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The 9 systems of the Dolomites | Dolomiti di Brenta


The Brenta Dolomites make up the westernmost part of the Dolomite region, on the western border of the Province of Trento. This chain is a Dolomite island covering an area of 11,135 hectares bounded to the west by the Giudicarie valleys, to the east by Val di Non and to the north by Val di Sole.

The Brenta Dolomites are divided into two parts by the Bocca di Brenta pass. The northern part includes the Sfulmini chain and the Grostè massif, while the south boats the highest peak in the system Cima Tosa, 3,173m, and the Catena d’Ambiez chain. Among the other high peaks are Cima Brenta (3,150m) and Campanil Basso (2,883m), the latter a famous mountain that is still a magnet for mountaineering enthusiasts. Not just geography separates the Brenta Dolomites from the other Dolomite chains. The distinctive morphology of the majestic, towering Brenta peaks, the result of erosion carving them into jagged spires and lofty pinnacles of different sizes and shapes, stands in contrast to the more slender, fluid lines of the rest.

Protecting the environment

The exceptional importance of the natural environment, landscape and geology of this Dolomite system is safeguarded by Il Parco Naturale Adamello Brenta, designated a protected area in 1988, covering an area of over 62,000 hectares. The parkland environment contains a wide range of plants typical of the Alpine chain and a rich variety of fauna. Alongside chamois, roe and other species of deer, ibex, foxes, badgers and martens, live rarer species such as eagles, bears, black grouse and capercaillie. The Adamello Brenta park has always been famous for its amazing variety of rocks, so much so that, in 2008, it became a geopark covering not only the whole of the existing natural parkland but also extending further into the land of the parkland municipalities (

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The far western edge; from flood plains to the depths of the last Dolomite Sea

The sequence of rocks in the Brenta Massif ranges from the early Triassic to the Cretaceous periods, about 185 million years ago, and these rocks are very different from elsewhere in the Dolomites. The main differences can be found in the rocks of the end of the Triassic period and of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. These relate the opening up of the Lombardy Basin and the development of the western edge of the Trento Platform. The rocks of the first Dolomite Sea and of the first archipelago, of the early and mid-Triassic period, are found principally in the western areas, along and near Val Rendena and the south western area. The Werfen formation which bears witness to the early stirrings of the Triassic Dolomite Sea, can be seen in Val d’Algone, while in Val Perse there are deposits from the rivers that eroded the Anisian landmasses.

The magnificent mountains in the central part of the Brenta Massif are supported by a core of mid-Triassic rocks that tell of the evolution of the archipelago of islands formed from organisms, as can be seen in Val Brenta Alta, near the Casinei Refuge and in Val Perse. There is a great deal of Principal Dolomite rock deposited when the Dolomite region was a huge mudflat, repeatedly flooded by the tide, during the late Triassic period. This rock makes up some of the most famous peaks in the system: Cima Brenta, Cima Tosa, Grostè and some marvellous valleys, such as Valle di Tovel, Val delle Seghe and Val Brenta Alta have been carved out of this same rock. At the end of the Triassic period the area began to sink, evidence of which can be seen today in the sequence of calcareous rocks originating from varying sea depths.

The tectonic instability caused by the general sinking that occurred during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods is magnificently demonstrated by the large recesses caused by underwater landslides, fossilized in the Peller – Sasso Rosso area in Cima Vallina and by the large accumulations of material that collapsed into the surrounding basin, Castello di Stenico and the Castello dei Camosci area, which are just beyond the boundary of the system.


The appearance of the Brenta Dolomites is that of an imposing, elongated ridge running mainly north-south, predominantly consisting of sedimentary carbonate rocks arranged in compact, erosion-resistant banks. The contours of such valleys as Val di Tovel, Valle delle Seghe, Val d’Agola and Val di Brenta and of the narrow gorges, rock walls and gullies generally reflect the various subvertical fault and fracture systems that have caused local weakness in the resistant rocky mass, facilitating the eroding action of water and ice. The erosion that occurred where fractures running in different directions came together led to the formation of some spectacular spires and isolated pinnacles, such as the monumental Campanil Basso di Brenta, Campanil Lungo and Torre di Vallasinella. There are plenty of planar morphostructures, such as ledges and balcony and step formations, arising from the moderate changes in composition and texture that can be observed in the predominant strata of Principal Dolomite rock. Systems of karst and glacio-karst morphologies are widespread, both on the surface, in the form of limestone pavements and sinkholes, and underground caves and potholes, due to the mainly carbonate nature of the rocks. These are particularly plentiful in Plateau di Groste, Bocca della Vallazza, Pian della Nana, Pozza Tramontana and Val Nardis.

From the morphoclimatic point of view, there is an abundance of such glacial forms and deposits as cirques, hanging valleys, smooth step formations, sheepbacks and banks of moraine, on both the eastern and western sides of the massif, in Val Gelada, Alta Val Brenta, Alta Vallesinella, etc. In the higher parts there is clear, well-preserved evidence of the Little Ice Age, its forms still relatively intact having only recently emerged from the ice. Current surveys in the Brenta Dolomites reveal 16 glacial cirques, largely buried under a thick cloak of debris, all located on the less exposed western side. The largest glacier, Vedretta d’Agola, extends over about 20 hectares and occupies a cirque between the mountain of the same name and Cima d’Ambiez.

The currently most active morphogenetic processes are periglacial and snow-related as evidenced by snow moraines and rock glaciers, for example in Pra Castron di Flavona, which gradually transport the debris fields and/or glacial deposits. Debris cones and fields can be found everywhere, particularly in the western part of the Groste-Val Brenta Pass and these are frequently reactivated by debris flows.

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Natural history and cultural museums

Numerous museums and exhibitions will help you discover the history and nature of this Dolomite island.

In the valleys belonging to the Adamello Brenta park, a number of exhibition spaces, known as Case, meaning houses, are well worth a visit. La Casa della Fauna, part of the villa De Biasi in Daone, is dedicated to the wildlife living in the protected area. Casa Spormaggiore is dedicated to the bear. The unique features of the local waters and plant-life are on show at La Casa della Flora in Stenico (in the natural parkland Area Natura Rio Bianco). Val di Tovel is home to La Casa del Lago Rosso (house of the red lake) which describes the particular natural phenomenon that, until 1964, turned the waters of Lago di Tovel red. Finally, La Casa C’era una Volta (once upon a time house) in San Lorenzo in Banale houses an ethnographic museum telling the story of the mountainfolk and their traditional architecture (

There are some fascinating eco-museums, which are cultural projects dealing with every aspect of this unique territory. These are not traditional museums, but spaces located all over the system presenting a holistic overview of the natural landscape, history and culture of specific areas. The Brenta Dolomite system also boasts the Ecomuseo della Judicaria “Dalle Dolomiti al Garda” (from the Dolomites to Lake Garda) and the Ecomuseo della Valle del Chiese.

The culture of the valleys surrounding the Brenta Dolomites is explored in the various ethnographic museums, among them Il Museo della Civiltà Solandra in Malè, Val di Sole, with sections dedicated to typical local homes, the economy and the traditional trades and crafts of the valley.

For those wishing to journey further back in time, Il Museo Retico in Sanzeno, Val di Non, is dedicated to the Raeti people, as the local tribes were called by the Romans, with a collection of archaeological relics found in the valley from the glacial era until late antiquity.

The past life of the Brenta Dolomites is brought to life in the two imposing castles Castel Thun, in Vigo di Ton, and Castello di Stenico, both restored and open to the public. These two historic buildings are part of a network entitled Monumenti e Collezioni Provinciali, headed by Castello del Buonconsiglio, all of them housing other permanent and temporary exhibitions (

Il Museo del Vetro in Carisolo and Il Museo del Legno in Coredo are dedicated to the traditional artisan trades, glassmaking and woodworking respectively, of the Brenta Dolomites valleys. The former, housed in the historic Fabbrica dei Cristalli (glassworks) has a marvellous collection of documents and photographs from that era, working tools and priceless crystal objects that were once all the rage in the royal courts of Europe. The latter, in the Val di Non, houses a collection of woodworking tools and beside it stands a traditional Venetian-style sawmill, that has been perfectly restored.

Footpaths and mountain trails

The imposing mountains and magnificent valleys of the Brenta Dolomites offer an infinite number of hiking trails to suit every taste and level of experience, from gentle rambles along valley floors to more challenging hikes reaching up to the sky.

Escursione alle Bocchette Centrali (hike to the Bocchette Centrali pass)

A breath-taking scenic hike, recommended for hikers with reasonable mountaineering experience, requiring a via ferrata set.

Starting from Vallesinella (5km from Madonna di Campiglio), you can leave your car in the car park near the refuge of the same name. The hike begins here along footpath 318 leading to the Casinei refuge. Take the right-hand fork here, heading toward the Brentei refuge in the shadow of the Adamello chain. From the refuge the view takes in the passes Bocchette Centrali and Bocca di Brenta stretching as far as the peak of Crozzon di Brenta. Roughly half an hour from the Brentei refuge brings you to the bottom of the Bocca di Brenta snowfield. Depending on the state of the snowfield, you either walk along a steep scree or on snow-covered ground until you reach the start of the via ferrata, to the left.

You gain height rapidly with the aid of a short ladder leading to Via 305. Now you have to negotiate an exposed ridge, at times walking bent right over. Another short ladder and a clamber over some rocks bring you down into a crevice between Brenta Alta and Campanile Basso, before you once again start to climb. You continue along this rocky trail, equipped as a via ferrata, with a view over the Sfulmini and Torre di Brenta peaks. After a few up and down stretches, you turn left and, still on a ledge, there is vertical descent, on a ladder, to the snowfield of the Alimonta refuge. When snowed over, this part of the trail is not particularly difficult, but in the summer there may still be some slippery ice so it is necessary to make yourself safe with an ice axe and some crampons. The way back is along the footpath that, in no time, brings you back to the Brentei refuge, then to the Casinei refuge (footpath 318) and finally to Vallesinella.

Dal rifugio Peller al lago di Tovel (from the Peller refuge to Lake Tovel)

The Peller refuge can be reached from Cles along a carriageway, with only a short stretch closed to vehicles. This route, which is suitable for everyone, takes about 7 hours and it is of particular interest to those with an eye for a fine landscape.

From the refuge, you take footpath 336 leading to the Tassulla dairy, then on to the Nana pass. At the crossroads you follow the sign for footpath 310 leading to the Prà Castron pass, after which you head downhill to Prà Castron di Tuenno. You carry on along Val Madris as far as the Tuenna dairy, after which it’s downhill all the way to Lake Tovel.

The Dolomites of legend

Lake Tovel, in the north of the Brenta Dolomites was famous, up a few decades ago, for its red water stained by the algae of the same colour that once thrived there. Needless to say, this strange appearance gave rise to a number of legends. The algae of Lake Tovel are now almost completely gone, due to both climatic and cultural changes. These algae populated the lake when the valley’s main livelihood was livestock farming and they were nourished by the quantities of dung tipped into the lake. Although the lake’s waters are now a clear blue, the legend of the red lake of Tovel lives on.

Once upon a time the village of Ràgoli was ruled over by the beautiful Queen Tresènga. To keep her flourishing kingdom of pastures and woodland united and prosperous she resolved never to marry, informing all prospective suitors of her decision. Lavinto, the king of Tuènno took no notice. He was more interested in the wealth of the tiny kingdom than the womanly charms of the young queen and he came to the village to court her.

Tresènga rejected him but Lavinto refused to lose heart. He set up camp in the outskirts of Ràgoli and took to sending his intended bouquets of flowers, jewels, poems and love letters. Tresènga summoned her people and the heads of the local families naturally took their young queen’s side, descending on Lavinto’s encampment armed with swords, pitchforks and staves. Lavinto and his men were forced to withdraw. Tresènga then ordered her force to advance to settle all the boundary disputes between Ràgoli and Tuènno, once and for all. The Ràgoli army pushed the enemy back toward the lake and prepared for the final assault. Lavinto’s soldiers however, had greater knowledge of that area and they hit upon a new strategy. When Tresènga’s army launched their attack, their opponents spread out in a ring, surrounding the men from Ràgoli. Only the queen and a few of her aides were able to break through this encirclement and flee. But they ran into an enemy patrol and now there was no hope of escape.

The battle was devastating for both sides. So many soldiers were killed that when their blood flowed into the lake there was enough to turn its waters red. In memory of this noble queen, the mountain stream that flows out of the lake still bears the name Tresènga. Although the waters of Lake Tovel have lost their reddish hue, on nights of the full moon they say that you can still hear Queen Trèsenga weeping over the fate of her faithful subjects.


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