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Snowshoeing in Lagorai - Italy's Alpine Wilderness

© Cecilia Mariani

Trentino is a well known mountain region in the north-east of Italy, favourite holiday destination for many due to its natural beauty, historic heritage and culinary tradition. First on the list of sights to see in the region is one of the most impressive natural environments found on the planet: the Dolomites. A UNESCO World Heritage site, and filled with mountaineering history, the Dolomites are a must visit for mountaineers and tourists alike. But in the heart of Trentino, a short drive from the city of Trento and in the shadow of these world famous limestone giants, there's a wilder and lesser known mountain range that will take your breath away. It's called Lagorai, and it's a snowshoeing wonderland.

One man and his dog. Cima Pastronezze, 2300m Lagorai Range, Italy. Ski Touring  © Kean
One man and his dog on Cima Pastronezze, Lagorai Range © Kean

This is a hidden gem

At 70km in length, Lagorai is the longest mountain range in Trentino, separating Valsugana to the south from the more touristy Val di Fiemme to the north. The chain is mainly formed of porphyry rock and boasts crystal clear mountain lakes and deep conifer forests, vertical rock walls and green pastures. It is also sadly famous for being the stage of many battles during World War I. Its southern flanks, rockier and steeper then the northern side, were in fact a natural barrier between the Austro-Hungarian and Italian soldiers during the war.

In the silence of the trees after heavy snowfall  © Cecilia Mariani
In the silence of the trees after heavy snowfall
© Cecilia Mariani

It's a relatively low mountain range, with the highest peak reaching only 2754m - nothing compared to other areas in the region. But Lagorai has something that makes it unique. The number of ski lifts in the area has remained low (only four in the whole range) and the only other human activities that have contributed to a change in the landscape are farming, with transhumance still a common practice, and logging. For this reason the landscape of Lagorai has remained relatively intact, making it one of the wildest mountain ranges in the whole of the Alps.

Sometimes Lagorai doesn't seem real - a hidden gem waiting to be discovered, but to be protected too. The beauty of Lagorai lies in its unspoilt wilderness and remoteness, and there's no better way to discover it than in winter, on snowshoes. To keep that slow pace that makes you notice every detail and listen to every sound, and allows you to soak in the wild side of this amazing part of the Alps.

The Rifugio Sette Selle, one of only a few huts in the range  © Cecilia Mariani
The Rifugio Sette Selle, one of only a few huts in the range
© Cecilia Mariani

Last winter was a great one in terms of snowfall on the south side of the Alps. With ski resorts completely closed due to the pandemic and plenty of snow throughout the season, snowshoeing quickly became a favourite activity. As a non skier, and with nowhere else to go, I had to make the most of it. I had moved to the area not long before and hadn't had the opportunity to explore it in winter yet, which meant I had a whole range of itineraries to choose from. Here are some of the best.

The landscape of Lagorai has remained relatively intact, making it one of the wildest mountain ranges in the whole of the Alps - and it's a snowshoeing wonderland

Rifugio Sette Selle

On the far western side of the range, just a short drive from Trento, is a beautiful unspoilt valley called Valle dei Mocheni or Bersntol. Mocheni are a language minority group who have lived in the valley for centuries and speak an old German dialect. The valley is not at all touristy, but it's quite popular with the locals. The easy access and rolling terrain make it the perfect spot for some easy ski touring and snowshoeing trips.

Conifer woods on the way to Rifugio Sette Selle  © Cecilia Mariani
Conifer woods on the way to Rifugio Sette Selle
© Cecilia Mariani

Starting from the carpark at the top of the valley, in the village of Palai en Bersntol, it's possible to walk in a north-eastern direction to one of only four mountain huts present in the whole of the Lagorai range. The itinerary starts at 1453 metres and ends at Rifugio Sette Selle, just short of 2000 metres, making it an easy introduction to snowshoeing in this area. It takes you through beautiful conifer forests and past some "masi", traditional mountain huts that were used by people to live, keep their animals and dry hay all in the same building. Some of them have now been renovated and are used as holiday homes or BnBs. The hut is located in a beautiful clearing just below some pretty impressive rock faces. A great place to stop and enjoy some hot chocolate or mulled wine while soaking in the winter sun.

Lagorai in winter - a place to get far away from the crowds  © Cecilia Mariani
Lagorai in winter - a place to get far away from the crowds
© Cecilia Mariani

Cima Socede

Val Campelle is another breathtaking valley found on the south side of the Lagorai range. Here some signs of the Great War can still be found, including trenches and an old burial ground for Austro-Hungarian soldiers. It's also the location of another one of the four huts of the range, Malga Conseria, that offers great food and warm drinks even in the winter months, although only at weekends. The hut can be reached in just over half an hour from the car park at the top of the valley. From here it's then possible to reach Passo Cinque Croci and, a couple of hundred meters higher, Cima Socede at 2174 metres. The views from the summit are breathtaking, extending 360° around the whole valley and beyond. It might not seem much at first, but this small summit has it all and it's ideal for a quiet winter day out.

A typical 'maso' in the distance  © Cecilia Mariani
A typical 'maso' in the distance
© Cecilia Mariani

Monte Cogne

Moving away from the few huts in the area there's a whole lot of opportunities and itineraries to be explored. Back on the far west side of the range, Monte Cogne is an isolated mountain that might not look very promising from the first glance at the map. It is, however, one of the best hikes I did last year and absolutely recommended.

A huge view from the top of Monte Cogne  © Cecilia Mariani
A huge view from the top of Monte Cogne
© Cecilia Mariani

The path starts from the village of Montesovèr, at only 1137 metres, and meanders through thick conifer and broadleaf woods. As height increases, the change in vegetation is very clear: the broadleaves leave space to spruces and then eventually to larches, until a broad ridge opens up and stretches out to the summit cross at 2171 metres. And here again the views are quite spectacular, going from Marmolada in the East to Cevedale, the Brenta Dolomites and the mountains above Trento as you go west. With over 1000 metres of ascent, however, it's definitely not a hike for the novice snowshoer.

Surface hoar on the way up Monte Cogne  © Cecilia Mariani
Surface hoar on the way up Monte Cogne
© Cecilia Mariani

Cima dei Paradisi

This was one of my last winter days out after the last heavy snowfall of the year. I had been snowshoeing for most of the winter, I was tired, and there was something in the air: spring was coming. After dreaming about warm rock and sunshine for a while, I "forced" myself out of bed and decided to tacked this ski touring classic route with my faithful snowshoes. As often happens in these cases, it was totally worth it. The snow was great (not only skiers like powder!) and the itinerary brought me through a whole range of different landscapes, from dreamy chalets in the woods to the windswept top.

The view from Cima dei Paradisi  © Cecilia Mariani
The view from Cima dei Paradisi
© Cecilia Mariani

It's about 1200 metres of ascent from the carpark at Rifugio Refavaie to the top, so again ideal for the more experienced winter hiker. On the way down I decided to go through some woods and properly run down through the powder. I got some weird looks from the skiers but had lots of fun. There were signs of life all the way through the trees, with plenty of animal prints and leftover half-munched pine cones. A great way of ending a successful winter season.

Factfile

How to get there

The closest airport is Verona, which is however quite a small one and has only limited arrivals. Bigger airports are Venice, Bologna and Bergamo, all a couple of hours away. From here transfers to Trento can be organised by train, bus or car.

Getting around

Lagorai and the surrounding valleys are not major tourist destinations, with the exception, perhaps, of Val di Fiemme to the north of the range. Moving around with public transport could prove very difficult, so I would highly recommend to hire a car, to be able to move freely across the range and visit different locations.

Main valley bases

Lagorai can be accessed from many different valleys, both from the south and the north sides. As I already mentioned, Val di Fiemme is probably the most touristy valley to the north of the range, and could be a good base for your holiday. On the other side, Valsugana runs across the southern side of the range and grants easy access to many of the smaller valleys that originates from it and open up in a northerly direction. So places such as Pergine Valsugana, Caldonazzo, Levico Terme and Borgo Valsugana would all be strategic locations. Amongst some of the smaller valleys I would recommend Val dei Mocheni and Val Campelle. Both offer limited accommodation but are extremely beautiful and quiet, the perfect base if you want to discover some lesser known corners of the Alps. Other villages that would provide a good base are Telve, Bieno, Castel Tesino, Pieve Tesino, Caoria and Canale S. Bovo. One last option is to have your base in the city of Trento. Lagorai is easily accessible from the city, and this could give you access to a wider range of accommodation and restaurants, as well as a taste of night life in an alpine city.

Equipment hire

Equipment hire options are limited. If you're staying in Val di Fiemme you'll be able to find what you need directly in the valley. Otherwise, the best solution would be to hire your kit from one of the many outdoor shops that can be found in the city of Trento before you reach your final destination.

Where to eat and where to stay

Trentino, as many mountain regions around the Alps, is a highly rural area, where farming is still one of the main activities. From this activity derives a traditional way of providing hospitality: agriturismo. Agriturismo is a working farm that also offers accommodation and catering services, using only the products of the farm or from neighbouring businesses. Staying or eating in one of these places is a great way of experiencing the local products and knowing a bit more about the local culture. There's lots of agriturismi all over the area, in some you'd be able to sleep, others are only restaurants, but some structures offer both. In alternative, there's plenty of hotels and B&Bs in the area.

Best maps of the range

The best maps for this area are published by Tabacco and are widely available both on site and online. To cover the whole area you'll need the sheet numbers 62, 58 and 14.

Best info sources for weather and avalanche forecasts

The best source for weather and avalanche forecast for the area is meteotrentino.it. Some of the information is also accessible in English, even though the more detailed forecasts are only published in Italian. Other apps and websites that can be used to check the weather for the area are Meteoblue, 3Bmeteo and MeteoSwiss.


Cecilia Mariani  © Cecilia Mariani

Cecilia Mariani 

Cecilia is an International Mountain Leader based in the Italian Alps. She works as a freelance leader in the Alps for both Italian and international groups, as well as leading trips in Scotland. You can read her blog on www.ceciliamariani.com and follow her on Instagram at @ceciliamariani.mountainleader.



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