San Candido is an Italian town of 3.361 inhabitants in the autonomous province of Bolzano, in Trentino-Alto Adige, located in Alta Pusteria.
Market-town since 1303, San Candido is today a renowned winter and summer tourist resort in the Dolomites, included in the Tre Cime nature park.
The Italian name San Candido (which has already been used for some time) was given, only partially accepting the suggestion of Ettore Tolomei (who had proposed San Candido alla Drava) from that of the co-patron of the collegiate church. Moreover, it is attested in Ladin in 1915 San Ciana, still used by the Province of Bolzano for its texts in Ladin.
San Candido is located near the saddle of Dobbiaco, beyond the Alpine watershed, as it is crossed by the river Drava, a tributary of the Danube. San Candido and nearby Sesto are therefore among the few Italian municipalities that are not part of the Italian geographical region because they belong to the river basin of the Danube.
The village of San Candido is located at 1,175 m above sea level and extends along the banks of the Drava river, where you can see numerous trout and nice ducks and whose sources are located three kilometers west of San Candido, in the green meadows towards Dobbiaco.
Up to date, there are approximately 3,150 inhabitants, of which 83% are German native speakers, 16% Italian native speakers and 1% Ladin native speakers.
The first traces of a settlement with the foundation of a fortified village date back to the 4th century. B.C. at the hands of Celtic tribes who raised livestock and practiced agriculture in these areas. It was in 15 BC that the Romans conquered the region of which the current San Candido was also part.
The town was founded in 769, the Bavarian Duke Tassilo III granted the land that develops between Monguelfo and Abfaltersbach to the Abbot von Scharnitz on the condition that a convent of Benedictine Friars was founded, in order to Christianize the Slavic pagans. So San Candido was born, transformed into a collegiate church around 1140. The town’s economy is based primarily on tourism, but also on trade, crafts and agriculture.
As one of the three municipalities of the Tre Cime Natural Park, San Candido has a lot to offer for sportsmen: in winter, you can ski here in the Baranci ski area; in summer, you can have fantastic hiking tours or you can ride a mountain bike. Those who prefer relaxation will certainly not be disappointed.
The pedestrian area of San Candido is closed to traffic; recently renovated, it invites you to take a nice walk through its streets, admiring its beautiful shops, where there is no shortage of bars and restaurants.
Paradise in Trentino
Let’s start our visit in this lovely tourist resort of Alto Adige!
Tre Cime Natural Park
The Tre Cime Natural Park (Dolomites World Heritage Site – UNESCO) covers an area of over 11,000 hectares, which includes the municipalities of San Candido, Sesto and Dobbiaco. The park is limited to the north by the Val Pusteria, to the east by the Val di Sesto and to the south by the provincial border with Belluno and to the west by the Val di Landro.
The park was officially established on December 22, 1981.
On 25 February 2010, the 1st Provincial Landscape Commission, chaired by Artur Kammerer, approved the change of the park’s name from “Sesto Dolomites Natural Park” to “Tre Cime Natural Park”.
The park is renowned because inside there are many famous Dolomite peaks among which the very famous three Peaks of Lavaredo stand out. Since the second half of the 19th century, the pioneers of mountaineering have been climbing these rocks. Even today, climbers from all over the world arrive specifically to climb these vertical walls and to show off their skills.
In summer 2009, the Dolomites, by virtue of their scenic beauty and extraordinary geological and geomorphological importance, were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This list includes, after an extremely selective procedure, the natural or cultural assets considered extraordinary and unique in the world and whose conservation is of importance for the entire international community. The Dolomites and with them the Tre Cime Natural Park were therefore able to boast the highest recognition for a natural site. However, recognition also implies a special commitment and responsibility in terms of the protection and sustainable development of this extraordinary mountain region.
The protected area is appreciated for its extraordinary landscapes, world-famous peaks and mountains, first of all the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. During the second half of the 19th century these mountains were visited by mountaineers from all over the world to perform pioneering feats. Even today, internationally renowned professional climbers are testing their skills on the vertical walls of this mountain massif.
Inside the park you can find various geological formations typical of the Dolomites, for example the Mendola Dolomites at the Monte Croce di Comelico pass and the Sciliar Dolomites at the Rocca dei Baranci and the Tre Scarperi group. The Sciliar Dolomites also forms the solid base of the southern massifs of the park, such as Cima Undici, Cima Dodici, Monte Popera, Monte Paterno and the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Above this layer there are layers of riebl, gray dolomite and clayey marl, which have allowed the formation of the Piani lake, for example.
A long time ago, in the majestic rock world of the Dolomites, several giants lived. Extraordinary stories are told, according to which a giant still lives as a spirit on one of the most fascinating mountains of Alta Pusteria – Monte Baranci or Haunold, the mountain that bears this name in honor of him.
Legend has it that various giants lived among the rocks of the mountains surrounding San Candido, including the giant Haunold, who helped the inhabitants of San Candido build the church by bringing the heavy stones needed to build it.
In exchange, the giant asked that a calf, two bushels of beans and a barrel of wine be brought to him every day. The church was finished, but the giant continued to demand his food. The inhabitants of San Candido, however, were no longer willing to feed the giant, so they set a trap for him.
The giant fell into it and died. His spirit still lives today in the mountain, which took his name. In memory of the giant, one of his ribs is preserved in the collegiate church, showing how big it was.
In the summer months, Monte Baranci is the ideal destination for excursions dedicated to those who love adventure.
Monte Baranci is the ideal mountain for families. The ski lift is located just 3 minutes from the center of San Candido which takes you to a height of 1,500 m. Flowering meadows and carpets of unforgettable green convey a feeling of calm and are the ideal playground for young and old. The valley station is the ideal starting point to undertake countless easy to moderately difficult excursions through fir woods to the Rocca dei Baranci which offers a breathtaking view.
As soon as you go up to welcome the little visitors there is a refuge with a beautiful playground made of rugs to jump, slides that end in the sand, swings with a view of the Dolomites.
The most beautiful attraction appears next to the Baranci refuge: the Village of the Gnomes!
Still ponds with Kneipp paths, meadows with grazing cows, the fun bob to go down the mountain and a new attraction: the Kingdom of the Giant Baranci.
A few meters away from the arrival of the chairlift that leads from the valley to Mount Baranci, there is the entrance to this magical path capable of thrilling children but not only.
This park is dedicated to the good Giant who lives in these mountains, as an ancient legend tells us: not a classic playground, but a circular path characterized by many fantastic stations made with natural materials that invite children to enter the legend and live the life that the Giant leads on this mountain.
From here you can then choose to go down to the village on foot passing through the old Bagni di San Candido which are worth a visit (this is the article that tells the route), or to return to the chairlift and maybe go down with the fun bob, to end the day in an adrenaline-filled way on Monte Baranci.
Between refuge, village of gnomes, lakes and the new path dedicated to the Giant, more than half a day is needed to fully experience this place, to be seen in San Candido.
Collegiate Church of San Candido
The Collegiate Church of San Candido is a church of the homonymous municipality of San Candido, in the province of Bolzano, to which a monastic complex is attached. Founded in the 8th century and completely rebuilt between the 12th and 13th centuries, it is considered the most important Romanesque monument in the Tyrol and the Eastern Alps.
Apart from the fundamental importance of its architecture, the church preserves notable works of art such as a 13th century wooden statue and a cycle of frescoes from the same period in the central dome.
The Collegiate Church of San Candido is the best example of the Romanesque style in the Eastern Alps region. Its construction began around 1143, when the Benedictine Convent of San Candido, founded in the eighth century by the Bavarian Duke Tassilo III, was transformed into a Collegiate Church. The church acquired its present aspect around 1280; the bell tower dates back to the years between 1320 and 1326. The monumental masonry works recall the style of the Crusader fortresses and the numerous fortified citadels that were built at the time of the Hohenstaufen. The church too must have appeared as God’s fortress.
Of particular interest are the fresco in the dome, the crucifixion group and the crypt. The church is remarkably surprising for the Romanesque taste of exquisite workmanship which, absolutely intact, characterizes it completely, both inside and outside. For this reason, as mentioned at the beginning, the collegiate church of San Candido is considered the most important Romanesque monument in Tyrol and the Eastern Alps.
The gabled façade, very simple, is made of exposed stone blocks, like the rest of the building, and is very simple. Above the central portal, at the two lateral ends of the façade, there are two small single lancet windows, followed by a bare frame that divides the facade in two. Above this is the rose window that illuminates the interior. To the left rises the massive stone bell tower, with a square plan, whose sides are marked only by very thin single-lancet windows, one on each floor, which instead become a wider window on the penultimate. The top floor, the belfry, is instead opened by two single lancet windows on each side. The tower is finally covered by a pyramid-shaped roof.
The back of the church is of considerable visual impact: here, the rhythmic hierarchy of spaces typical of Romanesque architecture follows the more traditional canons. The high body of the cross, that is the intersection between the nave and the transept, is the background to the rooms of less and less height that close the rear elevation of the collegiate church: first the body, already lower than the cross, of the presbytery, then the apse of the central nave, after which the roofs of the aisles and finally the apses of the latter.
The covered room on the left, which seems to be another side nave, is instead the body of the sacristy. The eaves line of the three apses is decorated with an arched motif. The central is opened by three single-lancet windows, the two lateral windows have a single lancet window in the center. Furthermore, a small cemetery develops behind the church.
Altötting Chapel and the Holy Sepulcher
The Chapel of Altötting and the Holy Sepulchre, close to the railway line, built from 1653 by the host Georg Paprion after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, as a miniature copy of the Holy Sepulchre on Calvary in Jerusalem, harmonized with a previously built building, which in turn was a copy of the Altötting Chapel of Grace.
It is in fact three chapels built one inside the other. The innkeeper after his first trip brought back as a souvenir a prehistoric Saurus bone, which hangs on the wall of the main entrance, inside.
They are two buildings leaning against each other dating back to the 17th century, the period of the Counter-Reformation, built by the host of San Candido Georg Paprion.
After a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Paprion took the Holy Sepulcher (1653) as a model, while from a previous pilgrimage he was inspired by the Marian shrine of Altötting and had these two chapels built, a central plant with a pointed roof and the small nave, and the chapel of the Holy Sepulcher. The actual altar comes from the desecrated church of S. Maurizio di San Candido.
What you don’t expect when entering the Altotting Chapel and the Holy Sepulcher is that it is a miniature copy of the Holy Sepulcher on Calvary in Jerusalem.
It was built in 1653 by the innkeeper of San Candido, Georg Paprion, after returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The complex is therefore formed by two attached chapels: the first which reproduces the chapel of the Graces in Altötting to which the host was equally devoted, and the second which reproduces the Holy Sepulcher.
You enter the two chapels through an atrium, called of suffering, for the sculptures representing scenes of the Passion.
The whole is truly impressive and is a beautiful testimony of popular art.
In the heart of the pedestrian area of San Candido, there is the Dolomythos, the Museum on the Natural Heritage of Humanity, the Dolomites. Whether they are dragons or dinosaurs, medicinal plants or legends, the Dolomythos offers visitors, young and old, exciting visions of the world of the Dolomites.
The Alta Pusteria Museum offers an interesting journey through time from prehistory to the present day, through the story of numerous interesting facts about flora and fauna, the saurians of the Dolomites, the world of stones, the bears of the Conturines caves, the ancestor of lizards and snakes, referred to as ‘Megachirella wachtleri’, and also on the largest gold find in the Alpine region. At the Dolomythos history comes to life incredibly! Numerous finds by the passionate archaeologist Michael Wachtler make the prehistory of the Dolomites lively and engaging.
A truly special place, because it allows you to travel back to the most remote time, starting when the Dolomites did not exist, and in their place, there was nothing less than the sea. Marine fossils bear testimony to very distant geological eras, and the museum exhibits many of them. Continuing along the path, you will encounter rocks and crystals that tell the evolution of an area that over thousands of years has transformed to give life to the splendid landscape made up of vertical peaks that makes the Dolomites unique in the world. The path then continues with the narration of the history of the first reptiles that inhabited these mountains, even precursors of the dinosaurs.
We pass from era to era discovering prehistoric flora and fauna, up to today. In addition, you can discover curiosities about the rocks and crystals of the mountains, contemplating interesting anecdotes such as that of the largest vein of gold ever found in the Alps. Or the findings of the amulets that belonged to the first human inhabitants of the Dolomites. Herbs and medicinal plants. Local stories and legends. All this is presented through an interactive and fun path, with reconstructions, dioramas, graphic representations that allow young and old to understand the fascinating history of the Dolomites.
Dolomythos is a special place for families. In the Dolomythos, you will have the opportunity to get in touch with the fascinating world of the Dolomites. It is a journey that, as fossils testify, starts from the genesis of the earth. The territory that today hosts the Dolomites, for millions of years was submerged by the tropical sea populated by ammonites, beautiful corals and by layers of “La Valle” that formed the seabed that housed the Daonella lomelli mollusk.
Of course, children cannot miss the mysterious treasure hunt proposed in the museum, which transforms young and old visitors into treasure hunters and adventurers, encouraging them to go in search of their personal precious stone. In the treasure hunt, organized throughout the year, rock crystals, amethysts, fossil shark teeth, citrines and ammonites are hidden, perhaps even gold.
San Candido Baths
The wonderful recreational area around San Candido is crossed by a path that runs along the thermal springs and green meadows to be walked barefoot, along the stream that leads directly to the famous Bagni
The ruins still bear witness to the ancient splendor of Late Romanticism, but the collapsed walls and roofs also show the decay and abandonment of the Grand Hotel. We are talking about the San Candido Baths, which were partly destroyed in the First World War and then were abandoned in decline.
The Baths of San Candido were mentioned for the first time in 1586, however their history is much older and dates back to the era of the Illyrians and the Romans. Illyrian coins and Roman amphorae have been found, which probably date back to the period between 70 and 160 AD. C.
Reachable from San Candido towards Sesto, after about 1.5 km follow the branch on the right. Follow the forest road, until after a short walk you reach the Bagni di San Candido, which was built as a sanatorium in 1586 by the Hungarian doctor Dr. Johann Graf Scheiber. Later the baths were transformed into a Grand Hotel, which enjoyed great popularity especially in the transition between the 19th and 20th centuries. The upper classes of the Prussian and Austrian monarchies passed through here.
In addition to the 5 thermal springs, the Bagni di San Candido also have the Chapel of San Salvatore, which until 1786 was also joined to the hermitage. Consecrated in 1594, a small place of worship already stood in its place – the altar dates back to the 8th century. Historians assume that a pre-Christian site of spa culture once stood here.
Of the 5 different sources, 4 are bottled as mineral water, which is then sold. The Lavaredo spring was once very popular as a digestive water, while the “Kaiserwasser” or water of the Emperor was appreciated for its excellent taste. The sulphurous spring was the best known of the springs of the Bagni di San Candido and was used above all for sitz baths, baths all over the body and wraps. Due to the rather sulphurous taste, this water was not liked to drink. The Candida spring is bottled together with the “Kaiserwasser” and was once used mainly by people with kidney and urinary problems. The ferrous spring was discovered only in 1820 by the pharmacist of San Candido Joseph Stapf and is the water with the highest mineral content among the mineral waters of South Tyrol.
Although some parts of the Bagni di San Candido are preserved, which can only be observed from afar, it is always worth taking a trip here. Those who wish to also continue the excursion to the Jora Refuge.
Bagni di San Candido are also very popular for sledding in winter and for snowshoeing and winter excursions. It doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter, even on a wellness holiday you can’t fail to enjoy the fascinating landscape that surrounds this special place.