Dobbiaco in Val Pusteria is the perfect winter holiday destination. The quaint town and breathtaking landscape will leave you speechless.
Yes, I admit, I’m not objective when it comes to the Dolomites. Surrounded by rocky peaks, lush forests and endless skies and enriched by the traditional warm-colored, welcoming houses- it’s a backdrop that simply captures the heart.
Val Pusteria, also known as the “green valley”, belongs to the chain of the Eastern Alps between South Tyrol and East Tyrol. Three natural parks grace the area: the Natural Park of the Sesto Dolomites, Funes-Sennes and Braies, of Ries-Aurina. The municipality of Dobbiaco is located at 1,256 m above sea level, has about 3,300 residents, and with the municipalities of Sesto and San Candido, is called the “municipality of the Three Peaks”. It’s known as being the “door to the Dolomites”.
Traditions and Folklore
One of the most celebrated traditions in the area is the feast of San Nicolò or St. Nicholas. According to legend, on December 5th, as soon as dusk falls, San Nicolò arrives accompanied by the Krampus– a demonic creature from the woods that announces its arrival with bells and chains.
The “good children” do not have to fear the Krampus; in fact, San Nicolò protects them and leaves presents on their doorsteps. Disobedient children, unfortunately, will suffer the wrath of the Krampus and will be soiled with soot. The origins of this tradition go back to ancient pagan rites, during which the evil spirits of winter were driven away.
This year’s parade honoring the feast day will be on December 7th, at 6.00 pm in Dobbiaco’s city center. This parade is the oldest in all of South Tyrol. San Nicolò is escorted by about 250 Krampus from neighboring countries including Austria and Switzerland.
The costumes are extremely accurate and realistic: demonic masks, long twisted horns, thick hair, dark hairy clothes, bundles of firewood used as weapons, large bells and heavy chains.
Despite the similarities, each group has details that distinguish them from each other, such as the color of the hair or the shape of the horns. Each group parades its banner with pride, and of course, tries to scare the crowd, especially the children.
We stumbled upon the parade just by chance last year. Just before dinner, we had gone out for a walk along the downtown streets. Suddenly, I noticed a group of Krampus (I learned what they were thanks to Wikipedia, who came to my aid that evening) roaring around, frightening passers-by. Whether you decide to ignore them or respond to their grim looks, you might catch the wrath of their whips regardless! Rest assured, it’s all in good fun!
Despite the bitter cold, a sooty nose and reddened legs from a couple of lashes, we made it until the end of the parade, when the Austrian Krampus arrived. The evening ended with a big party under a tent set up for the occasion in a meadow not far from the center.
In the Vicinity
I recommend you visit Lake Dobbiaco, located at 1,176 m, in the natural park of the Tre Cime and in that of Fanes-Sennes and Braies. If you are lucky enough to find it frozen, try to walk on the surface and enjoy a walk along the banks. When the cold gets to you, you can stop at one of the cafes and enjoy a drink or hot chocolate.
Christmas “Under the Three Peaks”
For the very first time, Dobbiaco will be hosting a very special Christmas event. Activities and events will enchant visitors of all ages. The heart of the Christmas market is the large central Pavillon, which will be the setting for an incredible line up of entertainment including children’s activities, Christmas musical performances, gastronomic events, and a beautiful carousel! The absolute highlight will be the culinary market set up in ten small chalets where you can treat yourself to high-quality regional delicacies.
Dobbiaco has truly thought of everything for your enjoyment from concerts, nativity scenes, markets, cooking shows, hot-air balloons and much more! For the complete program click here (German and Italian only).
You might also be interested in: Bolzano Christmas Market