Lake Braies, also known as "Pragser Wildsee", in the province of Bolzano, is one of the most popular tourist destinations near Cortina d'Ampezzo.
It's one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in Italy, and it has become even more famous when it has been chosen as the location of a famous Italian tv fiction: Un passo dal Cielo, translated "a step from the sky".
On its shores it had been built the fictional police station and the cabin where Daniele Liotti, one of the main characters, lived.
... it is the most visited tourist destination, in summer, in South Tyrol...
Following the tremendous success of the show, tourism to Lake Braies has increased dramatically. For this reason it will not always be easy to reach this destination, especially during peak season. Consider that, for the past few years, it has become the most visited tourist destination, in summer, in South Tyrol, but we'll discuss this point later.
If you didn't know, in this part of Italy, the proximity to Austria is very much felt, not only geographically, but also historically. Until the First World War these lands were Austrian, so don't be surprised that most of the signs are in German. The people here have a very pronounced Austrian accent and a dialect extremely similar to German.
Lake Braies, also known as "Pragser Wildsee", its German name, lies in the valley of the same name, within the Fanes, Sennes and Braies nature park, at an elevation of 1,496 meters above sea level. It's a lake of barrage, because it was formed as a result of a landslide that obstructed the course of the Rio Braies, the river that feeds it. It is one of the most evocative alpine lakes in Italy, thanks to the emerald color of its waters and the splendid Dolomite peaks that are reflected in its waters.
The lake has an average depth of 17 meters and a maximum depth of 34 meters. It's one of the deepest lakes in the province of Bolzano. It has an area of 33 hectares, a length of one kilometer (1,24 miles) and it's 3/400 meters wide (1.000 feet). The water temperature, in summer, reaches a maximum of 14°C which is why bathing, besides being forbidden, would in any case be not recommended.
In the waters of the lake, on the other hand, fishing is allowed. There are two different varieties of trout, brown and rainbow, as well as some specimens of alpine chars. Reading fishing forums, however, it seems that the harvests are quite meager. The fishing permit, for a fee, can be requested at the hotel facing the lake.
Before concluding this introductory chapter, we want to tell you some curiosities about Lake Braies:
- Reflected on the waters of Lake Braies is the massive Croda del Becco, a mountain whose territories are shared with Cortina and which represents the northernmost point of the municipality of Ampezzo.
- Many people don't know that Lake Braies is also the starting point of the Alta Via No. 1 of the Dolomites, a splendid hiking route about 125 km long that runs along the Eastern Dolomites and reaches as far as Belluno.
- At the Hotel Pragser Wildsee, the large structure on the shores of the lake, one of the closing chapters of World War II took place. Inside the structure had been held 141 prisoners of war, liberated on May 4, 1945, by an American patrol.
- For those who want to experience the lake at its best, in summer, it is possible to rent a wooden boat. You could venture on a romantic trip on the lake's waters. To know how to proceed, you'd simply need to read the signs displayed on the wooden cabin with the dock.
- For those who want to go for a walk, it's possible to walk around the lake. The duration of the hike is about an hour and a half. Bring shoes suitable for walking in the rocks.
The tv fiction
Un passo dal Cielo is a highly successful Italian television show. The location is, mainly, the area of the Upper Pusteria Valley. The plot revolves around the adventures of a station commander of the San Candido Forestry Corps (played by Terence Hill), who often collaborates with police commissioner Vincenzo Nappi (played by Enrico Ianniello).
On the shores of Lake Braies are located two of the most characteristic locations: the police station, with its stables, and the wooden cabin where Francesco Neri (played by Daniele Liotti) lives. The cabin, of course, is not accessible to the public and, during the summer, is used as a base for boat rentals.
... the church was built by the Hellenstainer family in 1904...
In addition to the two most famous buildings there is a small wooden chapel, dedicated to the Divine Mother of sorrowfulness. The church, as well as the hotel, was built by the Hellenstainer family in 1904. Built in full Austrian style, it was filmed on several occasions during the TV show, but always in marginal scenes.
Since the sixth season, the filming of Un passo dal Cielo has moved to the territories of San Vito and Cortina d'Ampezzo. The show has been a huge critical success, to the point that the last episode of the sixth series glued more than five million viewers to the TV. It is a great result for an Italian television show.
As often happens, places that become very famous are very likely to attract a lot of tourism. Lake Braies has not been immune to this phenomenon, having to handle, in August, an influx of nearly 7,000 cars per day.
This unexpected traffic forced the authorities to close the access to the road during peak season, as well as constructing a specific road junction on the state highway connecting Toblach and Bruneck.
... if you leave your car parked in a "creative" way, you are very likely to get a ticket...
The presence of so many people, in addition to ruining the atmosphere of the place, has created a number of minor side annoyances. First of all, when the street is open, there is no free parking. Consider also that, if you leave your car parked in a "creative" way, you are very likely to get a ticket.
Second, the presence of so many people has forced the administrators to fill the area with prohibitions signs, creating a far less naturalistic environment than what you would expect. On the other hand, the influx of tourists pushed the administrators to build a public toilet with a fee and the bar is now open all year.
... despite the adverse weather, and the low season, there were still more people than we would have expected...
Consider that our last visit, when we took some of the photographs on this page, was on a rainy, cold Sunday in early May, on our way to take a tour of Bruneck. Despite the adverse weather and the very low season, we counted four photographers and there were still many more people than we would have expected.
We have never visited Lake Braies in the middle of August, but a few pictures seen on the Internet gave us a pretty good idea of the amount of people you can expect. I don't know if we feel comfortable recommending it, but we certainly suggest that you try, if possible, to go in the low season.
How to get there
Lake Braies is about 50 kilometers (31 mi) from Cortina d'Ampezzo. To reach it, simply take the state highway towards Dobbiaco/Toblach and, from there, turn left and follow Brunico/Bruneck. After about an hour's drive you'll reach the junction toward Lago di Braies - Pragser Wildsee, a small traffic circle. Since the detour is not exactly intuitive, remember to keep left.
Once past the traffic circle, it takes about 7 kilometers (4.5 mi) to reach the parking lot. The number of parking spaces is very high, but if they are full, the road will be closed. During peak season we strongly recommend that you leave very early in the morning, try to be at the lake by 9 AM at the latest. Parking is charged at a daily flat rate, free only for stops under five minutes.
In case the road is closed, it is still possible to use public transportation, which is strongly recommended in all official media of the province of Bolzano. In this case it might be interesting to park the car at Dobbiaco, and take the Line 442 that will bring you directly to Lake Braies. To confirm that everything has remained the same, or for any additional information, you can visit the official website of Lake Braies, also known as Pragser Wildsee, as you like.
Once the visit to the lake is over, on the way back, we would recommend a small detour that hardly anyone talks about. It involves a visit to a local business, the Alpe Pragas.
It is a small, environmentally sustainable, jam-making factory built in the green. Alpe Pragas is surrounded by a park ideal for children, accessible to the public and can be visited for most of the year. It's a cross between a museum and a boutique, they self-describe as The Taste Factory.
To visit the factory, you need to head back toward the state highway and, just before the traffic circle, turn left and follow the signs to Alpe Pragas. The street is very narrow and unkept, it will give you the impression that you are entering someone's home, but when you reach the building you'll surely like it. We do not want to write too much, so if you are curious we'll leave you the pleasure of discovery. Do not be afraid to walk through the glass doors of the shop, everything is open to the public.
We went the first time on the advice of our mom and we liked the place very much, to the point of writing these two lines. Here you could also find something to take as a souvenir or a gift for an important person. If you are curious to see what the products of Alpe Pragas are, here you can see their website.
The legend of the Lake
Before we conclude, we want to tell you a small curiosity. Every lake in the Dolomites has a legend about its creation. For Braies it is said that, in the past, these mountains were inhabited by savages, who spent their time searching for gold and other precious stones, with which they made beautiful jewelry.
... when they saw all this wealth they became obsessed with it...
One day the local shepherds brought their sheeps to graze on the meadows of Braies. When they saw all this wealth they became obsessed with it, trying to own it in any way, even considering stealing it. The savages, exhausted by the shepherd's behavior, decided to flood the valley, with all its valuables, hiding them at the bottom of the lake. They restored peace, but had to give up the priceless wealth.
I think it's needless to say that this is just a story, there is no gold on the lake bottom and there were no savages in these valleys.
We hope you liked this page about Lake Braies, aka Lake Prags, in South Tyrol. Before saying goodbye, we would suggest you read all the articles we wrote about Cortina d'Ampezzo by clicking here.
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