Our road trip through the mountains
After seeing picture upon picture of post card looking glacier lakes with unreal colours framed in by the saw tooth mountains of the Dolomites, we decided that we had to check it out for ourselves. On a Thursday evening we rented a car, packed a bag, put the address into google maps and off we went. Our original plan had been to drive up to Mount Altissimo, just outside of Lake Garda, hike the mountain and spend the night there before heading out again. Unfortunately we had left later than intended and the darker it got, the more rain and fog seemed to roll in. We decided to alter our plan to spending the night by the lake before heading on to the heartland of the Dolomites and the real prize... Lake Braies, figuring we would give the mountain another shot on the way home.
Neither of us were too familiar with the area so we ended up taking a guess and pulling into a car park at the local ferry dock in Lake Garda. Not having planned on sleeping in the car we hadn't checked out the folding down capabilities of our little rental. We tried our luck and pulled our back seats down but were left with a ledge where they folded over giving us a hard lump in the middle of our backs. We rolled our camp matt into it and cushioned what we could with our extra clothing to make do. Needless to say it wasn't the best of sleeps.
In the morning we woke up, lifted the hatch and were greeted with a crisp wind and a view of the lake filled with hundreds of eager windsurfers flying back and forth over the freezing water. It was early, but all around us was activity and energy. We lay in our makeshift bed with the hatch open for a while just taking in the magic of where we had woken up.
Finally the brisk wind brushed us out of bed and on to our day. We brushed our teeth, got dressed and off we went. We continued along our route passing one charming village to the next, each looking more tempting then the last. As we drove the landscape began to change, moving from foothills into the full scale mountainous ranges of the Dolomites.
It started to feel more as if we were in a Scandinavian dream than the Italian country side. Even the details in the architecture of the buildings started to change, with Scandinavian looking chalets popping up and large potted flowers hanging off each balcony. After about 4 hours we pulled into Pragser Wildsee to see the hotel standing tall, over 100 years of history in front of us in an awe inspiring white grandiose building.
We grabbed our stuff out of the car and headed inside where we were greeted by Happy, the resident dog who resembled more of a bear than anything. He walked over, gave a sniff to the hand and sauntered back behind the desk for a nap. The gentleman behind the desk greeted us with a warm welcome handing us our room key and instructions to our room.
We made our way up the flight of worn stone stairs two stories and found the door matching our key number. I find that there is always a set of expectations and a little hope that passes through you as the key turns in your hand and you push open the door for the first time, about to see where you will be staying.
We both took our first glance into the room, it was one of the few times where the room itself completely surpassed what we had hoped it to be. It was grand in both size and air with tall ceilings and beautiful big windows leading onto a balcony with a view over the iconic lake itself. The room was a mixture of a classic vintage style with the details of newer modern finishes, such as white marble vanity tops and new bathrooms with clean lines that matched the overall style.
We threw down our gear and jumped into the big bed in the middle of the room, with it's inviting puffy duvets too much to resist. We relaxed in comfort for a minute, taking in everything and being thankful to have finally made it.
The next few days we were greeted with light rain and cool winds but despite the imperfect weather the area made up for it with it's beauty. We spent our time hiking through the surrounding mountains and taking relaxing walks around the lake.
We have been to many beautiful places but Lake Braies is in a class of its own. It was simple and pure while the scale of it was completely overwhelming. Beautiful rose red cliff faces that the dolomites are famous for, dropping away dramatically in to water of a colour and clarity that is hard to describe in words.
Just off the hotel stood the internet's most famous boat house. It's old wooden boats tied loosely where the pier's piles met the water as well as the iconic steps leading into the clear water... How could we resist taking one out for ourselves?
A woman sat at the helm, in charge of her fleet. We commandeered a boat along with a bottle of champaign and rowed out across the placid water. The ores caused beautiful ripples across the lake and the afternoon slipped by us as we made our way around, enjoying each others company.
Finally Sunday morning arrived and we had to say goodbye. We drove off knowing that it would be a place we would come back to. For our return trip we decided on a different route, taking a stab right down the middle of the ranges on SS244. Instead of the Scandinavian scenery that we had been greeted with on the way in, we were face to face with vertical cliff walls jutting high above the roadside. We drove through, stopping to explore a few areas until we finally arrived back into Lake Garda and the base of Mount Altissimo.
The conditions had not improved since our first attempt but we decided to climb up and make camp at the top regardless. Starting up the path we were optimistic that the conditions couldn't get much worse. Luck was not on our side however and the higher we climbed the more the cold, rain and fog set in. Despite the worsening conditions we carried on, driven by the promise of the rare breathtaking views that only come from the sacrifice of discomfort.
By the two third mark thick fog had rolled in and within minutes we were in a complete white out. Unable to see more than a few meters in either direction we stuck close together. Completely closed in by cloud and fog we turned to our last resort - Google maps. Combined with a bit of educated guess work it led us to our camp site nestled amongst steep rocky outcrops on the lake side of the mountain. We quickly set up our tent and just as we had finished, the wind died down and fog cleared up. Allowing us a fleeting view of a longing sunset cascading over the mountainous ranges down into the flat dark lake, it was that moment where everything became worth it.
After standing there with our jaws on the floor, we quickly took a few snaps and as the clouds began to roll back in, the temperature dropped sending us retreating to the tent. Taking out a bottle of wine accompanied by a block of cheese and roll of salami that we picked up from a small local farmer on the drive to the base, we sat back in true Italian style to enjoy our dinner with a view. Last light left and the temperature grew colder still, so we zipped ourselves into our tent.
Over the night the winds ripped through the long grass and against our thin nylon walls. The rain poured down slowly seeping through. We were woken by first light and opened the tent to discover the wind had changed and was howling directly off of the newly snowcapped mountains. Fuelled with the thrill of cold air we quickly packed our gear into the bag and back down the hill towards our car we headed.
Distracted a long the way by the stunning landscape around us and warmed by the rising sun the memory of the damp tent slipped quickly in to obscurity. The weather turned out to be stunning so we decided to take the SP4 route south from the base of Mount Altssimo. The rest of our trip home was filled with stunning views of rolling green hills and vibrant fall colours.
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