Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Traveling in the Alto Adige (Südtirol)

After I had hopped across the pond a week ago (or at least started the trip on Tuesday and arrived on Wednesday in Munich/Freising), Sabine and I chartered her little white Skoda and headed for Austria and beyond on Thursday. Along the way it occurred to me that I hadn't slept for two consecutive nights in the same bed for more than a week.

Taking the Autobahn, it's less than an hour from Sabine's place to the first "real" mountains in the Alps, and we were greeted by blue skies and vibrant fall colors.
Looking out of the window shortly before the Austrian border at Kufstein
Only stopping to buy the obligatory 10-day pass ("Vignette") for the Austrian Autobahn for 8 euro, and shelling out another 16 euro for the two-way permit to cross the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy, we bypassed Innsbruck and headed into the clouds south of the highest mountains in this region of the Alps. The plan had been to spend three days in the Alto Adige, a sun-blessed region of Italy in the Dolomites that is so warm that banana trees and vineyards prosper while a few kilometers to the north the denizens run around in fur coats. But the tables were turned on us: Südtirol was hidden in clouds and fog for two of the three days we were there, while strong southerly winds cleared out the northern portion of the mountains. Thus it goes.
Even fog can create spectacular images—Seilbahn between Ritten and Bolzano
But we had fun nevertheless. For one glorious day in Bolzano (or Bozen, in German), we enjoyed sunshine and mild temperatures. The sights were spectacular, and both of us are certain that we will have to come back. This interesting region, annexed by Italy after the first World War in 1919, still is heavily influenced by the Austrian/German culture, with all official signage in both Italian and German, has little if any to do with the poverty-stricken South of Italy or the industrial areas of the North. Prosperity oozes from the area, with beautiful villas set in vineyards and people shopping in expensive boutiques. The vegetation is at times Mediterranean, and orchards abound. At the same time, the wild and snow-covered Dolomites loom just a few miles away.
Bolzano, with the Rosengarten range of the Dolomites in the background
Located smack-dab in the middle of the commerce routes that since the Middle Ages were used to pass goods between the north and the south, this area prospered early. Add to that the perfect climate that allowed the cultivation of grapes, and one can understand why there are so many estates, mansions, and castles. Reinhold Messner, the well-renowned Austrian climber, owns his own little chateau somewhere around the area. When I make my next million, I may just consider doing the same....
Burg Runkelstein, one of many castles in the area
Runkelstein features secular frescoes of life in the Middle Ages
Need a castle? Südtirol has them!
We spent one night close to Bolzano and then moved on for two nights in an amazingly well-appointed apartment in Merano, just about 30 kilometers away. Unfortunately the weather started to turn sour on Saturday, even though it stayed dry and we were able to go on a long hike through the beautiful countryside. We snooped around town and drooled over all the savory specialties in the stores. And if I get to taste the beers in three different independent brew houses (one dating back to the 13th century), well, then my life is nothing but happiness. Batzen, Hopfen & Co., and the Buschenwirtschaft Pfefferlechner all had unfiltered suds and old-world atmosphere. Who cares about the weather?
Filling a growler at Hopfen & Co. in Bolzano
Industrial-caliber slicing equipment
Local mountain cheese
Can you smell it?
Relaxing at the Pfefferlechner in Lana, outside of Merano
On Sunday morning we headed back to Munich, seeing a bunch of snow through the fog at the top of the Jauffenpass—by our standards not much of a pass at barely 6,000 feet, but one of the higher ones in the Alps. Once we made it back across the Brenner the skies lifted, and we decided on a final stop at the Tegernsee, a posh area on the fringes of the mountains that attracts tourists galore, especially on a last nice fall Sunday.
The Tegernsee in Bavaria
Last night (Monday) I boarded an Air Berlin flight to Berlin, where I am now spending a few days with my dad before heading back to Munich later on in the week. I'm going to spend the next three nights in the same bed! Wow!



  1. Looks outstanding!

  2. awesome blog post yet again Jürgen! and because of you, I created a flightmemory.com account myself and spent 30-40min last evening entering my flights from last couple of years. Not as impressive (mileage-wise) as yours but it's a neat feature/map. http://my.flightmemory.com/stefanrothe

  3. There you go, amigo! Hope our paths will cross before long!