PILGRIMAGE IN ITALY: Cammino San Vili
There are a number of incredible Pilgrimage routes throughout Italy, including the Via Francigena and visiting the Shrine of St. Francis of Asissi. Lesser known, but no less meaningful and beautiful, is the Cammino San Vili or the Way of St. Vigilio that passes through the North of Italy. The Cammino San Vili is one of the best pilgrimages in Italy.
While there are so many pilgrimage routes in Europe, Italy is a top choice for pilgrimage, with so many incredible saints of the Catholic Church and other traditions originating there.
I spend a few days this June walking various parts of the San Vili Pilgrimage throughout the Trentino region in the North of Italy.
It was an amazing spiritual experience AND it was super fun! The path is absolutely gorgeous and dotted with some of the most beautiful and unique painted churches all along the way.
Here’s how you can plan your Italian pilgrimage and hike the Cammino San Vili yourself!
The Way of San Vili: An Italian Pilgrimage Route
The pilgrimage path I took in Italy goes by a few different names:
The Way of San Vigilio
The San Vili Path
and, in Italian, the Cammino San Vili.
The path follows the route of the Italian saint San Vigilio, who carried Christianity into the mountains from his home base a Bishop of Trento – the capital city of the region of Trentino. The main cathedral in Trento is dedicated to San Vigilio, and he is buried there underneath the main altar.
One of the coolest parts of the San Vili Path is that you can walk it in either direction or both – from Trento to Madonna di Campiglio or from Madonna di Campiglio to Trento. Both directions have spiritual significance: Hiking from Trento traces the path that San Vigilio took as he sought evangelize the people in the mountains, and hiking to Trento traces the path his coffin was carried after he was Martyred.
We walked from Madonna di Campiglio to Trento because that way is considered a bit easier as the gradient is downhill!
What was San Vigilio of Trentino?
San Vigilio, or properly in English Saint Vigilius, was a Roman patrician who became the Bishop of Trent in the year 380 AD.
Apparently he had two brother who also became Saints! So that’s a pretty holy family if you ask me!
At the time, a lot of people in the area were either pagan or Arian – which is a form of Christianity quite disliked in the day that didn’t believe in a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Nicene or more traditional, Catholic Christianity did. San Vigilio made it his mission to convert Arian Christians and Pagans in the surrounding regions.
San Vigilio had three companions with him on his mission to evangelize in the mountain. Sadly, all three were killed by the local population. Legend holds that San Vigilio forgave his friends’ killers and continued on his mission.
Of course – we know that the story doesn’t exactly end well – and, although there are different legends with slightly different details, we know San Vigilio was killed near the Redena Valley where the Sarca River flows in Trentino. Apparently he was trying to destroy a statue of the Roman god Saturn when the population turned on him.
….so you can understand perhaps how ironic it is that in Trento, Italy in front of the Cathedral of San Vigilio, there’s a giant statue of the Roman God Neptune. Oh well!
Why Walk the San Vili Path?
1. It’s absolutely, stunningly beautiful. If you’ve never been to the Dolomites in Italy they are a world of their own – the peaks of the Brenta Dolomites are sharp and jutting, often covered in snow, and surround the San Vili path. There are some truly stunning vistas along the path as well.
2. You will pass through lots of quaint Northern Italian villages.
3. There are so many beautiful, painted churches along the way that provide peaceful places to pray (and a cooling stop in the summers!)
4. There are amazing activities you can participate in along the way such as yoga and wellness activities – or visiting an outdoor sculpture museum.
5. A walking holiday is a fabulous way to both rest & recharge, while staying active. Walking is a totally different pace and is super healthy for your brain as well as your body!
When to Walk the Cammino San Vili
Despite being in the far North of Italy and in the Mountains – I was surprised how hot it was in Trentino in June!
I think May – June, or Sept-October would be perfect times to hike the San Vili Path.
These are also the “off season” for Tourists in this area since it is primarily known as an area for excellent skiing in the Dolomites! There are a lot of advantages to traveling in the off season – and a big advantage to off season travel is accommodation that is easily available and not as expensive!
This means that you can be flexible on your Pilgrimage, and you may not have to have all of your accommodation booked far in advance.
Where is the Cammino San Vili?
The Cammino San Vili is located in Trentino Italy. It’s very easy to get there from Milan or Verona by train in just a few hours. I love both Milan and Verona and definitely recommend you spend at least one day in Milan before starting you Italian pilgrimage.
I recommend starting your Italian pilgrimage in the city of Trento.
It’s easy to get to Trento from almost anywhere in Northern Italy! The nearest town with an international airport and train station is Verona. I flew into Verona directly from my adventures in Armenia the month before. The Verona airport was easy to navigate. You take a bus to the train station (you can buy tickets just outside of baggage claim in the airport) and from the train station – you can easily get to Trento in just a few hours.
If you are wondering how to take the train from Verona to Trento – it’s very easy. Beware though: There are two different types of ticket machines in Verona (and many other Italian train stations). You do NOT really need the much more expensive
You want the Trenitalia machines – the logo looks like an F with red and green around it. You do NOT want the Italo or Frecciargento.
Basically: if your ticket costs much more than 8 Euro you are at the wrong machine!
You do not have to book a ticket ahead of time! Trains run nearly every hour between Verona and Trento.
You can also try Flixbus. I used Flixbus to travel directly from Trento to Venice Marco Polo Airport (it stops in Venice proper, too) and it was very smooth and easy.
Starting your Pilgrimage in Italy
There is a LOT to do in Trento! I recommend spending at least 2-3 days there. Trento is one of those “hidden gems” that are rare now in Italy.
It’s easy to find hotels in Trento! One of the things I most loved about this area was that it didn’t feel overtaken by tourists, and it was always easy to find accommodation or make dinner reservations anywhere I wanted! Airbnb homes are also available – I really enjoyed where we stayed, though it was a bit of a walk when the buses weren’t running.
It’s also a particularly incredible place for Spiritual and Religious Travelers. Why?
Have you heard of the Council of Trent? This was a monumental meeting of leaders of the Catholic Church to decide how best to respond to the ongoing Protestant Reformation. A lot of Roman Catholic doctrine was decided at this meeting – and it happened right in Trento, and moreso – most of the meetings occurred inside of the Cathedral of San Vigilio!
If you walk around Trento you will see a lot of beautiful frescoes and paintings all over the buildings (it’s not called the painted city for nothing!). Many of these were commissioned as the city prepared to host the Council of Trent and are a fascinating reflection of the theology and sensibility of the time.
As you start your Pilgrimage, the most important thing to see is the Cathedral of San Vigilio itself. And you will not miss it: it rises over the main town square and is a major landmark of the city.
(Fun fact: The tower near the Cathedral isn’t actually a part of the Cathedral itself – it was a prison tower attached to the residences that now house the Museo Diocesano of Trento – the museum of religious art and history.)
The most important site in the Cathedral of San Vigilio (and perhaps the least auspicious) is the Tomb of San Vigilio himself. This is located on the lower level and requires a small entrance fee to see. You can ender behind the main altar: when you are facing it, walk left, and you will see a door. This is part of the Museo Diocesano so if you have bought a ticket there, you can enter here. Alternately – you can use your Trentino Card which is a FABULOUS card gaining you free public transportation, tons of free entrances to museums and attractions, and a whole lot more throughout the Trentino region.
You’ll find the Tomb of San Vigilio in the second room. There’s also a very cool Virtual Reality program here (look for the headsets by the next door) where you can see what the Church was like in different centuries.
Attending Mass at the Cathedral of San Vigilio in Treno is a really magical experience. As I am not Roman Catholic I sat in the back, but just to sit there and pray was a very moving experience — thinking of all that had occured within the walls of the Church, all of the people who have prayed inside and perhaps come back to praise God for prayers answered. Whatever your religious tradition, or even if you don’t identify as religious, taking some moments of silence in the Cathedral is a perfect way to start your pilgrimage.
Getting to Madonna Di Campiglio in Trentino
Whichever way you decide to hike the San Vili Path, you will need to either get to Madonna Di Campiglio or from Madonna Di Campiglio back to Trento!
Good news! There’s a bus! AND – even better news – there is a lot of public transportation between all of the villages on the San Vili Trek, so you are able to hike the entire trek, or take it in pieces!
There are a number of morning buses that will take you from Trento to Madonna di Campiglio to start your pilgrimage. You can check the Trentino Trasporti website, or speak to someone in the tourism office!
Where to Stay On the San Vili Trek
Because this is an area very popular with skiers in the winter – there are no shortage of wonderful places to stay along the San Vili Path!
We stayed at three different hotels along the path – all of which I enjoyed and would recommend!
A great hotel (or “Garni”) to start your pilgrimage is the Garni La Soldanella. This is in Madonna di Campiglio and has absolutely beautiful views of the Dolomite Mountains, and a lovely green valley below. The room I stayed it had a balcony and was very spacious. This hotel also had one of the best breakfasts ever!
Once you’ve made it a little further on your pilgrimage, I enjoyed my stay in Spiazzo (see map below!) where we stayed at the Casa Marosc. It was pretty rainy and late when we got to this hotel, so I didn’t get to see what to do nearby – but I had a great dinner in their restaurant!
My favorite hotel of our trip was the Garni Lilly in what I think must be one of the cutest towns in all of Italy: San Lorenzo. This hotel is a little way off from the San Vili Trek itself, but I still highly recommend it as a stop on your pilgrimage for the views & the gorgeous town around it. Garni Lilly also offers packed lunches for your pilgrimage and hiking day! They had a great breakfast, too!
How to Hike the Cammino San Vili
In many ways – this part is up to you. Fast or slow. Through-hiking, or hiking pieces of the trail. I don’t personally believe there’s a right or wrong way to make a pilgrimage. Whatever works for you and is spiritually significant for you is the right choice!
I enjoyed hiking the San Vili Path in pieces – and I can also see what a challenge and accomplishment it would be to hike the entire path. I walked with a group, which was great fun and wonderful fellowship, but I can also imagine it might have been easier to pray and meditate on the walk were I walking alone or with just one or two others.
There are only two main things to remember:
- The signs marking the San Vili Trail are Red and White! They should look like variations of the below:
2. There are boxes along the way where you can stamp your journal or personal “passport” along the way. Or your hand, if you are me! You can also leave notes for others in many of these stops!
Along the way you will also notice that many sections of the trail have little stands or building with the Stations of the Cross – these memorialize the last moments before Jesus was crucified. I found these absolutely beautiful – and there were also a number of picturesque churches and chapels along the way.
Below is a map with details of how to hike the trail and each town you will pass through if you hike the full trail or give you an idea of sections you might like to walk!
Must-See Churches Along the San Vili Way
For me, the highlight of walking the San Vili Pathway was the many beautiful, painted churches along or not far from the trail. I can never get enough of Painted churches, like the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah where my Mom grew up.
In the 15th and 16th centuries in Trentino a family of painters from Bergamo, the Baschenis family, painted many churches in the area. Their paintings are not necessarily the most complex from a standpoint of design and perspective – but they are hugely colorful, which I just adored. As you go from church to church on the San Vili Trek, you will start to see paintings that look similar to each other – those are the Bachenis family paintings!
There were so many churches we stopped at on the way. In many of them I took a moment to say a prayer and light a candle – something I love doing in churches when traveling, connecting the prayers of others to my own.
My three favorite churches were all painted in some way by the Bascenis family.
The Chiesa S. Vigilio (sound familiar?) near Pinzolo has an amazing example of the rather macabre but certainly affecting “Dance of Death” by the Baschenis on its outward facade. This motif, painted on many churches in the area, is a reminder that even the rich and powerful are headed for the grave and only Jesus can save.
San Stefano is a very famous church just off of the San Vili path – but it is well worth the extra walking! The interior of the church is an explosion of color and frescoes. Sadly, this is no longer a working church. When I visited there was a beautiful art installation of Venetian glass that re-made one of the famous frescoes inside – that of the last supper.
The last church I visited was in the town of San Lorenzo itself. The San Roco church was built in the 15th century and has one of the best church interiors I’ve ever seen. It’s small but packs a punch in terms of paintings – with an amazing Christ on the Throne as well as a fresco of the crucifixion.
Tips for Hiking the Cammino San Vili
- The weather in this part of Italy can change quite quickly. Do make sure to carry rain gear with you – even if it looks clear outside when you set out!
- Do wear sturdy shoes. I also recommend a hiking pole.
- Some of the most beautiful parts of the trail we walked were also quite high and there were cliff edges. Consider this if you have a significant fear of heights. I thought the views were worth it – but it’s a consideration.
- Don’t miss out on trying some local Trentino wine. The best wine in Trentino is Trentodoc – a lightly sparkling wine, with a lot of minerality from the mountains, that I drank, and drank, and drank….oops, I shouldn’t admit that. But it was so good!
- Do speak with your Garni or Many hotels offer amenities like packed lunches and will certainly be able to offer you advice on the trek itself as well as what to do in the region! I found the people of Trentino very friendly and helpful!
- If you are traveling with kids, these trails are – for the most part – not at all stroller friendly. The trail is baby-wearing friendly! This sign made my baby-wearing foster-mama heart chuckle:
Are you ready to plan your Pilgrimage in Italy along the Cammino San Vili?
I loved my first pilgrimage and cannot wait for another walking holiday or spiritual pilgrimage! Italy is truly the perfect place for a pilgrimage – with incredible routes in Trentino, as well as around Rome and in the South. And it didn’t hurt that I got to end each day of walking with delicious homemade pasta and Trentodoc wine! The churches in this area of unique, colorful, and peaceful. The nature is pristine. The views of the mountains are unspeakable. Trento turned out to be one of my favorite cities ever not just in Italy! What’s not to love?!
[I was hosted for this Pilgrimage by the tourism boards of Visit Trentino & Visit Comano, through the wonderful Traverse Events. As always, all opinions are my own.]
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