DOLOMITES ELOPEMENT GUIDE
The ultimate guide on how to elope in THE ItalIAN DOLOMITES IN 2023
The Italian Dolomites with their iconic peaks and dramatic views hold a special place in my heart - it's one of those places you just never get tired of.
Since more than 10 years I've been visiting these mountains countless times and in this guide I’ll share everything I know about how to plan your elopement in the Dolomites - from regularly photographing elopements there as a wedding photographer to experiences from personal travel. The most important tips, the do’s and don'ts and everything you have to know or have not thought of for an epic elopement experience.
WHAT ARE THE BEST PLACES TO ELOPE IN THE DOLOMITES?
- Cortina D’Ampezzo
- Auronzo di Cadore
- Val Gardena & Ortisei
- Corvara & Alta Badia
- Val di Funes
- Alpe di Siusi
- Nove Levante
Every location should be looked at in context of season and accessibility: is it possible to elope all year round or only in summer? Ask yourself first how your day should look like, what season you want to elope, what type of accommodation your prefer and how (easily) you plan to get to a certain location. Do you plan on hiking or do you dream of a helicopter ride so you don't have to break a sweat?
WHAT SEASON TO CHOOSE
WhAT is the best time to VISIT the Dolomites?
One of the first things you might have been wondering before anything else is "when is the best time to visit the Dolomites anyway?" Life in the mountains is heavily influenced by seasons and alpine infrastructure such as mountain pass roads, mountain huts or gondolas not being accessible all year round. Colors and foliage change, alpine lakes may dry out and look different throughout the year. Ski lifts that can take you high up into the mountains don’t operate and many hotels can be closed during off season.
So let’s talk about seasons in the Dolomites!
Seceda in September
Summer, winter and everything in between
SUMMER season is, like everywhere in the Alps, usually rather short and lasts from July to the end of August. This is the most versatile time in terms of accessibility for all the epic mountain locations your heart desires: the snow has melted from higher elevation trails, cable cars are operating and all Rifugios (=Italian mountain huts) and mountain pass roads are open. The downside: it's also the busiest and hottest time to visit. If you are planning to hike, start early (sunrise early). I personally try to finish all my hikes by noon or early afternoon to avoid the heat & harsh weather and relax in the afternoon with an ice cold Aperol as mountain weather in summer tends to be highly unstable. Bad weather systems can develop quickly on the second half of a hot and humid day (watch the cumulus clouds!) and often explode in a violent thunderstorm. You never wanna be far away from a shelter when that happens - so plan accordingly (again, start early). Weather forecasts in summer may seem unreliable with forecasts for bad weather for days on end. But this is pretty normal - don't let that fool you into thinking "rain all day" or cancel your trip. The mornings are usually fine and the afternoons may or may not include a thunderstorm. In addition, thunderstorms often happen locally and can sweep through quickly. Any forecast for more than 2 days ahead for mountain weather generally is highly unreliable (especially any +7 day forecasts - just don't do it ), but use local weather forecast apps). You may be able to see a general weather trend 3-4 days in advance, however - only one day before or the day off a specific date will give you an (more or less) accurate forecast.
FALL season is an amazing and my absolute favorite time to be in the Dolomites! It usually starts in September and goes all the way through October. Apart from the air getting crispier and the views clearer, the change of colors of Alpine meadows into a more brownish tone and the larches changing into bright orange and yellow are absolutely magnificent. If you are planning to see larch tree foliage, the best/peak time is the last 10 days of October and the first week of November, depending on the elevation it may be earlier. Often times the mornings are foggy which looks magical when wandering through a larch forest.
Be prepared for cold weather snaps that can occur for a 2-3 day period with even minus degrees and snowfall in higher elevations, but the snow doesn't stay long. The later into October, the more likely it is the snow is going to stay - it's getting significantly colder. Cable cars, Rifugios and some mountain pass roads like the road to Rifugio Auronzo at Tre Cime di Lavaredo are only open until the first half of fall - usually until mid/the end of September to mid/end of October depending on the weather. Definitely check those dates for the infrastructure you plan on using on the according websites. Tourist peak gradually runs out mid September and some bigger hotels close until winder season. In any case - bring snow chains if you don't want to be stuck on a mountain road.
WINTER (and thus skiing) season in the Dolomites starts in December (while snow is already likely and expected in November) and lasts until mid April. For winter elopements keep in mind that many locations are not as easily (or at all) accessible as they would be in summer. There can be a lot of snow in the Dolomites, mountain passes can be closed and snow chains mandatory, and depending on the snow height you’re not as free to roam around as in summer. On the plus side – the Dolomites in winter are perfect if you plan to elope in a skiing resort and bring/rent your skiing or snowboarding gear. Some hikes turn into skitouring slopes or snowshoe trails and remote locations like Tre Cime di Lavaredo with no road maintenance in winter are only accessible via a couple of hours of skitouring ascent or a heli flight. In any case – the location you prefer to elope always needs to be taken into account with the season you plan to elope. Try to avoid Christmas holidays, the time around New Year's Eve and school holidays in February - as this is definitely the busiest time in winter.
SPRING is (next to fall) considered shoulder season and lasts from May to mid/end of June. While in the valleys you'll already find lush greens, many mountain locations and trails in higher elevations may still not yet be fully accessible (either because of residual snow from winter or because most cable cars are closed for off season), it's a beautiful time to roam around in lower elevation locations such as the valleys, Alpe di Siusi or Lago di Braies. Also, some mountain pass roads (like Gardena pass road from the Ortisei side) can be temporarily closed during the daytime due to avalanche danger from melting snow. It is usually within the last two weeks of June that also alpine meadows turn fully lush green and wildflowers begin to bloom (the timing varies every year though and depends on the length and intensity of the last winter season).
Pro tip: I personally love late spring (June) and fall for elopements (September and October) for various reasons. Some Rifugios and cable cars are still operating during that time frame. Especially fall is more stable in terms of weather (thunderstorm possibility is fading out), the air is clearer and the views are better - except for the occasional inversion fog. On the other hand, sunrise elopements during summer time are unbeaten! For more details on weather & temperatures, check the Meteo Blue climate data for the Dolomites.
If you are a fan of fall foliage, peak season usually starts kicking in mid to late October – the larch trees are a spectacular and colorful sight. Cold weather and snow is a factor to be considered though! If you are a fan of skiing, snowboarding and winter wonderlands - late December to February/March are the best times with lots of snow to make your dream winter elopement come true!
One thing is for sure though – the weather in the mountains is always unpredictable and can change quickly, so plan enough time when visiting the Dolomites and be prepared for every weather situation.
A late August elopement with moody raincloud weather
The Dolomites are located in North-East Italy & South Tyrol (the autonomous Italian-German speaking part) and nestled close to Austria and Switzerland. Great airports to fly into are Venice (2 hours) and Milano in Northern Italy (4 hours), Munich in Southern Germany (4 hours), Zurich in Switzerland (5 hours) or Innsbruck in Austria (2 hours). Visiting the Dolomites often goes hand-in-hand with a road trip through Austria, Southern Germany and Switzerland as everything is quite close together.
where to stay DURING YOUR DOLOMITES ELOPEMENT?
The Dolomites offer a wide range of different accommodation styles – from luxury wellness hotels to more traditional B&B apartments, lux mountain chalets with beautiful views, slow-tourism farmstays, treehouse hotels to the very rustic but iconic Rifugios (mountain huts high up in the Dolomites). There are over 140 mountain huts scattered that are run by the Club Alpino Italiano, the Alpine Club South Tyrol or owned privately – which gives you an idea about all the possibilities! The accommodation there is often very basic and rustic as they serve as base camps for multi-day hikes, climbs and treks.
Think about your accommodation as a bonus location. Whether your hotel/airbnb is your getting ready, first look or Plan B location in case of rain - it's part of your wedding day and enhances your photo gallery by adding more variety with indoor light images.
Treehouse Chalet San Luis Lodge
Lago di Braies
Treehouse Glamping Caravan Park Sexten
A bit further away, but worth the drive
Pro-tip: I’m an AirBnB favorites list horder! Here’s my favorite airBnBs in the Dolomites for you:
My favorite AirBnBs in the Dolomites
A list of all mountain huts, biwaks and rifugios in South Tyrol.
Hiking elopement or easy access by car?
One thing to consider while planning your elopement is whether you want to incorporate a hike or not. And if so - how huch elevation/distance are you comfortable hiking (possibly in wedding outfits)?
Some locations are easily accessible by car (mountain passes and trail heads). However, the drawback is that easy to reach locations are often very busy and you won’t have a lot of privacy (Lago di Braies is a prime example). Sometimes it helps to aim for a sunrise and sometimes it doesn't take a long hike to get to a more quiet spot (also - picking a low key not too insta-famous location and/or visiting in shoulder/off season helps / exploring a different/not so obvious area of an insta-famous locations helps). For more remote locations there is just no way around strappin' on those hiking boots. Check out this Tre Cime elopement to see what it's like to hike on your elopement day.
A hiking elopement can be an amazing experience that goes way beyond what day tourists get to see. The key is to be prepared extremely well and plan accordingly. One thing I often hear from couples is that they've underestimated the elevations & overall steepness of the Dolomites. Think about how much hiking you actually want to do (maximum length & elevation) and pick your location based on those parameters.
You don't want to do any (or much) hiking at all? That's absolutely fine. There are gorgeous locations out there for every couple and I'm happy to help you sorting those out.
Another option is to book a helicopter and fly exclusively to a spot that is unreachable by car or a more traditional hike. Specialized helicopter tour operators take you to the best spots!
Sunrise or sunset elopement IN THE DOLOMITES?
The question whether to elope and say your vows during sunset or sunrise it’s not easy to answer! Both are beautiful and both have their pro’s and cons.
I personally love both times of the day for the most dramatic and best light in comparison to eloping at noon outdoors (harsh light, (often) hazy views, busy trails) Pros for a sunrise elopement are most definitely more privacy and more stable weather conditions. Yes, getting up in the middle of the night can sound like a con at first – but honestly? It’s a beautiful experience to get ready, arrive or hike in the dark & quiet, waiting for the first rays of sunlight. In the summertime when the weather gets really hot, thunderstorms often build up in the afternoon and the air/views can be hazy.
The almost daily afternoon thunderstorm thread is a phenomenon in the Alps that can be very dangerous. As already mentioned above in the summer season section - always start very early morning you can finish your tour before late afternoon if conditions are unstable.
Usually thunderstorms build up very quickly and vanish as fast as they came. You never want to be stuck on a mountain top with a thunderstorm in your neck and far away from a Rifugio.
Let's not forget about blue hour - one of my most favorite lighting situations!
In the Dolomites usually everything is planned around beautiful views, mountains, lakes, cable car rides and hikes. Depending on where you go and what time of the year you are planning to stay, there are different things to do:
✓ Hiking or taking a cable car to a beautiful viewpoint
✓ Explore the village you are staying in
✓ Book a jeep tour on a dirt road to a mountain location
✓ Take a bicycle ride/e-bike ride through the valleys or on designated mountain trails
✓ Exclusive horse treks through the Dolomites
✓ A row boat tour at Lago di Braies
✓ Indulging in local cuisine, pizza & gelato in one of the cute towns
✓ Wellness day, Outdoor hot tub /Bubble bath in your hotel/chalet
✓ Go for a winter wonderland walk
✓Taking a helicopter tour
✓ Skiing, snowboarding or Snowshoe hiking
✓ Visiting a vineyard to taste the local wines
✓ Picnicking on the alpine meadows or in the woods
✓ Visiting one of the many scenic lakes
Unlike most US-national parks, no permits are required for a symbolic wedding ceremony or bringing a photographer to document your elopement in the Dolomites.
In oder to preserve the pristine nature and eco system, always be considerate of nature and practice Leave no Trace Principles.
HOW CAN FOREIGNERS LEGALLY GET MARRIED IN ITALY?
Getting married legally in Italy isn’t impossible, but it’s a bit of legwork. The good news: You don’t have to be a resident in order to get married, however, you need to plan months ahead. Civil ceremonies can be conducted in town halls, old castles or palaces, outdoor ceremonies need to be approved by the local mayor or deputy - every town may have different requirements. The best practise here is to contact the local town hall you intend to get married at.
The documents you need for a civil ceremony will be:
2) Original birth certificates
3) Evidence of end of previous marriage status (Divorce papers, death certificate)
4) A Nulla Osta (certificate of permission to get married in Italy)
5) Marriage Declaration at the town hall in Italy that you intend to get married
Most couples choose to do the paperwork in their hometown in order to be free with planning their elopement and not worrying about the legal part.
My heart!! The light is absolutely dreamy! Also thank you thank you thank you for sharing all this information!! It helps a lot to get an honest idea of what the whole process to elope looks like.
Super detailed guide, thank you for sharing all of this!! Those sunsets are like cotton candy!!
This is so amazing. Love your expertise!! And the Airbnb favorites list, omg!
Okay, these pictures of the Dolomites are amazing. And this is such a thorough resource for anyone wanting to elope there. Really great work!
Wow these photos are incredible. And great tips for anyone interested in a session in the Dolomites!
This is a fantastic blog post for anyone considering the Dolomites for their elopement! Great work putting this together. I will def be referring to it!
This is freaking awesome post! So many helpful tips and photos are simply brilliant!
Oh great…now I need to add another location to my bucket list:)
Wonderful advice for the Dolomites and amazing images!!
I love Dolomites. After Tuscany it is my second favorite place in Italy! Your tips are so pro!!!!