27th July 2014
A Week in Madonna di Campiglio
Many years ago the valley that is now occupied by the prosperous resort of Madonna di Campiglio in Trentino, Italy was a poor, infertile, rock strewn region. Its only resource was timber from the large forests and woods that clothed the slopes of the mountains. The only people attracted to the area then were the itinerant workers in the summer. They cut the timber, grazed their cattle and hunted wild animals. Then in 1864 two itinerant English geologists called Gilbert and Churchill published a book entitled the Dolomite Mountains recounting their exploration of this region. This book and the region subsequently became popular attracting British climbers and walkers who became entranced by the stunning rose tinted peaks that had emerged from the depths of the sea about seventy million years ago.
Since then many have followed in their footsteps and recently I visited the area with a group organising by Solos Holidays Ltd. Three half days walks were included in our programme led by one of the local Alpine Guides. The Alpine Guides in Madonna di Campiglio were founded in 1911 and provide guides for groups as well as organising an extensive programme of walks, hiking and climbing. Our first walk took us along the Giro di Campiglio and then we turned onto a path that took us up the mountain to Malga Ritorto. We paused at the farm shop at Malga Ritorto to look at the local produce for sale including honey, salami and a wide variety of cheeses. We also tried some fresh milk from the Rendena breed of cows which was delicious. A Malga is a summer farm where the cows are taken up the mountain to graze in the alpine meadows. In the evenings they are taken back to the farm and milked and early the next morning butter and cheese are made from the milk. Some of these farms organise visits for tourists to watch this process.
We did not have time to linger over a coffee at the restaurant next door to the farm and after recording images of the views across the valley of the Brenta Mountains we set off down the road towards Patascoss. We were passed by the small tourist train that runs between the two as an alternative to people driving there. We had a coffee break at Patascoss and then took the path that winds down Miramonti and into town. When we came out into the open we had a perfect view of the town below us – the main square graced with the umbrellas of the very popular Bar Suisse our destination for a leisurely lunch. This well-appointed café is housed in the hunting lodge of Emperor Franz Josef probably the town’s most famous visitor. After lunch we walked back to the hotel along the Giro di Campiglio. This easy path circles the town passing through the woods that surround it. It was a very pleasant walk back to our hotel, the Hotel Lorenzetti. This hotel is ideally placed just outside the town at the point where the giro crosses the main road. Set against a backdrop of the spectacular Brenta Mountains it offers comfort and amazing cuisine. Every night guests dine in the Viennese style restaurant that is also one of the most popular restaurants in the town. On returning from a day in the mountains there is the option of relaxing on a sun bed on the sun terrace or spending some time in the Well Being Centre swimming or being massaged. A shuttle bus is also available twenty-four hours to take guests to and from the town and its immediate environs.
The next day we joined the Alpine Guides on one of their organised walks. These walks are free to guests in local hotels and also to holders of the Dolomeet Card a pre-paid electronic pass, is available in the Val Rendena, in Trentino, Northern Italy. It covers the resorts of Pinzolo and Madonna di Campiglio and the Parco Naturale Adamella Brenta. The concept is not new but the inception is brilliant. It is a fusion of four organisations – ski lift companies, tourist offices, Alpine guides and the Parco Naturale Adamella Brenta – who between them have produced a programme of activities. A network of car parks, linking shuttles and public buses offer easy access to the Dolomite Mountains and keep traffic off the mountain tracks protecting the environment. This stunning UNESCO site has become easily accessible to visitors without threatening its natural beauty.
That day the walk started at the top of the Cinque Laghi cabin lift. All the cabin lifts are open during the summer and give access to the peaks from which there are paths back down to the town. While we waited for everyone to gather together we took photos and enjoyed the views from the top – it was a lovely sunny day. These walks are very popular and there must have been at least sixty people on this one. We were the only English people there and one of the three guides leading the walk spoke very good English and was assigned to our group. First we followed a narrow path the wound around the side of the mountain to the small but pretty Lago Ritorto. It took quite a while to get such a large group along this path to the lake but when we got there we had time to take photos at the lake before we set off again and started to walk towards Valchestria.
Our group walked at the back with the English speaking Alpine Guide who walked with us most of the time translating the information given to the whole group but the leader of the walk. We sat on the rocks around Malga Valchestria to eat our picnic lunches purchased from the local supermarket before we set off. After lunch we took the path down to Milegna and a bit further along this path some people branched off to walk the short distance to Malga Ritorto from where they could get the trenino to Patascoss and then shuttle bus back into town. The rest of the group took the path towards the town via a view point known as Panorama. When we got there our group branched off and walked down a road that joined the giro just above our hotel.
Our objective on our second included walk was Lago Nambino and we started at Cascina Zeledria from where we ascended almost to the top of the Pradalago peak before taking the path down to Lago Nambino – it was a good walk and in places carpeted with sentinel lilac blooms of burnt orchids. It was quite a surprise to suddenly come upon the lake when we emerged from the woods. We did a circuit of the lake before stopping for a coffee at the restaurant of the same name on its shore. After our break we walked back down the mountain and into the centre of Madonna di Campiglio.
On our second free day we decided to do our own walk to Lago Malghette. The local walking maps are clear and the paths are well marked. We started from the top of the Pradalago cabin lift following a path that weaved its way through a carpet of pink rock rhododendrons and then we climbed several flights of steps before reaching the lake. It was so beautiful that we decided to have some lunch in the rifugio by the lake before moving on. We followed the path down the mountain to the small settlement of Campo Carlo Magno and stopped at the hotel Casa del Campo for a welcome drink while we waited for our hotel shuttle bus to collect us.
Our third included walk took us along part of the Giro delle Cascate. We started from our hotel, crossed the bridge over the river that runs beside it and then turned immediately onto the path that took us down into the valley below the hotel where we crossed the small river that runs through this valley and then walked up the other side before joining the path that would take us to one of the waterfalls on this walk the Cascata Media. This path goes through a beech wood and the sun was shining and dappling the ground between the trees. There is a rifugio beside the waterfall and we had a coffee there while taking photos of the water cascading down from the mountain above us.
We walked on to the Cascata Alta stopping to admire a large patch of slipper orchids on our way. Anticipation built up as the path ran alongside the river and we caught sight of foaming rapids above us. These rapids became a small waterfall and then, as we rounded the corner we could see the water cascading down from the peak above us. After pausing to admire this amazing sight we followed a path that winds its way up the side of the waterfall emerging in a pretty alpine meadow at the top. We crossed this meadow admiring the flowers strewn on either side of the path and then descended down a different path arriving half an hour later at the Rifugio Vallesinella. This very modern wood and glass building has replaced the more traditional wooden building that stood there for many years but the food remains traditional and I had a very tasty pappardelle ai funghi (pasta with mushrooms). After eating we walked back down the road towards the town and then turned off onto the giro di Campiglio and walked through the woods to our hotel.
Our last full day dawned bright and clear and it was a good time to take the Grosté cabin lift to the highest point from which we could walk – above the tree line. The mixture of large grey boulders and scree resembled a moonscape which appeared to be totally devoid of any vegetation but close scrutiny revealed tiny blooms of alpine plants nestling between the stones. We walked a short distance towards the top to see the views towards Bolzano and then we walked down under the cabin lift to Rifugio Graffer for coffee. From Graffer we followed the path to Spinale. We were constantly stopping to admire the plethora of wild flowers of every shape and huge imaginable – the profound blue of the gentians, the bright yellow of the wild potentilla, the deep red of the black vanilla orchids and finally the silvery white of some edelweiss hidden away on the summit of a small rocky mound.
After lunch in Chalet Fiat on the summit of Spinale we walked down to the bottom of the Grosté cabin lift entertained on our way by marmots shadow boxing, sunning themselves or standing guard on the rocky mounds that fringed our way. We took a short cut into town and were soon ensconced outside the Bar Suisse for one last round of drinks.
It had been a wonderful week following in the footsteps of our forefathers and guided by the descendants of the local farmers and deer hunters, the original guides. But we had only scratched the surface and there were still a lot of areas to explore and in particular the path that leads from the top of Grosté to Rifugio Tuckett. This Rifugio was built by the Germans (also keen walkers in this area) in 1906 in honour of the British climber, Francis Fox Tuckett, a real aficionado of the area. Laid to waste during the First World War this rifugio was restored by SAT in 1920. SAT (Società degli Alpinisti Tridentini) was founded in Madonna di Campiglio in 1872 for the promotion of activities in the mountains, the provision of shelter and the publication of information. Between the wars SAT restored and repaired war damaged shelters as well as opening up the excellent network of paths for everybody from all walks of life to enjoy. And they have succeeded as our happy memories of these paths will linger for a long time.