At the foot of the thundering Schlern massif lies the St. Valentin Chapel — one of the most picturesque churches of the Dolomites. We show you how to visit this historic landmark when in the Alpe di Siusi holiday region.
IF YOU EVER NEEDED an excuse to go to church, the St. Valentin Chapel (also San Valentino) maybe it. This hilltop jewel is blessed with a mountain backdrop so immediate, immense and immersive it makes one’s heart flutter with awe.
Resting on a grassy slope high above the idyllic village of Seis (Siusi), St. Valentin Chapel is a must-see for those spending time visiting the Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm), Europe’s largest Alpine pasture, which surges another 2,000 feet into the sky from where the chapel sits.
The church’s time-worn tower, crowned with a crimson dome, is impossible to miss no matter if you come into the village from the north or south. Its bulbed-steeple pokes above the billowy fields like a stray wildflower.
A Mysterious Past
The existence of the St. Valentin Chapel was first documented in 1244. However, the exact year it was built is not known. But in a way, one could say the chapel saw its first breath on February 14th in 269 AD. The day a Christian priest, known as Valentine, met his end at the edge of a sword.
His crime? Violating an edict issued by Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus that prohibited the marriage of young couples. The emperor believed unmarried soldiers made better warriors. His warped mind thought if soldiers had wives or children it would weigh too much on them in battle.
In 496, Pope Gelasius I inaugurated the Feast of Saint Valentine to be celebrated annually on February 14 in veneration of the Christian martyr. Hundreds of years later devout South Tyroleans erected the chapel of St. Valentin to honor the saint.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The more you hike in the Dolomites the more mysterious they become. Why? The land teems with ancient legends…some as jolting as the peaks themselves. It came as no surprise then when we discovered the little chapel of St. Valentin holds a bull-size legend of its own.
For thousands of years, tales of witches have swirled in the Dolomites, particularly around Schlern mountain. The peak is notorious for manifesting menacing thunderstorms. These storms were said to spawn from spells cast by the witches of Schlern.
According to legend, long ago a bull roaming the fields around St. Valentin chapel made a fortuitous discovery: a bell buried in the hillside. This lucky bell became known as the “The Bull of San Valentino” and was hung in the church’s spire.
When the thunderstorms raged down from the mountains, the villagers would ring “The Bull of San Valentino” to break the spell of the witches. It is said the witches of Schlern came to fear the sound of the St. Valentin Chapel.
Visiting the St. Valentin Chapel
You can choose to admire the St. Valentin Chapel from a lofty distance, and many only do, but if you want to know all of its charming splendor, a hike is in your future. The walk is somewhat steep, but the church rewards you with vast views of the valley that stretch all the way to the neighborhoods of Bolzano.
Plan to make the hike on a clear day if you can to make the most of the scenery. We were lucky that the sun began to peak out just as we reached the church…almost on as if on cue.
A variety of trails can lead you to St. Valentin Chapel including one from the town of Castelrotto that takes about an hour to walk. However, we recommend visiting the chapel either before or after spending a day hiking the Alpe di Siusi.
Begin near the village center of Seis. There you will find a brick-paved path that winds up the hillside toward the chapel.
After a 5-minute walk, you’ll come across another path carved under a row of trees that brings you to the chapel steps. To find the chapel trail in Seis, simply follow the signposts.
Once on the trail, you cannot miss the chapel unless you’re entirely consumed by the enormity of the Siusi Alp storming upward from the forested slopes. Seeing the iconic Schlern massif from this vantage point is at its most breathtaking.
In addition to its sensational vistas and postcard-perfect perch beneath Schlern, St. Valentin Chapel is also celebrated for its remarkable frescoes inside and on its outer walls. They date back to the 14th and 15th centuries.
We found one of the frescoes on the outer wall facing the village particularly intriguing as it shows the Three Kings greeting the infant Jesus with the peaks of the Dolomites in the background. The frescoes on this wall bask in the late afternoon sunlight creating shadows that dance hypnotically with the centuries-old scenery
Unfortunately, touring inside the chapel is not possible without making a special appointment. But the outside of St. Valentin is so spectacular it is one appointment you can afford to skip.
The Farms of St. Valentin
Walking the hills above Seis would be worth it even if the St. Valentin Chapel never came to be. Quaint farmsteads dot the landscape creating one of the most idyllic settings in the Dolomites. We suggest taking time to admire these rustic gems before venturing back down to Seis.
After visiting the chapel, hop back on the paved brick path that led first led to the church. From here, walk further uphill a few more minutes to a wood-clad farm that looks to be out of another century.
This gorgeous property treated us to some of our favorite moments in South Tyrol. If you time your visit right, you may be able to watch South Tyrol’s famous Haflinger horses gracefully graze under a mature grove of apple trees.
Map of St. Valentin Chapel
On the below map, look for the path leading to the Garni Zatzerhof from LS324. Parking is available off LS324 near the entrance to the path.
By the way, if you’re visiting the chapel in the afternoon as we did, we recommend grabbing dinner in Seis. The village is easy to walk through and you’ll find a number of establishments to pick from.
We ate at the Restaurant Pizzeria Zum Woscht and delighted in pizza accompanied by a bottle Lagrein from Cantina Tramin. Afterward, we suggest visiting the parish church of Sciliar located on the edge of the village center. While not as scenic as St. Valentin Chapel, it possesses a peaceful Alpine cemetery that is well worth strolling through.