The Dolomites. A rugged and dramatic area of northern Italy with an abundance of lush forests, towering mountains and turquoise lakes. German and Austrian influences are all around with Bavarian style houses scattering the landscape and cowbells ringing out in the morning. Its the perfect natural playground for children of all ages to run wild.
We jetted off with Fin (6) and Arlo (3) from London Gatwick Airport with EasyJet. After the worst experience of overbooking and flight delays, we eventually landed in Verona and spent a few days in Venice, Verona and Lake Garda before driving up to Cortina d’Ampezzo
Depending on the time of year, prices and access to high altitude roads may vary due to snowfall. We visited in late May, just after the ski season and just before the summer season. This meant that prices were reasonable, roads were open and the lakes were full.
We chose to stay at B&B Hotel Passo Tre Croci Cortina in a large family room (£110pn) with beautiful mountain views. There’s a huge range of family friendly accommodation in the area to choose from, many with pools and playgrounds.
The easiest way to explore the dolomites with children is by car. Hiring a car from the airport is probably easiest, although we advise booking directly with the car company and avoid third parties (long story!). There are also great public transport networks in the area if you prefer.
Dolomites: Top Five
Our top five favourite places in the Dolomites to visit, as chosen by Fin (6) and Arlo (3).
1. Boating on Lago Di Braies
One of the most picturesque spots we found in the Dolomites was Lago di Braies (aka Pragser Wildsee). The small emerald lake is surrounded by towering mountains and has plenty of family friendly amenities. You’ll find this lake just off the SS49 road, it is well signposted and easily accessible with children by car.
The main draw of this lake in particular is the fleet of beautiful wooden row boats which you can hire for €35 for an hour (€20 for half an hour). The boats are available from 10am during summer, by which time there is usually a crowd lining up at the small boat house. Once you are out on the lake it is beautifully serene. The boys absolutely loved rowing the boat and spotting the fish! There’s no minimum age and the boats are spacious and sturdy for little legs.
The boys particularly enjoyed the lakeside beach which was perfect for paddling and plopping stones into the water. There is also a hiking trail around the lake (not very stroller friendly), a small chapel and a lakeside cafe – perfect for a quiet coffee while the children play on the beach!
Other useful information:
- Parking is available a few minutes walk from the lakeside. Car park P2 was €8 for the day.
- Toilets are available in the car park for €0.50.
- There is food available from a few cafes and the hotel but also plenty of picnic tables to enjoy your own food.
- Arrive early to beat the crowds and get the soft morning light for photos!
2. Relax on the beach at Lago di Landro
Another hit with the boys was the beach at Lago di Landro (aka Dürrensee). They enjoyed paddling in the warm water, spotting tadpoles and building sandcastles. The tranquil turquoise lake boasts views of Monte Paterno and Tre Cime.
The free car park is located directly on the lakeside (along the SS51 road) so it’s easily accessible with small children. At the far end of the car park, you’ll find a wooden bridge and a trail through the woods. The trail winds through the trees and comes out on a beach (in summer months). It’s the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the view.
There’s also a few cafes/ restaurants along the lake and picnic benches. Several hiking trails wind around the lake (not stroller friendly) which you can explore. There are no public toilets that we could find.
3. Hike to Cascata di Fanes (Waterfall)
Always in search of waterfalls, we headed north of Cortina d’Ampezzo along the SS51 to the Cascata di Fanes in Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti d’Ampezzo. There are several walks starting here which range from 3km to 8km round trips. Both boys walked the 8km trail themselves which pleasantly surprised us!
The boys enjoyed playing alongside the crystal clear river and picnicking beside the waterfall. The trails are well-signposted and easy to follow. Our favourite was the waterfall walk which leads along the river and behind the cascades.
There’s free parking where the trails begin but no toilet facilities or food. Again, this one’s will need a carrier for young children, sturdy shoes and a moderate fitness (which we were certainly lacking!).
4. Explore Lago di Carezza
Lago di Carezza (aka Karersee) is a beautifully vibrant emerald lake in South Tyrol. We can certainly see why there are myths and legends surrounding this enchanting lake! This spot is particularly popular among photographers for the lake’s perfect mirroring of the mountains.
The trail around the lake is short (20 mins) and manageable with children… perhaps even an off-road stroller too. The path winds around the lake and through the surrounding alpine forest. It’s also the starting place for more adventurous hikes which are detailed on maps and signs.
There are excellent facilities here with multiple cafe’s, shops, toilets and reasonably priced parking (€1). Maps are available and walking routes well-marked.
5. The Austrian influence
The Dolomites felt more reminiscent of neighbouring Austria and Switzerland than Italy. The post-WWII division of country borders cut through the area which was previously part of Austria. Bavarian style houses scatter the mountains and the sound of cow bells ringing out from the wandering cattle.
The boys particularly enjoyed learning a few German words, as German is the primary language here. The range of Austrian food in South Tyrol was also a huge hit with the boys.
Stop for a bite to eat at Mülbacher Klause Pizzeria Restaurant along Rio di Pusteria Mülbach. We stumbled across this place completely by chance and it was great. A cosy Bavarian style restaurant with a wooden play area for young children and an upper floor with games tables for older children. The menu had children’s options (which we found was unusual in Italy!) and it was a very family friendly place to stop.
- Brush up on a few languages! The language in the Dolomites is a mixture of Italian and German. Many places have both an Italian and German name.
- Bring a carrier for children under three if you want to explore. The paths and trails around lakes and mountain hikes are not stroller accessible. We use our Ergobaby 360 or Deuter Kid Comfort for these kinds of trails.
- Sturdy shoes are advised… don’t be like us walking up mountains in flip flops!
- When to go: Time your visit to avoid the crowds of peak season if possible. Exploring the dolomites after the ski season but before summer (Apr-May) is ideal, the lakes are full from the melted snow, the roads are open and hotels are cheap!
A few more photos…
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