My father discovered this valley by chance, almost 30 years ago now. It was the beginning of the 90s, my parents used to spend their summer holidays in the Dolomites, after years spent in “Val d’Aosta”. Their favorite destinations were “Val di Fassa” and “Val Badia”.
One day, guided by his usual curiosity, dad decided to take my mother and me to discover a new place, not far from where we were staying, San Cassiano in Badia. One hour by car, turning from San Martino, on the road that leads back to Brunico, over the “Passo delle Erbe”.
He had heard of this unique and completely unspoiled valley by another hiker known in the hotel where we were staying.
Arriving, he was enchanted.
A magical place, where time has stopped and everything seems perfectly combined, like in a puzzle. Green and sweet meadows, dark and dense woods, churches, chapels, farmhouses, huts. And vertical, majestic, superb rocks. The “Odle” (in Ladin language “needles” for their conformation) in the background, scrupulously checking that life over there proceeds regularly, jealously protecting this natural corner of paradise.
It is the “Val di Funes“.
From that day so far back in time it has become, forever, an important part of me.
From the age of 5, every year until today, I have spent at least one day up here. Before, for longer periods, on vacation with my parents. After, sometimes only for a short time, alone or with friends.
I can’t stay away from this place. It went too deep into me to do without it. Place of vacation, trekking and excursions, a recurring dream on stressful and hectic days, a destination for recreation and relaxation, even just for a few hours.
Over time, the “Val di Funes” has become much more to me than all this.
A distant and yet so close corner in my heart and soul. A place to find refuge and peace whenever I feel the need.
This is the only way I think it can be defined the magic that pervades me every time I come back. I feel reborn even before arriving, along the last stretch of road, before reaching Chiusa. The bell tower of the church of San Martino, next to the highway, just after Bolzano. The unmistakable “tooth” of Mt Sciliar, just above my head. Slow down, there is no need to hurry, there we are now.
I exit the highway and go up the road that leads from Chiusa to the valley. I pass the “Prader” joinery, among the stacks of cut wood that release a dense and sweet scent, preserved on the street broth. Here, on sunny days, I can see for the first time the unequivocal profile of “Sass Rigais” and “Furcheta“, the two highest massifs of the Odle Group (ref. Puez-Odle Natural Park, in the autonomous province of Bolzano). I go over Pardell and the small chapel, placed along the road. Slowly, between some tight curves and a couple of straights, I arrive at the last bend on the left, before seeing the shape of the inhabited area of San Pietro, dominated by the imposing profile of the bell tower of the church. To accompany me, in this sweet journey, rows of apple trees, pastures and cisterns for the collection of milk, neatly positioned on the roadside waiting for the passage of the truck that supplies them.
I just arrived.
I still pass the Finstral complex, the bridge that leads to the Flitz waterfall, the police station, the “Lamm” pub and turn left, on the road that goes up to the village. In the meantime I check, by eye, how many new houses have been built. Very often, I can’t even begin this count.
It is the unique aspect of this place, which has remained intact and almost
completely unchanged for all these years.
I arrive in the open space in front of the complex that houses the theater, the library and the medical clinic, the heart of the village is all here: there is the small market, just above the bakery/pastry shop. In the middle, on the road that goes up, the hairdressing salon. Opposite, across the street, the bank and the “Viel Nois“, the restaurant/hotel of Franz and his family. I enter to greet Erna, Franz’s wife. Every time I come I stay at the “Raeschoetzhof“, their small and nice B&B slightly up on the street, on the road leading to the “Passo delle Erbe”.
Before I get to my room and drop the stuff, I have another obligatory stop to do. I stop at the “Kabis” hotel, next to the building that houses the post office and the town hall. I have to greet Mrs. Anna, the historic owner of the hotel where, for many years, I stayed with my parents. She is a beautiful local lady who, together with her husband, has directed “Kabis” for many years. She saw me growing up, every time she hugs me tightly still remembering when, little boy, I ran through the streets and meadows below.
Now the reins are in the hands of her grandson, Konrad. The hotel has changed slightly in the appearance, especially in recent years. Yet to me, each time, it presents itself in the same way: I see the tables just outside the entrance, where my parents played cards with Maria Teresa, Daniela, Sandra and Cesare, the other guests of the hotel. I still hear the voice of Romolo, a tanned Milanese gentleman, who greeted me warmly as soon as I arrived in the beautiful dining room on the first floor. On the terrace overlooking the “Odle”, among the tables surrounded by the pleasant shade of the umbrellas, I still see “Formichina”, a distinguished lady of Padua, a retired teacher, who had been on holiday in this valley for decades, even from the years immediately following the Second World War, when to get here, she told us, the mule was still used. I can still imagine her lecturing to Bibi and Roy, two dear friends from Rome, known and become such right here where we usually meet ourselves.
Each time is a journey into memories.
Among these trees, along the folds of these tablecloths embroidered with Tyrolean designs,
among the narrow streets of this town that lap meadows and stables, many people
have fallen madly in love with the magic of this place.
I go up again, passing the wall of the church, where Messner, Mrs. Anna’s cousin, climbed as a child, when he learned to know and love the mountains. The road is steep, 15 km further up, at 2000 mt, there is the “Passo delle Erbe” where Klaus, a boy of my age, and his family manage the “Ütia de Börz” alpine hotel, right under the imposing massif of “Sass de Putia”, at the top of the pass. I advise you to drop by and stop to eat, maybe on a rainy day. Inside the atmosphere is magical, warm, familiar: the wood, of which the dining room is entirely covered, the windows overlooking the mountains and meadows and the courtesy of Klaus’ father, the perfect host, are everything you need to spend a few hours of relax and pleasure.
From the parking lot of the pass you can plan countless excursions, in summer and winter. I have lived this place in every season of the year and in all weather conditions. Its beauty remains intact.
Going down, along the road that runs along the “Odle di Eores“, you return to San Pietro. In the middle, along the way, many places from which different hikes and excursions start. And yet huts, pastures, farms and breathtaking panoramic views.
Many routes leave from the center of the village, most of which are touristic, ideal for immersing yourself in nature and enjoying the beauty of this place. Among them, two are my favorites: the first, the one that leads to the “Moarhof“, passing through the church of San Giacomo and returning, in the woods, from the village of San Valentino. A quiet walk, ideal for stretching your legs, admiring the landscape and tasting a nice dish of fresh chanterelles. The second, more panoramic, which leads from San Pietro to Santa Maddalena, the highest village, continuing on the road to the “Odle”. Among the many benches located along the way, choose one and stop for a while. The air and silence will lull you, interrupted only by the sound of cow bells and the incessant flow of the “Rio Funes”, at the bottom of the valley.
If you truly immerse yourself in what surrounds you, you will understand the profound meaning and magical atmosphere of this part of the Earth, where time still flows to the rhythm of nature.
Santa Maddalena, along with Tiso, located at the beginning of the valley, is the other inhabited center together with San Pietro. It is the one located higher in altitude. Here stands the only ski lift in the valley, used in winter for skiing. The hiking trails of the Val di Funes start from here and from the “Malga Zannes“, a few kilometers further up.
The starting point is unique and unmistakable: the small church of San Giovanni, on the meadows of “Ranui” (from the name of the medieval farm that stands next to it). This place, often used to represent the Dolomites generically, has become, year after year, the destination of many curious people eager to immortalize it from every angle. In summer, the church lives surrounded by flowering meadows adjacent to the farm. In winter, it stands next to a fun toboggan run, acting as a point of arrival for the routes that start from the huts located higher up. Its position, for many reasons, is central to the valley.
The itineraries, summer and winter, are many. There is something for every level, ability, desire and difficulty. From here, for example, you can reach the highest peak of the “Odle”, the “Sass Rigais”, with an excursion for experts which includes, in the final part, an equipped stretch. Almost 2000 meters in altitude and a lot, a lot of effort, rewarded by what awaits us at the top.
But there are thousands of other opportunities for those who want to discover the valley by walking along its trails, at any time of the year. The most famous of these is certainly the “Munkel Weg”, a panoramic route that runs through the woods along the slopes of the “Odle”. The itinerary is suitable for a large group of hikers and is passable both in summer and in winter, perhaps with the help of snowshoes in the presence of fresh snow.
In addition to the many scenic trails, including the “Günther Messner” equipped route, named after Reinhold’s brother, the most beautiful part of the “Val di Funes” is represented by its mountain huts called “malghe“, cozy dining places, managed with love by local families. Many of these small huts, surrounded by green meadows populated by pastures and men and women intent on making hay, still maintain the traditions of the past. And so, very often, it is possible to enter to taste a nice glass of fresh milk or a piece of “malga” cheese. Do not miss the opportunity to visit them, taste the typical “Kaiserschmarren” and drink a glass of elderberry juice comfortably seated at the table, admiring, from any point, the grandeur of the “Odle” above you.
Many other places, events and moments would have to be told to describe the “Val di Funes” and the people who live there. Other moments like this will serve to do it. My desire now was to share, in words and images, the beauty of this enchanted place, nestled in the Dolomites.
I was lucky, many years ago to bump in this valley on the border between “Val Badia” and “Val Gardena”, that are perhaps better known. I started to know the mountain, until I loved it madly, thanks to this place. Here I learned the sense of respect for nature and all its representations, even the most violent ones. I understood how sweet the effort of walking can be, knowing that I can reach such beautiful peaks. I am still amazed, every time more, as if it were the first day.
And still today on clear summer evenings, when sunset comes, I walk to the capital of the “Plague”, I sit on the wooden bench and wait for that moment when the sun, like a tender lover, puts his last glance on the sweet face of those majestic mountains, before going to sleep.