The day we undoubtedly took the most photos. Because it was so incredible.
“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”Giuseppe Verdi
Italy itself is an incredible country, especially once you are anywhere off the overly-beaten path. Venice is gorgeous; hords of tourists stabbing you with selfie-sticks, not so much. Take the time to get lost. Especially in the north, in the mountains, in the Dolomites.
While not the tallest in the Alps, the Dolomites with their dragon-teeth spires and rosy sunset-baked stone facades are among the most breath-taking, gasp-worthy mountains. In contrast to the 18 peaks stretching above 3,000 meters and sheer verticality are the lush green valleys with their emerald lakes. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, the range has long been noted for its unique beauty.
How we got there!
Once in Europe, it is absurdly easy (to an American, at least) to travel without your own vehicle. Granted, one time and the only time did I actually rent a car to drive from Berlin to Munich. Yes, it was a stick shift. No, I shockingly did not kill us. Although, I will note: if you are not accustomed to the Autobahn, it is sometimes more terrifying than anticipated…cars zoom in out of nowhere!
So, for those of you without a stick shift Fiat, the train system is normally quite efficient and relatively punctual. Beware the hot day on the Deutsche Bahn! Usually they are modern, comfortable, and air conditioned, but this air conditioning was not designed for climate change…it tends to break on the hottest of the days.
If you are traveling on a budget, this relatively new bus company is great!
Flixbus departs from terminals, just like trains, and, while less punctual, are a fraction of the cost. Plus, free Wi Fi, under-storage for large suitcases, places for bicycles (if you book ahead of time), and very friendly bus drivers! For the two of us to travel from Munich to Bozen/Bolzano–in Südtirol, most names are both in German and Italian–the cost was 20 Euro.
When traveling from Germany to Italy, you must cross through the Brenner Pass in Austria. My heart pounds with excitment every time I see the Alps for the first time; the drive was so beautiful, I even managed to awaken from my nap.
Some maps to help get your bearings:
We had a bit of time to kill before our regional connection to Karersee/Carezza, so we investigated an unassuming cafe across from the bus station in Bolzano. After landing in Bozen, you must stop for coffee and pastries. They’re healthy for the soul, and more calories before hiking is never a bad thing!
From the main bus station in Bolzano, it is an approximate 40 minute ride to the Karersee, then about 2-3 stops more to the ski lift that transports you up the mountainside in a snazzy gondola. Timetables for the bus can be found at the station as well. As a whole, hikers are very friendly–just ask someone else in a pack and boots, if confusion arises.
As we were sitting in the bus, anticipation growing, we were shocked to see this out of the window:
Trees…trees…trees….boom! Completely unaware that Lake Carezza existed, and is mildly well-known. Despite it not being “our stop,” we hustled off the bus and into the sunshine.
Also known as the Rainbow Lake, legend has it that a nymph lives beneath its surface! Read more for the lore, as well as intriguing facts.
A very sweet, elderly man offered to take our photo (and accidentally snapped a burst of 50 :). There is an easy dirt path along the mountain-facing side of the lake, and signs strictly prohibiting swimming in the pristine water–no matter how tempting it looks!
I suppose you could stay a night in Nova Levante after traveling to the area, then begin hiking the next day, but we’re still pretty young and spry, and I have the boundless energy and enthusiasm of a five-year-old, so onward! At this point, it was only about noon–plenty of sunlight left to go. Not to mention, the day was incredible, with more unstable weathers on the way.
I should take a moment to note–definitely pay attention to weather patterns and forecasts in the days leading up to hiking in the Dolomites. There is nothing like finding yourself in the middle of the wilderness on top of a mountain in a thunder or hail storm.
In addition, some basic planning: investigate maps in the days leading up to your excursion, develop a flexible route, and telephone the huts ahead of time to check both availability and weather. Everyone is very lovely and helpful!
A glimpse of our first day of hiking:
We could have done more, even ascended via cable car to the Rosengarten Hütte instead. But, as it was our first time in the Dolomites, we did not want to over-do it, and would have missed out on the Karersee! Here is our incredible first day, in photos.
The view from near the Paolina Hütte, the gondola drop-off point. We first wandered toward the Rosengarten Hütte, just to see as much as possible, then had a snack at the Paolina. FYI: there are both signs and trail markings. Oftentimes, the signs will consist of the nearest hut, distances in meters, and approximate time needed. It’s not entirely flawless, but at the same time relatively difficult to get lost on this particular stretch. Again, when in doubt, ask other hikers. Pointing works well when languages don’t!
Known to be one of the most family-friendly stretches of the Dolomites, we encountered people as old as 76 and as young as 6 between Paolina and Rotwand huts. My dream is to be like that 76-year-old some day. With my own mountain hut. And 2 goats, a pig, bees, and a llama. Maybe a few chickens, too.
Surprise! There is also a large bronze Eagle monument, erected in 1912, which made me wonder how they transported him there…In any case, the Eagle is meant to honor Theodor Christomannos, who dedicated his life to the mountains, alpine tourism, and boosting the economy of Süd Tirol. Because of him, the Rotwandhütte was also built, for which my sleepy, hungry self was very grateful later that day.
The Rotwandhütte and her views! Could not have been a better end to a busy day.
After checking in, dropping off our bags, and enjoying hearty food, we continued wandering around in the vicinity of the hut. Although it was June, crowds were non-existent.
We also made new friends, in the form of the owners’ Bernese mountain dog…
And goats! We clambered to the top of a craggy outcropping, only to look below and see these guys!
Happy, happy first day in the Dolomites, with 0 stress and the most breath-taking of views. We thought it couldn’t get better….
Here is a map of the reverse-direction of our four-day hike!