Even though it’s well known that the Trentino Alto Adige region is studded with wonderful castles, there are also some places that are probably less famous but no less worth a visit. One of these is the scenic San Romedio Sanctuary.
Perched on a 70-meter cliff and surrounded by mountains, greenery, and more dramatic cliffs, San Romedio sanctuary is, by all means, one of the most spectacular temples in Europe.
One of the most important remnants of Trentino’s medieval sacred art and architecture, San Romedio is located in the Val di Non valley near Sanzeno town. In fact, we visited it on the same day we visited also Castel Thun (less than 20 km from San Romedio) and Lake Tovel, one of the most beautiful lakes in Trentino-Alto Adige. With around an hour drive, this is one of the easiest and most spectacular day trips from Trento.
We were told about San Romedio by a local. He recommended it so strongly that we couldn’t help but squeeze it into our already crowded bucket list. After climbing and visiting it, we were truly glad we listened.
San Romedio is a cherished pilgrimage destination as well as always more popular as a landmark among tourists who enjoy hiking in nature and going offbeat.
In our simple guide to visiting San Romedio Sanctuary, we hope to help you decide whether or not it’s worth a day of your vacation and to better plan your visit if you decide so.
Don’t miss our guide to the best places to visit in Trentino-Alto Adige!
History of San Romedio Sanctuary
The origins of San Romedio Sanctuary are slightly shrouded in mystery. In between history and myth, the version that reached our time has Romedio, a nobleman member of the patrician Tyrolese clan of the Thaur, who felt the call from God and abandoned all his material possessions.
In the quest for real happiness and to feel closer to the divine, he decided to retreat from public life and start meditating. Admittedly, there is no better place than this cliff to be isolated and meditate in peace. It’s peaceful now, I can only imagine how more so it was in the Middle Ages.
When he died, the people who had always been close and loyal to him decided to dig his tomb here and started the cult that lives from 1000 to nowadays around his name.
The first chapel was built in the 11th century but the cult became so strong that in the following centuries other three small churches, two chapels and seven votive niches were erected, preserving the importance and the sanctity around the place.
Around the 15th century, the walls of San Romedio’s sanctuary from the bottom all the way to Romedio’s tomb became the place to leave ex-voto objects, prayers, and gratitude towards the saint.
Between 2012 and 2016 the Province of Trento and the Trento Archdiocese carried out extensive works to preserve and restore the San Romedio Sanctuary. They restored the brickwork and the plaster, the paintings, the sculptural groups as well as the altars.
Apart from the supporting structure, the local agency to protect the artistic heritage restored 70 out of 120 ex-voto slabs that were declared a matter of cultural interest.
To round off the substantial renovation works of this extraordinary historical, artistic monument to the local popular faith, a few exhibition spaces were set up to introduce the figure of Romedio, still floating between myth and reality, and his shrine.
We loved exploring some of the archaeological rests found in the area, a selection of the ex-voto objects, and the paintings. Visiting San Romedio Sanctuary is not simple sightseeing, on the contrary, it’s a full immersion in the local faith and a historical, artistic, and religious tour of one of the most beautiful and fascinating temples of the Alpine region.
Now, San Romedio Sanctuary is managed by the friars of the Saint Francis of Assisi order.
What to see in San Romedio Sanctuary
San Romedio Sanctuary is a tribute to popular faith and the visit aims at honoring that. As soon as you step over the threshold, the staircase begins. Chronologically, the first original church that was built here has been the one on the upper floor served as the shrine for the tomb of Saint Romedio.
For 500 years, there was only a staircase to reach the original church shrine and the lower floors were devoted to welcoming pilgrims, housing for the caretaker, and the stables for the horses. You can reach this ancient church after some 130 steps, but now there are other churches and chapels all around it.
Apart from the shrine, the visit includes also Saint George Chapel and two other churches, one devoted to Saint Michael and one to Saint Romedio. All three of these new temples were built between the 15th and the 16th centuries together with the bell tower in the local Gothic-Cles style.
More new spaces were built and restored in the 18th century in a vision of welcoming the always-increasing number of visitors, whether tourists or pilgrims. Some of the more modern parts of the sanctuary include the “counts” apartment, the passageway, the sacristy, and a library.
During your tour, you will go up the stairs and see sacred niches devoted to the passion of Christ, many ex-voto pledges and slabs, obviously the tomb of Saint Romedio, more stairs and a low door to the extreme point toward the cliff. There is a steady fence, but if you have vertigo, I assure you, you won’t be feeling too confident to stay long on the tip of the cliff.
The bear of the San Romedio Sanctuary
There are several folktales around the figure of San Romedio. One of the most famous certainly is the one linked to a bear. According to the myth, when the old hermit Romedio was on his way to Trento, he stumbled on a bear that ate his horse. The tale carries on with Romedio managing to tame the wild animal and ride it up to Trento.
As soon as you arrive, before entering the building of the sanctuary, stop to see a beautiful brown bear kept in nature in a wildlife reserve.
From the myth, fast forward to reality. In 1958 a bear, previously part of a circus performing as a cyclist, was brought to the sanctuary inside a cage. Donated by baron Giacomo Gallarati Scotti, it was nicknamed Charlie after the Luxembourg champion Gaul.
The natural reserve of San Romedio Sanctuary has been created to welcome bears that were born and lived all their life in captivity. On the night of March 11th, 2013, San Romedio welcomed Bruno, a brown bear from the Carpathian Mountains of the sub-species Ursus arctos arctos. He weighed 300 kg (more than 660 lbs) and was around 18-20 years old.
In his past life, Bruno was bought by a private from Palestrina in the Lazio region and used as a sideshow during fairs and for the rest of the time locked up in a small cage.
In 2001, the Italian State Forestry Corps (Corpo Forestale dello Stato) seized the bear and gave him to Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise to be looked after. Bruno remained here for about ten years.
As he was born and raised in captivity, he wasn’t able to find food by himself and being from another region of Europe, he had a hard time adapting to the local sub-species of bears, the Ursus arctos marsicanus. This is why they devoted to him a space of 400 square meters where they would look after him and feed him.
After years of negotiations with the Ministry of the Environment, the Province of Trento, the local municipalities of Sanzeno, Coredo, and Romeno, and Trento’s Curia, in 2013 Bruno reached San Romedio. The sanctuary resumed its ancient purpose of shelter for bears kept in captivity, and Bruno now lives in a larger space, can plunge and wash in a small lake and take walks around the local vegetation.
San Romedio festival
Every year on January 15th, the sanctuary celebrates the San Romedio festival. Covered with snow, the celebrations start the day before with a suggestive torchlight procession from the town of Sanzeno.
The lunch served to the participants is the meal of the pilgrim consisting of tripes.
Plan your visit to San Romedio Sanctuary: Practical information
- Where: Via San Romedio 1, 38010 Sanzeno (TN).
- Opening hours: Every day 9 am-5,30 pm, in May, June, and September until 6 pm, in July and August 8,30 am-7 pm.
- Entrance fee: Free.
- Wheelchair accessible: No. Due to its structure and long staircases, the sanctuary is not fully accessible to visitors in a wheelchair.
How to reach San Romedio Sanctuary
By car, it takes between 45 minutes and an hour drive via Strada Provinciale SP235 and Strada Statale SS43. Take the exit towards Sanzeno and in roughly 3 km of asphalted road, you get to San Romedio parking. From here, it’s a short walk to the sanctuary.
From the lovely town of Sanzeno, you can also choose to reach San Romedio via an adventurous walk through the rocky slopes of an old irrigation canal. The route is safe to walk even if you have children.
The view is truly spectacular but pretty dizzying so make sure no one is afraid of big heights. Also, some parts of this route are low so be careful not to hit your head on the rock.
Where we ate nearby San Romedio Sanctuary
When we finished our tour of the sanctuary, we drove back to Sanzeno in search of a place to have lunch. We visited at the beginning of May, so the winter season had just ended and the summer season hadn’t started yet. We found that in the low season, in Trentino-Alto Adige services are slower and some businesses closed.
Sanzeno is a small town with not many restaurants. We found one in the main square, Piazza della Fontana, but even though we reached the place, it took us a moment to spot it.
The restaurant we wanted to eat at was Osteria Casa de Gentili, set in what looks like an ancient country house with an internal courtyard accessible through a large gate. Even though we saw the sign of the restaurant, we thought this was actually a private house and didn’t dare enter! Finally, we asked the owner of a local bar and she confirmed that that was the actual restaurant.
We were very happy for funding Osteria de Gentili because the food was fantastic. From the starter of marinated salmon carpaccio to the first dishes of rice made with local Groppello di Revò red wine, pine tree essence and crunchy local speck cured meat and pasta seasoned with trout roe, we loved every single course. We finished our meal with a delicious lemon-flavored semifreddo dessert.
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