The Dolomites is not the easiest European mountain range to reach-unless you are travelling by car. Perhaps this adds the charm and appeal for many people? As the saying goes- if it were easy, everyone would do it!
To get to Lago di Braies, the start of the Alta Via 1, we recommend flying to Venice Marco Polo airport. There are several low-cost airlines flying directly from various UK cities to Venice Marco Polo. Unfortunately Glasgow is not one of those cities so when I did the amazing Alta Via 1 back in July, I transferred flights in Amsterdam. This was a piece of cake and everything ran really smoothly.
Flying to Venice creates the perfect opportunity to combine this trek with a city break. Having never been to Italy before, we were able to squeeze a day in Venice into our packed itinerary and it was totally worth it- busy and hot but for sure a must-see! Stopping over in Venice also allows you to break up the travel a bit as well.
The next leg of the journey is the Cortina Express bus from Venice Mestre or Marco Polo airport. Venice Mestre is the mainland gateway to the Venice lagoon. In Venice we stayed in the heart of the historic centre in San Marco, so in order to get over the bridge we first had to take a water bus to Venice Piazza Roma (the main bus station on Venice historic centre). Taking the waterbus was an absolutely amazing way to travel through Venice. Seeing the city from the canal and cruising down the Canal Grande was such a fantastic experience and at only approx. 7 euros for the roughly 30 minute journey, it is a great alternative to taking one of the very expensive gondola rides around the waterways.
Once at the Piazza Roma bus station, we jumped on one of the frequent buses over the bridge to Venice Mestre- this journey took about 15 minutes. We got off at the Venice Mestre train station where we were due to pick up our Cortina express – we had some time to kill so had an amazing pasta alfredo at a small café next to the train station in preparation for the 2 and a half hour journey to Cortina- our next stop. The bus journey was comfortable and smooth with some stunning scenery along the way to keep you occupied. We recommend that you always book this bus in advance of your departure as it can be busy in peak times.
Upon arrival we made our way to our overnight and first night of the Alta Via 1 trip- to the lovely traditional Hotel Panda in the centre of Cortina. It was an easy 10 minute walk from the bus stop to the hotel and we were very warmly welcomed by our host Giorgia. After settling in we headed out for some pizza, toasted our adventure and enjoyed our last night in civilization for a while!
In order to get to the start of the trail head- you need to take a couple of buses from Cortina. The first bus goes to Dobbiaco and takes about 45 minutes, at Dobbiaco the bus connects in a matter of minutes with the onward bus to Lago di Braies duration approx. 23 mins. I would recommend buying your packed lunch the day before and being as quick as possible in the morning and getting to the start point of Lago di Braies as soon as possible. We lingered over the amazing breakfast at Hotel Panda for far too long and by the time we got the start point it was midday. The first day’s walking on the AV1 is by far the most difficult with an ascent of 900m- doing this under the midday sun was very challenging! Overall, it does take a lot of public transport to get to the start of this walk, however it was never difficult, but rather straight forward and was a great experience in itself. Once you arrive at the stunning Lago di Braies you will quickly realise it was all worth it, and this is where the adventure really begins!