Paneveggio: the Ancient ‘Forest of the Violins’ in the Shadow of the Majestic Pale di San Martino.

The Natural Regional Park Paneveggio-Pale di San Martino is situated in the Eastern Alps (Dolomites of Trentino). It is a protected area which was established by the Autonomous Province of Trento as far back as 1967. The initial extension was of 157 square metres, then it was extended to cover the current surface of 197 sq m (19,717 hectares) in 1987.

The park comprises areas that are quite different from one another: the Trentino section of the renowned Dolomite group of the Pale di San Martino – a mountain chain which also extends over the Province of Belluno – is at the core of the reserve (and lends it half its name), and so is the eastern sector of the Lagorai massif, composed for its majority of magmatic rocks (mostly porphyry).

The spectacular range of the Pale di San Martino is one of the nine groups of mountains included within the list of natural sites recognised by the UNESCO as being of importance to the common heritage of humanity. 

The Park takes in the valleys of CismonVanoi and Travignolo streams, including the beautiful Val Venegia, as well as part of the Lusia-Cima Bocche chain.

Several valleys belonging to the historical mining district of Primiero are comprised within the park too: amongst these is the Vanoi valley just mentioned, which coincides with the municipality of Canal San Bovo, crossed by the stream bearing the same name and surrounded by the relatively wild mountains of the Lagorai massif. Comprised within the protected area is also part of the lesser Lusia-Cima Bocche mountain range.

The Val Canali gives access to the southern section of the Pale di San Martino, in the south-eastern corner of the park, with the beautiful side valley of val Pradidali. The val Venegia – another enchanting valley – is situated in the area between Passo Rolle and Pian dei Casoni, in the Travignolo basin, lying at the foot of the major peaks of the Pale – namely, the Cimon della Pala and Vezzana.

At the heart of the park's territory (in the municipalities of Predazzo, Tonadico and Siror) lies the famous Forest of Paneveggio (mainly composed of conifers – spruce and larch), also lending its name to the protected area.

The Park extends over a territory which is completely mountainous, with an altitude range that covers over 1,000 metres of height difference. The Park has been continually developing over the last forty years; it has in fact seen a marked growth in interest and appreciation by the visiting public. New projects are continually being set into motion; ideas are added to ideas, thus always offering something new to help the visitor observe, understand – and above all respect – nature. All the sites mentioned are recognised of importance by the European Community, and are thus specially protected also as part of the Europa 2000 network.  

Flora and Fauna

In terms of fauna, the environment of the Park is rich in all the typical species present in the Alps – especially large mammals like deer and roe-deer, chamois, marmot, fox and badger. Recently, in the highest mountain reaches, ibex has been reintroduced also.

As for the vegetation, given the average high altitude, the Park's woodlands are composed mainly of conifers – beech being the only broadleaved present in certain numbers.

The actual extension of the Paneveggio forest is of about 2,700 hectares; its trees are 85% Norway spruce (Picea abies)  which occupies the band between 1,500 and 1,900 metres of altitude. Higher up, until about 2,200 metres, larch (Larix decidua) becomes more frequent, as well as Arolla pine (Pinus).

In the renovation of woodland, a particularly important role is played by a bird – the Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes); in fact, during the periods when pine nuts ripen, this bird creates real ‘seed reserves’ that will later be used over the winter (in some cases, though, the locations of these ‘reserves’ are forgotten even by the bird, so that in spring new plants will sprout in those very same places).

Silver fir (Abies alba) is more widespread in the stretch of forest near Bellamonte (so, strictly speaking, out of the park’s boundaries), even though it is sometimes found towards Paneveggio too – as for instance in the val del Buoi – while beech is completely absent from the historic forest (due to altitude).

Other broadleaved species are scarce too; only in the vicinity of Lago di Forte Buso and along the streams' banks – at lower levels – can one find aspen, birch, willow, maple, alder, rowan and whitebeam.

At higher levels – for instance in the val Ceramana, where tree growth is very slow and there haven’t been cuts for the last seventy years, but sometimes even at lower levels (as for example in the val dei Buoi reserve) – there are nuclei of woodland left to their own devices, which give the forest a wilder, more ‘natural’ aspect.

Over time, this will be the trend also in lower areas, as in the future new plans for forest management foresee that trees to be cut be chosen so to favour the co-existence of specimens of different age (as in ‘natural’ forests), and also that trunks and branches be – at least in part – left where they have fallen, so to increase the soil biomass.

The clearing of the undergrowth is, in fact, strictly connected – since ancient times – to the economic exploitation of the forest, and it is also a way in which to reduce proliferation of a dangerous insect (the bark beetle Ips typographus), which in certain conditions can lead to the destruction of large swathes of spruce forest for its habit of digging galleries under the bark, thus destroying the plant’s lymphatic channels.

At the undergrowth level, blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) and lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are dominant, and an extensive layer of mosses is also present. In the most fertile and humid sections (especially along the streams) there are also populations of Petasites albus, while in the more shaded clearings Adenostyles alliariae is quite widespread too.

Among the enormous variety of insects present, it is not uncommon to find huge mounds of ants, which are present in all spruce woodland within the park. Ants are deemed of particular importance in woodland habitats, as they are like natural ‘sweepers’ and great insect eaters.

The section on the left hand-side of the Travignolo valley, exposed to the north, presents a rich variety of mosses and lichens, while it is poorer in terms of floral species; the opposite goes for the valley slopes facing south, with more plants’ diversity but less bryophytes. This asymmetry is due, too, to the presence of carbonatic rocks on the south-facing slopes.

Spruce woodland is also fascinating for its shadow, vastity and complexity, and has been the object of recent accurate studies on ecology, as well as on its growth capacity, and the damages that big mammals (such as deer) provoke to the forest’s own capacity to renew itself.

The Special Reserve of the Capercaille

Among the slopes of the Dossaccio and Malga Lusia an atmospheric section of forest is elected as special reserve for the famous Capercaille (Tetrao urogallus). Disappeared from the majority of the Alpine forests, this stately bird still survives with a certain density in the woods of Trentino, where it finds the ideal conditions for its survival.

During the mating season – in spring – males congregate in the so-called ‘singing arenas: these are well-defined places that remain unvaried even for decades, in which capercaille males carry out their parades to attract females; during this period they make their song heard, often starting in the dead of night and then singing for several hours on end.

During the last of the four verses that compose their song, though, the males become almost deaf for a few seconds – and this is the time when in the past hunters would chase them, as the animal lowers its defenses and could be more easily approached and unfortunately captured. Today, luckily, it is mostly rangers from the park who come to these places before dawn during the mating season, in order to check on the animals' numbers and guarantee safety for this symbolic and now rare Alpine species.

In the woods of the park, our attention is often attracted also by the characteristic noise of woodpeckers; there are – in the forest – five different species of this bird; we should remember Three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) and Black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), more often than not an inhabitant of the conifer forest.

Among the rich bird population we could also mention several other species such as Regulus regulus, Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), Tits (Parus species), Thrush (Turdus pilaris), Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) and Water Blackbird (Cinclus cinclus), which often frequents water habitats such as streams and small ponds, as well as Alpine Warbler (Certhia familiaris) – a characteristic presence for its unusual habit of climbing on tree trunks following an helicoidal line.

Visitor Centres

The indoor activity of the Park is divided amongst four different locations: the headquarters and Main Visitor Centre are at Villa Welsperg in the Val Canali.

The visitor centre at Paneveggio is dedicated to this ancient famous spruce forest (the so-called ‘Forest of Violins’, used for centuries – and until today – by artisans for the realization of violins; see below) and also to the Park’s fauna.

The visitor centre at San Martino di Castrozza is dedicated to climate, geology and paleontology, while the one at Prà de Madego – in the Vanoi valley – is the starting point of the Ethnographic path, which allows to get to know the places that local inhabitants have lived in and transformed in the past through their activity of hay-making and animal farming.

Villa Welsperg Visitor Centre

The villa, built in 1853 in the Val Canali, is situated near a small lake bearing the same name ('Laghetto Welsperg'), and it was once the residence of the Welsperg Counts; today it presents itself as a modernized, well-equipped building, and it is – since 1996 – the headquarters and Main Visitor Centre of the Park. 

Villa Welsperg is a compound made of three buildings: the house, the little church and the barn – all surrounded by a big garden at the edge of a huge meadow that also hosts a small but interesting peat-bog and a wildlife pond

The Visitor Centre is hosted inside the main building; it houses a large model of the entire reserve, a video room, a room dedicated to the Welsperg dynasty, aquariums and a large laboratory. There is also an important library and a special collection of rocks, woods, plants and lichens.

Wetlands were chosen as a main theme for this Visitor Centre, and freshwater lobster is its symbol – a small animal which was quite widespread until a few years ago, but that is much rarer now (below, see an image of the magnificent group of the Pale di San Martino taken by the grounds at Villa Welsperg, whose building is visible on the background).

The Garden. Situated in an open clearing at the beginning of the Val Canali, an avenue with a monumental beech – whose age is estimated to be 300 years – and centenary lime and horse chestnut trees greets the visitors and takes them to a pond where several aquatic species thrive.

Continuing towards the main building one reaches the centre of the garden, crossed by a small stream. It hosts a square made of birch trees, a literary walk, the fern garden and an old rose garden; on the other side of the building, there is also a small labyrinth (or maze), whose hedges are made with species that can typically be found growing in the park.

Another plot in front of the old barn hosts plants that were traditionally used in local medicine. While the little church is now used to host temporary exhibitions, the old barn is used for similar purposes too; the ground floor (where the stable was) has been carefully restored in keep with its original use. There is also a field hosting a small seed bank.

The Monumental Lime Trees. The two monumental lime trees have been planted by the Welsperg family in 1853, and there is an interesting story behind them. There was a tradition established in Austria – as at that time this area belonged to the Empire – according to which a pair of lime trees would be planted to warrant protection for a new house (in fact it was a central European custom, as the same tradition can be found in Slovenia, Germany and parts of France).

One of the two limes would be a ‘wild’ specimen, with small and dark leaves and an early flowering habit, representing masculine forces and winter; the other would be a local cultivated species, and would display a more expansive canopy and larger, light-coloured leaves; it would also blossom later, and thus recall feminine energies and summer.

Either way, bees help transforming the intense scent of these flowers into a honey which was considered to be one of the most delicate; with the dried flowers a herbal tea would also be obtained, particularly helpful for treating colds but, apparently, good for lifting the mood too.

There were also more unusual uses for this noble plant: the young leaves could be eaten raw in salads and be fed to animals, thus enriching the cow’s milk, while from the crushed fruits a delicate oil can be obtained. Limes also have soothing and detoxifying qualities, and it was thought that eating the carbon from its wood had powerful effects in case of poisoning.

This is one of the main reasons why these trees have been considered, since antiquity, as ‘natural healers’, and that also explains why many squares and streets in towns and villages were planted with them, and why gardens and avenues in castles were usually lined with limes too.

In Germany there was a tradition of having a band, or musicians, playing – during holidays – among the branches of centuries-old lime trees; as a matter of fact, wood from their trunk was often used to make musical instruments too.

Important meetings for the community were once held under the protection of the canopy of a lime tree; one such famous example, in Trentino, can still be admired in Cavalese, the main town of the Val di Fiemme, where the ‘Banco della Resòn’ (the so-called ‘Reason Bench’) still exists: this is a double ring of stone seats with a small circular table in the middle, surrounded by old lime trees all around (see picture below), as it was believed that the sweet but strong character associated with limes would facilitate the taking of wise decisions.

The Visitor Centre. Hosted inside the Villa Welsperg, the visitors centre is organized like a ‘journey’ in four steps to discover the park. In the first room, the exhibition is centred around the concept that the whole planet Earth should eventually be seen  one day  as a ‘park’ in itself, so that there would be no more need for ‘reserves’ and ‘protected areas’ as such.

The second room contains a big plastic of the Park, while the third room revolves around the theme of water as a fundamental source of life, and there are reconstructions of different Alpine habitats: mountain streams, peat-bogs and springs.

The fourth and last room is linked to the history of the Val Canali, where the Visitors Centre is situated: this small side valley – one of the Dolomites' most beautiful – is strictly connected with the Welsperg family, who took possession of it in 1401, and since then controlled its abundant resources (such as mines, woodlands and the timber obtained from them), as well as regulating hunting and other economic activities.

S. Martino Visitor Centre

The small but interesting visitor centre in S. Martino di Castrozza is full of information, and it has as main theme the high mountain habitats and the geology of the Dolomites – undoubtedly the prime point of interest in S. Martino – as well as the eagle, probably the more stately presence in the Pale di San Martino and Lagorai groups.

Naturalistic aspects linked to climate, geology, paleontology, the different mountain environments and the animals living at high altitudes within the protected area can all be studied in depth too, noticing how temperature and aspect influence them; one can also appreciate how trees and vegetation influence temperatures in turn. Outside, a small pond and a rock garden enrich and complete the visit.

The Val Canali

At the entrance of the valley the interesting ruins of Castel Pietra are to be seen, of which today only the mighty walls are still standing (see picture above); the site is highly panoramic, but extra care should be taken as the area is completely unattended and there are steep stairs and several slippery locations.

The Villa Welsperg is located in the lower section of the splendid Val Canali, always considered to be a gateway into the fantastic Dolomite world of the Pale di San Martino. To simplify, this mountain range is roughly shaped like a letter H, and its northern part – namely, the San Martino group proper – forms the main vertical axis of the range.

Roughly in the middle, immediately to the south of the Pale plateau, there is a transversal axis formed by the wide ridge of Cima Fradusta (2,939 m), the Cime di Manstorna (2,816 m) and Monte Coro (2,670 m) that, together with the rocky crags of Cime del Marmor (the 'marble peaks'), are linked to the Croda Grande at the centre of the southern part of the range.

This transversal axis is not so linear, though: while to the north it constitutes the southern fringe of the Pale plateau, it continues to the south with more imposing rocky groups: Cima Canali (2,900 m), Sasso de le Lede (2,580 m) and Cima d'Ostio (2,405 m) – between the equally impressive Val Pradidali and Vallon delle Lede – as well as Cima dei Lastei (2,846 m), between Vallon delle Lede and the Val Canali.

These are the mountains that divide – as in a triangle of rocks – the Val Pradidali from the Val Canali, both characterized higher up by steep ledges of glacial origin. On the southern slope of this transversal chain we also find some of the most beautiful and characteristic rock walls of this whole mountain range.

The peaks of Cima Canali immediately strike the viewer as mountains with a “rather beautiful and marvelous shape … high and swift like a gothic construction” (in the words of geographer and mountaineer Oddone Brentari), together with the high cirque of Vallon delle Lede, suspended above the Val Canali.

The adjoining point between the Val Pradidali and the Val Canali is located at Cant del Gal – a name that makes a reference to the 'singing arenas' of the Capercaille ('gallo cedrone' in Italian; read above). This is also the starting point of many trails leading into the heart of the Pale mountain range.

The park boundary is just to the south, at Ponte Pizmador; from the bridge to Malga Canali the street crosses a vast and rather thick spruce woodland with Silver fir. Here and there one can also notice the presence of some majestic beech, and in some points – as near Prà dell'Ostio, for instance – more numerous beechwood patches offer an undegrowth characterized in particular by the presence of a grass, Carex alba.

On the left bank of the stream – by the car park at Malga Canali – a mixed woodland with spruce and larch dominates again, more abundant and exclusive among the Dwarf Mountain Pine scrub that denotes the steep slopes of the valley. Also to be noticed is the fact that in the Val Canali Dwarf Mountain pine seems to be climbing at higher altitudes than in nearby Val Pradidali (certainly above 2,000 m).

On the leaning rocks encountered along the stream some interesting plants are to be seen; amongst them are Asplenium seelosii and Paederota lutea. Along the stream – whose large riverbed is to be crossed further on in order to climb towards Rifugio Canali-Treviso – we can also notice several willow species; further still, towards the mountain hut, long stretches are occupied by populations of White Alder (Alnus incana).

Before climbing along the Val Canali and its Dolomite crags, it is worth stopping to contemplate the area around Malga Canali, as on the mountain slopes behind it we can admire the only example of ‘real’ beech woodland to be found within the park's boundaries.

A spectacular display not to be missed before the beech leaves appear – around the end of March and at the beginning of April – are the colours in the undegrowth, thanks to the graceful blossoming of Gagea lutea, Corydalis cava and Dentaria enneaphyllos: the latter is a plant which – as a matter of fact – gives its name to this particular type of beech association (it is known in botany as Dentario-Fagetum).

In the area of Malga Canali, pleasant to the eye are also the smooth pastures dominated by the grasses Poa alpina and Festuca rubra: this is one of the few areas within the park still grazed by animals (the association formed by these grasses is known as Poion alpinae).

Paneveggio, the Forest of Violins’

Situated shortly after the lake of Forte Buso, along the National route that climbs from Predazzo to Passo Rolle, the Paneveggio Visitor Centre tells the story of this majestic forest of Norway spruce – now widely known as the ‘Forest of Violins for the resonant quality of these spruces' timber that have been used historically – since time immemorial – by master luthiers for the fabrication of string musical instruments, most notbaly Stradivarius violins.

This centre also tells the story of some of the most representative animals living in the forest – amongst which are certainly deer and Capercaille (Tetrao urogallo); indeed, deer are also kept in a big enclosure near the Visitors centre, from where these animals can be observed close-up. A marked nature trail starts from the centre and leads to the discovery of the most significant forest habitats: along its course one can stop at points that display illustrations and provide information.

The Travignolo valley is an ‘historical’ entry point to the park – especially when coming from the west – and this was also the route followed by the first travelers: especially English geologists, who in the second half of the 19th century first 'discovered' these mountains and opened the way to tourism in the area.

The first encounter with the immense sea of firs and spruces of the Paneveggio forest is almost magical: this is really the ‘green heart’ of the park – an environment with a decidedly ‘Nordic’ feel, circled by wild and imposing mountain crags formed mainly, in this sector, of volcanic rocks (that is, the Lagorai range to the south, and the Lusia-Cima Bocche massif to the north).

Originally owned by the Counts of Tyrol, the Paneveggio forest became property of the Italian state after only WW1, and it has been wisely administered by the Province of Trento ever since the region became autonomous after WW2.

Norway spruce constitutes here about 90% of the trees composing the forest, associated with Silver fir at lower levels and larch and Arolla pine at the higher altitudes. The undergrowth is mostly composed of a carpet of blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) and lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).

Stradivarius' Roaming Ground

Legend has it that it was Stradivarius himself who used to roam the forest in search of the most appropriate trees for the construction of his famous violins: multi-centenary, straight-stemmed spruces whose timber – thanks to their ‘resonance capacity’ – would provide the ideal raw material for the construction of the instruments' main body.

The wood of Norway spruce is particularly elastic, and therefore it conveys sounds better; its lymphatic channels are like minuscule organ pipes that help create a better resonance: precisely for this reason, the trees used to be felled with the waning moon in October and November – when there is less lymph in the trunk.

The best trees are recognized by their very thin growth rings, perfectly concentric with straight, fine fibres and little presence of knots; at least, this is how they used to grow in the 1600/1700s, thanks to the intense cold weather of the ‘small glacial era’ and the absence of degradation processes – and this is why the instruments created at this time reached an absolute peak of unrivalled harmonic perfection.

Today it is almost impossible to find such perfect specimens, but a certain request for good quality resonance wood’ still exists, and it feeds a limited but thriving commerce – to the benefit of piano makers of the nearby village of Tesero, as well as of the historic violin workshops in Cremona. The production of resonance wood’ is partly aimed at export too (today, Japan is the leading country in the production of harmonic wooden boards).

Man and the Forest

Because of the intense exploitation on the part of the Republic of Venice, two centuries ago the forest had an extension of about one third its current size – as the ‘Serenissima’ Republic was exploiting this resource quite heavily.

During the course of WW1, the vicinity of the main frontline to the forest (it was actually crossing it) meant that trees were heavily felled both for the warfare effort or to make space for manoeuvres – so much so that the quantity of timber felled during that time corresponds to what is now being cut over thirty years!

The forest was also heavily damaged by a cyclone in 1926, as well as by the catastrophic floods of 1966, which brought havoc to so many parts of the country (most dramatically in Florence, as is known).

Although it may look ‘natural’, the outlook of this forest is therefore the result of long and sometimes heavy human interventions. The strategy which is currently being used for planning and governance of the area is based on careful observations and constant monitoring of the forest’s state.

The first management plan for Paneveggio dates back to 1876; it is now duty of the Forestry Commission for the Autonomous Province of Trento to manage and look after the forest, as well as to control the phases of timber transformation and the selling of the finished product through the park’s owned sawmill at Caoria.

The Pale: a Most Renowned Dolomite Massif

The Pale di San Martino – also known as Primiero Dolomites or ‘Gruppo delle Pale’ – are the most extensive group in the Dolomites (over about 240 square km), situated for the vast majority in the Province of Belluno and partly in eastern Trentino.

They are extended over an area comprised between the sub-regions of Primiero (Cismon valley, Val Canali and val Travignolo), the Biois valley and the Agordino.

The Pale are quintessentially Dolomite mountains, as they are mostly composed of Main Dolomite – a sedimentary rock which is formed by double calcium carbonate and magnesium that was discovered by Marquis Deodat de Dolomieu in 1788 (and from whom it took its name).

The Pale plateau – situated in the central sector of the park – is extended over about 50 square metres and is like an enormous empty table, rocky and almost lunar, oscillating between 2,500 and 2,800 metres above sea level. According to some sources, it would have inspired writer Dino Buzzati – a great lover of these mountains – to set the scene for his masterpiece, ‘The Desert of the Tartars’

The section of the Pale that extends over Trentino is entirely comprised within the boundaries of the Paneveggio-Pale di San Martino Natural Regional Park.

The Name

Initially, the term ‘Pala’ referred to the name that was used locally to designate the slopes and the meadows at the base of the mountain, but once it was extended, it came to cover the entire mountain chain.

The first climbers – British in their vast majority – after having accomplished the first excursions and opened a few new routes, in their memoirs originally referred to the group in terms of either the ‘Primiero Dolomites’ or ‘Gruppo delle Pale’.

Only in a second time  as mountain tourism took hold of the area and the construction of new roads favoured the consequent growth of the famous resort of San Martino di Castrozza – the mountain gradually became known the world over as ‘Pale di San Martino’, and the name has been sticking ever since.

The Park's Thematic Trails

The thematic trails within the park are often located in the areas of more outstanding beauty, and they include: the Sentiero Marciò (an easy itinerary within the Paneveggio forest); the Paneveggio-Malga Bocche trail, which leads to the area where the two massifs of the Pale and Lagorai meet; in the val Canali there is also the trail that represents the most classical entry point into the Pale di San Martino range (this is described below).

The Laghetti di Colbricon (Colbricon lakes), near Passo Rolle, are a noteworthy area for both naturalistic and archaeologic interest, where a geologic trail will allow one to get acknowledged with processes that started 290 million years ago, whose results are still under our eyes today. Other trails include an itinerary on the footsteps of WW1 events, as well as a route from the historical town of Tonadico, rich in vernacular architecture (of which see an image below) to Cimerlo.

The Tonadico-Cimerlo path is a walk through history that begins in Tonadico and reaches the slopes right under the Pale di San Martino in the Val Canali. It is a way into understanding the territory like a historical document: an old hay barn situated along the path has been opened in collaboration with Trento Historical Museum, 'La Frabica' – meaning "the dwelling place of mountain inscriptions and writings" –, where many forms of written communication found throughout the territory have been investigated and put on display.

The Ethnographic path of the Vanoi Ecomuseum (there is also a specific page dedicated to it) is a real 'journey through time and space' which begins in the village of Caoria and climbs up through about 1,000 m of altitude, branching out to include four themed circuits: Valley, Meadow, Wood and Mountain. This path illustrates a way of life that used to be based on substinence economy, and was involved in animal breeding and the cultivation of fields and woods. Open for visits are also: the House of the Ethnographic Path, the Prà de Madègo Meadows, the Valzanca Sawmill, the Pradi de Tognòla Meadows, the Valsorda Timber Skid and the Alpine dairy farm of Malga Miesnotta di Sopra

The Fedaie Muses Path, from Villa Welsberg in the Val Canali (both described above), is not "just an excursion" but also a real cultural journey that takes one to look at wonderful places, with a view to biodiversity. Here, the muses of Greek mythology are still the 'guiding spirits' of our present times; they accompany us into making discoveries regarding water, the Lamon breed of sheeps, grass, landscapes, the earth and the Nordic breed of horses.

The Dolomite Cheese Route: A Journey – Using All Your Senses

There are legendary places nestled between the Dolomites and the Paneveggio – Pale di San Martino Regional Park: a natural and cultural patchwork in a borderland that has now been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Val di Fiemme, Fassa, Primiero and Vanoi turn this thematic itinerary and its extraordinary landscapes into a veritable journey through the senses. The smell and taste of unique cheeses – such as the Caprino di Cavalese, the Cuor di Fassa, the Tosela di Primiero and the Puzzone di Moena, to name but a few – meet the flavours of meats, sausages, honey, beer, berries, cakes, Alpine butter, herbs and craft grappas. All these can be enjoyed in the restaurants, farmhouses, inns, dairies, hotels, wine-bars and shops selling local delicacies. The real stars of this route, however, are the people: all those you will meet along the way; men and women whose work is – in and of itself – an art form that safeguards small secrets, while providing infinite emotions.

The “Geological Museum of the Dolomites” in Predazzo

This (area) is the key to the Alps… home of the most diverse and wonderful geological phenomena”.

This is what Leopold von Buch – one of the scholars who explored the valleys of Fiemme and Fassa – wrote in 1827. In 1819 a sensational discovery (made right near Predazzo, in the Fiemme valley) had revolutionised the theory about the origin of these mountains; since then, the Dolomites have become famous all over the world.

The Geology Museum in Predazzo was founded in 1899; its collections consist of fossils, minerals and rocks coming mainly from the Fiemme and Fassa valleys: on the ground floor are displayed samples that synthetize the importance of this area, and its relevance for the development of modern geology. Here one can be introduced to the most significant finds; i.e. the typical minerals of the Dolomites, and the ancient volcanoes of the area (most notably, the Monzoni group). An exhibition area illustrates the local ancient mining sites, as well as the evolution of the extraction techniques. The Museum’s numerous cultural offers include guided tours, workshops and conferences on geological and naturalistic topics. A brand new layout to the Museum has just been finished after refurbishment.  

A Guide to the Museum: Minerals, Stones and Fossils of the Dolomites

Section 1. Geological Research in the Fiemme and Fassa Valleys

1A. Geological specimens, minerals and mining tools are shown in this section together with some historical documents that highlight the ancient and prolonged interest that scholars have devoted to this area of the Dolomites; the Museum itself stems in fact from this long-lasting relationship. 1B. The exhibition and historical excursus continue through the most important events and characters who, for over a century, have shaped Predazzo’s link with the geologic disciplines. 1C. At the end of this section are displayed some of the main scientific papers describing fossils collected in the nearby valleys.

Section 2. Geology of the Dolomites

2A. Key geological events that took place from the end of the Paleozoic (about 260 million years ago) and that have shaped the territory of the Dolomites – in particular the area now occupied by the Western Dolomites, and most notably the Fiemme and Fassa valleys – are summerized in this section. In the Paleozoic this area was part of a large emerged landmass, which was inhabited by various plants and terrestrial reptiles. 2B. Between the end of the Permian and the early Triassic (ca. 250 million years ago) a vast marine ingression occurred: the species and geological finds shown are among the very few which survived the largest mass extinction documented in the whole of the Earth’s history, which took place at about this time. 2C. Soon after, however, a great explosion of life in the middle Triassic repopulated the seas, and contributed to the building of the gigantic submarine carbonate platforms that we still admire today petrified in the Dolomite peaks, and that are the result of an intense reef-building activity by organisms such as algae, molluscs and corals.

Section 3. A Volcano and its Minerals

3A. While carbonate platforms were growing all around, the area comprised between Predazzo and the mid-part of the Fassa valley was the centre of a massive volcanic event that involved also – at least partly – the most ancient rocks. Limestone and Dolomite were deeply transformed by a prolonged contact with the incandescent magma; traces of these events are still visible today in the area around Predazzo. 3B. The interaction between sedimentary rocks, incandescent magma and the hot fluids produced by the volcanic apparatuses originated a large variety of minerals that have attracted collectors and enthusiasts in these valleys for centuries.

Section 4. Mines and Miners

4A. Besides those of exclusive collective value, mineral deposits and ores originated by volcanic events also had an industrial value: near Predazzo, the deposits appear of little size and yielded small quantities of ore; this was nonetheless sufficient to give rise to a long and diversified history in the extraction activity of the local mines. Exploitation of the ores began in the Middle Ages and ended only in the middle of the last century.

It is also worth reminding once more that the Pale di San Martino are one of the nine mountain groups that collectively form the Dolomites UNESCO Heritage site.

Activities Proposed by the Park

The Park is an open laboratory where various projects of Nature Conservation are being studied and applied, whilst at the same time remaining sympathetic towards the human activities typical of this area, traditionally associated with Alpine-Dolomitic territories (sylviculture, animal breeding and tourism). As well as being actively involved in a lot of scientific research, land planning and management initiatives, the Park is also working on an historical project that has been named "Routes of the Great War". Other single and group activities offered by the Park include:

- Guided Nature Trail visits (2 to 6 hours);

- Visits to Vistor Centres and exhibitions;

- Open-air concerts and performances;

- Themed Naturalistic evenings;

- Environmental Laboratories for adults and children.

School group offers proposed by the Park include:

Guided visits; study/laboratory holidays for 1-5 days for all ages. Visits can be about general information concerning the Park and conservation work, or about more specialised subjects regarding the theme of water, geology, forests, history, literature, fauna, rock climbing and orienteering.

For information and bookings, call the 'Case del Parco', the Park's Headquarter or the Visitor Centres, as well as the local tourist offices. Each initiative must be booked and priced in advance, and they will take place with 6 participants or more. The Visitor Centres usually have a small entrance fee, with discounts for children and groups; Park guides can be booked for half or a full day. The Park authorities strongly recommend that people use public transport when travelling to the reserve or to the surrounding territory. During the summer and winter season the Park also promotes a Sustainable mobility project.   

In a nutshell...

... the Park covers a surface area of 20,000 hectares and is found at between 1,050 and 3,192 metres above sea level; there are 41 species of mammals and 5 species of fish; as for the flora, there are 1,154 plant species present in the area, 77 of which are rare and on the "Red List" of threatened species. There are also 9 species of reptiles and 5 species of amphibians; 112 species of birds, of which 48 nest here. The estimated invertebrates are about 20,000, of which 91 are butterflies and 17 dragonflies; also, there are 12 types of rocks and as many as 641 species of lichens present. In terms of paths, there are about 255 km of marked routes, with 50,000 visitors estimated each year. 

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