Photography Instagramer’s favorite subject. Unfortunately, that led through an incredible increase in tourist over the past two years which means the admittedly ridiculously beautiful lake is just as ridiculously crowded in summer. If you want to enjoy the view of the emerald water and the surrounding peaks without the masses then you either have to there up like 7am early (which we’d suggest since you might be lucky and witness the perfect reflection of the scenery in the still water) or at least walk around the lake and to a less crowded spot (it’s four kilometres in total and takes you an hour, tops).
If you walk away from the main waterside and the boat rental then the crowd’s gonna clear up a little. The Pragser Wildsee is a starting point to several hikes (one of them being a famous and beautiful long-distance trek). You have to wait in line quite a bit if you wanna go for a spin on one of the nostalgic wooden boats - especially on a clear summer day. It’s a dream location for weddings - we saw a bride and groom on the water while we waited for our turn. You are allowed to swim in the lake - due to its altitude the water is extremely cold, though, all year round.
The "Lago di Sorapiss" (Sorapissee in German) is an absolute gem - one you should definitely consider visiting. For a moment you will find yourself asking how you suddenly ended up in Canada since the turquoise lake surrounded by massive peaks looks somewhat like the little brother of famous Moraine or Emerald Lake. It's a bit further away from the Three Peaks area than the other three lakes but absolutely (!!) worth the trip.
You can only reach it by foot, the hike up Trail 215 takes around 1.5 - 2 hours and is partly very steep (especially the second half of the hike). Ropes and stairs make it a tad more comfortable but suitable shoes and a bit of experience are an absolute must. Close by there's a mountain hut named Rifugio Vandelli where you can sit down for a bite if you get hungry. It's a rustic cabin and the food is simple but filling.
We mentioned our first holiday without parents which we spent in the region - one of the day trips we went on back then was hiking to and around this very lake. We still remember how extremely hot and dry it was that day, even flip-flops, shorts and ice cream didn’t help. Caro got a mean nose bleed and yet, we fell in love with that lake. The deep greenish blue, the scenery, the ice-cold water (why didn’t we bring a bikini that day?). You can swim in the “Toblacher See” as well but just like with all the other lakes higher up in the mountains - it’s only for the hard-boiled. 😛
You can explore the lake by boat, as well (even though it’s not the nostalgic wooden ones). If you want to walk around it then estimate roughly two hours. In the lakeside restaurant, you can order an ice cold apple juice with matching “Apfelstrudel” if you get hungry. Of course, the lake is a starting point to several hikes, as well be it the peak of the “Sarlkofel”, the “Monte Piano”, the “Plätzewiese” we mentioned before or the “Bonner” mountain hut which Linda’s parents are raving about since years. There you are supposed to have an amazing view all over the Dolomites and the food is equally awesome, we’ve been told. The “Toblacher See” comes with a lot of history - around the water’s edge, there are five abandoned bunkers built by Mussolini in the year 1939.
Last but not least there also is the “Dürrensee” which is located a few kilometers behind the “Toblacher See” and perfect for a dip since it doesn’t have a runoff and therefore heats up way faster than the other two. On the northern bank, there’s a pebble beach where you can sunbathe and relax, there’s more than enough parking spaced and of course, the view is amazing. You see the so-called “Cristallo” group and those rugged peaks against the turquoise water are a sight for sore eyes. On the other side of the road, you’ll find a climbing garden and a restaurant called “Dürrensee” which is supposed to be really nice - we personally have not tried it, though.
Walking around the lake is no big tour but a there’s a lot of hikes starting from there, as well. You can climb up the Monte Piano, walk along an old military ropeway and an abandoned military graveyard. We personally suggest the “Dürrensee” for bathing since it isn’t that cold and located BEHIND the way more touristy “Toblacher See”. Smaller crowds, warmer water - it’s a place to relax and unwind, with an incredible view on top of it.
Cities and Culture.
Next to all the hiking and biking, the climbing, rowing, and swimming, next to all the beautiful lakes, mountain huts, and delicious food there is also the small towns in between. In the bigger villages of the Dolomites (Toblach, Innichen, Sexten, and Niederdorf) you will not just find amazingly well-equipped sports gear stores (the most impressive one is located in Innichen at the town square) but wine stores, cheeseries, flower- and antique stores, as well. You can browse through handmade goods and shop for some amazing food to bring back home. Especially worth mentioning is the Alpa Pragas store - a fruit manufactory - where incredible marmalade is being produced. If you go then don't just try the regular ones (even though the raspberry one is heavenly) but also the more unusual variety, like "Apfelstrudel".
The area is also culturally rich. A lot of old buildings, beautifully preserved. Like the pastel church in Toblach, built in a Roman, Gothic architectural style and incredibly kitschy with chandeliers, ceiling fresco, tons of gold and lavish wood carvings. When on a hike you will most like come across one of all the tiny churches that are located in most of the valleys, meadows, and forests.
World War I Trails and Tunnels
Like already mentioned some time during this guide, you will come across quite a few remains from World War 1. Trenches, tunnels, trails, and bunkers can be found all over the place. If you are a sucker for all things abandoned (like we are) and/or a history nerd then you're in for a treat.
It certainly is a dark history, nothing to be excited about, yet deeply fascinating. There are bullet holes in lots of the trees, stone fortresses hidden away in the rugged mountains, over 50 tunnels, tombstones. If you are especially interested in walking the tunnel system then take the approx. one hour drive to Lagazoui where you find an entire system you can climb, including caverns and gun posts, mixed up with incredible views.
Abandoned Places in the Area
6. Hikes, bike trips, and other (outdoor) sports
No matter if you want to go for a hike, trek, bike trip, paraglide, raft or climb - every outdoor lover and adrenaline junkie will get their money's worth during a summer in the Sextner Dolomites. Of course, the area first and foremost is known for the mighty Three Peaks. But there’s more to it than the several fantastic hikes around the gigantic massif - the ‘Sextner Sonnenuhr’, the "Fischleintal" valley and the Cadini group, for example, are offering loads of gorgeous paths. No matter if high route, "via ferrata" or hikes suitable for families - the area has it all.
Here are a few numbers to give you a better idea: 182km of hiking paths in the region of Sexten and 662km at the Three Peaks part of the Dolomites. In the entire Dolomites, there are over 2.500 hikes, including more than 170 long distance treks. ... That is a lot of hiking, dear friends.
You can get a pretty good overview for the Sextner Dolomites right here:
There are equally many possibilities to go biking. The "Drauradweg" (approx. 50km) is a beautiful, easy trail to bike and connects Toblach to the small town Lienz (a beautiful place with amazing ice cream!) and can be extended by cycling around the "Toblachersee". There are so many possibilities and skill levels, from easy breezy beginner tours to super advanced 4-peaks-and-3,500m-altitude-differential expert levels. Whatever you seek, you will find it - cycling, mountain biking, e-bikes, you name it. Get an overview of all the trails right here.
This is just a teeny tiny glimpse into the world of activities in summer in the Dolomites. If you want to know more about climbing possibilities (there's many) then this is your link. If you seek an adventure and want to try something else, then maybe paragliding, 'crazy golf', a flight in a hot air balloon, the high wire park or a toboggan run in a fun bob are just what you are looking for.
During our last stay in the area and the beautiful village "Vierschach" we went on three different little adventures, one being the rather breathtaking but a tad more exhausting ascend to the "Three Peaks", the rather relaxed hike “Plätzwiese - Strudelkopf” and an easy breezy beautiful walk for lunch at the “Alpe-Nemes” hut.
We can absolutely recommend all three of these routes, especially since you can easily extend them to your liking. Like adding a peak to the ‘Three Peaks’ viewpoint and turn the advanced three-hour hike up there into a ten-hour+ adventure including a night in a hut. (For example by hiking the loop trail around the Peaks and then head to beautifully located "Büllelejochhütte" where you can also stay the night like we already mentioned (and suggested). If you take trail 101 from the "Dreizinnenhütte" then you are in for breathtaking views over lakes, mountains, and trees. From the hut the ascend to the "Oberbachernspitze" is about 30/45mins.
You can also choose the longer and more difficult ascend to the “Dürrenstein” instead of the “Strudelkop” if you start at the beautiful “Plätzwiese” (but there are even more peaks surrounding the valley, waiting to be conquered). At the “Alpe-Nemes” mountain hut you can also keep hiking and explore the gigantic area surrounding it.
So no matter if you are a pro climber, passionate mountaineer or a beginner - you can easily find suitable paths for yourself. Families wanting to get some fresh air and breathtaking views are just as much in for a treat as those craving a relaxed walk and some great lunch with a view. There is enough paths, peaks, climbs, biking routes and more for absolutely everyone in love with the mountains.
If you are looking for guided tours then the South Tyrol Balance, which is offered every spring, might just be what you are looking for. We intended to join in on a sunrise hike for a tour to Toblach’s “Pfannhorn” peak. A hike starting at moonlight and with headlamps, guided by a professional mountaineer, where you arrive at the peak during dusk. Afterward, there would be a healthy breakfast on one of the mountain huts.
We really were so looking forward to it since the view during a golden sunrise must be absolutely incredible. But Caro had a massive cold (which conveniently started on the first day of our vacation, woohoo!) and Linda got footsore in her new shoes the day before while hiking the Three Peaks. There was no way we would have gotten up at two in the morning for another 3-4 hours ascend so we had to cancel. We still wanted to suggest it since it’s one of those trips you won’t forget.
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Takk fyrir and bless bless! <3
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