The Dolomites in northern Italy are known for their jagged peaks, but there are many churches that attract thousands of visitors, too. Especially since some of them are framed like a fairy tale with those jagged peaks looming behind. We visited the 4 best churches in the Dolomites during our weeklong trip to Italy in 2023, using Ortisei as our base. Here’s a map with all 4 and below are the details you need to see them:
Map tips: click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
1: Chiesetta di San Giovanni
- Location: Ranui in Val di Funes
- 25 minute drive from Chiusa
- 50 minute drive from Ortisei
- Ease of access: 2 minute walk on a paved road
Starting with the best. San Giovanni, or the Church of St. John, is the church that is most associated with the Dolomites. You’ve probably seen the picture. A small white church alone in the middle of a field, no road leading to it, with giant mountains behind it.
While I think this is the most beautiful church in the Dolomites, it also gets points for being the easiest to find. There is a parking lot called Parkplatz (detailed map below – 2 Euro fee as of this writing) and there are 2 views you can get in just a few minutes. The easy one that yields the best view is just across the street along the wooden fence. Walk from the parking lot up San Giovanni road. There is a fence on the right that runs the entire way. After about 1 minute is a small, signed “viewing area.”
You can get a little higher and closer to the fence at the viewing area. However, all you can do is take a picture, admire the view, and head back. All the land is private, so please respect the fence and boundaries.
If you want to visit the church, you can either continue walking along the fence or drive down San Giovanni road to another cash parking lot. You’ll need to have even more cash as there is a turnstile entrance to walk along the roped-off path to the church. We did not do this so I can’t say if it’s worth it.
The other view involves walking uphill along the main road, Via Zanser, from the same Parkplatz lot. Some words of caution: there is no space on the side of the road to walk and there is not a lot of visibility for cars coming around the curves. There is no place to pull over when driving past and get out for the view, either. You’ll have to walk from the parking lot, so take care or consider skipping this one.
You only have to walk 1-2 minutes up the hill, and the viewpoint is at the first bend in the road. You can pretty much see it from the road, or take a few steps into the grass to get a little higher. I don’t think this one is a must-see, but here’s the view:
Here is a map that (hopefully) gives a good idea of where San Giovanni and the next church, Santa Maddalena, are in relation to each other:
2: Chiesa di Santa Maddalena
- Location: Santa Magdalena in Val di Funes
- 25 minute drive from Chiusa
- 50 minute drive from Ortisei
- Ease of access: 30-45 minute easy walk on paved roads
Less than a mile away from the parking for San Giovanni is a turnoff to the north. This leads to Parcheggio Piazza Centrale in Santa Magdalena. This is the parking lot (small fee, credit cards are accepted) to walk to the view of Chiesa di Santa Maddalena. You walk along roads the whole way, and after parking, head downhill and navigate to the road named “S. Maddalena” on Google Maps. You may see cars on the road, but it is meant for locals only. Please park and go on foot.
I would head up to the viewpoint first. Walk along S Maddalena road until you see this trail to the right:
You only need to go up the footpath for maybe a minute or two. If you haven’t glanced over your left shoulder before then, your jaw will drop when you first turn:
While there are other buildings around unlike San Giovanni, the church still stands out and there is such a beautiful overall scene. You can either retrace your steps back to the parking lot or make somewhat of a loop to go by the church (see the blue dotted line on the map above). You can go in it for a fee or just keep walking along the road.
We didn’t go in the church. The views are similar to the higher viewpoint, but I’m glad we did the loop. it only added a few minutes and you get to see more of the city below. For me, seeing more of the houses and “regular” life somehow made it seem more real. Right about here I was thinking (jealously) about the people that live there and get to marvel at the mountains every day.
We visited both San Giovanni and Santa Maddalena on the way back to Ortisei after hiking the Adolf Munkel Trail to Geisler Alm. The churches are less than 15 minutes from the parking lot for that hike at Zanser Alm. The hike and both churches can be combined in one fantastic day. We did this on day 3 of our trip and even tacked on another church and Seceda.
3: Chiesa di San Giacomo
- Location: Ortisei
- Ease of access: can hike (2 – 2.5 hours RT), bike (40 – 60 minutes RT), or drive (20 minutes RT, including the short walk to/from parking and the church)
San Giacomo (aka St. Jacob) was a bit tough to find. We biked there as our hotel (Angelo Engel, top-notch in every way) offered free rentals. However, you can hike all the way there from Ortisei or drive almost the whole way if you’re short on time.
No matter your transportation, take Strada Sacun from the center of Ortisei for about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) to Gasthof Albergo Somont. If you’re walking or biking, there are sidewalks for the first stretch. Once you get more into the hillside and there isn’t much traffic, you’ll be on the road. It is uphill the entire way and you’ll gain about 300 meters (1,000 feet) from Ortisei to the church.
There are some small places to park near Gasthof Albergo Somont. Immediately after the building is a sharp turn up and to the left. From there, you can see the top of the church through the woods and know how close you are. Although that sharp turn is on another road, you should walk or bike from Gasthof Albergo Somont. You’ll take a footpath to the right before you even get to the first house. Look for the small wooden sign with a picture of a church:
It’s very straightforward and quick to get to the church from there. The grounds are very small. The best view is from above, looking down on the church with the mountains in the background. Unfortunately, when we were there, only a sliver of the mountains were visible through the clouds. Still beautiful:
There are several benches around to take a break and it’s a very peaceful area. The church is open during certain hours but it was closed when we arrived around 6 pm.
You don’t have to take Strada Sacun the whole way. There are trails that lead to the church through the woods. There are several opportunities along the road to branch off into the woods on trail #6. However, I don’t have details since we didn’t take that route. The church is clearly labeled on the trail signs so it shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate.
4: St. Valentin Church
- Location: Siusi
- 20 minute drive from Ortisei
- 30 minute drive from Bolzano
- Ease of access: 30 minute RT walk
While my details may not be as good for this one, I think I can provide some helpful tips. This one was seen in a bit of a rush and I didn’t do it the “right” way. There is a free, open lot and a paid, covered garage. Both are at the Seis-Seiser Alm Aerial Cableway station. After parking, walk to Sentiero per Chiesa di San Valentino on Google Maps. Next, head uphill along the marked footpath to the church. The walk from the parking lot to the church should take around 25 minutes each way.
When looking at a map, you may be tempted to drive along Via S Valentino or the road just below it that looks like it leads right to the church. While both are closer to the church than the cable car station, there is nowhere to pull off or park on either road. Unless you have another driver that can drop you off and circle around (like I did), you’ll want to park near the cable car station and walk up.
There were wooden fences and roped-off areas in the grass around the church. I wasn’t able to explore the area as much as I wanted. Still managed to get a beautiful view with the Schlern Massif in the background.
Lastly, I’ve read that the church is open 1 hour per week. I would try to confirm with a local if interested.
That’s it! Have you been to any of these, or know of others that are just as picturesque? Please leave a comment below!