Monday

Travel Italy. Hiking at Lago di Braies in the UNESCO nature heritage listed Prags Dolomites

If you love to travel to see hidden gems in off the beaten path locations along the road less travelled please do not visit Lago Braies in Italy. I will be brutally honest (autsch), Lago die Braies is the complete opposite. It is a place for the masses, travelling on well-trodden paths, that came here on roads that are at times utterly clogged by traffic. There are coach loads of humans, and if that isn’t enough stress for slow travellers already, they are all dressed either in neon or beige outdoor gear. 

View from above: Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies


Relaxing at Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies

However, Lago di Braies aka Pragser Wildsee aka Lake Prags aka Lake Braies is a magical place of outstanding beauty. It is that type of place that makes you want to move into the wild and never set foot in a town again. The natural lake is emerald green at times, depending on where the sun comes from. I visit on a spectacular and warm day. The sun shines as bright as a million halogen spots. The sky is of a picture perfect blue. Magical conditions to go for a short hike of roughly an hour around this lake in the UNESCO nature heritage listed Prags Dolomites in Italy. The area is part of the Fanes-Sennes-Prags area, a nature reserve established in 1980.

I start my walk around the lake anti-clockwise, and the first thing I see is the cutest police station ever. It is right by the lake next door to a stable with horses and there is a Dachshund sitting in the sun. The tiny fella inquisitively eyes all excited visitors. He must be thinking something along the line of "Boy what a busy day for the end of September" but he is a professional and keeps his posture at all times. 

Dachshund at Lago di Braies

There is a picturesque tiny church built in 1904, the owner is the hotel by the lake. It tells visitors this story. At the end of WWII the SS deported 138 leading experts from 17 European countries as pawns for negotiations with the Allies. They prayed here after they arrived from concentration camps in Germany, and were all sent to the hotel by the lake.

Church at Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies

For the first half the walk is easy on flat and stony terrain. There are photo opportunities aplenty along the way. I stop frequently, to sit at the shore, to marvel at the mountain ranges, the 2,810 metres high Croda del Becco is especially impressive, to look into the for the region characteristic spindly but majestic pine trees, or to pet the moss covered forest floor. I just want to connect with nature.

There is also plenty of opportunity to be creative. There is a happy mayhem around the lake. Probably dozens of people risking to stumble into the icy cold water while taking selfies. I watch two very ambitious teams that do their utmost to create great memories. A couple in a rowing boat stops ashore, the lady jumps off and her partner rows back onto the lake so that she can take photos of him rowing on the lake.

Another entertaining scene happens soon after. An Italian family of mother, father, two small girls and one set of grandparents. Dad rows. The cute girls sit in the back next to their grandparents, right behind their hardworking Papa. Mom, mimicking the captain sits in the front, giving out commandos, filming feverishly. Moments later. Dad slips of his bench. He loses the oars, the boat tilts dangerously from the left to the right and back to the left. A scared but foremost concerned "Papi" echoes around the lake. I sharply inhale the fresh mountain air. Dad gets up again. He is back in control. Thank god, the captain (aka Mom) filmed the whole episode.

Into the Woods at Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies

Scenery at Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies

Moss at Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies

Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies

The path hugs the towering rocky wall vertically

The other half of the walk around the lake starts easy but soon visitors have to climb a few sets of stairs. Many people really struggle with this climb. There is moaning and slow crawling up these stairs, and lots of stops to drink. The path is slightly narrower here, it seemingly hugs the towering rocky wall vertically, and we are now somewhat high above the lake and have a magnificent view. Some people use walking poles; even in a restricted space like this, and others use this as an invitation to fall over them. I'm saddened about the ignorance of most. At one point there is a "hiking-jam" for the duration of three minutes or so. People grow impatient, especially the ones who just managed to crawl up the stairs moments earlier.

Beautiful places like these are busy, of course they are. Everybody wants to see this lake. There are moments when one is all alone, and it is magical. Emerald green water. Blue sky. Silence. And then the next group of rowing boats comes along. And the next group of hikers, who have to share their thoughts with everybody. Loudly. In moments like these I simply ignore the background noise and focus on the surrounding beauty.

Hiking trail at Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies
Magnificent water colour of Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies
 
Red Berries at Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies

Towards the end of my walk I spend some time at the shed with the rowing boats. People come and go to rent a rowing boat for half an hour to feel the spell of the lake up close and personal and to probably row to its deepest point (36 metres). It is said that there used to be a gate to the mountain at the far end of the lake, and it is now buried deep under rubble. No one will ever know whether this is true, but then, what do we know about the Loch Ness Monster from Scotland? 

Boat Shed at Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies

Have lunch in a Wes Anderson Story

I’m hungry and head to the hotel right by the lake for lunch. All through my hike I have seen the hotel and I couldn't help but think of the Grand Budapest Hotel, you know the one from that Wes Anderson story. As I enter I’m most surprised that it also has the looks and the feel of that hotel. There are signs all over the place asking guests not to take any photos. That is a drama; I would have loved to take photos of the dining room decorated with vintage furniture and paintings showing scenes from life in the Dolomites. There is a table on the sunny terrace and I eat a portion of Tagliatelle with fresh porcini mushrooms.

The hotel built from local stones with its green and white painted wooden balconies blends perfectly into the forest environment. It has been here for over 100 years, and been run by the same family ever since. I look around me. The lake is a magnificent place, and it takes your breath away. I try to imagine the prisoners who came here from concentration camps, and how they must have felt when they saw this beauty after the horrors they went through?

Hotel at Pragser Wildsee, Lake Prags, Lake Braies

Information Lago di Braies

There are three parking spaces. The newest addition is right by the lake, and someone lumbered down a piece of forest to make this space. I could stand tall above all other visitors and pretend I'm shocked. I really am shocked someone did this to make money, but I know very well that I'm part of the problem. If I want to leave the environment untouched I should have stayed home really. I wish they would change things in the future, probably charge a national park fee and use the money for its maintenance. Parking cost EUR 5 for the full day, and from where I left my car I had to take a walk of approximately five minutes to the lake. I hear people complain about the cost of parking and wonder why they don't want to pay for the service they get.

How to get to Lake Prags. By car From Innsbruck in Austria it is a drive of just an hour and a half over the Brenner. From Venice in Italy it is three hours by car. From Ljubljana in Slovenia it is a three and a half hours drive. Public Bus/Train Take the train to Villabassa and jump onto a bus from there. By plane Fly to either Venice or Innsbruck and rent a car.

From Berlin with love

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Greetings stranger. I always try to be myself and to be a tourist as often as I can. I would love to get in contact with lots of hard travelling tourists who love to be out and about as much as I do. I am looking forward to all your comments. Thanks so much in advance.