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Hidden Treasures - Itinerary Rilke Promenade

A walk in the footsteps of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who stayed in Arco with his mother and her friend Nora Goudstikker in the late nineteenth century, writing some youth lyrics. The route selects a few letters and poems by Rilke, along with outtakes from the tourist guidebooks of his time.


Start: Arco Piazza S. Giuseppe (Retreat of S. Paolo optional)
End: Vigne
Length: 5km (2km without Retreat of S. Paolo)
Duration: 3h (1,5h without Retreat of S. Paolo)
Elevation difference: 50 m
Difficulty; Medium/Easy but long
Notes: The central section is not suitable for wheelchairs.

1 Retreat of Saint Paul

The small hermitage dedicated to Saint Paul, on the old road that from Arco leads to Trento, is still clinging to the cliff of mount Colodri, as Rilke discovered it. A careful restoration at the end of the 20th century (1991-1999) brought back both the interior and the exterior frescoes in better conditions than the ones seen by the poet himself. The hermitage, indeed, like many minor churches has a troubled history, going through moments of care and devotion but also of complete abandonment, as testified by several historical documents. It is one of the oldest and most beautiful religious buildings of the northern part of Lake Garda. The consecration goes back to the 9th of April 1186. Its construction is surely due to the Counts of Arco Odorico and Francesco.

“... Even hermitages can be found here. The most interesting one I have seen on the road to Ceniga, a small village in the Sarca valley. Under an overhanging rock, almost as if pressed by the might of the slate rock, shines a chapel-like building, painted with stiff frescoes; foreboding steps rise gently to the overgrown, through which you see the inside of a chapel. [...] Behind the chapel must be 2 to 3 more rooms. The door next to the altar had such deep shadows, that every moment I felt as if a stone face monk was about to step in and celebrate a chilling funeral. And during his prayer the candles would flicker softly as incense smoke rose out of the basin and a song would spring to life deep within the stony entrance... I saw the old, poor chapel idling in the dusk, and outside the brightly spring countryside where the almond trees where holding up their abundant young petals in silent jubilation”
Rainer Maria Rilke, „Letter to Mathilde Nora Goudstikker„ (Arco, 23/03/1897)
2 The entrance to the city
The high snowy peak, sharply jagged,
blazes like the top of the wall
onto which Nero - the morning –
smiling threw his torch.
And like the flames through the blue
reach for the fading stars,
so the valley wakes in beautiful fright
emerging from dreams and dew alike.

R.M.Rilke (Arco, 19/03/1897 - Advent)(Translation Ingarda Trentino)

„Every traveller stops at the bridge on the River Sarca and admires the romantic and magnificent landscape under his gaze. From the North on the right side you can see mild hills and fields, small houses and hamlets. At the bottom, mountains with different shades of colour and enclose the far horizon. On the left side there is the high, steep – almost menacing – cliff, where the old castle towers over the valley“.
Emilio Vambianchi, “Arco, winter curative place” (1873/74)
S. Giuseppe Square

The small square of San Giuseppe is the main entrance to the city of Arco. The alleys of the city centre still have the same look that Rilke must have seen back at the end of the 19th century, even if he could not see Giovanni Segantini’s (Arco, 1858 – Maloja, 1899) birthplace (now no longer existing) at the bridge’s entrance.Palazzo dei Panni (the Clothes’ Palace), former residence of Emanuele d’Arco, overlooks the square with the same austerity, as well as the small church dedicated to Saint Joseph (San Giuseppe), of which we have trace already in Ambrogio Franco’s writing during the 16th century.
3 The roofs of Arco
“Weißst du?”

Such a valley full of fragrant breaths,
within a stream quietly flowing;
beyond bright hills appearing
villages smoking the peace,
solitary castles.
And then we wander like silent
children steadily along the stream, 
deep in liberating lull.
My wild will turns to prayer
and my longing to loud gratitude.

R.M.Rilke “Weißt du” (Nachgelassene Gedichte, Arco 21/3/1897)(Translation: Ingarda Trentino)

The route takes us up through the narrow “Vicolo delle Ere” and through fenced gardens and cypresses, now centuries-old, that frame the path close to the rock cliff. The climb is steep but after a few metres the view spreads over the red roof of the houses laid out through the narrow alleys of the historical centre.Beyond the roofs, you can see the area of the recent constructions, with its factories and cultivated country, extending through the plain crossed by the river Sarca and further towards the blue water of Lake Garda.It’s a bird’s eye perspective, perching on the tile roofs, so that the beholder feels part of the landscape itself. The houses are very close from this viewpoint, it almost seems you can touch them, but there is also a higher dimension between the agaves and the olive-trees that cover the slopes, where you can breathe a mediterranean atmosphere.

“A particularly picturesque patch of Arco opens up at the feet of the steep cliff of the castle with its antique ruins. The old fortress was once proud in the shade of the cypresses and olive groves. There is no other place in Tyrol where you can find olive trees. The view from the cliff of the castle shows one of the most charming landscapes of the area: the old town and the gardens, the fields crossed by River Sarca towards Riva and Torbole and Lake Garda and, at the bottom, Mount Brione.”
S. Ilanor, “Arco,  Health Resort near Lake Garda” – end of the 19thcentury
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