Posted by: Nazausgraben | July 4, 2011

AUSFLUG: SÜDTIROL (ALTO ADIGE)


Susi and I made our four-wheeled way south, crossing over the magnificent Fernpass, through Nassereith and over the border into the Südtirol (…the South Rirol. It is known as the ‘Alto Adige’ to our Italian friends to whom this part of Austria was ceded by the victors of the First World War). This expansive portion of the Tirol is a glorious part of Europe, temperate in climate and mood, peaked by never-ending alpine vistas, dotted by ancient villages, towns and cities whose medieval towers still can be seen silhouetted against the hot Summer South Tirolean sun.

We drove over the high alpine Timmelsjoch which yielded vistas we have not seen since our travels up Pikes peak in Colorado Springs not all that long ago. The roads are steep and thin…barely sufficient to accommodate vehicles traveling in opposite directions…winding their precipitous way well above the tree line up to about 2,300 meters above sea level. I fear that my mountain driving still leaves abit to be desired, as by the time we reached the local roads on the other side of the Timmelsjoch, poor Susi’s face color looked something akin to a green pepper. A brief moment to pause and regain our stomachs, and we moved on to our destination..Meran (Merano), where we spent four days in restful bliss. 

We stayed in rooms at a delightful mountainside farm/Bed and Breakfast…the  Bäcksteinerhof…located in the village of Obermais that overlooks Meran. Obermais is dominated by large old homes and farms…some dating back to the 13th century. All are surrounded by the natural beauty and wealth of the Südtirol….orchards of apples, pears, vineyards as far as the eye can see….all thriving in the rich fertile soil of the mountain surrounding Meran (indeed, all of the Südtirol).

The  farm was first settled in the late 13th century and had been owned by the Familie Verdorfer for more than two centuries. The original house in which the family resided was replaced many years ago by lovely large farm home built in the traditional Tirolen style. The large ancient barn remains. In addition to the private residence of the family Verdorfer, this lovely farmhouse now has five spacious guestrooms, each with a large balcony overlooking the surrounding apple groves and the valley far below.

Backsteinerhof...a Splendid Farm-Based Bead and Breakfast in the Hills overlooking Meran. The farmhouse can been seen in the lower right of the photo. Other large farms can be seen above and behind Backsteinerhof...all surrounded by expansive apple groves.

Upon our arrival at the Bäcksteinerhof , we were greeted by Frau Verdorfer who runs this lovely quiet  Bed and Breakfast and Herr Verdorfer who manages the farm itself.  Our hosts were very friendly and gracious indeed. We knew in an instant that we had found the perfect place to call home during our stay in Meran.

A tour of the house revealed it to be very lovely indeed…clean, warm, inviting. It is decorated with many items from the original house. Each guestroom has its own bathroom with shower. For breakfast, Frau Verdorfer treats her guests to a wealth of local foods…breads, cheeses, cold cuts, jellies, eggs, juices, teas, coffee and a freshly baked cake. Should you be considering your own journey to Meran and its environs, might I wholeheartedly recommend considering lodging at the Bäcksteinerhof. You can learn more about it by accessing their webpage at: http://www.baecksteinerhof.com/.

The splendid room that Susi and I occupied was blessed with a southerly view overlooking the wide expanse of the valley far below and the range of mountains on the other side. We had a balcony on which we would sit in the evenings as the 35+-deg. heat of the day cooled and light evening breezes refreshed….. sipping a local red in between mouthfulls of aging gorgonzola, salami and thin crusty bread…watching the stars appear both in our clear sky and in the homes below and on the mountainside. 

Our days were slow and romantic as we wandered the paths around and through Meran (a 30-minute walk from our rooms), tracing the steps of the many who have come to this very place for ‘the cure’. For the waters about and under Meran are said to possess unique elemental qualities that can rejuvenate the old, fortify the young and bring contentment to all those in between.

The Kurstadt Meran (Merano)

A brief pass through a local cemetery reveals that this quaint notion might have been more in thought than deed, as the majority of stones suggest that those seeking the cure ended up finding their final eternal relief whilst in Meran. Indeed, one could see grave after grave marking the earthly bed of a Prince from Liechtenstein, a Polish Baroness, a wealthy American, Russian nobility, Prussian senior officers….so many nobles and notables…all who arrived in Meran for the cure, and stayed. 

Midday Summer promenades along the Passerfluss (the river Passer) surrounding the walled city of Meran took us past the elegant 19th century Kurhaus, where Kaiser and Queen took the waters…past shaded cafes giving pleasant pause where Susi and I sipped ice coffees in an attempt to escape the Mediterranean midday heat…to a bench aside the Passerfluss under a large tree…sinking into elderly half-sleep to the steady lull of flowing river waters. 

Evening meals at the local inn, the Mosl, were simple and of overwhelmingly large portions. Our guilt from gluttony was assuaged, however, by our after-meal treks back up the hillside to our rooms. Each step took us higher amongst the endless groves of young very green apples. November in Obermais…and indeed, the whole of the Südtirol…will become a very busy place as pickers from across Europe will converge here and set to work harvesting the millions of tons to be sent to markets and into storage. The mountains will be covered by humanity then, toiling to bring this treasure under cover before the first ever-threatening hailstorms begin. 

Susi and I also walked the ‘Wallweg’…a thin forest path dug into the earth and stone of the steep mountainsides, along which miles of trenches have been dug by hand. It is along these Walle that the precious mountain waters flow from high atop the surrounding peaks down the mountains to the valley and river below. Shunts have been built into the main artery along the entire length of the Wall, such than water can be carefully channeled to each farm. There is a team of  inspectors who ensure that the trenches are cleared of debris. There are no engines to drive this process….no mechanics to repair faulty pumps…it is simply melting Winter snows and gravity that drive this simple elegant system. It has functioned as such for many centuries and, precluding any further human or otherwise catastrophic intervention, will probably continue to do so for countless harvests to come. 

Susi and I had heard from friends that whilst in Meran, it is essential to pay a visit to the nearby Schloss (Castle) Trauttmansdorff located but a short drive from Obermais.  The castle itself has been the seat of Austrian nobility since the 14th century.  It has had a tumultuous history that has seen it fall to ruin and restoration (see: http://www.trauttmansdorff.it/History.html). Today, the castle is a museum surrounded by some of the most glorious international gardens in the world. Although only opened to the public since 2001, these gardens have already become one of the world’s most visited.

Schloss Trauttmansdorff

The gardens are divided into four major themes…forests of the world, the sun gardens, landscapes of the South Tirol and the water and terraced gardens. There are miles of paths connecting the palette of colors and shapes…a botanical paradise sporting representatives from every clime and altitude. There are cacti, a sheath of sand shaded by large palm trees, roses, lily-laden ponds stocked with fish from Japan, meadows and thick forests and a pair of high-altitude lookouts from which observers can view the schloss and its rolling environs.  The gardens and schloss combined are so expansive that what was originally anticipated to take but a few hours turned into a full day of exploration. More information on these magnificant gardens can be found at: http://www.trauttmansdorff.it/The_Gardens_new091009_The_Four_Garden_Worlds.html

After some days, it became clear to Susi and me that it was time to move on, and we sadly departed Obermais and once again took to the local roads..this time headed back toward Austria. We elected to employ an alternate route….not only for a change of scenery, but in order to prevent an encore of Susi’s previous bout with my mountain driving. Yes, the more placid route via the Reschen Pass would be the best option. After detouring briefly toward Bozen (Bolzano) where we purchased a couple of large clay pots (for which this area is famous) for Susi’s plants, we took to the route toward home. It wound its placid way through some of the most beautiful scenery one can imagine…replete with ancient villages, monasteries, castles and other fortifications from wars past and very far past. 

Susi and I paused in our travels in an area known as the Reschen Heide…a rolling expanse of green surrounded by high-snow-topped peaks. A midday coffee at the Cafe Andrea quite unexpectedly revealed to us that we were within a short walk to Mals…one of the most ancient villages lining this old trade route connecting Italy to Austria and Switzerland. Ones attention is immediately drawn to the five towers that dominate the skyline. We had to investigate, and temporarily abandoning our car, made our way into the village.

The Medieval Village of Mals (Malles) at the Foot of the Reschen Pass

Mals was much older than I had thought…a pre-Roman Empire agrarian community nestled at the base of sheltering hills. Immediately one could see lines of Gothic period stone walls into which private dwelling had been built. The first tower one encounters is that of the oldest Church in this part of the Tirol…the 8th century Church of St. Benedict. It was small, built for a small village of that time.

The 8th Century Benediktskirche (Church of St. Benedict) in Mals. It is one of the oldest Churches in all of the Tirol. The tower was built later, in the 12th century. This church contains paintings and frecoes that are amongst the oldest in all of the German speaking nation-states of Europe.

A few streets away, one could see another church bell tower…this one from the 14th century….and there, a few streets away again, was another tower of a church built in the 16th century. For you see, unlike some many other sites where Churches were built on the exact same sites as their predecessors (and in the process, destroying or updating the older structures), churches in the this part of the Tirol were lovingly maintained and preserved. As villages and populations grew, rather than replace the older buildings with larger newer ones, a new Church was built a few streets away. This practice is but one reason why so many ancient Italian villages still are dominated by these picturesque reminders of a long colorful history.

Ancient Dwellings in Mals (Malles)

We arrived back in Pinswang this past Wednesday, to be greeted by high winds, hail and fierce rain storms..typical for this time of the North Tirolean year. We had little respite, however, before the next bout of festivities commenced. It is the celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Herz Jesu)…an historic religious and national fest whereby portions of the alpine surround are set alight in the symbols of our faith….large crosses, hearts and other symbols are created by setting lantern fires up on the mountainsides and even atop on many peaks. In the Summer dark, Susi and I could stand in the field about out house and see these fires ablaze, some set many miles away. It is a glorious sight that is hard to describe.  

Yesterday, Sunday, following Mass, we celebrated once again..this time for our local patron Saint…Ulrich, whose name graces our village Church. It all started at about 1030 and went well into the evening…wonderful music, lots of food, lots of beer…much friendship as many from the village were joined by guests on holiday. Susi and I headed off at about 1630 after a full day…leaving behind only the heartiest to hold down the fort until the benches were eventually stacked and tables folded in the glow of the spots shining on the Ulrichskirche late last night.

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Responses

  1. What a wonderful journey. I liked it all, but was drawn especially to the celebration of the Sacred Heart right back in your own area. We have lost so many of these traditions in modern-day culture, and it is nice to see that they still survive.


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