Sudtirol, Travel Destination: Südtirol
Sudtirol, Travel Destination: Südtirol

Travel Destination: Südtirol

Trip Reports
on
January 27, 2015
Lago di Verago in Südtirol

Lago di Verago in Südtirol

After three weeks of running and snowboarding in Südtirol, I wonder if there truly is another place like it in the world, or if I am just bias because I was born here. Südtirol is the magical land nestled between Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Technically, it is part of Italy, but culturally it is a land of its own. Südtirol is the southern gateway to the alpine crown, where the slopes of the Dolomites give way to the higher summits of the Alps. Linguistically and architecturally, Südtirol is still Austria even though, geographically, this land was annexed into Italy right after the First World War. However, driving north from Bolzan into Meran, one cannot help notice the Austrian architecture, the alpine physiognomy of the inhabitants and the predominant German language spoken around and on all the signs. Personally, I might notice all this just a bit more: my great uncle, Alfons Benedikter, was instrumental in establishing the political independence of Südtirol, but that’s another story for another place. Because of him, today Südtirol enjoys a thriving economy and political system far from the corruption and decadence of Rome’s Italian government.

For running, snowboarding or anything else you might be into, there is no better place in the World than Südtirol. Here I am, completely alone on the Val Senales Grawand glacier, way, way up above 10,500 feet: with the snowboard on my feet, I snap a picture of the slope and of the surrounding mountains. The view is astounding: the Alps are some of the most beautiful mountains in the World. They are steep, unforgiving, brutally technical yet welcoming and approachable, thanks to an unparalleled infrastructure. I reached the glacier on a gondola so steep it looks almost impossible to build and, when I got to the top, there was a restaurant, a small hotel and a bar, the Hotel Ristorante Grawand: since it’s a cliché, I won’t linger on the incredible quality of the food. Once on the glacier, the slopes were perfect and, at the top of each one, there was another rifugio, or hut, like Ötzi’s Gletscherhütte or the Baita Teufelsegg serving traditional dishes, hot drinks, wine and beer.

Running high above tree line where the skiing begins

Running high above tree line where the skiing begins

Endless ski and snowboard lines abound with such easy access

Endless ski and snowboard lines abound with such easy access

One of my favorite running trails gives this view

One of my favorite running trails gives this view

For running, the choice is endless. There are hundreds, thousands of trails and it’s basically impossible to get lost: you can either go uphill, downhill or along the valley floor. There are runs lower in the valley, along irrigation creeks (or Waalweg trails, their German name), in and out of the forest and from village to village. There are runs straight up the mountain, from the valley floor all the way to the Merano 2,000 ski area or to the “I” finger summit, where the going gets so tough that running becomes impossible. There are forests so beautiful they don’t seem real and views so breathtaking that pictures don’t do any justice. There is the sound of the rushing waters, of the bells of cows grazing in the high alpine fields (in the summer only), of the rockslides thundering off the rock faces. Because of the high humidity, smells linger and take a life of their own. There is the smell of hay, of strawberries in the summer, so strong and overpowering that it becomes hard to describe. The air smells like rain in the valley, like snow higher up in the mountains, like pine and fir in the forest.

Culturally, this place is also one of a kind. Here, mountain culture IS the culture. Every morning, farmers milk their cows that have been grazing on alpine fields and bring it to collection spots in simple, reusable metal canisters, where the milk trucks bring to town and, ultimately, to the consumer. Eating local here is simply “eating”. Foods tastes like the land, a taste so intense it often ruins other foods forever. Farmers and shepherds have been working on these mountains for millennia and many of their tools are a charming mix between old and new: tractors sit side by side with wooden sleds, the only way to transport on narrow, steep, snowy trails.

In the valley, some of my favorite restaurants and bakeries reap the benefits. The Forsterbräu, with two stunning locations in Merano, is a brewery and a restaurant. The Forst beer is well known all over the world, but this is where it’s born. Their menu is made of simple and perfect local dishes. In downtown Merano, Café König, which was open in 1893, serves an astounding array of drinks, cakes and chocolates, each one better than the other. Trust me, I have tried them all.

Restaurants and hotels nestled in right next to the mountains make for an enjoyable place to visit

Restaurants and hotels nestled in right next to the mountains make for an enjoyable place to visit

I find myself loving these mountains and this place like I love friends and family members. These mountains are in my blood and part of who I am, which is perhaps why I keep coming back, year after year, season after season.

A nice view from lower in the valley

A nice view from lower in the valley

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