Cascate Di Fanis & Cengia di Mattia

At the confluence of the Fanes, Travenenzes and Ra Vales valleys lie the remote Cascate di Fanis waterfalls, part of a hugely significant hydro-geological landscape that has helped shape the Parco delle Dolomiti d’Ampezzo. This unspoilt assortment of narrow gorges, rocky ravines and plunging rapids provides a spectacular yet seldom frequented photo opportunity with the chance to shoot behind two impressive cascades.

How To Get Here

From Cortina d’Ampezzo, follow the SS51 north, passing International Camping Olympia and Hotel Fiames on the left. Shortly after Hotel Fiames and 5.5km from Cortina, turn left down a narrow road with a wooden archway overhead reading “Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti Ampezzane”. Follow the road down for 1km and park in the large clearing at the end of the road.

Parking Lat/Long: 46.59351, 12.11322

What to shoot and viewpoints

Although never too steep, the approach is long and the best compositions are accessed by short sections of Grade 1 via ferrata with some scrambling above exposed terrain. As such the location can only be recommended to those with mountain experience and a head for heights.

Viewpoint 1 – Cascate di Fanis

The ledge offers an excellent view of the falls, allowing you to isolate them to create a nice portrait and landscape composition using a standard focal length. If it’s a windy day with a high volume of water it can be tough to keep the lens dry; a large lens hood really helps here.

Viewpoint 2 – Behind the Cascate di Fanis

To continue, follow the path carefully as it traverses behind the fall itself using the metal wire for assistance. This creates a rather unique vantage point as the water pours overhead. With a wide angle you can capture both the fall and subjects on the path or alternatively with a longer lens you can isolate individual droplets with a fast shutter speed as they pass above. Again the greatest challenge is keeping your lens and kit dry. Most photographers opt to retrace their steps back to the picnic area from here, thus avoiding the hardest part of the ferrata (see viewpoint 4).

However for those that wish to complete the circuit, continue following the wire as it passes through a narrow gap and then descends down the side of a gorge to reach a small metal suspension bridge crossing the bottom of the falls.

Viewpoint 3 – Cascate di Fanis from below

A subject on the suspension bridge at the base of the falls makes for an excellent foreground and really helps to portray a sense of scale (if they don’t mind getting wet in the name of modelling).

To continue, ignore the path leading left which takes a series of steep reinforced wooden switchbacks to exit the gorge and instead cross over the bridge and climb the subsequent wire as it ascends the southern side of the gorge to return back to the picnic area and the start of the ferrata.

To continue to Cengia di Mattia from the picnic site, ascend the track uphill to the west, following signs for Sentiero dei Canyons e delle Cascate until a small path leads off right. Take this, ascending through woodland to reach another junction; keep right again, crossing a bridge and following the course of the river upstream.

Viewpoint 4 – Rio Fanes

As you ascend the Sentiero dei Canyons e delle Cascate towards the Cascata di Sopra you are presented with a number of photographic opportunities along the way. The stream bed is liberally dotted with small rocks that are beautifully rounded as a result of abrasion. Vibrant moss clings to their surface for much of the year and creates the potential for some excellent stream abstracts.
With a long lens it is possible to pick out lots of tiny landscapes as the water flows over, around and between the many rock formations that make up the stream bed.

Continue following the path as it crosses back and forth over the stream a number of times, passing several smaller falls to eventually reach more level ground and a clear view of Cascata di Sopra.

Viewpoint 5 – Cascata di Sopra

From the left bank there is an excellent view of Cascata di Sopra. While the fall isn’t as large as Cascate di Fanis, it is nonetheless perfectly proportioned and flows over some really interesting bedrock which gives it an exceptionally photogenic aspect. If the water levels are high there is often some additional runoff on the right from the cascade spilling dramatically from the forest above.

Viewpoint 6 – Cengia di Mattia

The path then ascends to the left side of Cascata di Sopra, where a wire protects the traverse behind the wall along the Cengia di Mattia ledge. The fall width combined with the vibrant moss allows for a number of creative possibilities with a wide angle lens – let your imagination run wild!

To continue, climb up a short wall on the opposite bank to rejoin the main path to the left. Turn left to descend east back towards Ponte Outo, eventually joining a gravel track (there is shortcut on a steep woodland path here; either route will lead back to Ponte Outo). On reaching Ponte Outo retrace your steps across the bridge back to the car.

 Accessibility

Approach: 45 minutes, 5km, 200m of ascent.

The approach is long and requires good navigational skills and stamina. In addition, the best viewpoints are accessed from brief sections of grade 1 via ferrata which require scrambling experience and a good head for heights. Visitors may wish to hire via ferrata lanyards, harness and helmets which are available in Cortina.

Disabled access: Due to the remote nature of the waterfalls and the difficult approach, this location is unsuitable for disabled access.

Best Time of Year/Day

The falls are at their most spectacular during spring when melt water elevates the river levels and during October when the surrounding vegetation produces some beautiful autumnal colours.

The cascades often freeze in January and February, creating beautiful chandeliers of vertical ice that are frequented by alpinists looking to scale the delicate features. Access during the winter months is extremely difficult however, and is not recommended without extensive mountaineering experience.

As with Malga ra Stua and Torrente Boite, the location is recommended during periods of bad weather as at light is perfect for stream photography and you’re likely to get wet even on a good day!