By: Margherita Ragg
Long before YouTubers and Instagrammers existed, the royals of Europe were the first influencers. If kings and queens put their seal of approval on a holiday destination, then members of the court were likely to follow in their footsteps. This is exactly what happened with Madonna di Campiglio, visited by Empress Sissi and Emperor Franz Josef twice in the late 19th century. The heyday of Madonna di Campiglio never really ended after the imperial journey, and the location is still one of the most visited in the Alps, both in summer and in winter.
Madonna di Campiglio is located in the heart of the Brenta Dolomites. When referring to ‘the Dolomites’, most people will immediately think of the mountain peaks located east of the Adige River, between South Tyrol and the Belluno province in Veneto. The Brenta Dolomites are further west, right next to Lombardy, but offer the same geological structure, stunning scenery and opportunities for adventure that made ‘the Dolomites’ famous worldwide. So, what’s there to do around the Brenta Dolomites, and why did Sissi love the area so much?
1) Skiing and Glamour in Madonna di Campiglio
Let’s start with the town that spearheaded the development and success of the whole area. Despite having been made famous by the royal Habsburg couple, the origins of hospitality in Madonna di Campiglio date back to the 12th century, when a small inn was opened in a church on the main road heading towards the Germanic lands beyond the Alps. Nearby Campo Carlo Magno pass is named after Charlemagne, who led his troops along the pass.
Nowadays, Madonna di Campiglio is the perfect base for a skiing destination or to explore nature. From the town itself, the ski slopes are only a short cable car ride away – in the Skiarea Campiglio Dolomiti there are over 150 km of pistes available, including the famous 3Tre, a world cup location. Madonna di Campiglio is also famous for its après ski scene – Ober-1 is an excellent club and restaurant, serving sushi every Thursday.
If you don’t like skiing, or you are visiting outside of ski season, the main square of Madonna di Campiglio offers great views over the Brenta massif. The town is the starting point for several hikes - including the scenic walk to Monte Spinale, Sissi’s favorite. To rest in style, Hotel des Alpes is definitely the best choice in town – it’s the same hotel where Sissi and Franz Josef stayed during their holidays. Make sure you visit Salone Hofer, with beautiful Art Nouveau paintings and a portrait of the imperial couple.
2) The Understated Charm of Pinzolo
Madonna di Campiglio is indeed stunning, but it can be pricey and very busy due to its proximity to the slopes and reputation as a holiday destination for the wealthy. A cheaper – but no less amazing – option is Pinzolo, further down in the valley. Ski lovers need not worry, as Pinzolo slopes are also part of the massive Skiarea Campiglio Dolomiti, and the hair-rising Madonna di Campiglio pistes can be reached easily.
Pinzolo is also the ideal location for a cycling holiday – it’s located right next to the Rendena Bike Path, running alongside the Sarca River for 25 km. Regular bicycles and ebikes can be rented from various locations in Pinzolo.
3) Relaxing in Caderzone Terme
Regardless of whether you’re visiting in summer or winter, a day spent pampering yourself in a spa is always a good idea. Caderzone Terme is a small village a couple of kilometers from Pinzolo, famous for its thermal baths where it’s possible to have health treatments or spend a day relaxing, hopping between the thermal pool, sauna, hammam, and salt grotto, and even treating yourself to a massage.
Caderzone also has a picturesque historic center extending along the Sarca River and the ‘Malga Museum’, detailing the tradition of transhumant shepherding and cheese making in the region.
4) Hiking around the Brenta Dolomites
There are countless options to explore the Brenta Dolomites area on foot – in winter you can opt for snowshoe hikes, also often available at night under the full moon for a truly magical experience. In summer, the Brenta Dolomites offer great multi-day hikes and opportunities for overnight stays in mountain huts.
My favorite place in the whole of Alps is Rifugio Alimonta, set in a clearing at 2580 meters, with a great 360° view over the Brenta Dolomites. There are two ways to get to Rifugio Alimonta – the easiest option is following a mountain path starting from Rifugio Vallesinella, slowly climbing through the woods and above the tree line, reaching the mountain hut in approximately 5 hours. If you’re not afraid of heights, Via delle Bocchette Centrali is an easy via ferrata dug into the mountainside, with truly breathtaking views. A mountain guide is highly recommended for anyone following the Via delle Bocchette Centrali.
Rifugio Alimonta, Photo by Summitpost.org
5) Chasing Waterfalls in Val Genova
A walk along Sentiero delle Cascate (‘Waterfalls Path’) in Val Genova is a great and easy way to spend a day surrounded by nature, especially if the little ones are coming along. The first section to Cascata Nardis can be walked both in summer and winter – it’s an easy hike in summer, whereas in winter special care needs to be taken as the path is likely to be icy and slippery, but the frozen forest all around rewards those who dare venture down the valley.
The Sentiero delle Cascate starts just outside Carisolo, a village right next to Pinzolo. From there, it’s about 1.5 km to the Nardis waterfall, the largest and most spectacular in the valley.
Following the path further it’s possible to see several more waterfalls, before reaching the end at Malga Bedole, with a wonderful view over the Adamello glacier. The whole path is 16 km long – in summer there’s a minibus plying the whole length of the valley and continuing to Madonna di Campiglio and Pinzolo, so it’s possible to walk one way and catch the bus back.
Looking for tips on shorter walks in the Dolomites? In our shop you'll find this handy guidebook with 50 graded walks range from short leisurely strolls to full-day high mountain expeditions, each designed to fit into a single day.