Paneveggio is a large forest in Italy’s Dolomites where red spruce trees grow so perfect that, legend has it, Stradivari himself would use them to make his worldwide famous violins.
Hence, Paneveggio is known as the Violins’ Forest.
An integral part of a large nature park – one of Italy’s first and since 2009 a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Paneveggio is a must-see place. Especially if you want to experience the authentic beauty of Northern Italy’s nature and to learn captivating stories about local traditions and the violinmaking craft.
Add to this the scrumptious local food, the re-energising hikes to crystal clear streams and lakes, and the chance to get close to a family of deer, and a visit to Paneveggio seems like a great idea.
An idea that had been playing on my mind for over a year.
I am pleased to report that two weeks ago I finally made it happen and Paneveggio turned out to be the stuff that travel memories are made of. With its tall red spruce trees and moss-covered ground, the forest seemed plucked straight out of a fairytale. Far from the maddening crowds and the niggling stresses of our day-to-day life, Paneveggio was a place that helped me relax and recharge my batteries.
At the same time, the forest offers so many opportunities to keep busy and feel alive that within 24 hours I had been on two hikes. The first took me over a fast-running stream via a Tibetan bridge and the second allowed me to revel in the beauty of two lakes surrounded by craggy mountain peaks.
Other experiences I managed to cram in were:
- preparing a traditional apple crumble,
- getting close to the local flora and fauna,
- learning what makes a red spruce tree excellent material for an outstanding violin; and
- sampling generous quantities of local food – from thick raisin-studded pancakes to glorious saucy mushrooms and the most satisfying blob of melted cheese.
With so many things to do and experience in Paneveggio, it’s little wonder that the area has been continuously attracting people since as far back as 12,000 years ago. Yes, every summer ancient Paleolithic and then Mesolithic tribes would arrive from the nearby plains to spend the hot months hunting in the shadows of the mountain peaks and taking in the beauty of the forest and the lakes.
In more recent times, the Paneveggio provided wood for the Republic of Venice and was then owned by the Princes of Tyrol.
Let’s get back to the present now though.
Today, I want to tell you how to experience Paneveggio – the Violins’ Forest – for yourself. So that you can also fall in love with it. From refreshing hikes to tasty meals, from violinmaking traditions to how to see the local family of deer, everything is covered together with many helpful first-hand tried and tested tips.
I have also included some light facts about the forest’s geography and history in addition to an account of my personal experience in Paneveggio.
I hope you find it all very useful while planning your own trip to the Violins’ Forest in Italy’s Dolomites.
Paneveggio – Exploring the Violins’ Forest in the Dolomites, Italy
1. Where is Paneveggio?
You will find Paneveggio – the Violins’ Forest – in the Dolomites in beautiful Trentino.
The Dolomites are a large mountain range. Trentino is an autonomous Northern Italian province tucked between:
- the region of Veneto to the east;
- the region of Lombardy to the west;
- Veneto and Lombardy divided by Lake Garda to the south;
- and the autonomous Northern Italian province of Alto Adige (also known as South Tyrol in English) to the north.
You will find Paneveggio in the Fiemme Valley near Trentino’s eastern border and just a stone’s throw away from the Veneto. The bare rocky peaks of the Pale di San Martino – the largest mountain group in the Dolomites – preside over the Violins’ Forest. Curiously enough, the peaks were once coral reefs at the bottom of a shallow sea!
In 1967, Paneveggio and the Pale di San Martino were declared a nature park. Called Paneveggio-Pale di San Martino, it was one of the very first nature parks in Italy. Plus, in 2009, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The nature park has a horseshoe shape and stretches over a surface of 200 sq km. 86 sq km of these are forests. It’s crossed by 255 km of trails and it has 24 lakes on its territory. 41 types of mammals live there, as well as 1,154 plant species of which 77 are in the Red Book.
You can easily reach Paneveggio from the nearby town of San Martino di Castrozza which in winter turns into a busy ski resort. Otherwise, by car the Violin’s Forest is about:
- an hour and a half away from Trento – the capital of Trentino;
- two hours away from Riva del Garda;
- two and a half hours away from Verona;
- two and a half hours away from Venice;
- two and a half hours away from Vicenza;
- an hour and 20 mins away from Bolzano; and
- four hours away from Milan.
There are three visitors’ centres on the territory of the nature park Paneveggio-Pale di San Martino:
- Visitors’ Centre Terra Foresta of Paneveggio – which is right in the heart of the Violins’ Forest;
- Visitors’ Centre at Villa Welsperg;
- Visitors’ Centre in San Martino di Castrozza.
This is where you can get lots of information about things to do and see in the area, hikes to explore, as well as events and workshops for kids and adults which are regularly organised. Please, click here for contact details, opening times and other pertinent information about the three visitors’ centres above.
Seasonal buses connect the nearby towns of San Martino di Castrozza, Predazzo and Fiera di Primiero with Paneveggio. There are also different seasonal shuttle buses operating inside the park.
2. Why Paneveggio is known as the Violins’ Forest?
Paneveggio is famous for its red spruce trees (called abeto rosso in Italian and Picea Excelsa in Latin). Due to the high humidity, the long and cold winters, the high elevation and other favourable conditions in the forest, some of these red spruce trees grow very symmetrical. As such, they are incredibly well suited for the making of violins and other musical instruments.
Traditionally, red spruce wood is used to create the violin’s body. Perfect red spruce trees are especially sought-after by luthiers as their concentric and equidistant annual growth rings ensure that the finished violin will resonate with a full and deep sound.
Legend has it that fabled luthiers like Antonio Stradivari and Nicola Amati personally sourced the tonewood for their priceless violins from Paneveggio. Nowadays, the red spruce of the Violins’ Forest in Trentino, Northern Italy is still a top choice for luthiers worldwide.
The very best logs of red spruce are selected following a very rigurous process. They have to be perfectly round with narrow and equidistant rings. Their grain must be fine and regular. There mustn’t be any branches in the logs. Only half to one percent of all timber harvested every year in Paneveggio is considered perfect enough to serve as tonewood, i.e. wood which possesses tonal properties and is suitable for the making of musical instruments.
Local authorities and the people in charge of the nature park Paneveggio-Pale di San Martino look after the forest with lots of care and dedication. The tallest red spruce trees can reach 40 m height and they have been growing at that place for hundreds of years.
The tempest Vaia which hit Trentino and Veneto at the end of 2018 uprooted hundreds if not thousands of Paneveggio’s trees. Walking around the forest, we saw the giant bodies of a few trees lying on the ground with their enormous root system up in the air for all to see.
The tempest, we were told, had hit the forest in spots, eradicating the trees in them while leaving the ones a foot away completely intact. Much effort has gone into the clearing of the fallen trees and the salvation of the forest so that it continues to grow its perfect red spruce trees.
3. What to do and see in Paneveggio?
If you love hiking and learning about local customs and traditions, you will be in your element in Paneveggio in the Dolomites in the Northern Italian province of Trentino.
There are several hiking trails crisscrossing the Violins’ Forest. Well-signposted and for different abilities, they take you on a beautiful journey helping you uncover curious details about the local flora and fauna as well as about the area’s history.
During my visit to Paneveggio, I had the chance to go on two hikes:
Sentiero Marcio’ – this was a very easy and pleasant to follow circular trail which starts from and ends at the Visitors’ Centre Terra Foresta of Paneveggio. The trail is almost elevation-free and is suitable for people of any age as well as total hiking newbies, too.
It crosses the Travignolo stream twice – once just after the start of the trail and then again right before the end of the rail.
At the first crossing, there is a pretty wooden bridge with glass panels inserted in it. They allow you to look straight down to where the glacial waters of the stream run wild. At the second crossing, there is a vertiginous Tibetan bridge that allows you to enjoy beautiful views over the cascading Travignolo stream.
All along the trail, there are large and small informational boards giving you lots of details about the local flora and fauna. The small ones had tracks of different animals carved in them so that children can try to guess which animal they belong to before lifting the board’s cover to see if they have guessed right.
The Marcio’ trail also takes you down to the deer enclosure. A program aiming to reintroduce deer to Paneveggio has been operating for several decades now. The large enclosure is where the animals spend the first year of their lives before being released in the wild.
Hike to the Colbricon Lakes – another lovely walk to two small lakes at the foot of the mountain Cima del Colbricon.
The hike starts from and ends at Agritur Malga Rolle – an alpine dairy with a lovely restaurant.
With an elevation of 120 m, the hike is easy to do by people of any age. Hiking newbies will love it, too as for not much effort you get to experience the beauty of Trentino’s nature and revel in the views of the two gorgeous lakes.
Curiously enough, this area has been attracting people for over 12,000 years now. Every summer, ancient Paleolithic and then Mesolithic tribes would trek from the nearby plains and then live on the shores of the lakes while spending their days hunting and preserving the food.
You can read more about the hike to the Colbricon Lakes here. The information is in English and you need to click on the different headings under the two sliding pictures for full details.
Deer and More
If you want to see just the deer enclosure (see the information about Sentiero Marcio’ above), you don’t have to hike the full circumference of the Marcio’ trail. The enclosure is a very short walk away from the Visitors’ Centre Terra Foresta of Paneveggio.
Please, be respectful of the animals. They are young and wild. Don’t stick your hands through the fence and don’t try to touch or pet them.
By the way, the photos of deer you can see in this blog post were all taken from behind the fence. The fence was cropped off in Lightroom afterward for maximum photographic effect but I, definitely, didn’t do anything dangerous in an attempt to take a good photo of the animals.
There are several other hikes you can do in Paneveggio. Plus, many different activities, guided walks, and workshops for kids and adults are organised regularly in the forest. Keep an eye on Paneveggio’s official website for the most up-to-date program of events.
Spending a bit of time at the Visitors’ Centre Terra Foresta of Paneveggio is a great idea, too. It’s housed in a spacious modern building which is set up like a small museum. There is an entrance fee of 2 euros but quite a lot to see inside and there are many games and hands-on activities to keep kids happily occupied for a little while. There are vending machines in the free to access part of the Visitors’ Centre, too.
4. What to eat in Paneveggio?
Food in Trentino is a scrumptious mix of Austrian, Tyrolean and Italian traditions. In and around Paneveggio there are many alpine dairy farms (called malga in Italian) many of which sell their dairy products to the public or have a proper restaurant on the premises. In the area, there are also several mountain huts (called rifugio in Italian). They operate like unpretentious rustic hotels with restaurants attached to them.
During my visit to Paneveggio, I had the chance to sample the food in one malga and one rifugio. It was excellent in both!
Here are some of the traditional local dishes you can taste in Paneveggio:
Gulash Trentino – the local version of the traditionally Hungarian goulash. Trentino inherited this dish from when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is customarily served with canederli – bread dumplings often made with speck and cheese.
Luganega sausage – a fabulous long pork sausage which is often served split open and grilled with a side of potatoes or chips, polenta, and forest mushrooms.
Polenta – click here for more information about this traditional Italian dish.
Cheese – Trentino produces some of the best cheeses in Italy. With the area of Paneveggio home to several small alpine dairies, don’t miss a chance to try as many locally-produced cheeses as you can.
They can be served as they are, grilled or melted into one large and very satisfying glob.
Tosella is one of the most famous local cheeses. It is a soft fresh cheese often fried in a pan with a bit of butter and then served with polenta as shown on the photo above.
Crostata – a traditional tart made with shortcrust pastry and a filling of fruit or jam.
Yogurt with honey and sugared chestnuts – I totally loved this. Trentino’s yogurt is very nice and combined with the honey and the chestnuts, it made for a great dessert.
Kaiserschmarrn – thick pancakes studded with raisins and sprinkled with sugar. They were very, very nice.
I had a lovely dinner at Capanna Passo Valles which is about 10-15 mins away by car from the Visitors’ Centre Terra Foresta of Paneveggio. When we asked the owner there how they make the amazing gulash trentino we had so thoroughly enjoyed, he replied: ‘A good cut of meat and five hours on the stove!’. Click here to see more photos of this really nice place.
I also had a very, very nice breakfast and lunch at Agritur Malga Rolle where the hike to the Colbricon Lakes starts from. If you have never had tosella cheese before, do give it a try there as theirs is very good.
There are many more malghe and rifugi in and around Paneveggio. Don’t miss a chance to taste the authentic local food at one of them.
5. What is your personal experience visiting Paneveggio?
I had a great time in Paneveggio in Trentino’s Dolomites. Like all great things, my visit to the Violin’s Forest happened completely by chance.
My husband and my daughter wanted us to go camping one more time before the weather got cold. So, I was tasked to search for places we could head to. I was sort of absentmindedly browsing the internet clicking from one link to the next. This is how I came across Paneveggio’s website and I read about a very cool initiative they have.
Basically, every autumn, they organise a weekend for families with kids where you spend 24 hours split over two days in the heart of Paneveggio. They take you on hikes, hold a cooking course, tell you all about the forest and introduce you to local food. In the evening, you sleep on the top floor of the Visitors’ Centre Terra Foresta of Paneveggio.
All this for the bargainlicious price of 50 euros per adult and 45 euros per child. We just had to bring our sleeping bags and hiking shoes.
I was really intrigued. Especially, as:
A. I had always wanted to go to Paneveggio; and
B. If I have to be honest, I didn’t feel like camping outside in October.
Instead, sleeping in the Visitors’ Centre sounded a lot like camping indeed but with a roof over our heads. So, I booked it and paid!
This is how we ended up spending the second weekend of October in Paneveggio in the company of about ten Italian families. The two days were incredibly well-organised. Every minute was dedicated to some activity or another. One moment we were observing the deer in their enclosure and then the next we were making traditional apple crumble using Trentino’s famous apples.
So, from this:
We made this:
And, then, we ate this:
The evening hike on the Marcio’ trail came with the highlight of us being serenaded by two young violinists surrounded by the tall red spruce trees from which the best violins in the world are made. The morning hike to the Colbricon Lakes was lovely, too.
Our guides gave us lots of information about Paneveggio, the Pale di San Martino, the Colbricon Lakes, the local food, the deer reintroduction program, and so many other things. It was very interesting and very exciting for the kids, too. Mauro, one of our guides, told them about lichens, glaciers, pre-historical civilisations, as well as about Marco and Silva – the two deer which started Paneveggio’s deer program.
A great time was had by all! In the evening, right before going to bed, we were served warm milk and tea sweetened with local honey. Then a story about the forest, the red spruce trees, Antonio Stradivari and his violins was read to the kids.
I loved it all! If you are interested in this experience, keep an eye on Paneveggio’s official website. Many different activities are organised both in summer and winter. They give you and your kids a chance to get up close and personal to Paneveggio and Trentino in Northern Italy in the most authentic way.
6. Where can I find more information about Paneveggio?
For more information about Paneveggio – the Violins’ Forest – in the Dolomites in Trentino, Northern Italy, please, have a look at the following websites:
- Paneveggio-Pale di San Martino Nature Park
- Visitors’ Centres in Paneveggio-Pale di San Martino Nature Park
- The Park of Violins
- A Night at the Park
7. What else can I see and do near Paneveggio?
The autonomous Northern Italian province of Trentino – where Paneveggio is – is rich in sights and experiences able to delight people of many varied interests and tastes.
In the immediate proximity of Paneveggio – the Violins’ Forest – you can visit the recently restored Fort Dossaccio which dates back to the First World War, the Vanoi EcoMuseum, and many alpine dairy farms. Paneveggio is also one of the stops on the Dolomites’ Cheeses Route.
The bustling ski resort town of San Martino di Castrozza is less than half an hour away from Paneveggio. The town is named after St. Martin – the Roman soldier who gave his cloak to a beggar. Apparently, Castrozza is a corruption of the Latin word castrum meaning a Roman fortress or Roman encampment.
A little bit further away you can visit:
- Trento – Trentino’s capital; and
- Bolzano – the capital of the autonomous Northern Italian province of Alto Adige.
Trentino’s largest lake – Lago di Caldonazzo – is less than an hour and a half away from Paneveggio, too.
If you are looking for an unspoiled corner of Italy to delight in, Paneveggio needs to be at the top of your bucket list.
Known as the Violins’ Forest, Paneveggio is in the Dolomites in the autonomous Northern Italian province of Trentino. The forest is within easy reach by car from the cities of Trento, Riva del Garda, Verona, and Venice.
Paneveggio is famous for its red spruce trees. For centuries, they have been used in the making of some of the most renowned violins in the world. Legend has it that Antonio Stradivari himself would handpick tonewood from Paneveggio for his violins.
Nowadays, Paneveggio is part of a nature park called Paneveggio-Pale di San Martino. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from its red spruce trees, the forest is also famous for its deer reintroduction program.
Numerous hiking trails crisscross the forest of Paneveggio. Thus you can get close to its beautiful nature, flora and fauna as well as local traditions.
The above blog post provides you with exhaustive details about visiting and experiencing Paneveggio for yourself. From information about the geography and the history of the Violins’ Forest to tips about what to do, see, and eat in the area, everything is covered.
I hope you will find the information provided useful when planning your visit to Paneveggio in Northern Italy.
More Helpful Links
- Trentino, Italy – Castles, Hikes, and Alpacas – The Perfect 4-Day Itinerary (With or Without Kids)
- Lake Caldonazzo, Italy – 10 Things to Do around Trentino’s Largest Lake
- 20 Family-Friendly Walks and Hikes Up to an Hour and a Half from Vicenza – First Part
- 20 Family-Friendly Walks and Hikes Up to an Hour and a Half from Vicenza – Second Part
- Hiking in the Dolomites: Grotta Azzurra di Mel – A Beautiful Hike in the Veneto, Northern Italy
- 25 Things to Do, Eat and Enjoy This Spring in Northern Italy
- 25 Things to Do, Eat and Enjoy This Winter in Northern Italy
- 25 Things to Do, Eat and Enjoy This Autumn in Northern Italy
- 18 of the Best Cities to Visit in Northern Italy (With Travel Tips and Nearest Airports)
- Day Trips from Verona – 16 Destinations to Fall in Love With (With Travel Times and Train Tips)
- Day Trips from Vicenza, Italy – Over 90 of the Best Destinations
- 11 of the Best Day Trips from Venice (With Lots of Photos, Travel Times and Italy Train Tips)
- Day Trips from Padua, Italy – Over 35 Unmissable Destinations in Veneto, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna
- Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona – Visiting Italy’s Church Suspended Between Heaven and Earth
- Campo di Brenzone – A Great Day Trip to a Medieval Village in the Hills Above Lake Garda, Italy
- Italy with Kids – 17 Fun and Fabulous Things to Do in Italy for Kids and Parents
Have you been to Paneveggio yourself? What did you like seeing and doing there the most? Which other places in Trentino and Italy would you recommend as a must-see? Let me know!
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