Deep in the heart of South Tyrol lies a secluded valley where you’ll find yourself seemingly lost in the pages of a fairy tale.
If J.R.R. Tolkien were to drop you a postcard from Middle Earth there’s a good chance it would come from Val di Funes. This breathtaking land in the Dolomites may very well be nature’s greatest masterpiece — a perfect storm of beauty and brawn.
Once you have stared longingly into a picture of the valley with the St. Magdalena (Santa Maddalena) Church amid piercing green hills and the mighty Odle (Geisler) peaks tearing into the southern sky, the sight seals your wanderlust fate. Seeing this mountainous paradise firsthand becomes an obsession.
In this post, we give you the step-by-step guide to visiting the top sights in Val di Funes (also known as Villnöss). You’ll discover how to experience the best views and hike from one attraction to the next while taking in all the Alpine enchantment this blessed valley offers.
Where is Val di Funes
Tucked between Val Gardena to the south and Val Pusteria to the north, just 45 minutes from Bolzano, you’ll find Val di Funes. Home to people as far back as prehistoric times, the valley captivates at every turn.
From unspoiled forests and fields to rolling pastures stewarded by lone farmsteads and roving livestock, idyllic scenery echoes eternally from one mountainside to the next.
Val di Funes carves roughly 15 miles through velvet evergreen slopes until abruptly meeting the jaw-dropping thunder of the Dolomites. When you first see the craggy fangs of the Odle peaks shredding the heavens, it is jarring.
The severe contrast against the tranquilness of the valley defines the very meaning of awe. Such brooding sights of nature’s might are a rare gift.
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What to See in Val di Funes
Val di Funes teems with attractions worth exploring, but the two most celebrated are the Church of St. Magdalena and the Church of St. Johann. These two storied holy sites are rather small, but leave a mountain-size impression on travelers.
Like the north-facing Odle peaks, they are symbolic of Val di Funes. The much-loved scene of their steeples among the mountains may make them the most photographed churches in South Tyrol.
The itinerary we detail below will take 2-3 hours if covering it primarily by foot. If you do not want to walk that much, you can drive near to either church.
Both can be enjoyed in as little as an hour. However, we recommend planning on at least spending a morning or afternoon exploring the area.
The Church of St. Magdalena
The Church of St. Magdalena beams from a hill in a tiny village of the same name located on the far end of the valley. The church itself sits atop a grassy hill where it is said pagan rituals took place long ago.
The exact date the church was built is not known, but it was first mentioned in historical documents in 1394. According to legend, the church was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene after a mirage of her appeared in a nearby brook. As you may recall, she is one of the most beloved saints as she embodies the power of forgiveness and was the first to see Jesus resurrected.
Inside, the church design and decor is classically baroque. Ornate gold and marble accents and remarkable paintings flourish from ceiling to floor. Above the altar is a painting of Mary Magdalene followed by a statue of her at the foot of the cross.
If you are planning a visit to South Tyrol in the fall consider attending Speckfest, which occurs the first weekend of October each year and is held just below the church. Discover more about this autumn culinary celebration by reading about our recent fun-filled afternoon at Speckfest.
TIPS FOR THE BEST VIEWS: Seeing the Church of St. Magdalena up close is certainly a rewarding experience, but admiring it against the backdrop of the Dolomites is a sight you’ll never forget. Here’s how to capture the iconic panorama as seen in our feature image:
- From the Via Geisler roadway into the village of St. Magdalena take a left at the blue sign directing you to the village center. Straight ahead of you will be a public parking lot. If you are not in a rush, you can park here and hike the road to the panorama point and church.
- Whether walking or driving, take left onto Bergweg and then a right on Trebich. Note: Street names may not be visible so be sure to follow the signs for the church (Kirche / Chiesa).
- Follow Trebich to the left and then Magdalenaweg, which veers to the right. Stay on Magdalena as it winds gradually upward.
- You’ll eventually see the church to your right and you’ll have the option to drive directly to it. But instead of taking the right continue straight to reach a higher elevation.
- You will then come to a farmstead on the road where you will take a right. Follow the road up to the second bend. Here, you will find a short trail called St. Magdalena Panoramaweg cutting across the slope offering the best views. There is no parking lot so be mindful of where you stop.
After thoroughly drinking in the views, we suggest visiting the church. It is open daily.
The Church of St. Johann
Only 40 minutes away by foot from the Church of St. Magdalena is the picturesque Church of St. Johann. This little stone church with its famous onion-bulbed steeple is actually more akin to a chapel, but the sight of it is equally stunning. It is also often referred to as St. John of Nepomuk in Ranui or San Giovanni.
The Church of St. Johann came to grace a meadow at the foot of the Odle massif in 1744. A Baroque gem inside and out, the front facade showcases decorative pillars painted on the ends with a depiction of St. John of Nepomuk near the peak of the chapel.
The life of St. John of Nepomuk is not as well known as St. Mary Magdalene. Considered a martyr, St. John was sentenced to death by drowning in 1393 by King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia. He was gagged and thrown into the Vltava River from the Charles Bridge in Prague.
Within the chapel, a series of paintings on the sides of the altar tells the story of St. John. The altar itself is grandly ornate with bedazzling marble and gold in the classic Baroque style like the Church of St. Magdalena. Curiously, a painting shows St. John holding out his tongue. It is apparently meant to symbolize his defiance of the king, which ultimately led to his torture and murder.
TIPS FOR THE BEST VIEWS: Since the Church of St. Johann sits in the middle of a wide-open field, numerous points will wow you as you meander to its doorstep. Here’s how we recommend visiting the chapel to soak it all in:
- From the Church of St. Magdalena walk the path located outside the cemetery downhill towards the village center. Along this path, you will come to one of the most epic wayside shrine scenes in South Tyrol.
- The path eventually becomes Kircheweg. Sweeping views of various farmsteads along this route make it a walk to remember.
- Follow Kircheweg all the way into the village and then take a left onto Bergweg. Before you cross onto Bergweg pause to enjoy the ripples of a small waterfall on your left.
- Stay on Bergweg and keep to the right when you come to a fork. This will lead you to the Via Geisler roadway where you will walk along the side for roughly 10 minutes until reaching a trail crossing a pasture to The Church of St. Johann.
- Before venturing to the church, you’ll come across a stand where you can purchase fresh jams, syrups and more from the nearby farm. We always recommend supporting these family-owned farms when you get the chance. There’s nothing better than the regional specialties direct from the farm.
- The largest stony spire of the Odle massif rises up beyond the church. It is known as Sass Rigais. This peak taught mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner how to master the climb.
The Church of St. Johann is available to visitors, but it is not always open. You can request access by contacting the Ranuihof Manor located on the edge of the church’s meadow.
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How to Reach Val di Funes
Thanks to its relatively central location in South Tyrol, adding a trip to Val di Funes as a part of your itinerary is easy no matter where you base yourself.
If you are arriving by car, the valley can be directly accessed from the A22 Autostrade. The exit is just north of Chiusa (Klausen). Reaching St. Magdalena village on the far end of Val di Funes is a pleasant drive. It takes less than 20 minutes once you exit the main highway.
Those using public transportation while in South Tyrol can still easily embark on an adventure in the valley. A bus departs from Chiusa and Brixen multiple times each day. To explore public transportation options, visit the official Val di Funes website.
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Additional Tips & Considerations for Visiting Val di Funes
- Consider taking a break between hikes by having lunch in St. Magdalena. A couple of establishments offering traditional South Tyrolean hospitality with views include Gasthof Fermeda and Waldschenke.
- Visit the Puez-Odle Nature Park Visitor Center in the heart of St. Magdalena to discover other attractions and history of the area.
- Make a trip to Val di Funes a full-day outing by trekking the Adolf Munkel trail. This 4+ hour hike will bring you up close to the Odle mountain group.
- If you want to see Val di Funes alive with Alpine wildflowers the best time to visit is the summer season.
- To enjoy the valley with the least number of tourists, we suggest visiting Val di Funes in May or October. Another option is to explore Val di Funes in the winter when it becomes a wonderland for snow lovers.
- Like many mountain vistas, sunrise and sunset will give you the most spectacular photo opportunities.
- Visit Val di Funes during Speckfest to partake in the annual celebration of South Tyrol’s traditional mountain-smoked ham.
- Before arriving in St. Magdalena you’ll pass through the village of San Pietro in the heart of Val di Funes. Consider visiting another remarkable church known as the “Duomo della Valle” (Cathedral in the Valley). Its onion-bulbed steeple soars an impressive 200+ feet.
Have you been to Val di Funes? Let us know in the comments in the below if there are any additional tips or sights you would recommend.