If you’re planning a trip to Venice this year, you absolutely won’t want to miss an excursion to the Dolomites to round out your vacation. It’s a place of unparalleled beauty and mystery—the perfect marriage of Austrian precision and Italian dolce vita.
Take a look at the experiences that await you on a day trip to the Dolomites from Venice.
1. See the rocky pinnacles that inspired Leonardo’s background for the Mona Lisa.
© Robert J Heath
Most people think of La Joconde’s enigmatic smile when they think of Leonardo’s most famous masterpiece, but the backdrop for the painting has an equally fascinating history. Researchers now believe that Leonardo, who was well known for his travels, lifted the painting’s backdrop from Venice or the Friuli region, where the peaks of the Dolomites stand sentinel in the distance.
Imagine capturing the perfect angle to recreate perhaps the most widely recognized scenery in Renaissance art—that’s a photo you’ll definitely want to frame.
2. Hike the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Loop.
The three spiky fingers of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo are one of the most iconic images of the
Dolomites—and a wonderful hike during the spring and summer months. Bathed in wildflowers, it’s an unforgettable six-mile hike that anyone with sturdy walking shoes can manage.
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo is one of the secrets of this lovely area, but if you’re not up for quite so much exertion, there are many shorter but equally spectacular hikes to enjoy.
3. Experience enrosadira, perhaps the most magnificent sunset you’ll ever see.
The unusual composition of the Dolomites, heavy in calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, are the scientific explanation for the marvelous violet colors of the peaks at sunset and sundown—but the locals prefer to just think of it as magic.
Enrosadira, the charming and romantic Ladin term for this twice-a-day spectacle, perfectly describes the way the Dolomites turn from yellow to red, then finally to pink and deep purple. Trust us, there’s nothing quite like it.
4. Visit Otzi the Iceman, Italy’s archaeological sensation.
About 5,000 years ago, during the Copper Age, Otzi was trekking in the South Tyrol before he was brutally murdered. In a series of bizarre occurrences, his body was preserved in the ice before being discovered some 25 years ago in the Dolomites.
Scientists have learned some pretty amazing things about Otzi—his interesting tattoos, his unusual anatomical variants, even a bit about his diet of pollen and goats. Would it surprise you to know that Otzi has living relatives today?
You can visit him and learn more about the Copper Age at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano.
5. Wander through Pieve di Cadore, where Titian, the Renaissance master, was born.
When you’re building your Venice itinerary, you’ll definitely want to leave time to get to know the Renaissance masters. If you’re a fan of Titian red—and get passionate about his magnificent Venus of Urbino—you’ll definitely want to visit Pieve di Cadore and the Piazza Tiziano, which celebrates the master’s hometown.
Pieve (which means “church”) today is organized around Titian Square and some of his works still remain for visitors to enjoy. Unfortunately, the original pieve was demolished in the early 18th century, along with his incredible frescoes. Leave time to enjoy a coffee at Gran Caffè Tiziano, a local institution, after you’ve hiked the lovely mountain trails nearby.
6. Don’t miss magical Lake Misurina, the largest natural lake in the Cadore.
The Cadore region is one of the most spectacular in the Dolomites, perhaps due to Lake Misurina, the largest natural lake in the Cadore. Although it’s lovely year-round, it’s at its finest in winter, when a blanket of snows muffles the sounds of this wintertime paradise and there’s a magical sense of communion with the winter wildlife—the hares, foxes, and ermines.
If you love to ski, there’s a ski area, a bit of a hidden gem, that’s usually less crowded than the other ski regions the Dolomites are famous for.
7. If you love castles, you’ll love Trentino—there are 300 of them!
Trentino is home to some of the most ancient and well-known castles in Europe. From the sumptuous and imposing Renaissance-style Buonconsiglio Castle to the heavily frescoed Gothic Arco Castle, you’ll find every type of Medieval structure to fuel your fancy.
For a truly breathtaking experience, don’t miss the stunning San Giovanni Castle, with its spartan shape rising from a steep cliff overlooking Lake Idro.
8. Check out Cortina, the original “Snow Disneyland.”
Do you love Disneyland? Do you love snow? Then you’ll absolutely love Cortina. It’s just a couple of hours from Venice and ringed by the Dolomites—the perfect place for a romantic ski escape. It’s no surprise that this sleepy town of 6,000 swells to 50,000 or more during peak season!
But there’s more to Cortina than picture-perfect snow conditions and an absolutely enchanting place to stay. It’s got history (most recently from WWI), diversity (you’ll find Brits, Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Americans—you name it), and spectacular views of the Dolomites.
And if skiing isn’t your jam, there’s plenty to see and do and taste in this fabulous alpine town.
9. An alpine village known as the “City of Flowers?” Merano will take your breath away.
Some call Merano the “Italian Shangri-La,” because its sheltered location and blanket of blooms make it feel like Paradise on earth. Merano’s position, in a hidden valley between the alpine peaks near Venice, is perfectly suited to nurture exotic trees and fragrant, Mediterranean blooms.
And if fabulous florals don’t set your pulses racing, surely the spa culture—or the Wine Festival and Culinaria—will do the trick. The Gewurztraminer here is internationally acclaimed.
10. Take incredible snaps of Lake Carezza and learn its legend as the “Rainbow Lake.”
In the the small lake, you’ll find reflections of the 3,002m Mount Catinaccio. Catinaccio is one of the most iconic mountains in the Dolomites, and the Catinaccio group (the name given to the massif), is also named the Rosengarten group or Garden of the Roses, due to the mountains turning a pink color at sunset.
The colors of the lake are so beautiful, that the Ladin people of the time created a tale to explain its myriad of hues. Legend has it, a magician created a rainbow to seduce a beautiful mermaid he had fallen in love with. The mermaid instantly disappeared, and so the magician threw the rainbow into the lake in anger.
Make sure you take your camera out to photograph these amazing rainbow-like colors of the lake.
11. The Tyrolean villages are picture perfect.
South Tyrol used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but after the Great War, it was annexed as part of Italy. But its distinctive Austrian flavor remains, with lovely pastel colored buildings, cobblestone streets, and Gothic architecture. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped onto the set of “The Sound of Music” without ever leaving Italy.
If photography is your passion, you can lose yourself for hours admiring the picturesque towns against their pristine alpine backdrop. There are no bad angles here.
Ready to explore the Dolomites?
If the thought of a mountain adventure on your trip to Venice is too irresistible to pass up, get in touch today and find out more about our Dolomites day trips. And if you’d like more information about how to plan the perfect Italian vacation, sign up for our free email course today.