From 1882, when the first, and still in use, driveway to Primiero was built at the bottom of the Schenèr Valley, the ancient road called Via di Schenèr has been completely forgotten. Nowadays, it lies in a state of abandonment. We should probably be thankful to the writer and history expert M. Melchiorre. In fact, due mainly to his work and the way it was perceived by a broad audience, from 2016 a process of rediscovery of this historical road has begun. The hike proposed here does not cover the entire Via di Schenèr, also because there were multiple variants (some simply inaccessible at the this time). However, this trek will allow you to touch the most representative places of this fascinating trade route, along with the most famous section that leads from Sovramonte to Pontét, where the border between Venice and the Habsburg Empire was located until 1918.
Our hike starts from the bridge known as Ponte Oltra and develops for almost 14 km, passing through Zorzoi, Sorriva di Sovramonte and then following one of the communication routes that allowed relations and trade with Primiero. The first part of the route is a variation of the traditional Via delle Vit, now in bad condition.
Once arriving in Zorzoi, cross the town following the road towards Sorriva, where you can admire the Church of San Giorgio. The church was built between the VI and VII centuries on a small hill and contains paintings from the XIV century, as well as more recent ones by Andrea Nasocchio from Bassano (you need to ask the sacristan if you would like to visit it).
From the Church of San Giorgio, keep going up towards the Church of San Rocco di Sorriva. After San Rocco’s church, you need to turn immediately to the right and climb towards Col dei Mich. Just before arriving at Col dei Mich, you can admire a beautiful private limestone building, built according to the type of “a gradone” (tr. stepped) pediments. Right after passing the Antica Torre (tr. ancient tower), now serving as a restaurant, you will reach the highest point of the route, at 770 m. a.s.l..
Going downhill briefly, the track continues above Zorzoi toward the Church of San Zenone. At this point, the track develops parallel to the main road, at a slightly higher altitude. Once reaching the forest, proceed towards Béttola. Historically, transiting goods and people were checked in Bettola. The small settlement was equipped with rooms used for temporary imprisonment and a isolation, in case of epidemics.
From Bettola, the Via di Schenèr turns to be a single small path, crossing a forest that once did not exist. It passes near the few ruins of Castel Schenèr (tr. the Castle of Schenèr), which was moved in 1509 from its original location downstream, taking almost 120 years to be completely rebuilt.
From Castel Schenèr, the path becomes more impervious, crossing the stream of Rio Rósna and continuing towards Roe Alte, a place where only one house is still standing. Further on, near a “bárc” (tr. sort of a small cottage), there is the so-called “talking rock” (cogol che busna). Before heading downhill, the last stretch of the route is passing close to the protection nets of the main road, which can be clearly seen.
At last, leave the path by descending on a small track leading to the cycle path. Turning on the right and heading north, following the cycle path will lead to the Schenèr dam and then to the village of Pontét.
- From Ponte Oltra, follow the asphalt road towards Sovramonte up to its first hairpin turn,
- Turn left towards Górna and follow the track to Zorzòi, at the very beginning of the village,
- From Zorzòi (636 m a.s.l.), move towards Sorrìva until you reach the San Giorgio Church,
- From the San Giorgio Church, walk uphill towards the San Rocco di Sorriva Church,
- From San Rocco Chruch, take the first road on the right and head towards Bettola, crossing Col dei Mich,
- From Bettola, follow the small path in the forest up to Castel Schenèr,
- Keep following the track crossing Val Rósna,
- Once crossed Rósna stream, keep following the same path towards Roe Alte,
- Keep going for approximately 2.5 km more and then turn downhill until getting to the cycle path,
- Head north along the cycle path until reaching Pontét. ✓
For centuries, the connection between Feltre and the Primiero valley through the Via di Schenèr has been considered the most dangerous route in the Alps. The conditions of this track had always put in danger and caused serious problem while transiting, addressed only in the last decades. Since the route was connecting the Alps with the Po river valley, no one has ever invested in making it more accessible, leveraging on the fact that it was an excellent defense against the populations of the Alps descending towards the Italian peninsula, causing the fall of the Roman Empire. It was in fact at that time that the population of Primiero valley grew rapidly and new settlements were formed.
The Via di Schenèr, until 1882, was the main communication route between Feltre and Primiero, forcing the ancient travelers to make an impervious, hard and dangerous route, suitable only to be walked or at most to be crossed by mules. Via di Schenèr was often the scene of accidents and tragedies. The name Schenèr probably derives from the back or from “schenaro”, a local term that indicates the transport of goods by feet.
Given both the temporal link between the Bishop of Feltre and the Val di Primiero and the commercial one, the itinerary was of vital importance in the medieval period. After the advent of the Welsperg family, feudal lords of Charles IV of Luxembourg, Primiero passed into the hands of the Habsburgs family and the route became a permanent border between the Republic of Venice (Serenissima) and the Hapsburg Empire.
For defense purposes the Serenissima built a castle along the route of which few traces now remain. The origin of the castle is perhaps older and dating back to Roman times, as suggested by the discovery of some coins. Castel Schenèr was opposed to the Austrian Bastia in Ponét as a defensive post guarding the border. Completely destroyed in 1509 by the militias of the Cambrai League, it was rebuilt in 1525 and remained a strategic point of the defenses of the Venetian Republic until its fall in 1797, by Napoleon. No longer strategically interesting and being isolated and inhospitable, it was abandoned and gradually demolished.
What today remains of the “second” Castel Schenèr, almost completely eaten up by vegetation, cannot give an idea of its original structure.
The end of the Via di Schenèr as the only transit between Feltre and Primiero actually marked the beginning of the decline of many of the inhabited areas of the Sovramonte plateau, developed parallel to the commercial growth of the route. Today, passing through many of these settlements, you will have the feeling of stepping back in time.
In 1998 it was found, in Val Rosna (Sovramonte), a skeleton of a man dating back to the age of the Cro-Magnons, nicknamed the Hunter of Val Rosna (Cacciatore di Val Rosna), testimony of a route already crossed in ancient times. The Hunter of Val Rosna represents an important find since it dates back to earlier times (approx. 14,000 years ago) than the more famous Ötzi. The Museum of the Hunter of Val Rosna (MUVAR), is located in the primary school of Sovramonte.
Pontét – Montecroce
The name Pontét comes from the narrow bridge that marked the border between the Serenissima and the Habsburg Empire, kept intentionally tight to have full control of the important passage. The alternative toponym Montecroce is linked to the dangerous condition of the Via di Schenèr. Many travelers, in fact, were buried in a cemetery on the hill above Pontét, called Montecroce by the crosses that indicated the burials.
In the beginning in the 1950s, the Schenèr dam construction begun, which was completed in 1963. The Schenèr lake submerged both the pastures historically owned by the farmers of Pontét and the remains of the Austrian Bastia. In fact, the dam determined the decline of this village belonging to the municipality of Imèr.
Among the interesting buildings, the chapel with a reproduction of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, the washhouse (lisièra) and the hotel “Al Lago”, built from the old Austrian customs office.
- Melchiorre, M. (2016). La Via di Schenèr, Un’esplorazione storica nelle Alpi. Nodi.