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Southern Rhaetian Alps

There are 914 named mountains in the Southern Rhaetian Alps. At an elevation of 3,905m Ortler is the highest and most prominent mountain. Along with Ortler, there are two other Ultra mountains in the range: Cima Presanella and Cima Tosa.

Gran Zebru of the Ortler group is one of the most beautiful mountains in the Alps
Gran Zebru of the Ortler group is one of the most beautiful mountains in the Alps

The word Rhaetian comes from the Rhaetian people. They were a confederation of Alpine tribes. Since at least 500 BC, they have inhabited many Alpine regions, including the northeastern Italy. The Rhaeti tribes, together with their Celtic-speaking neighbours to the north, the Vindelici, were subjugated by the Imperial Roman army in 15 BC and their territories were annexed to the Roman empire. So, the Roman province of Raetia et Vindelicia was formed.

The Southern Rhaetian Alps range belongs to Stelvio National Park in the north and to Adamello-Brenta Nature Park in the south. Stelvio National Park is the biggest nature park in Italy. Adamello-Brenta Nature Park is famous for being the only Alpine area still inhabited by the brown bear. The Brenta Group featuring the legendary stone towers is officially recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Interestingly, it is located away from the major Dolomites groups and seems like a dolomite island.

The Brenta Group at sunrise from Monte Zeledria

Stelvio Pass and Gavia Pass are extremely popular among cyclists. Both are often included in the famous cycling event Giro d’Italia. At the top of Gavia Pass there’s a statue of Madonna delle Vette, the protector of cyclists.

Stelvio Pass is a civil engineering triumph, a ribbon of tarmac 48 km long with 70 hairpin bends to soar 2,757m into the sky and back down. It was finished in 1825, so that Austria could control Lombardy, its imperial foothold in Italy back then. There are still the words ‘Stilfser Joch’, Stelvio’s Austrian name, on maps and on some signposts. Interestingly, the nearby Dreisprachenspitze mountain represents the old meeting point of three languages: Italian, Swiss Romansh and German.

In a way, it is one of the most remote alpine subranges. There are no highways crossing the area not even one close.

Crossing the glacier to reach 3 WWI cannons

The area is notorious for some of the most fierce and bloody battles fought during the 1st World War. There are several war museums in the region and it’s not rare to see the grim reminders of the confrontation.

Barbed wire near the Casati mountain hut

Major Trails and Hiking Areas

Stelvio National Park

Monte Confinale

  • Monte Confinale is probably the best panoramic summit with unobstructed 360-degree view of Stelvio National Park and all its highlights.
  • A demanding trail to Casati mountain hut and nearby Cima di Solda is an amazing way to see the highlight of the region Konigspitze / Gran Zebru. The trail could be extended to Eiskofel / Tre Cannoni by a mere 20-minute glacier walk. Crampons could be rented in the Casati mountain hut. The only warning is to never ever walk a glacier without a roped party. There might be crevasses. Unless, you perfectly understand what you are doing.
  • The Paradiso cable car from Tonale Pass goes up to Cima Presena and its glacier. From there you could hike to Corno di Lago Scuro, Lake Scuro itself, and Il Gendarme.

Adamello-Brenta Nature Park

Pietra Grande

  • Monte Zeledria is an easy hike from the Viviani Pradolago mountain hut which allows amazing panoramic view of the whole Brenta Group (Dolomiti di Brenta).
  • 5 lakes tour is one of the most exciting in the whole Madonna di Campiglio area. The path is quite long and in some stretches a little bit challenging. It takes at least six hours to complete. But the views are really worth it! In fact, even children over 5 years old could be seen completing this trail.
  • Lake Tovel is a photographer’s paradise. It is a remote lake in the Tovel Valley with fantastic sunrises when tall Dolomite towers reflect in the mirror-like lake water. Pietra Grande and Corno di Denno are among the visible peaks from the lake.
  • Nearby Monte Zugna in the Venetian Alps, the mountain overlooking the town of Rovereto, hosts the largest deposit of fossilised dinosaur footprints ever found in Italy. Here hundreds of tracks of herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs have been found. They dated back to the Jurassic era 200 million years ago, when the rock on Monte Zugna formed a lime mud bank of the Tethys Ocean.
  • Here, in the Brenta Group there’s the so-called Queen Gardens Tour which is an easy route of great geological interest and landscape value. It was one of the favorite routes of the Sissi princess because of its majestic views on the Brenta and the Adamello-Ortles mountains. It is particularly evocative because of the presence of sea fossils and the rich variety of the mountain flora.

A distinct footstep of a dinosaur in the rock

Cable Cars and Cog Railways

  • Madonna di Campiglio: Groste, Pradalago
  • Ponte di Legno: Tonale, Paradiso, etc.
  • Santa Caterina Valfurva
  • Bormio 3000
  • Pejo 3000

Major Cities and Resorts

  • Trento and Bolzano are especially convenient if you’d like to add the main groups of the Dolomites into the mix
  • Bormio
  • Ponte di Legno
  • Madonna di Campiglio