As a passionate hiker, I especially love hiking Italy’s Dolomites, where I have explored quite a bit. I wasn’t prepared though for the spectacle that is Val Badia, one of the most important destinations of the Unesco-inscribed Dolomites, where I spent a few days this summer.
Extending for about 16 km from the massive Sella group to the Puster Valley, between the Val Gardena and the Cortina d’Ampezzo area, Val Badia is home to some of the most famous Dolomites peaks, and features a varied landscape, from wide and relaxing meadows and pastures to rugged peaks and pure rock, from steep walls to flat plateaus, where the gray of the rocks alternate with the intense green of the grass.
Indeed, you may be leisurely walking on the Pralongià plateau, enjoying the scent of flowers, and never imagine that, just a few kilometers away, is the lunar, arid, hostile Mesules plateau in the Sella group. It’s what makes Val Badia so captivating.
Val Badia also comprises two of the largest natural parks of South Tyrol: Puez-Odle to the west and Fanes-Senes-Braies to the east.
There is truly something for everyone in Val Badia, from the casual mountain visitor to the keen hiker who wants to take on challenging treks.
Here are some of the places and excursions you don’t want to miss in Val Badia.
The magical world of Fanes
It’s how I’ve nicknamed the hike I took on the Fanes Plateau. It’s the area that coincides with the Fanes Kingdom, a legend of the Ladin tradition that describes Fanes as good-natures and peaceful people. It’s definitely a place that radiates positive energy. The hike, suitable only for fit hikers, starts at Capanna Alpina (1,729 m) near the village of San Cassiano. You follow trail number 11, which soon starts to climb steeply up to the Col de Loćia (2,069 m). You then continue through the valley, first amid pine forests, then along a wide open plain, surrounded by the magnificent peaks of the Dolomites, until you reach Malga Gran Fanes (2,110 m). Walk 15 minutes more to reach the idyllic Lech de Limo lake (2,159 m), where you can stop for lunch.
The lunar landscape of the Puez Plateau
When visiting Val Badia, you shouldn’t miss the chance to discover the wild, lunar landscape of the Puez plateau, part of the Puez-Odle natural park. Here you will also find one of the most popular ‘alte vie’ (high routes) of the Dolomites, the Nr. 2.
You can take the cable car from Colfosco that whisks you up to Col Pradat, where a gorgeous Dolomite landscape opens up: the view reaches from the Fanes group to the Marmolada, right in front is the mighty Sella massif, while the green landscape between the Passo Gardena and the village of Corvara is a nice contrast to the rock all around.
As you hike towards the Forcella de Ciampei, the views over the Sassongher, one of the mountain symbols of Val Badia, will take your breath away.
Sasso della Croce
Another mountain that is a symbol of Val Badia is the impressive Sasso della Croce. It overlooks the Val Badia with its vertical wall of almost 900 meters. You can choose to hike to the top (only for experienced hikers) or take a long but easy walk at its foot as the massive mountain looms over you. At 2,045 meters, at the foot of the Sasso di Santa Croce, is the 15th-century Sanctuary of Santa Croce above the village of San Leonardo in Badia, where you can also stop for lunch at the rifugio next to it.
This is an easy hike to one of the rare waterfalls in the Dolomites. It can be reached in about 45 minutes from the village of Colfosco walking close to the walls of the Sella massif. The path takes you to the foot of a high water jump positioned among the walls of the Sella group. Because it’s a fairly easy walk, it can get quite crowded in summer.
The most beautiful sunset in the Dolomites
Sunset in the Dolomites is a show not to be missed! The rocks that make up the mountains take on pink, purple, and red hues; locals call this phenomenon enrosadira. This process can be explained by the fact that up until 250 million years ago, these mountains were a mass of shells, corals and algae under the sea. In Val Badia, you can catch a great sunset pretty much everywhere, but it is at the Gardena Pass that it’s at its most spectacular.
The Gothic church of Colfosco
The Gothic church of Colfosco, with the Sella Group in the background, is one of the major attractions in Val Badia because of its picturesque position and its onion bell tower. The church dates back to the 1400s, and is located in the oldest residential area of Colfosco, at the foot of the Sassongher. On each side of the church, you can admire the statues of San Vigilio and San Cassiano.
Pralongià, the amphitheater of the Dolomites
Between Corvara, La Villa and San Cassiano, the main villages of Val Badia, is the so-called ‘Amphitheater of the Dolomites’: the Pralongià High Plateau, at 2,100 m above sea level. It offers stunning panoramic views, from the Fanes Group with Mt. Piz Cunturines, the Puez Group with Mt. Sassongher, the glacier of Mt. Marmolada. And because it’s a plateau, you can take leisurely flat walks. The Pralongià mountain hut, dating back to 1932, offers overnight stays.