Category Archives: South Tyrol

And, more Heidi-like Land, only in Italian :)

September 27-30, 2018

Heading to the Italian side the next morning we passed a church steeple rising from the man-made Lake Resia. Man-made due to being flooded in 1950 to create a dam for electricity.

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And, in case you’re like me and aren’t exactly clear on the governance of this region here’s a quick explanation:  this State of Tyrol is one of three areas designated by the EU as a Euroregion†. Italy’s South Tyrol (Süd Tirol) and Trentino form the southern and eastern parts of this cross-border triumverate.

† “A Euroregion is a cross-border territorial entity that brings together partners from two or more cross-border regions in different European countries. Their purpose is to create a coherent space that is developed collectively to ensure that the border is no longer an obstacle but becomes a resource and an opportunity for development. To do this, it creates a framework for cooperation that makes it possible to bring together the different players and to put in place common policies and projects in areas such as regional development, transport, the local economy, cultural activities, the environment and so on, always in accordance with the specific features of each border area.” (Espaces-transfrontaliers.org)

The cooperation must work well since this Euroregion is one of the wealthiest in Europe, with low unemployment and a high standard of living. No surprise tourism plays a large role in this area’s economic health, with the Austrian Alps and South Tyrol’s Dolomites providing a playground for all-season activities. We were extremely fortunate to meet up with Christine and Jürgen for picture-book strolls in their backyard of Austrian Alps.

While these bordering areas do work together, the newly elected Austrian prime minister Sebastian Kurtz seems to be keen on stirring up nationalistic fever. In 2017 the coalition government, which includes the far-right Freedom Party, suggested the German-speakers in South Tyrol (roughly 66% of the population) should qualify for dual nationality by adding an Austrian passport to their Italian one.

Many in South Tyrol are amenable to obtaining Austrian citizenship. Not only are they in sync with the Austrian culture but also prefer to be linked to Vienna’s economy over Rome’s. This suggestion by Austria had inflamed the Italian nationalists with the leader of Brothers of Italy (so much for sisters…) shouting the slogan, “Hands off Italy!”.

This push-pull amongst the South Tyroleans between Austria and Italy isn’t new. For 550 years the Austrian-Hapsburg Empire ruled this land until 1918. In 1915 the Allies ceded South Tyrol to Italy based on the Secret Treaty of London when Italy agreed to support the Allies. With the rise of fascism Mussolini forced the region to become totally Italian. Hitler, of course, wanted this area to be part of the German Reich.

So, the “Option” was devised where the South Tyroleans could either emigrate to Austria as part of Hitler’s Nazi Party or remain in Italy and lose their culture under Mussolini’s fascism. A lose-lose scenario lasting from 1939-1943.

Trentino, being further south in Italy, has escaped this tension especially since the majority of their inhabitants speak Italian.

However, with nationalism turning many countries into pockets of isolation, let’s hope this Euroregion can work through this issue without disrupting the existing cooperation among its citizens.

In driving to our destination in Kastelbel we noticed row after row of vineyards.

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But, those vines suspiciously are holding mighty big grapes. Which, in peering more closely we realized were apples…

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We later found out every 10th apple in Europe comes from this area. And, I have to say, they grew some good apples :)

We arrived at a lovely hotel Jürgen found for us when the Agri-Tourismo one he recommended had no vacancies. We highly recommend Hotel Panorama not only for its warm and helpful family, beginning with Christian, but also for its meals included in the room price (breakfast and dinner).

When we checked in they said fish was the main entree that night. Expecting a typical buffet of soggy food sitting under warming lights, the actual meal of delicate and delicious fillet accompanied by a starter and salad then finished with a dessert stunned us. We now knew not to be late for the 6:30-7:00pm serving time. And, the breakfasts were just as marvelous in their freshness and tastiness. And, the coffee was glorious.

Furthermore our room was Scandinavian airy and comfortable with a shower to die for. If you want to make a boating woman supremely happy, give her a shower that doesn’t cut off after three to five minutes, water hotter than tepid temps, and pressure that won’t leave half the shampoo on the head. Yes, I was happy!

But, beyond that the Dolomites we experienced both in drives and walks offered a completely different mountainscape.

After having driven on one of the famous sightseeing roads filled with hairpin turns and narrow lanes the day before

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–where we did stop to gaze in awe at Lake Carezza where you would swear it had been photoshopped

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And captured views of the Dolomites–

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With lots of para-sailaing (which we wanted to do but ran out of time)–

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We set off for the capital of South Tyrol, Bolzano (where the iceman, Ötzi, lives††) and the Renon plateau, an area offering lots of hikes and scenic options. Having located the cable car for a ride up to Collabo (in German, Klobenstein as every place is in both Italian and German) we began our task of sussing out a hiking trail. As we peered at one of those glossy-page folding maps trying to understand where we wanted to go this kind couple approached us. If you ever see someone looking a bit lost while staring intently at a map, one of the nicest things you can do is ask if they need help! That’s how we met Anna and Alois Frisch, a couple from Germany who were visiting one of their favorite areas.

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They took us under their wings, ensuring we got on the Renon Train, South Tyrol’s only narrow gauge railway with powered cars from 1907. Disembarking, we followed them to a bus stop in the small village of Longomoso. We then decided, due to time constraints, to skip the next step of taking a bus to a higher hiking ground.

†† On the Austrian-Italian border at 10,530 ft. Two hikers discovered his mummified body September 1991 in the Ötzi Mountains. The Italians claimed it after a survey established it laid just over 100 yards on their side. Unfortunately, we didn’t see him as this fits perfectly with in the category of an MDT (Max Disaster Tour).

We then headed off to do an hour loop, one marked with letter excerpts written to or from Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Which seemed odd until we read he had spent the summer of 1911 in this area.

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This was my type of an afternoon hike:  few inclines, well-marked paths, and plenty of open spaces with warm sunshine.

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Oh, and a few resting stops…

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And a friendly local.

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After several hours we found our way back to Bolzano and headed for another treasure in the area:  one of the six museums established by Reinhold Messner.

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A native of South Tyrol, this mountaineer was the first in the world to climb all the earth’s peaks over 26,000 ft. If you want an extreme quick bio of this guy, Check this post out  But, please excuse the language!

Each museum presents a A facet of Messner’s passion (mountaineering) interlaced with art,  and each museum locale is reason enough to visit even if you’re not interested in mountains or art. The one outside Bolzano is a repurposed castle,

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which we wandered around (often having to refer to the brochure to determine where we were)

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Unfortunately, we had hit this museum at the end of the day so we scampered up and down stairs (that tested my fear of heights)

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And enjoyed the various sculptures scattered throughout the grounds.

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After exploring this Messner Mountain Museum we added the other four onto our ‘to do’ list for future road trips.

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Back in our room that night we discovered one reason why Anna and Alois knew the routes so well:  he writes Guidebooks . Another wonderful connection. And, another example why it’s the people we meet in the places we go that make our voyage so heart-warming memorable.

We left South Tyrol via the Timmelsjoch High Alpine Road. It seemed fitting that our exit provided more stunning views.

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And, for me, the scariest. The road is open from 7:00am to 8:00pm beginning end of May to end of October (depending when winter decides to end and begin). Some informational stops along the way provided historical tidbits in artistic buildings,

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such as the use of the road as a smuggling route. The photo below shows a wooden ‘backpack’ used to transport goods in a ten-hour or more crossing.

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Not only cars but motorcycles zoomed by us, sometimes a seemingly non-ending streak of them. Which made sense when we discovered Timmelsjoch proudly hosts the ‘highest-located motorcycle museum in Europe’.

With non-existent guard rails in some of the highest places (unless you count some wooden stakes spaced fifteen feet apart…), 

we (royal ‘we’ as Max was the only driver on the rental) managed to exit Italy and enter Austria without any mishap. Except for Max performing his wall pose.

 

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Next, three more spectacular meet-ups!

 

Heidi-like Land

Tyrol, Austria

Sunday-Friday, September 23-28, 2018

With Beethoven’s dramatic music echoing in our heads we left the Beethoven-Haus Bonn and pointed south for the Austrian Alps.

After a long rainy drive the sky cleared to a full moon as we wove through a narrow cut in the mountains on the Fern Pass, the second-most travelled pass in the Alps (the first is Brenner Pass, which is the lowest one). A bright-colored string of lights between two mountain tops greeted us

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as we continued our way to the rental apartment in Lermoos, just 14 miles south of Reutte which sits on the border between Germany and Austria.

Actually, we were traveling on a Roman Road called Via Claudia Augusta. Completed 46-47 CE this road connected a Roman compound in southern Germany to the Po River in northern Italy. As the main travel region between the Adriatic Sea and the Danube river it later became known as the “Salt Road” with salt being an important commodity (and excellent tax resource for those fortunate enough to control the route).*

*Some days later we did some sleuthing and found tire ruts on a small segment of the Via Claudia Augusta after an hour of roaming up and down the road between Lermoos and Biberwier.

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which provided Max the opportunity to see if the width matched the space between modern train rails based on oxcart travel several thousand years ago.

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And, the only reason we decided to search out this piece of history began with a photo spotted at another site earlier in the week:

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But, the road we took to Lermoos seemed tame compared to others we traversed during our week in this part of the world.

Our arrival in Lermoos started with a wonderful couple of days partly due to blue skies-warm sun throughout our stay and mainly due to meeting up with Christine and Jürgen.

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We met them over breakfast a year ago January when both of us happened to be staying at the same hotel in Kayserberg, Alsace-Lorraine region of France.  A short conversation followed with their recommending an art exhibit of Otto Dix (1891-1969) in Colmer. Soon after, Max and Jürgen were friends on FaceBook with Jürgen kindly advising us where to base ourselves for daily explorations.

With Christine being an artist and nature guide and Jürgen a journalist and author** we were treated to a lovely walk along the Tyrolean Lech River, Austria’s last wild river landscape in the northern Alps flowing through a beautiful alpine valley (for the best images, click Here).

Christine works at this nature park during the summer season, so we had an excellent guide explaining the beauty surrounding us, from the grandeur of the expansive river bed to the earthen mounds of soon-to-be-hibernating ants.

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On the walk back Max and I noticed Jürgen stooping to pick up something. When we went over to see exactly what was so intriguing, we saw it was mushrooms! Which turned the last bit of our walk on a hunt for edible fungi :)

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** If you speak and read German, then you’re fortunate for you can get one of his fascinating guides combining amazing hikes with historical sites. For a preview of his new book click Here  ).

A tour of the Nature Park Center Klimmbrücke where Christine’s office is located ended our day but not before Jurgen and I became human dragonflies :)

 

And, not before a quick stop at a lovely village church whose spartan exterior belies the elaborate interiors:

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A separate building featured a chilling bones room. Due to a shortage of burial plots human remains were disinterred and deposited in the cellar.

 

 

It’s also where I saw some eidelweiss, albeit long past its original glory.

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When I exclaimed how I’d love to see some live ones Christine gently told me that eidelweiss only grows above the tree line, a height not conducive to fair weather hikers such as us.

The next day Christine had to work but Jürgen suggested another alpine walk, this time a gondola ride in the Tannheimer Valley outside of Reutte.

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From there we spent an easy hour or so following one of the well-groomed trails (the top left in photo below)

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We made our way to a restaurant perched on the mountainside with expansive views down to a lakeside village and a typical Austrian meal, and friendly waitress.

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Yes, Max is sampling the local schnapps after seeing the folk next to us prosting the day :)

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With such a warm sun it surprised me to see icicles from the night before

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as we made our way back to the gondola sated from a beautiful dream of a day,

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Including spotting a decorative straw hat perched atop another happy hiker:

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Prior to our walks with Christine and Jurgen we had done a bit of exploring ourselves beginning with a vital strategic stronghold built during the Middle Ages in Ehrenberg. The complex is comprised of four different fortified areas: Klause (a strong house), Ehrenberg Castle, Schlosskopf Fortress and Fort Claudia.

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The complex served as both a defensive barrier to the north and it’s Bavarian dukes, and a protection of the only north-south trade route (i.e., Via Claudia Augusta) at that time.

Of course, today the buildings are either castle ruins or rebuilt as a museum (where the Klause sat).

Of the four we walked past the Klause and followed the path on a 20-minute walk up the mountainside. But, before we entered the castle ruins we opted to walk across the one of the world’s longest suspension foot bridges (!).

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The Holzgau Suspension Bridge connects Ehrenberg Castle with the Fortress Claudia. It’s 200m (656ft) long crossing the Höhenbach Canyon. Although a new (2017) Swiss pedestrian footbridge is the longest at 494m (1621ft!), this one is still the highest at 114m (374ft) vs. the Swiss one at 86m (282ft).

Even with my deathly fear of heights I couldn’t NOT do this:  (1) there’s no reason to think you could fall because you’re contained by a fairly high net on each side of the walkway: (2) it wouldn’t be easy to jump because of the fairly high net on each side of the walkway; and, (3) if the fairly high net didn’t feel quite high enough, I could always drop to my butt and scoot across.

So, with some trepidation and a desire to go first to ‘get it over with’, I began the walk only feeling a bit more jittery when someone at the other end hopped on and caused a gentle sway to the walkway. With a straight-ahead gaze and hands gripping each handrail I made it across only daring myself to look down once or twice through the metal grating to the road below.

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On the way back I managed to sing “Do Re Mi” over… and over… and over again adlibbing lyrics such as ‘am almost there’, ‘what a fool am I’, and such morale-boosting phrases.

Max also felt the height as he, too, held onto the rail at certain points.

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And, just for the record I, too, removed hands from the railing (every now and then, well, mostly ‘then’).

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I finished our ‘stroll’ with a certain self-centered pride quickly dashed when I realized how undaunting it truly was compared to the thinking of doing it.

After a quick perusal through stone ruins we retraced our steps, down the path–not across that bridge, and headed to a quick cable car ride up a ski slope located right in Lermoos. Another tremendous view accompanied by white stuff on the ground

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and home we went feeling very glad Jürgen had recommended this particular section of Tyrol.

Because we wanted to watch the hearings beginning at 4:00pm our time we stayed an extra night at our Lermoos lodgings due to the certainty of a CNN channel. With an extra day we decided to go to the top of the tallest mountain in Germany, Zugspitze 2962 m (9718 ft) tall. We reached it by taking the cable car up on the Austrian side, which provided several stomach lurches when we bounced over the cable poles.

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The mountain top presented stunning views, something of which one never gets bored.

We mulled around going from the Austrian side

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to view the German side.

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There we witnessed, to me, a palm-sweating fear of seeing tourists of all ages and sizes and abilities clamoring up the precipice to snap a photo of “THE” top id’ed by the golden cross.

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No. Thank. You.

Max said he would have done it, which I believe, if so many people weren’t clogging the ladders and brittle path of the summit. For that, I am ever so thankful to the Alpine gods and goddesses for those crowds. To see him doing it would have either made me catatonic from terror or from glugging the local schnapps at one of the cafe picnic tables.

An easy ride down landed us on terra firma in time for the devastating hearings. No need to say more of that.

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And, before we leave Tyrol and its majestic peaks, here’s the view from our rental in Lermoos for morning coffee…

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And evening cocktail gazing.

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Not too shabby :)  No, not shabby at all! And, a huge ‘danke’ to Christine and Jürgen.

Stay tuned for more mountains….