Alta Badia – South Tyrol’s magical valley
Head to Alta Badia in the winter, and you’ll find a snow-covered Dolomites landscape, where a myriad of chairlifts ferry skiers to the start of the Gran Risa giant slalom course.
Visit in summer, though, and you’ll discover a place of lush green fields, delightful hiking, and a unique blend of cultures, with a turbulent history that belies the area’s present-day calm.
Occupying the upper part of the Badia valley, Alta Badia is today part of South Tyrol – an autonomous province in the very north of Italy. Go back exactly a century, however, and South Tyrol was still a German-speaking region of Austria, finally falling to the Italians – after intense fighting – in 1918.
Today, of course, Italy and Austria have a somewhat more cordial relationship – they share the same currency, and the lack of border controls mean that you barely notice the change from one country to the other. The past is far from forgotten, however. Take the jaw-dropping mountain road out of Alta Badia to the Falzarego Pass and you’ll spot the poignant signs of heavy combat: a fort that’s now a museum; the Italian tunnels and artillery positions at Lagazuoi; and the astonishing open-air museum at Cinque Torri, where you can explore the shelters and trenches.
In Alta Badia, this historic legacy is reflected in the mix of languages that you hear today – Italian, German, and the local tongue, Ladin – with trilingual road signs welcoming you to every village.
Within the valley, each of the three municipalities has its own appeal. Set against the imposing backdrop of Sassongher peak (2,663m), Corvara is a bustling resort with easy access to cable cars, walking routes, and local buses for exploring the wider area.
To the north, Badia municipality includes the charming village of La Villa, where the Piz la Ila cable car takes you up to 2,078m and the so-called plateau, a (comparatively) flat area of family-friendly walking, panoramic views and cosy mountain huts. A slice of strudel and a bottle of the local beer, Forst, is always a welcome diversion before heading back down to the valley again.
The village of Badia itself is also a useful starting point for walks, with a pair of chairlifts that take you to the beautifully situated Santa Croce sanctuary (2,045m), nestled beneath the steep walls of the Fanes mountains. It’s also home to another well-placed rifugio, this one famous for its Kaiserschmarren – a sweet pancake, served with bilberry jam.
Once suitably fed and watered, a particularly beautiful track winds along the foot of the cliffs from Santa Croce to the Val de Fanes, from where a stunning balcony path leads you to La Val – the third of Alta Badia’s municipalities – and the bus back to Badia, La Villa and Corvara.
Just before La Val, don’t miss the tiny 15th-century church of Santa Barbara, near Tolpei. Its decorated interior is superb, but – as with much of Alta Badia and South Tyrol – it’s the magical setting that really takes your breath away.
This article originally appeared in Issue 4 of Engage Magazine, Newcastle and Gateshead’s premier lifestyle magazine. For the latest issue, visit engagemagazine.co.uk.