Do you know of San Vigilio di Marebbe, Italy? Maybe you’ve heard of Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park — one of the Dolomite parks. Or maybe not. Well… You’re in luck because I’m going to tell you about this amazing part of Italy … Where I rarely — if ever — run into Americans or Canadians. And I can’t understand why. Because this is an absolutely gorgeous destination. Okay. So let’s start with those logistics because I hear you asking, “Where the hell is this San Virgilio place?” Ummm…that’s San Vigilio.
San Vigilio (no “r”) di Marebbe is in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northern Italy and specifically in the Alto Adige piece of the region. Alto Adige, often referred to as South Tyrol or Südtirol, is in the far northern part of Italy and borders Austria. This region once belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire but was awarded to Italy after WWI when Italy switched sides from the Axis to the Allies. So, this portion of the Trentino-Alto Adige region is definitely more Germanic/Austrian. And San Vigilio di Marebbe is no different. This town is located just 17km south of Brunico or Bruneck in German. It sits in a gorgeous, narrow valley surrounded by mountains.
San Vigilio di Marebbe is a wonderful mix of Italian, German and the local Ladin. The Ladin folks are an ethnic group you’ll find in various parts of northern Italy. They developed their own identity in the early 19th century. They have their own language which is similar to the Swiss Romansh language and their own unique traditions. San Vigilio di Marebbe is one town that has a strong Ladin culture. In fact, you’ll see signs in Ladin first. For me this mix makes this town exceptionally appealing. It’s a bit of a melting pot!
The visitor center for Fanes-Senes-Braies Dolomite Nature Park is actually in San Vigilio di Marebbe. So this village makes a great base for exploring the park. Now, Fanes-Senes-Braies is not a park you’re going to be driving through like Yellowstone. This is a park that you’ll see on foot. You need to be in pretty good shape to tackle most of the trails in the park — at least the ones I’ve been on. However, there are some easier hikes around Lago di Braies which is a short drive from San Vigilio di Marebbe. I can’t say enough about how stunning this Dolomiti park is. I love it. The Senes Alpe, the Fanes Alpe, and the peaks that surround the town and that are in the park. There are lakes and forests and mountain streams to go along with all those mountains. This is a park that you must see. And San Vigilio is the perfect town to base yourself so you can spend time in the park.
There are quite a few trails around town and in the park for walkers, hikers and cyclists — road and mountain. The trails around town tend to be more accessible and less demanding. Often you’ll find yourself walking on small roads versus dirt/rock trails. And these routes are often shorter. The trails in the park are definitely more challenging — rocky and uphill. However, they’re not always particularly long so this is a bonus. If you do want to tackle longer distances, you can certainly do so as there are peaks you can climb and lakes and high alpine valleys you can hike to that require more time and stamina. I think this is what makes San Vigilio di Marebbe and the area around it a great place to visit — there are trails to fit your fitness level as well as your time constraints. On this recent visit I saw families out with kiddos on mountain bikes or walking some of the easier paths. And I encountered the more adventurous folks climbing the mountain peaks. The other nice thing is that there are mountain huts, rifugio, along some of the trails. And these huts have restaurants. So you can hike up to Fanes Rifugio, which is about a 5km hike with 600m of elevation gain, in the morning, arrive in time for lunch, then hike back down to the starting point at Pederu. How civilized is that?