In Italy, a bivacco (bivouac) is a type of shelter used for overnight stays during mountain climbing or hiking expeditions. It is essentially a small, basic shelter that provides temporary protection from the elements. They are meant as an emergency shelters, but many people visit them as overnight excursions. They are free, located in beautiful places, and often very comfortable.
Unlike a traditional mountain hut, which typically offers amenities such as running water, heating, and food, a bivacco is typically a simple, spartan structure that provides only minimal protection from the elements. It may be nothing more than a small, unheated cabin or hut with a roof and walls to protect hikers from wind and rain, or it may be a simple shelter made of tarps or other lightweight materials.
Bivacco shelters are often located at high altitudes, where the weather can be unpredictable and harsh, and are intended to provide a safe haven for climbers and hikers in case of an emergency or unexpected storm. They are typically free and open to anyone, but users are expected to leave the shelter clean and tidy for the next visitors. There are three terms I have heard for these shelters “baito”, “malga” and “bivacco”. As far as I can tell the bait / baito is the most simple form of shelter often small with minimal furnishings. Malgas are meant as housing for shepherds and cowherds who tend their animals in high pastures in the summer. They seem to be open as shelters at least part of the year. They are often large and quite comfortable. Bivaccos are somewhere in between and are actually meant for hikers and climbers as shelter.
Bivacco shelters are a common sight in the Italian Alps and other mountainous regions of Italy, and they are an important part of the country’s outdoor culture and tradition. Luckily there are a few very close to Trento. A little further afield there are many other beautiful ones that can be great for an overnight trip to the mountains.
Resources for Finding Bivoucs
The following maps are the ones I have found.
The first comes from local photographer Alessandro Ghezzer. He must have put a ton of work into this, and it turned into a really great resource. This includes also some smaller shelters.
This second map is from the alpine society (SAT), so it may be the most complete for bivaccos. Click the layers icon and select only bivaoucs.
Finally I found this map. This lists tons of smaller baits and malgas as well. I am having trouble finding more information on lots of them however and it also includes dilapidated buildings. I would be careful about trusting this one alone, do more research before deciding to spend a night at these.
Bivouacs near Trento
This is a small list of some of the bivoucs and shelters right around trento. They’re close by so can be visited on a day off or on the weekend without any problems. Luckily they’re not just convenient but also super nice. I highly recommend checking one out.
Bailoni – This bivouc is the closest of the three. It is located at 1,623m altitude, close to the summit of Marzola, which is the mountain just behind Trento. The hike itself isn’t too hard and the views are quite nice. The closeness also makes it a popular option. If you want you can reach this one directly from Trento, but it’s a long days hike up and the start isn’t so nice. Most people start the hike from Rifugio Maranza. The trail there starts at 1,090m already and the summit of Marzola is at circa 1,700m so the climb isn’t too bad. Follow an obvious track and signs for trail 412 towards the summit. The hike takes around 3 to 3,5 hours. From the bivouac you have sweeping views towards Vigolana as well as over Trento. You can usually spot the Brenta dolomites in the background if it isn’t cloudy or hazy. There is space for at least 10 people and a wood stove inside. You can find a detailed description of the route in English here.
Vigolana – This is a very famous bivacco. It has unparalleled views as it sits high over the town and on a ledge with a spire of rock just behind it. The shelter is a very modern aesthetic design also. It fits more people than you might think from the outside. There are bunk beds on the left and right side when you enter and the table in the center can also be lowered so it lies flat with the benches. Overall perhaps 10 people can squeeze in. Arrive early as this place is always full. There is a small woodstove. Carry plenty of water as there is no water source nearby. The hike up is also very steep and takes around 4 hours. The trail starts in a forest and is covered in leaves and very slippery. However, within two hours you reach the alpine zone and are rewarded with nice views. Start and end your hike at Malga Doss del Bue.
Malga Sporminore – This little-known malga at circa 1900m is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s just 30 minutes by car from Trento to the start of the trail. To be honest the hike up sucks. It’s 4 hours of consistently steep climbing through forests. The path is leafy and slippery. Only in the last kilometer or two do you get a nice view. However, you’re pretty much-guaranteed space and solitude once you get up there. My friends and I have visited this three times in summer and winter and never met anyone else there. The malga is enormous with sleeping space for 20+. There is a wood stove, running water, dishes, blankets, and even a toilet. Pure luxury! Start at the sports center for Sporminore and then follow signs for path 360 (red and white markings) leading to Trappola and then Malga Sporminore. There is a trail description in Italian here.
Highly Recommended Bivouacs in the Area
Here is a small list of some of the other bivouacs in the area which I have hear or read as highly recommendable. These are a little further away in Trentino or even Veneto. They might be recommended for the beauty of the region, the comfort of the bivouac or because the architecture / design is particularly nice. I haven’t visited these yet though so make sure to do your research!
- Baito del Cengello
- Bonvecchio Bivouac
- Bivouac Paolo and Nicola
- Bivouac Pozze
- Bivouac Fanton
- Bivouac Fanton
- Bivouc Bedin
- Bivouac Coldosè
Bivouacs I want to Check Out
This is a list of bivoucs / malgas close by that I am looking for more information on. Many I am not having much luck finding reputable information on trails, seasons they’re open in, etc. If you know if they are visitable and what kind of amenities they have let me know in the comments! Otherwise, I will just have to hike up and check them out.
Malga Cosmagnon di sotto – This looks large and is close to Roveretto. I am having trouble finding out whether it’s open year round and what kind of amenities it has.
Bivacco Costanzi – A friend said this is accessible close to the road, but the information I am finding online doesn’t support this…