The Alta Pusteria, the high valley on the eastern edge of parent Val Pusteria in the South Tyrol of northern Italy, is a natural outdoor recreation center of wild landscape, designed by The Almighty, that undulates below the towering, jagged peaks of the Dolomites, a majestic UNESCO World Heritage site.
In summertime, this suitable-for-framing, forest-filled valley is best discovered on foot or atop a bike. I plan to do both over the next five days.
Clicking on my iPod’s pedometer app, I place my best foot forward and head towards Lago di Braies with fellow travel blogger Orna O’Reilly and Germano Casati, our local “Sherpa,” on loan from his day job at Hotel Adler, a family-run spa-wellness gasthaus in nearby Villabassa/Niederdorf that’s hosting our stay.
“This hike is not too difficult, but a bit long” Germano tells us as we make our way through an archway adjacent to the 110-year-old Hotel Pragser Wildsee, South Tyrol’s 2013 Historic Inn of the Year, and down onto the rocky path that surrounds the lake for the start of a three-hour trek wrapped around a one-hour lunch.
At 1,496 m above sea level, a shoreline stretching 3.5 km, a depth of 36 m and a width between 300-400 m, Lago di Braies is the largest of all the natural lakes that dot the Dolomite landscape. A true gem in the wilderness, the lake shimmers in the bright sunlight as it showcases an array of brilliant blue-to-green shades.
From mid June to the end of September, you can rent by the hour a classic wooden rowboat, take a leap of faith into the icy-cold water then let one of the 300 days of guaranteed sunshine dry you off, cast a line out and go fishing, even sunbathe.
Or, you can do like we’re doing and hang a right through a large, wooden swinging gate and start the climb up another rocky path, leaving the lakeside behind as you enter the 25,000 hectare Nature Park of Fanes-Sennes-Braies.
The park is filled with lush-green forests, well-marked hiking trails, and wide pastures and high plateau meadows that are ideal grazing and lounging areas for contented cows.
There’s also the occasional rustic rifugio, like Grunwald Hütte in the Malga Foresta, where this party of three takes a load off to put the feedbag on underneath a large outdoor canopy filled with picnic tables.
Nothing fancy, we dine on simple South Tyrolean fare: speck, pepper cheese, boiled sausage, polenta with more cheese, and cabbage with cumin. It’s all washed down with a pitcher of the rifugio’s ruby-red wine from the Kalterer See.
We satisfy our collective sweet tooth by sharing a large plate of Kaiserschmarrm (Emperor’s mess), named in honor of Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria who loved these shredded pancakes sprinkled with powdered sugar and dipped in a fruit preserve sauce.
Hang a left and we can take the flat, easy route back to the parking lot. Or, we can turn right and negotiate the higher, tougher and longer trail to complete our circumnavigation of the lake.
Hey, no pain, no gain. We hang a right.
The narrow, upper trail is packed, like sardines in a can, as we frequently have to tuck ourselves into small openings in the rock to yield to the oncoming foot traffic.
Stopping frequently, I take advantage of the slow pace and get off a few shots of the landscape below.
Back in the parking lot, I check the pedometer on the iPod: 12,836 steps covering 8.5 km. Not too bad for an old trailblazer like me.
For complete information about Lago di Braies, as well as all of the other sights and activities around the Alta Pusteria, logon to the Consorzio Turistico Alta Pusteria by clicking HERE.
For complete information on Hotel Adler in Villabassa/Niederdorf, our four-star host for this visit to the South Tyrol, just click HERE.
Join us again tomorrow when we mount a couple of city bikes for a scenic, 45 km ride into Austria.
©The Palladian Traveler