Published on: 16 March 2014 | Last updated: 11 May 2019
At a glance
Easy - at least if you are heading north-south.
Almost entirely on traffic-free cycleways.
Mainly on surfaced roads or cycleways —there's a section of a little under 4 kilometres of unsurfaced cycleway through a nature reserve. Also, if you opt for the eastern bank of the Reschensee, there are short stretches of unsurfaced cycleway.
The route is well signposted but note that you will see few signs referring specifically to the Via Claudia so it helps to know the names of the towns along the route (although if in doubt follow the signs for Meran if you are going south and the Reschenpass if you are going north).
Along the Etsch through the Vinschgau
This section of the route follows the river Etsch (Adige) from its source close to the pass to Bozen (Bolzano) the capital of Italy's Südtirol region. As you descend, the landscape changes from alpine hay meadows to fruit orchards and vineyards.
The Italian section of the route follows the Vinschgau Radweg (Ciclabile della Val Venosta) cycleway - one of Italy (and Europe's) very best traffic-free bike routes. In a lot of ways this is perhaps the best section of the route. If you're heading south it's worth taking the time to savour and enjoy it and resist the temptation to blast through.
- the Reschensee
- Glurns —one of Italy's most beautiful walled cities
- the Sankt Prokulus frescoes in Naturns
Map and altitude profile
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|Reschensee - Burgeis||16 kms|
|Burgeis - Glurns||6 kms|
|Glurns - Latsch||32 kms|
|Latsch - Naturns||12 kms|
|Naturns - Algund||11 kms|
There are a couple of other options for side-trips of the route:
- turn off near Glurns to visit the Val Müstair in Switzerland with the Claustra Son Jon (Convent) of St. John in Müstair.
- the route passes through Prad am Stilfserjoch (Prato allo Stelvio) which as you've probably guesses is at the base of one of the roads to the Stilfserjoch (Passo dello Stelvio) - a mere 2760m.
Through the Vinschgau (Val Venosta)
The Via Claudia Augusta comes into Italy via the Reschenpass (Passo di Resia) at 1504m. It’s pretty much all downhill from here to Meran (altitude: 325) 78 kilometres further on. While it’s tempting to profit from the downhill and the excellent cycleway, it would be a mistake to take this section too quickly: there’s far too much to see and enjoy on the way.
At this point you are crossing a watershed. Before this point all the rivers flowed into the Danube and into the Black Sea. After this point, they flow into the Adriatic.
You can cycle on either the west or the east banks of the Reschensee (Lago di Resia), but you may well prefer to follow the eastern bank to see the submerged bell tower at Graun in Vinschgau which has become a symbol for the whole area. From here the cycleway takes you to the lovely village of Burgeis (Burgusio) a little way further on. Look out for the Kloster Marienburg on your right-hand side as you cycle towards Mals (Malles). The Abbey also owns the nearby Castel Fürstenberg - now a college for agriculture and forestry.
Beyond Mals is the medieval town of Glurns (Glorenza) - officially Italy’s smallest city. Look out for its porticoed streets, the massive fortified gatehouses and the wooden bridge over the river. It's worth making a small circuit to get a better view of the city walls. The gps download package includes a track file for a suggested route, if you want to check it out here it is (link opens in an overlay): circuit of the Glurns city Walls (credits: map design by openfietsmap.nl map data: Open Street Map).
As if being Italy's smallest city wasn't enough, Glurns is also home to Italy's own malt whisky distillery: the Puni destillerie. You can read more about its history on the website (de/it/en). There are guided tours in German or Italian a couple of afternoons (each) per week. The vision centre offers tastings throughout its opening hours (closed Mondays and Saturdays).
The Schloss Churburg (Castel Coira)
If you don't mind a short detour from the route, you can visit the Schloss Churburg (Castel Coira) in nearby Schluderns which is quite possibly the area's most beautiful castles. The castle is open every day except Monday. Check the website for opening times.
On towards Naturns
A little further on from Glurns and close to Laas (Lasa) there's a stretch of unsurfaced cycleway as the route passes through a nature reserve. You return to the tarmac a little under 4 kilometres further on.
As you continue on towards Naturns look out for the Schloss Kastellbell (Castello di Castellbello) above the route on your left. The castle is open to visitors if you have time (check opening times: schloss-kastelbell.com: opening times).
The Sankt Prokulus church
The Sankt Prokulus frescoes
I’d highly recommend a stop at the Sankt Prokulus church at Naturns. The church dates back to the 7th/8th century and contains some exceptional frescoes - also dating back to the 7th/8th century. They are the oldest frescoes from the German-speaking world. They were whitewashed over in the 14th and 15th centuries and painted over. The original frescoes were rediscovered in 1912. They include the wonderful picture, the ‘Schaukler’ (the swinger) - thought to be of Saint Proculus (bishop of Verona) on what looks like a swing. The church and next-door museum are open every day in summer, except Mondays, and closes for lunch between midday and 14:30.
Click the image below to see a gallery of five pictures of the frescoes. All the pictures, with the exception of the photo on this page, are by Wikimedia Commons contributor Dietrich Krieger.
Into apple country
You are now in the heart of Italy’s Apple country. This area accounts for half of Italy’s apple production and if you add in neighbouring Trentino, they produce three-quarters of Italy’s apples (1.5 million tonnes a year). If you’re imagining orchards I’m going to have to disappoint you - ‘apple plantations’ might be a better term as the apple trees are trained along steel wires strung between concrete posts. Sadly, while many native varieties of apple face extinction, the apples produced in the apple plantations are the same varieties you’ll find on supermarket shelves the world over (with the same names too).
You'll see people drinking local apple juice in the bars, but strangely, they don't make cider (or at least it seems strange to someone who comes from Britain’s West Country where cider has always rivalled beer).
Look out for the stall beside the cycleway selling apple juice (there's an honesty box system) with a choice of juice made from different varieties. On the wall there's a text in praise of the apple which among other things tells you:
“ One thing you must always remember
when you feel weak.
Apples give you strength.
Apples are the best food,
for when you're at home, for when you're travelling
Show full text and translation
“ Eines musst du dir stets merken,
wenn du schwach bist,
Äpfel sind die beste Speise,
für zu Hause, für die Reise,
für den Alten, für die Kinder,
für den Sommer, für den Winter.
Äpfel glätten deine Stirn,
bringen Phosphor ins Gehirn.
Äpfel geben Kraft und Mut,
und erneuern dir dein Blut.
Darum Freund, so lass dir raten,
esse frisch, gebackt, gebraten,
täglich ihrer fünf bis zehn
Wirst nicht dick.
doch jung und schön,
und kriegst Nerven wie ein Strick.
Mensch - im Apfel liegt dein Glück!
One thing you must always remember
when you feel weak.
Apples give you strength.
Apples are the best food,
for when you're at home, for when you're travelling,
for young and old,
for summer and winter.
Apples smooth your wrinkles,
And bring phosphorus for your brain.
Apples give strength and courage
And give you fresh blood.
That's why, Friend, as you can guess,
Eat them fresh, baked or fried
From five to ten a day
You won't get fat
But young and beautiful
with nerves of steel
Man, in the apple lies happiness! ”
As you approach Algund, at Hochkreuz, the cycleways descends fairly steeply through a couple of switchbacks. Just before it starts to descend, Look out for the Trauttmansdorffer Thronsessel (Castel Trauttmansdorf Throne) above you on your right. The 'throne' is in fact a couple of giant chairs and a viewpoint with panoramic views over the valley (follow the link for pictures).
Just off the cycleway, as you approach a wooden bridge, is pass one of the few visible traces of the old Roman road: the Brückenkopf. The remains have now been enclosed to form a museum - open every day from 08:00 to 18:00.
On the other side of the bridge is the Forst Brauerei. Forst are one of the very few Italian breweries that isn't owned by one of the global brewing companies. The Forst brewery is worth a look even if you plan to continue towards Meran. There's also a Braugarten (Beer Garden).
The Val Müstair option
At Glurns you have the opportunity of making a side-trip to the Val Müstair the Claustra Son Jon (Convent) of St. John in Müstair. The Convent was founded by Charlemagne and has been lived in continuously for 1200 years. The convent's chapel contains the largest and best preserved cycle of early medieval frescoes. UNESCO have declared it a world-heritage site. There's a short promotional video on the website (don't miss the nuns doing their exercises)
UNESCO have also awarded the Val Müstair the status of UNESCO Biosphere.
The convent is less than 20 kilometres from Glurns of it's an easy side-trip. You could also continue over the Ofenpass (2149) to Zernaz 52 kilometres from Glurns. There's lots of information on the Swiss national cycling website: veloland.ch: Val Müstair.
Places to stay
Hotels and B&Bs
Tourist information sites with accommodation search and booking facilities:
Find and book places to stay with Booking.com
Booking.com pages for places on this section of the route:
- Vinschgau area page
- Graun in Vinschgau (Curon Venosta) | Sankt Valentin auf der Haide (San Valentino alla Muta) | Reschen (Resia) | Burgeis (Burgusio) | Mals (Malles) | Glurns (Glorenza) | Schlanders (Silandro) | Latsch (Laces) | Naturns (Naturno) | Algund (Lagundo)
About these links
If you use these links to book accommodation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.
I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirmation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accommodation.
I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the opportunity to let me know if there’s a problem.
Many properties offer free cancellation but it’s a good idea to check the conditions as these vary from property to property.
There are a dozen campsites along this section of the Via Claudia. The quality is high, but so are the prices, both compared to the sites on the previous section of the route, and to prices in the rest of Italy.
Transport and services
Trains and buses
There's a train line from Males to Meran where you can catch trains to Bozen and stations beyond. The train service is operated by the regional train company STA (Vinschger Bahn/Ferrovia della Val Venosta). A full-price day-ticket for a bike costs 7€ this ticket is valid for journeys as far as Trento, the Brenner pass, and Versciaco-Elmo in the Pusertal (Val Pusteria) near the border with Austria. If you want to go further you will need a separate bike ticket.
Update (2017): I haven't been able to confirm this information: the page that I had linked to in the train company's website no longer exists, and there's no information on the current version of the site. I would assume that these restrictions are still in place.
General tourist information
The Südtirol has excellent regional tourist information website: suedtirol.info (de/it/en/nl/cz/pl). Useful local sites include:
- venosta.net (de/it/en/nl)
- meranerland.com (de/it/en/nl)
- bolzano-bozen.it (de/it/en/ru/fr/jp)
- naturns.it (it/de/en)
- listing of swimming pools in the Südtirol
- swimming pool complex at Naturns
- listing of outdoor pools/swimming facilities around Meran and Bozen.
There's more about the forty castles in the Vinschgau on vinschgau.net.
Cycling information websites and resources
Ask in tourist offices for the leaflet/map Etsch Radweg Ciclabile dell'Adige (de/it). It's most useful as a guide to places of interest along the route. You can download the pdf version from algund.info Etsch Radweg Ciclabile dell'Adige .
- the official regional tourist information site suedtirol.info has an excellent cycling section: suedtirol.info: biking-tours (de/it/en/nl/cs/pl/fr/ru)
- suedtirol-rad.com (de/it/en) - Bike Rental shops in the region
- merano-suedtirol.it has a cycling section merano-suedtirol.it: cycling which includes some useful pages about the various bike-shuttle services operating along the Vinschgau valley: merano-suedtirol.it: bike-shuttles
Articles in this series
- The Via Claudia in Germany and Austria: Overview
- Via Claudia Part 1: Donauwörth to Landsberg Am Lech
- Via Claudia Part 2: Landsberg am Lech to Füssen
- Via Claudia Part 3: Füssen to Imst
- Via Claudia Part 4: Along the valley of the Inn
- Via Claudia Part 5: The Vinschgau
- Via Claudia Part 6: Algund to Trento
- Via Claudia Part 7: Trento to the Lago di Caldonazzo
- Via Claudia 8: San Cristoforo al Lago to Feltre via the Valsugana
- Via Claudia Part 9: the Valsugana cycleway to Bassano del Grappa
- Via Claudia Part 10: San Cristoforo al Lago to Feltre via the Passo Croce d’Aune
- Via Claudia Part 11: Feltre to Treviso
- Via Claudia Part 12: Treviso to Altino (and Venezia)
- Via Claudia Part 13: Trento to Verona and Ostiglia