Margret, my wife’s dear friend, recently invited us to visit her in South Tyrol, northern Italy. South Tyrol was part of Austria until after World War I, when it became part of Italy. Due to its Austrian and Tyrolean roots, German is widely spoken here and the culture of the community reflects that of its origins.
South Tyrol is a mountainous region with three interconnecting valleys, and the river – Adige – flows through the valleys. The Dolomites are its most famous mountains.
It is also the land of apples and wine. Apples grow on the plains while grapes grow on the lower mountain slopes. Higher up are the meadows and pastures of the alpine dairy farms.
We took a train from Innsbruck in Austria to Merano in Italy. The train passes over the Brenner Pass, skirting the sides of the mountains, giving us picturesque views of alpine meadows and valleys, quaint villages and the spectacular engineering marvels of long-span bridges over deep gorges.
We could smell a heady scent of jasmine wafting through Merano…we first noticed it at the station and then in some parts of town. This plant grows lush and abundant here.
There is a Mediterranean atmosphere about Merano. Don’t be surprised to see thriving palm trees along its famous river promenade where the spas are located. Merano’s spa scene rose to prominence after visits from Austrian Empress Sissi.
The old part of town with its narrow cobbled streets is lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. The medieval churches and restored buildings are also worth a visit.
There are also the gardens of Trauttmans-dorff Castle, a huge garden of art, culture and nature that was once named the most beautiful garden in Italy.
Margret’s house is a 400 year old courthouse in Naturno, about 15 km from Merano, and is located in the middle of apple orchards. Its closest “neighbor” is a building that was actually a prison!
Our host has a beautiful garden with four cherry trees which was laden with fruit when we visited. My wife was very happy to see – and eat – the cherries.
South Tyrol is a beautiful tourist destination, especially for people who like to hike and cycle in summer. You can cycle the entire stretch of the three valleys, cycle around the villages or simply stroll through the apple orchards.
In winter, skiing is a major attraction here, along with other winter sports.
There are also plenty of ruins of castles and churches to visit. Some have been restored or preserved, while others have been left in ruins.
After a few days, the mountains beckoned us. We went to the Messner Mountain Museen Juval (MMM Juval), located about 900m above sea level. It is one of six mountain museums built by former extreme mountaineer Reinhold Messner. The museums offer different mountain-themed exhibitions and can be found throughout South Tyrol.
We took the more difficult route to MMM Juval, where we walked for two hours through vineyards and semi-arid rocky terrain. For non-hikers, you can drive or take a shuttle down a narrow, windy road.
On the rocky surfaces, semi-arid plants with vivid and beautiful flowers of which my wife took countless photos. There were also many local skinks sunbathing on the rocks.
Above, we saw the heartbreaking result of climate change, which Margret told us about earlier. Thin plastic netting covered some apple orchards, forming a patchwork of green tops and plastic shards. The net is placed to protect the trees from the always frequent and heavy hailstorms.
Margret said insurance companies refuse to insure orchards these days, forcing farmers to put up netting to protect their fruit.
At MMM Juval, we visited the exhibition “The myth of the mountain”, which is a huge collection of masks and objects related to the religious aspects of the mountain. There are also exhibits of mountaineering equipment that Messner used for his legendary climbs.
The trails led to higher grounds of green alpine meadows. Due to the warmer weather in South Tyrol, you can find water sprinklers in the meadows to prevent the plants from drying out, which is an unusual sight in the Alpine mountains if you think about it.
The next day we did a loop on the local cable car – basically we went to the station at 1300m and then back. The day started out warm and sunny, but it rained as we made our way through alpine forests and meadows from the rocky terrain.
It’s like going through a portal to another world because the change is quite sudden!
After the cable car station, we took some photos at a popular spot which features a wire mesh overhanging platform overlooking the valley. The meadow was filled with grass and blooming spring flowers, which were so beautiful.
All in all it was quite a tiring day as we hiked and walked for about seven hours. When we got back to Margret’s, she had made a simple pasta dish for dinner with her tomatoes from the garden, and it was so delicious.
It was a short visit, unfortunately, but we really enjoyed our stay in South Tyriol and promised Margret that we would be back soon for the mountains and more cherries.
The opinions expressed are entirely those of the reader.