Styling itself as the ‘pearl of the Val Pusteria’ and with a population of just over 15,000, Brunico is the largest town in the valley. Voted in 2009 as the best small town in Italy to live in, it is well-known for its modern approach to traditional South Tyrolean characteristics. This is perhaps best reflected in the architecture, with the street of Via Dante Alighieri providing a dramatic contrast between old and new. From a photographer’s perspective, the castle, forest cemetery, Rainkirche church and the old town all present some superb photo opportunities and are recommended for those with a keen cultural interest or as a wet weather option.
How To Get Here
Brunico is located equidistant between Rio di Pusteria and Dobbiaco in a central position in the Val Pusteria. As the main town of the region, it is well signposted off the SS49 which runs the length of the valley. There are numerous designated car parks in the town, although for the photo locations described here the official castle car park is the most logical. As you approach the town centre, the castle is well signposted as ‘Bruneck Schloss’, denoted pictorially with a battlement symbol. The car park is located adjacent to the castle on Via Riscone, directly below a pedestrian suspension bridge.
Parking Lat/Long: 46.79344, 11.93946
What to shoot and viewpoints
Viewpoint 1 – Cimitero di Guerra / Soldiers’ Forest Cemetery
The soldiers’ cemetery in Brunico is a unique, moving and fascinating photo location which should treated with the utmost respect. Designed by the Austrian Lieutenant Colonel Berchtold and then opened by the town’s mayor, Josef Schifferegger, on the 3rd July 1915, this cemetery is the final resting place of many soldiers who fell serving on the front lines of the Dolomites during the First World War. Directed by the mayor’s wife, a ladies’ committee was established in June 1921 to oversee the upkeep of the cemetery, and this tradition has been upheld by the women of Brunico to this day. Please be respectful and refrain from taking photos here on a Sunday.
From the car park walk uphill, crossing the main road and taking a well-marked track off to the right signposted to ‘Cimitero di Guerra’. Follow the track gently uphill for 5 minutes to reach the forest glade. Here the woodland setting, vibrant moss, flowers and well-maintained wooden graves provide innumerable photo opportunities. There is no ‘main’ viewpoint as such, so feel free to be creative; try a macro or zoom lens to capture some of the fascinating and intricate details, or experiment with a wide angle to portray the scale of the site.
The graves can be effectively photographed from the front or back, and early in the morning and evening there is ample opportunity for sunstars through the surrounding trees (make sure you use a narrow aperture for the light diffraction to occur).
The location has a very evocative, fairytale feel and it is an ideal spot to let your imagination run wild, perhaps getting creative with some models and props. Just remember to be sensitive to the environment at all times.
Viewpoint 2 – Castello di Brunico
In July 2011, Brunico Castle became one of six ‘Messner Mountain Museums’ dedicated to exploring the geomorphology, history and culture of mountainous environments, with particular focus on the relationship between mountains and humankind. Each museum explores a unique theme, and MMM Ripa presents a study of the mountain civilizations of Asia, Africa, South America and Europe, exploring their culture and offering an exploration into their regions and tourism activities.
The castle provides several good photo opportunities, though arguably the best views are from the pedestrian suspension bridge above the car park and a viewpoint just over the bridge (the opposite side of the road to the castle) and 30m to the right. If you are accessing this viewpoint from the cemetery, you can reach the suspension bridge by following good signposting towards the castle.
The viewpoint allows a relatively tree-free view of the south-west side of the castle, making it an ideal late afternoon and early evening location when the white of the perimeter walls glows a beautiful pink colour. The stark functional design of the castle also lends itself to wintery and stormy days, when the pale walls contrast nicely with a stormy sky to create a dramatic composition.
The suspension bridge leads to the south-facing walls and can be included in the right of the frame to provide a nice set of leading lines towards the castle. The trees are denser here but can be incorporated into the shot with a suitably wide angle lens to offer some interesting framing; the colours are particularly striking in autumn when the leaves begin to change. If you have time, it is also worth exploring the castle grounds and the Messner Mountain Museum.
Viewpoint 3 – Old Town
The old town, Rainkirche church and Santa Maria Assunta are best approached through the castle grounds. From the castle entrance (just before the drawbridge), turn right onto a gravel path that circumnavigates the right-hand side of the castle. Follow the path for 50m, passing through the lower of two archways that breach the castle wall. Continue on this path as it traverses down towards the left-hand side of Rainkirche church – there is a good opportunity here to isolate the impressive clock face with a zoom lens as you begin the descent.
Once you reach the church, it is well worth taking some time to explore the interior before joining a path just behind the building. Turn right, following the path as it descends down a cobbled street to join with Brunico’s main high street. Turn right here (turning left through the archway leads into the main shopping area – also worth a visit) and follow the road to a small square. Continue straight across onto street ‘Oberragen Ragen di Sopra’, easily identified by its row of brightly coloured buildings. This street is exceptionally photogenic, especially in the afternoon when the sun illuminates the buildings and beautiful window box flowers. Try a stitched panorama or fish eye here for some dramatic effects.
At the end of the street lies the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta, initially established in the 13th Century. While the building isn’t particularly impressive from the outside, the lavish interior definitely merits a look. Pay particular attention to the impressive ceiling and intricate paintings.
Approach: 5 minutes, 0.2km, 20m of ascent.
The tracks leading up to the castle and forest cemetery are both steep but well surfaced. For those with reduced mobility, it is better to focus your visit on the old town, parking in one of the underground car parks in the centre rather than attempting to descend the steep cobbles leading through the castle ground. Disabled access throughout Brunico town centre is good.
Best Time of Year/Day
Thanks to the vast and varied potential offered by a town of this size, Brunico can be recommended throughout the year and at all times, be it day or night. The town also makes for an excellent wet weather option if the higher mountains are affected by adverse conditions.