Hands up if you've seen photos of that little church in a beautiful green meadow with jaw-dropping mountains towering overhead. Welcome to the Val di Funes in the Dolomites.
(It's also called Villnöß (Villnöss) – we'll get to that)
BUT- is visiting Val di Funes worth your time and effort?
I get it- when you're trying to see the Dolomites on a quick itinerary (we only had 3 days!), every choice you make and location you visit means missing out on something else.
So, here's our blog on how to visit Val di Funes, what to do, how long to spend and whether it's worth going at all!
Val di Funes / Villnöß / Villnöss – what the heck is the place called?
The Dolomites are in northern Italy. They're also on the Austrian border, where the most common language spoken is German.
This means pretty much every location in the area has at least 2, but often 3 names.
Yes- it can get confusing, especially when you're trying to research places to visit in the Dolomites!
How long to spend in Val di Funes
Be honest- why do you want to visit?
- Is it to get a quick Instagram photo of the beautiful church in the meadow with the incredible Dolomites behind – 10 minutes, available anytime for free
- Want to see inside the Val di Funes Church (San Giovanni/ St Johann is its official name… yes, it has several names too) – 30 minutes when open (pay to enter)
- Do you want to see St Johann AND Santa Maddalena/ Saint Magdalena church- 90 minutes for both
- Prefer to hike the area and enjoy the stunning views of the Dolomites? – As long as you like!
How to get to Val di Funes
Our recommendation is to visit Val di Funes by car or campervan.
To be fair, that applies to ALL of the Dolomites- you'll see so much more with your own transport.
It also allows you to go hiking/ arrive early in the morning/ stay for the sunset without worry about public transport.
There are no trains near Villnöss, so if you need public transport, take a bus or taxi. Buses run fairly frequently, but the time table changes throughout the year, so check in advance. Taxis will be available from all big towns- the nearest is Ortisei.
Best time to visit Val di Funes Church
Let's face it, most of us just want to visit for the photos- the quicker the better. No judgement- we did the same.
So here's what you need to know!
Firstly, there are several ‘Val di Funes' churches, but two really famous ones:
St Johann's Church, Dolomites / San Giovanni
This is the pretty 18th-century church you see in the lush green meadow with the incredible mountains behind.
It really is a breathtaking view.
You shouldn't be surprised to learn that this Val di Funes Church has several names– St Johann Church / Chiesetta di San Giovanni in Ranui/ church of San Giovanni in Ranui!
Santa Maddalena/ Saint Magdalena Church Val di Fune
Santa Maddalena Church is often confused with St Johann's.
Saint Magdalena is NOT the church in the field. Well, it is in a field (meadow) and the views are stunning, but it's not the one all on its own.
Santa Maddalena is surrounded by houses/ other buildings, although you can photograph it with the Dolomites in the background (see photo two above)
Having said that, Saint Magdalena is still famous in its own right as a beautiful spot to practice your travel photography. You can walk up here in about 15 minutes from San Giovanni Church, but I would suggest walking another 5-10 further past the church, so you get a beautiful shot down the valley.
Come at SUNSET (not sunrise)
If you ONLY want the picture of St Johann church in the valley, come at sunset, ideally on a clear night. The light on the mountains behind the church is perfect and you'll start to see the stars appearing in the background.
Frustratingly, we arrived in the area at sunset and admired the light on the mountains above our camper (see photo near the bottom)- but didn't realise that was the PERFECT time to go see the church… so we didn't. #fail
Photographing St Johann's Church, Val di Funes
Ok, I'm sorry, but photographing St Johann Church is frustrating.
The best position to get the church and the Dolomites is at the far end of the field- near the car park. But the viewing platform is up to chest height (I guess to stop anyone jumping over)
This means that it's impossible to put out a tripod- the fence is in the way!
There's a tiny platform you can rest your camera on… but it wobbles. And doesn't stay straight, so you can't line the shot up.
For anyone with an actual camera, instead of an iPhone, this may be one of the most frustrating places I have ever tried to do photography- especially at night!
And NOBODY seems to be telling anyone this. So here I am- spilling the secrets.
Photographing St Johann's church at night
We parked up for the night down the road (a huge advantage for travelling in a motorhome!)
In the middle of the night, I woke up, peeked outside and saw how incredible the night sky was- totally clear with a bright moon and beautiful stars.
So we decided to go see St Johann's church (for the first time) in the pitch black at 3am.
As you do.
It was only when we got there that we realised we couldn't use the tripod, so we spend a frustrating hour trying to balance the camera and hold it still for a long exposure shot… on a rickety fence.
It didn't go well- the shot above is the best we were able to get- not horrendous, but not as good as we hoped.
On the plus side, we were the only people around so we got to enjoy the nighttime display all by ourselves, although our puppy was not amused at being pulled from his bed into the cold in the middle of the night (not sure my husband was either!)
Val di Funes hiking
Other popular things to do in Val di Funes include the following walks/ hikes:
- Walking about 20 minutes to see and photograph Santa Maddalena Dolomites/ Saint Magdalena Church
- Spending a couple of hours hiking in the beautiful valley, including up Panoramaweg and Sunseitenweg
- A longer hike into the Puez-Odle National Park- a protected area for wildlife with incredible trees
- You can actually walk from Val di Funes up to the famous ridge at Seceda.
Val di Funes weather- when is the best time to visit Val di Funes?
We visited in October and were lucky to have incredible weather- the night was cold but clear, the stars and moon were bright and the sunset was beautiful.
Any time of year would work for photographing St Johann's Church or Santa Maddalena. The Autumn colours looked amazing as a backdrop, but so would snow or spring flowers.
Some of the hikes may be more difficult in winter- and remember it gets COLD so dress appropriately.
Val di Funes with a motorhome or camper
It was late in the day when we arrived, just as the sun was setting. We parked in a flat and quiet car park, opposite the restaurant.
GPS: lat. N. 46° 38′ 18″, E. 11° 43′ 6″
Many locals passed us without comment, but we were there out of season (October)- I'm not sure how tolerant locals or police would be in high season. (Remember, wild camping is forbidden in Italy.)
There is a camper parking in Val di Funes, about a 10-minute walk from St Johann's Church. Sadly, we didn't find it until the way out! It's further down the hill (away from St Johann church), on the right-hand side, with hand-written signs saying camper (but no signs on the road!)
Annoyingly, it seemed like it was sloping, which would make it uncomfortable at night but ok for a daytime visit to either or both of the Val di Funes churches.
Alternatively, drive all the way up to St Johann Church, turn right down the small lane by the viewing platform, drive past the hotel and all the way to the other end of the car park- there's space there for motorhome parking overnight (paid- I think it was 10€/ night with no facilities)
There is space in the car park at the end of the road for a motorhome, but only if you get there VERY early (like, 7am). By 8.30am the car park was full of cars and nothing else could park… and that was in October!
Is Val di Funes worth visiting?
I think it depends on what you want.
I wanted to see the pretty church in the meadow.
It was… underwhelming… but that's possibly because we saw many pretty churches in meadows the day before.
Yes, the setting is stunning and unique and yes, it does make for some lovely photos.
If you have a car and a free couple of hours, it's worth coming so you don't feel like you've missed out. But if you only have one day in the Dolomites, this is not the best use of your time (in my opinion, you should do either the Great Dolomites road or head up Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Either are much more impressive!)
Unless ALL you want in your life is a photo of the famous Val di Funes church.
In which case, I hope you found this post useful and take some AMAZING shots. Good luck- let me know how it goes 🙂