Trekking the Schenna Waalweg to the Church of St. George is an immersive journey through the soaring canvas of the Tyrolean Alps. Discover why you should hike to this medieval sanctuary nestled amidst some of South Tyrol’s most beautiful mountains.
We set off at the crack of dawn for an adventure on the Schenna Waalweg, or Schenner as many of the locals call it, serenaded by a choir of birds only early mornings can summon. Soon, we reach the Waalweg — ancient irrigation channels rivering through the mountainsides of Merano and Val Venosta — where snowmelt courses wildly alongside our feet. The rippling water joins the birds in song providing a thrilling soundtrack to our hike.
Under the dense canopy, sunlight filters mischievously through the leaves, hinting at what’s to come. As we navigate through the thicket, the path ahead looms like a riddle to be solved, only revealing its secrets as we edge forward. It flares at the periphery of the woodlands, shining like a beacon calling us toward an unseen destiny.
When the trees finally recede, a panorama of unutterable beauty unfurls before us. The grandeur of South Tyrol crystallizes in the visage of the eastern Ötztal Alps – a quintessential Alpine vista that stands as one of the most sublime scenes along the region’s Waalweg paths.
Wandering Along the Schenna Waalweg
As we meander the Schenna Waalweg, our eyes are drawn to the spectacle of Val Passira (Passeier Valley), where the majestic Mutspitze (Monte Muta) punctuates the sky, its peak towering over 7,500 ft high. Beyond this proud sentinel, the formidable Rötl mountain holds court, flanked by the snowy crests of Spronser Rötelspitzer (Cima Rosa), cradling the highest Alpine lakes in South Tyrol. The sight is awe-inspiring, a testament to nature’s raw power and beauty, leaving us humbled and enchanted.
Deeper into those distant peaks our imaginations wander to Similaun mountain teetering on the Austrian border. This nearly 12,000 ft. giant was the icy tombstone to one of mankind’s greatest historical discoveries: the 5,300-year-old mummified body of Ötzi the Iceman.
We look on in silence — taking our time to wholly absorb the mountainous wonders. Then move further along the path into the heart of a South Tyrolean apple orchard lushing the mountainside.
Before long, we find ourselves traipsing through a sun-soaked meadow, its expanse dotted with gold petals basking in the balmy light. We amble past sleepy farms, their rustic tranquillity soon giving way to the cool sanctuary of a forested grove.
As we press on, the path unfolds a symphony of its own. The plaintive coos of cuckoo birds and the rhythmic chime of cowbells lend their voices to the ceaseless babble of water. The unmistakable roar of a waterfall reverberates through the trees, a powerful unseen force raging into a distant gorge.
We can’t help but chuckle, our laughter echoing amidst the trees, at the thought of what other marvels this celestial trail might offer. Our final destination is the historic Church of St. George, but the journey is more than half the magic. We are wanderers, adventurers, savoring every twist and turn, every bird’s call and rustling leaf. In every moment, we are keenly aware that we are treading through a world touched by the divine, with nature as our guide.
Our path meanders, guiding us through the ordered beauty of a vineyard, where we find ourselves instinctively bowing under the leafy overhang of laden vines. We halt, momentarily arrested by the humble grace of a wayside shrine — one of many silent sentinels we’ve come across on this trek. They stand as a quiet tribute to faith, loved ones lost, and perhaps also to the persistence of hope.
Ahead, a sign declares our destination to be near. The church, our main destination on this hike, awaits just beyond the next bend.
Visiting the Church of St. George
From the moment our eyes danced across images of the Church of St. George during a late-night South Tyrol research rabbit hole, we knew it was a must-see. Its peculiar, circular form called out to us, not unlike the allure of the Sabiona Monastery that had previously entranced us. This solitary haven of faith perched atop a hill cloaked in vineyards, with the majesty of the Alps as its backdrop, had been steadily etching its image into our wanderlust-fueled dreams.
Nestled in the unassuming hamlet of St. George, shadowed by the grandeur of Mt. Ifinger — a towering titan of the Sarntal Alps peaking at over 8,400 feet — the church is a beacon amidst the rugged terrain. Its architectural form, distinctly Romanesque in style, whispers of an origin story that harkens back to the early 13th century. It stands, a stoic testimony to centuries past, yet ever watchful over the changing landscape around it, beckoning explorers like us to tread the path less traveled.
According to historical records, this mountain sanctuary was likely a spiritual pit-stop for crusading armies once on the move to the Holy Land. St. George, the church’s namesake, was often celebrated as a defender of Christ, a symbol that resonated deeply with the medieval crusaders who might have seen their own reflections in his heroism.
As we navigate the church’s exterior, we can’t help but feel the weight of the centuries pressed into its stones. Upon entering, we’re ushered into a vibrant theatre of the past. These walls are not mere stone and plaster; they’re the canvas for a sweeping saga that unfolds in a riot of color. Dating back to the 1400s, the frescoes bring the life and death of St. George to life with startling vividness. The brush strokes seem to whisper the tales of this Roman soldier turned martyr, their narrative breathing life into the hallowed silence of the church.
In 303 A.D. after St. George refused to denounce his Christian faith, the Roman emperor Diocletian sentenced him to death. How did he die? Not well. Death wasn’t served to him on a silver platter, no, it was a horrific spectacle of torture that was designed to break him.
Before his end, St. George bequeathed his wealth to the poor. This was not a man who clung to material possessions, but to his belief, even as he was ushered into the ghastly theater of his demise. The Romans were inventive in their cruelty. St. George was thrown into a barrel embedded with blazing hot nails, his skin seared with each sickening roll. He was subjected to the torturous spin of a crude wheel of swords, each rotation lacerating his flesh, painting a grotesque picture of devotion and pain.
These horrific scenes, so vividly etched into the frescoes, make us recoil as we study the walls of the church. They serve as a brutal reminder of the price untold souls have paid in the name of their faith. According to the tales passed down through generations, St. George was brought back to life three times during this macabre ordeal, but he never once recanted his beliefs. When the end finally came, it was with the swift descent of a blade, ending a life that would continue to resonate throughout the centuries.
After pondering the depictions, we approach a Gothic wooden triptych set between church windows. Intricately carved and beaming with color, it tells a much happier tale: St. George, the dragon slayer. This work of art we learn belongs to Hans Schnatterpeck — a famous 15th-century artist of Merano. By the way, a similar scene of St. George graces the walls of the mighty Burg Taufers castle. A clear indication of how the saint was admired by peasants and nobles alike.
We leave the church stepping back into the bountiful South Tyrolean sun. Our visit was brief, but the dramatic history, detailed beauty and throng of sights encountered made the trek to the Church of St. George an experience we will not soon forget.
How to Hike the Schenna Waalweg to the St. George Church
As far as we know, the best way to visit the Church of St. George while also eyeing its enchanting form from a lofty distance is to hike the Schenna Waalweg. The Schenna Waalweg begins its dance just above the quaint village of Schenna (Scena), a stone’s throw from Merano. Here, the trail unfurls before you like a love letter to the South Tyrolean landscapes — an intoxicating mosaic of Alpine and Mediterranean flavors, with a few unexpected notes in between.
We chose to set off from the village of Verdins, a mere five-minute journey north of Schenna. There’s a public parking lot tucked discreetly off the main road if you’re driving, or you can hop on a public bus if you prefer to travel light.
From Verdins, follow the signposts that dance like breadcrumbs through the town center. They’ll lead you on an uphill pilgrimage before nudging you onto the Schenna Waalweg. From there, keep your compass pointed south towards Schenna.
Where to Eat on the Schenna Waalweg
The trail is more than just a means to an end, though. Along your journey, you’ll find yourself brushing past rustic mountainside taverns, like the Köstenthalerhof — a cozy nook where you can tuck into a heart-warming South Tyrolean meal, or simply pause and appreciate the panoramic views with a frosty pint for company. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Another option after the church visit is to hike back to Verdins. If you time your outing right, you can feast at the Dorfstub’m — a rustic stube in Verdins radiating alpine charm.
The Dorfstub’m is a part of the Verdinser Hof wellness resort. which we have not had the good fortune to experience yet, but if you are seeking 4-star accommodations near Schenna, it looks absolutely divine.
For additional hiking ideas in and around Schenna, visit the official Schenna tourism site. As you’ll discover, the area teems with outdoor adventure laced with historic treasures throughout.