When you picture your idea of paradise, what do you see? If you’re a mountain lover like us, chances are a scene strikingly similar to the sight of Lago di Braies floats through your mind.
And why wouldn’t it? Lago di Braies (also known as Pragser Wildsee) boasts every heavenly Alpine quality on Earth. A pristine lake so still and peaceful it mirrors the landscape? Check. Snow-capped mountain peaks looming on the horizon? Check. Towering evergreen trees foresting the slopes? Check. Throngs of people taking selfies? Check.
Okay, we admit that last item is hardly anyone’s notion of paradise. Nevertheless, it is a reality of visiting places such as Lago di Braies. Its unearthly beauty acts as a magnet for everyone visiting South Tyrol.
However, if you plan your trip right, coping with masses of people dotting the landscape does not have to be your experience. But before we share our tips on visiting this fabled lake, let’s discover more about what many call “The Pearl of the Dolomites” and “The Emerald of the Dolomites.”
About South Tyrol’s Most Popular Lake
Tucked between sheer mountain cliffs, Lago di Braies’ veridian spirit ripples over 76+ acres (picture 30 rugby fields). It beams from nearly 5,000 feet above sea level and has a maximum depth of 118 feet.
What lies beneath the surface? Trout and the stuff of legends.
According to ancient folklore, Lago di Braies is a magical gateway to the underground kingdom of Fanes. The kingdom of Fanes appears in many South Tyrolean sagas and has historical roots going back 2,500+ years.
Another legend of Lago di Braies, albeit much more recent, tells of 10 tons of gold lying at the bottom of the lake. When World War II ended, Nazis supposedly sank the treasure.
This legend may have some plausibility. During the war, Nazis used the stately Hotel Lake Braies adorning the northern end of the lake as a base. Built in 1899, the hotel still operates today. In 1945, the hotel played a key role in liberating 139 concentration camp survivors including several family members of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg — the leader of the most famous failed assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler. You can read more about the liberation at the hand of U.S. forces here.
Springs deep underground marry a labyrinth of mountain streams to continuously feed Braies. Those choosing to brave its icy waters will endure a frosty 57°F (14°C) if they are lucky.
The immense Seekofel summit inside the Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park of Puster Valley (also known as Val Pusteria) serves as the lake’s most famous mountain backdrop.
Populated by pines, peaks and pastures and lone farmhouses, Puster Valley wraps you in the rustic charms of old Tyrol. The valley sits next to Austria on the east side of South Tyrol. It runs to the west carving into the heart of the Dolomites.
You could spend your entire time in South Tyrol exploring Puster Valley. Lago di Braies is just one of its many splendors. Consider basing yourself near Brunico or Dobbacio or spoil yourself at Hotel Quelle Nature Spa Resort as we did.
Exploring Around Lago di Braies
Plenty of people visit Lago di Braies without ever stepping beyond the northern shore. They only saunter to the lakefront and snap away on their phones or cameras until satisfied they have the next Instagram hit. What a mistake. A 2-mile hiking trail circles Lago di Braies providing some of the most spectacular Alpine lake scenery in the Dolomites.
Making your way around the lake takes roughly 1.5 to 2 hours. Begin on the western shore side by following the Seeweg / Giro del Lago signposts. Here, the trail rolls through stands of pines with the glimmering water never leaving your side.
The path is smooth enough to allow for a stroller or even a walker. You’ll come across protruding boulders discarded by the mountainside ages ago. They offer the perfect place to take a seat and watch any boats gently rowing about beneath the stone walls of Apostoli — a mountain across the lake that storms up 6,500 feet from the water’s edge.
Eventually, the trail will wind to the east placing you at the foot of Seekofel. This is near the half-way point with the hotel directly opposite where you began. Towards the shore stretches a pebble-strewn beach. If you’re feeling like a dip, this is as good a place as any to become one with Braies.
Continuing on, you’ll come across one of many boulder-riddled gullies tumbling from the mountain summits. These look like bone-dry canals made of gravel. When the snow-melt washes over them each spring it must be a dramatic sight to witness.
The trail soon turns toward the north leading you along the eastern flank of Lago di Braies. This stretch of the hike ascends nicely offering the most awe-inspiring views in our opinion. From several points, you can admire the dome-like mountain of Monte Nero that anchors the lake on the west. It’s worth noting that this leg of the trail holds timbered steps making it impossible to navigate with a stroller or walker.
Soon, the path swoops down to where Lago di Braies squeezes into a marshy sliver at its northernmost point. Rounding this point, the trail carries you past the boathouse back to the hotel front.
Spend any time at all on Instagram, and you’ll see that the Lago di Braies boathouse is the most popular photo stop on the lake. We get it. There’s something clearly magical about the boats seemingly levitating over the crystal clear water.
But if you’re set on avoiding Instagram models during your visit, steer clear of here. You can usually spot them by their choice of attire: sundresses and heels. No one ventures into an Alpine environment in such outfits unless they’re hunting for social media likes.
The Best Time to Visit Lago di Braies
The early bird gets the worm…and Lago di Braies much less crowded. The lake’s favorable position off a main mountain roadway makes it an attractive destination for tour groups. If you arrive early in the morning, many group tour types tend to still be roaming the lands of snore. Let them sleep.
They can miss the rising sun breaking the peaks and plunging like a waterfall into a still sea of jade. You, on the other hand, will take in a sight that touches your heart forever.
We suggest arriving early and departing early. If you are visiting during the summer (high season), plan on 6 AM. You’ll encounter photographers, but minimal tourists. Those visiting in so-called offseasons can arrive a bit later between 7:00-8:00 AM.
Additional Sights, Activities & Considerations
After hiking around the lake, you may just want to spend more time lost in the luster of this Alpine jewel. Here are some additional sights and activities to consider:
Chapel Lago di Braies – This storybook chapel gracing the western shoreline was built in 1904. It was designed by Otto Schmid, the same architect responsible for the hotel. A horse stable next to the chapel only adds more beauty to its idyllic pose.
Rent a Boat – Few things are more romantic than rowing out into the middle of Lago di Braies. From late spring through early fall, the boathouse rents out boats from 10 AM to 5 PM. You can select from a 1/2 hour to a full hour. The cost is €18 and €30 respectively. If you want to rent a boat for a private photo shoot you can do so from 7:30 to 9.00 AM for €150.
Horseback Riding – Imagine galloping along the beach atop a magnificent steed. The Steinwandterhof farmhouse and stable allows you to do just that.
Land a Trout – If you’re angling for some angling, embark on a fishing excursion on Lago di Braies. Guests of Hotel Lake Braies can obtain free fishing permits and rent gear.
Sip & Dine Amid Emerald Glory – After adventuring about the lake you may work up a thirst and appetite. The Hotel Lake Braies offers a splendid terrace to enjoy a cup of coffee, a meal, a glass of delectable South Tyrolean wine or a sweet South Tyrolean original called Hugo. The Tiroler Stube cafeteria is open from 10 AM to 6 PM. The restaurant is open from 12 PM to 5 PM.
Pick up a Souvenir – A boutique souvenir shop is attached to the hotel allowing you to bring a kitschy piece of Lago di Braies home with you. We’re guilty.
Summer or Winter? – How about spring or fall instead. The colors you encounter during the months of spring and fall make the lake dazzle even more in our opinion. If you want to avoid seeing Lago di Braies as a sheet of ice be sure to visit before late November or after April.
Dress appropriately – The hike around Lago di Braies is not treacherous, but we recommend wearing proper hiking or walking footwear. Don’t forget to check the forecast prior to visiting so you can determine if you need rain gear or a jacket.
Throw a Picnic – At the midway point around the lake loop you will find picnic tables and bathrooms. Take advantage of both if you need a rest. The remainder of the hike is a bit more difficult than the first leg.
Explore More of Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park – Several trails veer of the loop allowing you to trek further into the park. Many of these trails are considerably more difficult so plan accordingly. The lake is also the starting point of the Dolomites’ famous Alta Via no. 1 (Alpine Path no. 1), which leads you through the mountains to as far as Belluno in the Veneto region of Italy.
Visit Brunico Afterwards – After consuming so much natural beauty consider venturing onto Brunico (Bruneck in German) for a dose of history. In Brunico, you can stroll cobblestone streets and marvel at churches and castles, as well as meander through a beautiful war cemetery unlike any other in the world. The town is just a half hour north of the lake by car or bus.
How to Get to Lago di Braies
Lago di Braies is one of the easier gems in the Dolomites to reach. If you’re renting a car as we typically recommend, plenty of parking is available just outside the front of the hotel. The cost is €5. From any of the lots, it’s a short walk to the lake.
If you’re based near Bolzano, the lake is just over 1.5 hours to the northeast. From Brixen, just over an hour. The drive is considerably easy relative to other mountain destinations in South Tyrol.
Have you been to Lago di Braies? If so, please comment below and add any tips or considerations we may have missed.