The Church of St. George in South Tyrol is a historic icon of the Tyrolean Alps. Discover how to trek to this hallowed ground dating to the crusades.
SNOW-BORN WATER ripples wildly beneath our feet as we ramble under a dense forest canopy. Sunlight teases us through the leaves, but what lies ahead we cannot say. The trail bending beyond the woods’ end blazes like a blinding light at the end of a tunnel.
When the trees finally part the vast beauty of this corner of South Tyrol becomes apparent. The eastern faces of the Ötztal Alps paint us a postcard-perfect Alpine scene that is among the most breathtaking offered by the region’s Waalweg paths.
Gazing into South Tyrol’s Val Passira (Passeier Valley), our jaws drop at the sight of the Mutspitze (Monte Muta) rising 7,500+ ft. into the quintessential mountain peak. Beyond Mutspitze, soars the even higher Rötl mountain and the snowy summits of Spronser Rötelspitzer (Cima Rosa), which hold the highest Alpine lakes in South Tyrol.
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 an apple orchard lushing the mountainside.
Soon we pass through a wind-swept meadow spangled with gold petals steeping in the sun. We stroll by sleepy farms and find ourselves once again tunneling into a shady grove of trees.
As we walk, the soulful sound of cuckoo birds cooing and cowbells clanging mingle with the steady splash of water. Somewhere ahead we also hear a waterfall raging into a gorge.
We laugh out loud wondering what other surprises this heavenly trail will bring before coming to the historic Church of St. George.
Our journey eventually winds us through a vineyard where we duck slightly beneath an overhang of vines. We pause to admire the craftwork of a wayside shrine — one of many encountered during our hike — and then spot a sign indicating the church is just ahead.
Within the Church of St. George
The Church of St. George landed on our bucket list the second we came across it researching sights in South Tyrol. Just as the Sabiona Monastery captivated us at first glance, this peculiar circular Alpine church did the same. Its saintly pose atop a vine-riddled hill with a ravishing mountain backdrop never faded from our wanderlust dreams.
The church is located in the tiny hamlet of St. George which sits on the slope of Mt. Ifinger (Picco Ivigna) — an 8,400+ ft. behemoth of the Sarntal Alps. Given its Romanesque contours, the Church of St. George is thought to have been built in the early 1200s.
It may have in fact been a temporary place of worship for crusading armies marching south to fight in the Holy Land. Depictions through the centuries celebrate St. George as a defender of Christ similar to how medieval crusaders saw themselves.
We walk around the church exterior then step inside. A sweeping theater of frescoes greets us. They date to around 1400 A.D. and vividly depict the life and death of St. George. The walls speak to us in brush strokes and we come to learn how this former Roman soldier became a martyr.
In 303 A.D. after George refused to denounce his Christian faith, the Roman emperor Diocletian sentenced him to death. How did he die? Not well.
Before his execution, St. George gave his wealth to the poor. Then he endured utterly brutal torture at the hands of the Romans.
These fresco scenes make us cringe. They show the saint crammed in a barrel pierced with blazing hot nails, as well as lacerated by a crude wheel of swords. According to legend, George required resuscitation three times during the torture. Still, he did not recant his beliefs before being beheaded.
After studying 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.
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 make the trek to the Church of St. George an experience we will not soon forget.
How to Reach the Church of St. George
The best way to visit the Church of St. George while also spying it from a lofty distance is to hike the Schenner Waalweg. If you are not familiar with the word “Waalweg”, these are centuries-old path-lined irrigation channels carved into South Tyrol’s mountainsides.
The Schenner Waalweg runs above the village of Schenna (Scena) near Merano. As you can see, this trail unfurls an enchanting medley of South Tyrolean landscapes — from Alpine to Mediterranean and everything in between.
To reach the trail, we suggest starting from the village of Verdins which is 5 minutes north of Schenna. A public parking lot is off the main road if you arrive by car. You can also take a public bus to Verdins if you prefer.
From the town center follow the signposts. They will lead you uphill for a bit before steering you onto the Schenner Waalweg. Once on the Waalweg, head south towards Schenna. Along the way, you will pass by mountainside taverns such as the Köstenthalerhof where you can savor a hearty meal or simply soak in the panoramic views over a frosty pint.
The hike to the Church of St. George will take roughly 1.5 to 2 hours. It is accessible to any level hiker and only has a few short bursts of inclines.
After visiting the church, you can trek downslope to explore the Schenna Castle and Mausoleum. The fierce neo-Gothic style of the Schenna Mausoleum makes it a striking sight well worth admiring up close.
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 heart-warming South Tyrolean 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.