One day I asked myself: what are the three Dolomites top attractions? One settlement, Cortina d’Ampezzo, one mountain, Tre Cime di Lavoredo, and one lake, Braies (Lago di Braies), came to my mind. Is it worth going there? Definitely.
More: I like to repeat that there are no ugly or unworthy places to visit in the Dolomites. However, there are places with fewer tourists. By analogy to the three most popular sights I have chosen three alternatives for a more adventurous and thoughtful trip.
Settlement: Cortina d’Ampezzo
— Cortina d’Ampezzo is the main and most expensive ski resort in the Dolomites. It is a small town in the province of Belluno with alpine-style architecture, located at an altitude of 1200 meters. Only 6000 people live in Cortina, but in winter with the influx of tourists the population increases five times. Cortina d’Ampezzo attracts celebrities, several films have been shot here, such as “The Pink Panther” (1963), “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) and “Cliffhanger” (1993).
The city has become popular because of its location in the center of the Dolomites and the opportunities for winter sports: Cortina constantly hosts the Alpine Ski World Cups and has hosted many World Ski Championships. In 1956, the Winter Olympic Games were held in Cortina, and The Winter Olympic Games 2026 will be held here again (together with Milan)! There are 72 ski slopes in the vicinity of the city, 95% of which have permanent snow. All of them are part of the Dolomiti Superski common system — one the most extensive ski area in the world with a single ski pass.
In winter Cortina is an expensive city, but in summer it becomes more accessible. Especially if you don’t stay here for a few days, but use Cortina as a transit point when traveling in the Dolomites.
Alternative: Lamon and Feltre
Lamon is the town in the same province of Belluno. It is located on a plateau overlooking the mountains in the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park. There are about 3000 people living there all the time. The city is known for two main reasons.
The first one is beans, which are grown here and sold all over northern Italy. The bean harvest is the main celebration of the village, which takes place every year at the end of September and gathers 25,000 participants. In Italian it called Festa del fagiolo (Feast of the beans). Not only the beans are eaten at the festival, but all other local dishes as well. In Italian another hame of the festival is Tavolo nel Feltrino (Table of Feltre region).
The second reason is that Lamon located on the way of the ancient Roman road Via Claudia Augusta, which stretches from Germany to the Adriatic coast in Venice. I call it the “Santiago Way Without Tourists”. Although the road is not pilgrimage, but was military. It was built by Emperor Claudius Augustus: this is how the Romans went to fight across the Alps to Germany. Today you can walk along the paths or ride a bike on asphalt and dirt roads.
Feltre is a city that was once the capital of the Venetian Republic in the Dolomites. The city has a beautiful old center and many small villages around it.
There are a lot of local events and activities going on here. Like the wine festival in the village of Fonzaso (Festa del uva), Marathon of Reading, Easter and Christmas markets and a real sports competitions like Giro delle mura (running), Cycling Day and so on.
If to speak about cycling in the Dolomites, there is also a sports factory Sportful-Castelli, which makes bicycle uniforms for professional cycling teams like Bora-Hansgrohe (including personal clothing collection of its leader cyclist, world-famous Peter Sagan), Bahrein-Merina and Ineos. In mid-June, the Sportful Dolomiti Race is held under its brand name in Feltre.
Mountain: Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Tre Cime di Lavoredo is one of the mountain ranges in the Italian Alps, 2999 meters high, reminiscent of three sharp teeth: the name translates as “Three peaks of Lavaredo”. Because of its unusual shape, the mountain massif is considered the main symbol of the Dolomites, and therefore it attracts a huge number of tourists. It is a large nature park, where you can walk for several days. It is easy to get by car or bus to the very foot of the mountain, to a height of 2320 meters — by a fantastic serpentine.
The simplest and most famous track on Tre Cime is simply called Tre Cime di Lavoredo Loop. It can be walked around in two days. You will spend the night in the immediate vicinity of the mountain range. Next to it, there are three famous refugio: Auronzo, Lavaredo and Locatelli.
Tre Cime is also a cult place for rock climbers and alpinists. One of the three walls, the northern Cima Grande, is considered one of the most popular places in the Alps for mountaineering. It was first climbed by Italian Emilio Comici in 1933.
The last thing: Tre Cime is on the border with Austria. All names here are duplicated in two languages: German and Italian — the first one is more important.
Alternative: National Park of Belluno Dolomites (Dolomiti Bellunesi Parco Nazionali)
National Park of Belluno Dolomites is one of 25 national parks in Italy, the only one in the Dolomites. It is located in the province of Belluno, between the valleys of the Cismon and the Piave rivers.
The park was founded in 1988, even before the Dolomites were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It includes partly not one, but several mountain ranges: Pale di San Martino, San Lucano, Dolomiti Bellunesi (mountains near the town of Belluno), Vette Feltrine (mountains near Feltre). Each of them has many individual interesting mountains: for example, you can climb the highest peak of the park — mount Pavione, 2334 meters.
Edelweiss, rhododendrons, crocuses, and other flowers grow in the park. There are marmots, ermines and martens, roes, camoscio (mountain goats), red deers, eagles and hawks, mammals (alpine newt, salamander). And these are not lines in the Wikipedia: animals can be seen in the park. Another feature of the park is that there is a lot of water there: streams, ducts, swamps and rivers.
Dolomiti Bellunesi has many numbered hiking routes, which are part of the common alpine mapping system, but also many unique thematic routes. You can ride a bike here too. Mount Avena (1439 meters) is known as a great place for paragliding. In 2017 it even hosted the World Championships. In winter there is a small ski resort.
Lake: Braies (Lago di Braies)
Lake Braies is a small azure mountain lake located at an altitude of 1496 meters not far way from the city of Bolzano. The lake considered as the most photographed on Instagram! Have you seen the photos of fashionable travelers in hats by the water or in a boat against a background of mountains? Most likely, it was Lake Braies. At the time of publishing of the original Russian language version of this article publication in Samokatus.ru at the end of June 2019 the hashtag #lagodibraies showed 198.000+ posts. Now, at the time of publication in English, — 268.673 posts. It grows.
To my regret, today, this place is a victim of overtourism. At the same time in the Dolomites there are many similar and even more beautiful lakes, where almost no one is traveling. But if you do decide to visit Lake Braies, it is best to go hiking along the shore early in the morning — the trail is short, only 1.5 kilometers.
Alternative: The Lakes on the Cismon River
Cismon is a mountain river (or torrent) in the valley of the same name, the main tributary of another big river — Brenta River. There are not one, but five artificial lakes in the channel (the result of dam construction) with azure water, as on Lake Braies.
The largest lake is Corlo (Lago di Corlo). It is located near the village of Arsie, and the nearest town is Feltre, at an altitude of 268 meters. You can hire a boat or a catamaran on the lake, but even better, to swim, as the inhabitants of the surrounding villages and towns do in the summer season. There are two campsites where you can leave your car or spend a few days on the lake if you travel in a house on wheels, or pitch a tent. Around the lake there is a track about 15 km long, along the way there will be several viewpoints and small villages.
If you continue traveling north through the Cismon Valley to mountains of Pale di San Martino and Lagorai, from where the river flows to the plain, you can visit the other lakes: Senaiga at the entrance to Lamon, Pedesalto, Schener at the tiny village Pontet, and Noana near the village of Imer.
Then, in the same day I came up with the question about three Dolomites top attractions, I asked myself why are my new Top-3 places not worse than most popular ones? They are:
- Closer. Unlike Cortina, Tre Cime, and Lake Braies, which are located in the north of the Dolomites, my Top-3 is at the foot of the Dolomites, if you travel from the south. To get here from Venice it takes only 2-2.5 hours by train (100 km), from Verona — 3-3.5 hours (150 km). Belluno is a one-hour bus ride from Feltre. Trento — around 2 hours. If you travel by car — even less. The trip to Cortina, Tre Cime, and Braies from the south will take 3-5 hours more. On only close city to them is Bolzano in South Tyrol (1.38 hours car drive, by bus — longer) and Innsbruck in Austria (even farther away).
- Non-touristic. Comparing to Top-3 there are almost no tourists. Even the Italians. Walking along the streets or mountain trails, you will not see tourists and do not feel like one of them — on the contrary, here you can get off the local. All you need to do is go to one of the bars, where you can easily make friends with someone.
- More interesting. My Top-3 is located on the border of the regions of Veneto and Trentino — Alto Adige/Sud Tirol. The first is pure Italy, the second is actually Austria. The further you move to the Dolomites, the greater the admixture of Austrian, German, and Latin cultures. There are also many small sights here: for example, 15 local hiking trails around Lamon alone. And next to it, on the way to the national park, there is no less interesting and original village Sovramonte.
- Cheaper. Traveling and living in the “Italian part” of the Dolomites is less expensive. As well as cheaper in Italy itself compared to Austria and Germany.
- Warmer. (If you don’t like cold weather.) Feltre is 325 meters above sea level, Lamon is 600 meters above sea level. It is always 5-10 degrees colder than in Venice, for example, but warmer than in the higher Dolomites. The snow melts earlier and if the year is generally warm, you can walk to the mountains at the altitudes of 2000 meters already at the end of April.
Cover photo: 3 days hiking in Tre Cime di Lavoredo with Tanya in July 2019 by Ivan Kuznetsov.