About Cascate di Barbiano (Barbianer Wasserfalle)
Le Cascate di Barbiano (Barbiano Waterfalls; also Barbianer Wasserfälle in German) are a series of waterfalls located by the town of Barbiano (Barbian). I believe there were three main waterfalls (which was why the name uses the plural form of cascata) of which the tallest and most impressive one was the lowest drop, which was said to be about 85m tall. The waterfalls got progressively smaller and less impressive the higher up the mountain I went, but then the panoramic views became much more stunning.
Speaking of the views, although the waterfalls were impressive, I thought the real highlight to this excursion was the breathtaking panorama of the Western Dolomites as well as the deep Isarco Valley (Valle Isarco). The trail had numerous opportunities to look over pastures, look down at castles, and look right into some valleys and villages to the east. Capping off the panoramas were tall mountains covered in snow, including a group of exposed pinnacle-like peaks characteristic of the Dolomite mountains which recently gained UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2009.
In addition to the vistas and the serene Nature in which the hike exposed me to, the town of Barbiano itself also featured an attractive church with a leaning bell tower (which I’ve seen affectionately referred to as the Leaning Tower of Barbiano) as well as some charming streets flanked by chalets and vertical farms more reminiscent of Switzerland or Austria than Italy. It turned out that the town perhaps made for the best starting and ending point for the loop hike taking in all the waterfalls, the vistas, and the charming town itself (see directions below). From what we could tell, there were no places for trailhead parking closer to the waterfalls outside the town itself, and the steep (some parts had 25% grade) single-lane roads supporting bi-directional traffic (which included trucks and lorries) further discouraged us from driving in order to reduce the amount of hiking from town.
Generally speaking, the route that I took went to the lowest waterfall first, then I gradually worked my way up to the uppermost waterfall before looping back to town on mostly single-lane roads. The entire hike took me about 2.5 hours, which I’d imagine might be a pretty average estimate of how long to devote to this hike when planning for a visit.
So from the town of Barbiano, I hiked up the steep road labeled Wasserfallweg 1-6. There was a shrine right at the junction of the main road and Wasserfallweg 1-6, which probably made for a good landmark for identifying this small road while driving through town. As I ascended above most of the residences and farms in town, there were signs that helped guide me to a partially paved road that already started to yield open vistas of Valle Isarco and the Dolomites across the valley.
Near a bench facing the vista, there was a signposted road junction. It was from here that I continued on the left path, which eventually got me through the perimeter of someone’s property while providing me with distant views of the largest drop of the Cascate di Barbiano. Then, the trail rejoined the main single-lane road beyond the boundaries of the property that I had just skirted around. In this section of the hike, there appeared to be some disagreement between the trail signs and the local property owners regarding trespassing on private property. In one instance, a tractor was blocking a connecting trail that was supposed to lead up to the upper waterfalls.
Further along the main single-lane road, there were more signs conflicting with the trail signs. Indeed, it was common to see trail signs encouraging me to continue while private property signs or beware of dog signs were adjacent to them. In any case, I continued on the path to the lower waterfall (despite some of the threatening signs by local property owners), and then I found myself on a conventional dirt trail surrounded by trees and flanking large rocks. I also noticed some encouraging signage, which helped to reassure me that I was on a sanctioned trail and I was once again back in Nature.
The trail continued to climb as it made its way to the base of the Lower Barbiano Waterfall. There was a spur trail that went right to its misty base, but it appeared that they took apart an old lookout deck down here as apparently they want to discourage people from scrambling on the wet rocks to try to get a better look (which I can see why they’d want to do that given how a slip and fall here could be fatal if washed downstream over more dropoffs).
The path continued ascending past this spur under some overhanging rocks before it reached a more official overlook of the lower (inferiore) waterfall. From here, the view of the impressive 85m waterfall was probably the most satisfying (see photo at the top of this page), and I even noticed some rock cairns as well as some markings on the neighboring rocks further indicating that this was the official lookout. It took me about 45 minutes to get to this point from Barbiano though I’d imagine it would typically take 1 hour at a pretty leisurely pace.
Next, the trail continued to ascend a combination of switchbacks and rock steps as it made its way to the middle waterfall. It took me about another 15 minutes to reach this waterfall, which was considerable shorter than the lower waterfall. However, right before the short path to the front of the middle waterfall, there was a lookout of Valle Isarco and the Dolomites in the background from a higher vantage point than what I was able to see earlier on.
Continuing to ascend the trail beyond this point, it took me yet another 15 minutes to finally really the uppermost of the Barbiano Waterfalls. However, the segmented waterfalls here appeared to be blocked by a lot of overgrowth so I was never really able to get a clean look at them. In any case, after another 15 minutes ascending even higher on the trail, I encountered more benches all facing yet another gorgeous panorama of Valle Isarco and the Dolomites. This belvedere was perhaps the highest one on the waterfall trail providing such clean looks at such precipitous mountain scenery.
From there, the trail briefly climbed then started to descend towards the single-lane roads leading back to town. From following the signs and generally staying on the roads until I returned to town, it took me around 45 minutes from the highest panorama near the third waterfall. During the return hike, it was worth noting that I recalled hearing the natural birdsong of a cuckoo, which might indicate that they are quite common to these mountains.
From Bolzano (Bozen), the fastest way to get to Barbiano would be to take the A22 autostrada and exit near the town of Ponte Gardena. Conversely, you can save on the toll by taking the SS12 around 21km from Bolzano to the turnoff for Barbiano at Ponte Gardena.
The road then steeply ascends a series of switchbacks as it makes it way to Barbiano‘s town center in 4km. Although we saw there were limited 90-minute parking spots around the restaurants neighboring the Leaning Tower of Bolzano, we managed to find free parallel parking (without the 90-minute time limit) further down the main street near the Wasserfallweg 1-6 road. If those parking spots are unavailable, it might be possible to find additional parallel parking on the outskirts of town along the main road as well as a paid parking lot closer to the center of town.
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