On a recent trip to Italy in September 2022, I visited the Dolomites in South Tyrol and stayed on the lake at the grand Lago di Braies Hotel, otherwise known as Pragser Wildersee in German and sometimes Lake Prags in English. Home to the much-photographed lake – Lago di Braies.
Driving through the winding, lush green valleys was an experience in itself – quaint little chalets speckled the countryside, adjourned with brightly coloured flowers upon their windowsills. Cows with giant bells around their necks wandered aimlessly through the fields.
The road then began to populate with charming restaurants and elaborate hotels featuring Swiss influenced architecture. The spruce pine forest becomes a little denser as you arrive into the Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Arriving at the lake we are met by the memorial sight of Hotel Lago di Braies originally built in the 1800’s, dominating the landscape with its impressive sandstone facade and elaborate peaked gables, surrounded by the towering limestone cliffs of the Dolomites.
On the western side of the lake is a gorgeous little chapel that was built in 1904 by Otto Schmid (the same architect responsible for the hotel). There is also a tiny outdoor bar with a distinctively German feel, the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the picturesque lake we soon discovered!
Tucked in behind the hotel is the unassuming yet notoriously famous boat house, set on the simply jaw-droppingly spectacular, Lago di Braies. A spectrum of vivid blues & greens against the backdrop of the enormous mountain range. Shades of grey and white almost appear as if it is covered in snow (but being early September, it certainly wasn’t).
Things to do in Lago di Braies
Hire a wooden row boat
First and foremost, and the reason thousands of people flock to the lake is to hire an iconic, hand-made row boat and paddle your way to every corner of the pristine lake. We drifted on the dazzling waters and ate a little picnic to make the most of our time admiring the view.
Be early, 7.30am or last thing in the evening to avoid the tour buses. The boathouse La Palafitta, is open from mid-May to the end of October depending on the weather. It was 35€ for an hour and opened at 8.30am daily during the time we were there. (Note – opening times vary per season)
Hiking to the peak of Croda del Becco
Croda del Becco or Seekofel, is a fantastic hike for experienced hikers. It is particularly steep with an elevation rise of over 1000m and some sections are accessed by rope and chains, so it is not a hike for the faint-hearted! The 360° view from the top is outstanding, and invites yet another dimension to Largo di Braies. Take trail #1 or Alta Via #1 at the south-east side of the lake.
Walking the circle loop around the shoreline of Lago di Braies
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any more beautiful, we decided to walk the loop circuit around the alpine lake. Admiring the lake from different vantage points created a whole new dimension of spectacular! (My husband had to limit my photo stops for fear of not making it back by nightfall).
The walk is around 4km and took us about an hour (with multiple stops!) You can even pack a picnic and stop at one of the designated picnic areas around the lake.
Cycling through the pine forests
If you are staying in the hotel there are bikes available for the day or you can rent one from the nearby village. There are ample, well-maintained bike paths all over the area winding through the lush pine forests.
Visit the charming chapel
The gorgeous little chapel sits on the western shores of Lago di Braies and it is open to visitors during the summer months. The chapel itself has a history and was used during World War II as a meeting place for a German SS commander to exchange 137 prisoners for his own safety. The liberated prisoners then went to the chapel to pray. Today it is a serine scene to behold.
Lunch at the Hotel Lago di Braies
The impressive hotel has a number of options for lunch. La Panorama with an historic dining room Belle Époche or the expansive terrace balcony perfect for a relaxing lunch on the shores of the emerald lake with a South Tyrolean influence.
The hotel also features Emma’s Bistro, a gourmet restaurant in a horse stable that looked impressive but had closed by the time we arrived in the area. (Open in peak season only) As well as a tiny bar – Emma’s Bar perched on the lake edge, great for an afternoon beverage whilst watching the sunset.
Experience the area on horseback with a trail ride for experienced riders at the nearby Steinwandterhof Horse Riding School and farm stay.
Thanks to Instagram, this lake is no longer a hidden gem and can become quite crowded in the summer months. I recommend coming outside peak season. If you still want the row boat experience, make sure you arrive before the end of September (sometimes October) when the boathouse La Palafitta is still open. However, the lake and surrounding areas are so beautiful that the Autumn or Spring months would be just as spectacular, adding a whole new perspective on the picture-perfect lake.
By Kristi Gomm