Santa Maddalena, Italy

Set in a valley at 1,339 meters above sea level and 2.51 kilometers from the town of Funes, the incredibly scenic small village of Santa Maddalena, home to about 370 residents, is known most for its symbolic monument, the Maddalena Church. Back-dropped by the Olde mountains, the church is situated at the foot of Rufen, popularly appearing in geographic and travel magazine covers as a motif of The Dolomites mountain range. The village is an ideal holiday resort, comprising a luxurious experience and a remote small-town setting for a quintessential 2-in1 romantic getaway. Tightly packed with homes, apartments, and hotels, the village is the base for exploring the valleys and trails to the Puez-Odle Nature Park, including the Adolf Munkel Trail and Rifugio Genova Circuit, and Tullen Summit. During winter, the working ski lift allows excellent access to the slopes, while the surrounding landscape calls for snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, or experiencing the snow-capped landscape on horseback, with the Zannes mountain pasture just a few kilometers away. As the starting point to the region's countless hikes, there's the Puez-Olde Nature Park in the vicinity, featuring numerous trails for all skill types. 

Geography Of Santa Maddalena

Aerial view of Santa Maddalena, Italy
Beautiful aerial view of Santa Maddalena with Odle Mountain peaks in the background, Dolomite Alps, South Tyrol, Italy. 

The mountain village is located in the northern part of Italy, the province of Bolzano, and the region of Trentino-Alto Adige, known as Südtirol in German. Set in the rear part of the wonderful Val di Funes, it was created by the relief of the Dolomite mountains like many other valleys. The gorgeous Alpe di Siusi and Alpe di Zannes are just a few kilometers away for a heart-healthy stroll in the fresh air with marvelous views of 360 degrees around. The Funes/Villnöss Valley is great for a day-worth outing with a picnic or a late afternoon stroll into the early evening, with the Odle Dolomite peaks lording over the valley. Summer is a charming time to visit the valleys, with the colorful flowers dotting the green, while the wintertime brings about wonderfully glistening snow cover reflecting the sun to light everything around. 

The Dolomites is a mountain group in the eastern section of the northern Italian Alps bounded by valleys to all sides but south. With the highest point, the Marmolada, at 3,342 meters above sea level, the range was named after the 18th-century French geologist Dieudonné Dolomieu, who first studied the geology of the mountainous region. Formed from a light-colored dolomitic limestone and carved by erosion into a present-day jagged shape, saw-edged ridges, rocky pinnacles, screes (pebble deposits) of limestone debris, and deep gorges, and numerous steep rock faces to observe today. Glaciated at the top with 41 glaciers in the region, the lower forested slopes give way to grassy meadows.

The first climbs of the range took place in the 1860s and ’70s by English mountaineers, while landslides claimed over 2,500 lives after heavy rains in 1963, and the Dolomites were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2009. The Dolomites are easily accessible via the surrounding valleys. The main north-south road runs over the Campolongo Pass at 1,875 meters high, and some streets are even higher from the other sides. The Cortina d’Ampezzo is the main mountain climbing region popular among tourists, while the Ortisei resort has its own narrow-gauge railway.

The Bolzano and Belluno are among the larger towns, while Santa Maddalena (St. Magdalena in German) is one of the smaller settlements bounding the Dolomites. Despite its small breadth, the village is widely known as an excellent start for scenic hikes set in the South Tyrol region proximate to the Zannes mountain pasture for hiking the Puez-Odle Nature Park trails. 

Activities In Santa Maddalena

Young woman trekking the Adolf Munkel Trail
A young woman trekking the Adolf Munkel Trail in the Dolomites, Northern Italy. 

Even if not taking the onward trails from the Zannes mountain pasture for various hikes in all the seasons, it is a popular destination from the village, set only a few kilometers from Santa Maddalena. The Puez-Odle nature park offers perfect destinations for all mountaineering levels, with the Adolf Munkel trail at the foot of the Odle peaks, a nature trail, one to the Rif. Gampen, and a tour to the Sasso Putia. The visitors’ center offers one to admire this green area from a bird’s eye perspective and “touch the mountains,” discovering the possibilities of all outdoor pursuits in the region. 

The Trails

A couple viewing the landscape of the Santa Maddalena village in Dolomites, Italy
A couple viewing the landscape of the Santa Maddalena village in Dolomites, Italy. 

While sunsets and sunrises are love from the mountain village as is with the backdrop by the "Italian Alps," the hikes to higher elevations multiply the effect ten-some. The best time to take a scenic hike upon setting base in Santa Maddalena is to calculate the reaching of the vantage point coinciding with the sunset for an unforgettable spectacle of the colored sky dramatizing the features spreading far around below.

The Santa Maddalena Panorama Trail (“Panoramaweg” in German) and the Sunny-side Trail (“Sunnseitnweg”) are linked together for an easy, scenic hike that brings one back to the starting point. Leading one along narrow footpaths and low trafficked paved roads, the trail traverses various landscapes, changing scenery from meadows to pockets of forest to historic Tirolean farmsteads. The hike provides a great visual perspective of the dramatically set Santa Maddalena Church back-dropped by the Odle/Geisler Peaks. Upon embarking, one can reach the very spot for a magazine cover-worthy shot in less than 25 minutes. 

The Santa Maddalena Val di Funes Panorama Trail Loop is a 9.5 km circuit hike that can be completed in three and a half hours with 380 meters totaling the elevation change, best done in May through November. With the trailhead as the Santa Maddalena Village, Val di Funes, South Tyrol, the path onward passes the Santa Maddalena Church, Vikolerhof, Runggatschhof, Gsoihof, Austillerhof, and back, skimming by the church once again. During this, one will also get to experience the Delle Erbe, known as one of the most stunning mountain passes in the Dolomites, while the Gsoihof farm on the way is a great place to replenish one’s strength with a hearty meal for the continuation of the journey. 

The Skiing

With not a lot of terrain for skiing and snowboarding, people still come equipped with skis and snowboards for a relaxing day of rides down the easy-rated trails within the magnificent views. There is a ski lift perfect for the winter sports enthusiasts who are just learning and is suitable for the newbies' terrain. There is cross-country skiing along the Zannes round trail, the Russis - Rif, and the Halshütte - Passo Delle Erbe. The Col di Poma is perfect for snowshoeing, while horseback rides are available to explore the region with the snow-capped landscape around. 

Landmarks

Santa Maddalena Church
Santa Maddalena Church

According to the legend, the Santa Maddalena church standing above the village at 1,394 m and back-dropped by the Odle mountains is where the Fopal river washed up the miraculous image of Santa Maddalena. Those more into facts believe it was actually a statue that washed up, prompting people to commemorate the spot with the famed structure. One cannot drive directly to the church, but it is easily walkable from the village.

Upon setting base at one of the many accommodation options, the Kirchweg (“church path”) street first leads one to the Tyrol Hotel, magnificent with a striking, modern alpine facade. An onward ascend uphill to the Fallerhof Farm reveals the church ahead. Turning left at Fallerhof Farm via the 26/Kirchweg, there is a large modern barn with dairy cows and enclosed farm birds. Veering right and more uphill, the pathway now leads one directly to the Santa Maddalena Church. 

Santa Maddalena
Street view of Santa Maddalena (Santa Magdalena) village.

The location was a place of pagan worship and sacrifice since prehistoric times, while the stone church itself dates back to the late 14th century. Open for visits with no fee; the church comprises a small and bright interior dominated by baroque elements. The cute church does not have the onion dome shape of the other churches in the region, but it is the ornate decor,  the paintings by Ladin artist Johann M. Pescoller within, all the wood, and the essence of "not being overdone" that makes it so enticing to visit. In fact, it was the beautiful church first that the small village was named after, beatifying the town today with its scenic location and myriad of other activities around. 

Recreation In Santa Maddalena

Speckfest comprises a major celebratory time in Santa Maddalena named for the famous ham unique to the area. Having been around the 13th century, the special meat is described as “a little salt, a little smoke and a lot of fresh mountain air,” with each farmer rubbing their own blend of spices into the fresh meat for a one-of-a-kind-taste each time. The festival takes place during the first weekend of each October. Set up on the slopes of the Val di Funes just below Santa Maddalena Church, one can get a dose of the most fantastic scenery while absorbing the area's culture. Inclusive are the local speck, wine, and beer, along with spectacular location, lots of fun, and a rich experience of the great regional traditions.

Whether in town to absorb the atmosphere within, see the church, and relax on the slopes and the grassy meadows, or hike part of the Dolomites with farmsteads visits along the way, there is nothing that the small village cannot provide. It is also a perfect base for a wintertime skiing destination or a romantic getaway to meet a stunning sunset at the Gampenalm pasture with an atmospheric return in the moonlight.

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