The History of Madonna di Campiglio
Above the chic mountain resort of Madonna di Campiglio in the Italian Dolomites is a very small piazza comprising a drinking trough and three wooden benches. From here visitors can enjoy amazing views of the town nestling in the valley below. It is said that this was the favourite place of Sissi, the Empress Beatrice of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
During the nineteenth century when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Madonna di Campiglio became a favourite summer haunt of the nobility of the Hapsburg court in Vienna. Today their patronage is remembered by pageants in the summer and a week-long carnival in the winter. Franz Josef himself and his young wife the beautiful Elisabeth of Wittelsbach, nicknamed Sissi, visited the resort on two occasions. Sissi especially was attracted by the dramatic scenery that surrounded the town. She was a free spirit and loved to wander through the woods and along the mountain paths.
Courtiers from the Hapsburg Court would stay at the Grand Hotel Des Alpes one of the first hotels to be built in the town. It was built by Franz Josef Oesterreicher in 1886. It was rumoured that he was an illegitimate son of the Emperor Franz Joseph. And that the Emperor bought him the land he needed to build the hotel to keep him away from the Hapsburg court in Vienna. Oesterreicher certainly left his mark on the town as he built a new church and then demolished the original church. Both buildings are still in use today.
The Walks in Madonna di Campiglio
But the Hotel des Alpes is no longer the only hotel. This valley, that was once a poor, infertile, rock strewn area is now the home of a popular summer resort. More hotels have been built accompanied by shops and restaurants. Paths have been cut through the woods. They have been marked and signposted. Walking maps are available from the local Tourist Information Office so it is easy to follow in the footsteps of Sissi and find your way to the local beauty spots such as Lago Nambino.
Many have followed in the footsteps of Sissi, including myself. Sometimes I join a walk organised by the local Alpine Guides. This organisation was founded in 1911 and provides guides for groups as well as organising an extensive programme of walks, hiking and climbing. It is free to join their walks with the Dolomeete Card. But I also love to walk alone as the paths are well maintained and there are plenty of rifugios or mountain refuges offering rest and refreshment, some very sophisticated.
One of my favourite walks starts on the Giro di Campiglio, an easy path that encircles the town. A turning off this path joins another path that winds up the mountain to Malga Ritorto. I did stop to try some fresh milk from the local cows, the Rendena breed. 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.
A two kilometre walk down he road from here is Patascoss an ideal place to stop for coffee. On my way I was overtaken by the small tourist train that runs between the two as an alternative to people driving or walking there. From Patascoss and I took the path that winds down Miramonti and into town. When I emerged from the woods into the open I had a perfect view of the town below me – the main square graced with the umbrellas of the very popular Bar Suisse my destination for a leisurely lunch. This well-appointed café is housed in the hunting lodge of the Emperor Franz Josef probably the town’s most famous visitor. After lunch I walked back to my hotel, the Hotel Lorenzetti, along the Giro di Campiglio. 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.
Another favourite place of mine is Lago Malghette which is only accessible on foot. I started from the top of the Pradalago cabin lift following a path that wove its way through a carpet of pink rock rhododendrons ascending gently all the time. The path then descends to the lake in the next valley. The lake is stunningly beautiful and it is worth walking all the way round it to enjoy the views of the pink-tinted mountains from the far end. Naturally there is a restaurant there but there are also some in the small settlement of Campo Carlo Magno where I emerged after taking an alternative path to get back to the town.
The Giro delle Cascate is probably the most popular walk in the area and one I like to do both summer and winter. From the Hotel Lorenzetti I crossed the bridge over the river that runs beside it and then turned immediately onto the Giro di Campiglio. This path took me down into the valley below the hotel where I crossed the river again and walked up the other side where I joined another path. This took me to the first of two waterfalls Cascata Media. The path meandered through a beech wood. It was beautiful with the sun shining through the trees and dappling the ground beneath them. After a break to admire the cascading water I set off for the second waterfall, Cascata Alta. My anticipation always builds up as the path begins ascending so the river running alongside it starts building up from a sluggish stream to a foaming torrent. At the end of the last ascent I am thrilled by the sight of water cascading down from the peak above me. It does not take long to climb up the path beside the waterfall and after crossing the Alpine meadow at the top to descend to the Rifugio Vallesinella. This is an ideal place for lunch before taking the path back to the town – or jumping on the bus that runs between the two.
After walking all day a real treat is to relax on the hotel verandah, Prosecco in hand, and enjoy the spectacle of the sun setting behind the rose tinted peaks of the Dolomites that emerged from the depths of the sea about seventy million years ago.