This was the first year since living in Berlin that I’ve had the feeling the city is getting under my skin and I have to get out. The city is busy and I can’t get a minute of calm; riding out to the lake ends up in one catastrophe after another (no parking spots, kids jumping on my head, sudden thunderstorms). Berlin has its hidden exiles but they don’t last for long if you really need a break. But where to go?
I have never been to the mountains. I’ve seen mountains before, but they hadn’t been intimidating or massive and they didn’t take over the whole sky. I’m ashamed to say I never wanted to see the mountains either. My vision of vacations have always been limited to city travels or beach bumming. Hiking – or any other sporty activity, really – belongs to my list of “things to avoid always at any time in life”. Maybe I’m getting old, but I didn’t want to see yet another city, I’ve had enough of cities. I wanted to get out. When Nico and I were offered a short summer trip to South Tyrol I honestly didn’t know what to expect. “It’s going to be hot”, they told me. “You’ll have to climb up the mountain”, they told me. Needless to say: I was scared.
But our trip to Alto Adige, that wonderful little sovereign part of Italys north, was one of the best short trips I’ve ever done, and this time I’m not being hyperbolic. Alto Adige -South Tyrol – is all but Italian. It’s a weird but fantastic mix of everything good in Austria/Germany and everything great in Italy. Infrastructure and economy, being independently governed, resemble what we know from here (meaning: everything works as it should). But the rest, i.e. the spirit, the culinary uniqueness, the temper tends to be Italian. And that is something so charmingly special, you’ll ask yourself why the whole world can’t be like that (then you remember that Berlin, being an exile for every nationality, is kind of like that- just busier, more hectic, and definitely with no escape plan). Bonus point: you can reach it quite quickly. No need to plan ahead for months.
We set out in Munich by renting a car from the airport and made our way south. It takes about three hours to get to South Tyrol from there and its quite a nice ride. Once the Brenner Pass becomes visible on the horizon you’ll feel the first ting of humility under your skin; I’d feel very small whenever I saw a new, massive mountain appear in front of me. At one point I realized: wow, we’re already high up, looking down from the autobahn-bridge. It’s crazy- suddenly you’re so far away from everything you’re visually used to.
Our first stop: Franzensfeste Fortezza, an old fortress built by the Austrians, which is now used as an event space and general venue. At the time of our visit, the 50x50x50 Art Südtirol exhibition was on display in the many chambers of the fortress. Fifty artists from or living in South Tyrol contributed their works to the exhibition. – Website
But had come to take over the mountains, so we moved on. In Brixen we made our first contact with the beauty of South Tyrols nature and the wonderful regional cuisine. South Tyrol is famous for its wines and a unique mix of rustic yet elegant cuisine. The so called “Buschenschank” we ate at cares for a careful South Tyrol kitchen. Buschenschanks are taverns, small restaurants, usually owned by wine growers, and usually sell limited regional foods. Expect Schüttelbrot, fresh apple juice, intense cheeses and a decadent assortment of sweet desserts. But most importantly: expect them to be cozy and comfy.
After a good nights sleep in a regional bed and breakfast, we finally did it. While I was probably more scared by getting pulled up in the cable car, the paragliding jump was both terrifying and beautiful. I’d never felt such a rush before. This is like nothing I’ve ever done before – the whole world beneath my feet, and me, screaming, feeling like a complete idiot but having the time of my life (there was actually a GoPro video taken of the whole flight and I had seriously considered publishing it, but I think seeing my reaction would just prevent any interested people in trying paragliding). – Website
We didn’t stay on the ground for long. We picked up our mountainbikes and got into the cable car yet again. Our mission was to ride upwards to a nice guesthouse atop the mountain, Schatzerhütte auf der Plose. Let me just say this: I am SO out of shape. The tour wasn’t too difficult (I think), but more than once did we have to stop so I could take a breath. Do you know how tough it is to consequently ride upwards without any sign of success? Although admittedly I did also stop a few times to pet the cows. Cows! Why don’t we have more cows in Görlitzer Park?
Arriving at the Schatzerhütte – a restaurant and guesthouse on the mountain, very lovely and popular with the locals – just as the sun set was probably the most rewarding experience of my life. That mountainbike ride really got the best of us. We were hungry, almost starved, and completely exhausted. It had rained in the meantime and we felt that the air we were breathing didn’t contain enough oxygen to keep us alive. But all that combined made us ironically feel more alive than ever. The view from the mountain… you should not miss out on that. It grounds you. And no thought goes astray: everything of importance is right here.
There’s probably no need to mention how great the food tasted that night. Even without the exhaustion it would have been delicious. The basic menu of the Schatzerhütte is homegrown and organic. It’s just something entirely different. The homemade bread and jams, the freshly brewed coffee. Just thinking about it right now makes me want to beam myself back. A thunderstorm and a big full moon opposite our hut accompanied us through the night. The Schatzerhütte taught us a different kind of basic luxury for a very affordable price per night. I highly recommend visiting this place if you ever get close to South Tyrol. – Website
We spent the rest of our stay in Bozen, where we rented out E-Bikes, visited a nearby lake, jumped into the ice cold stream of the wonderful little city and ate some of the best ice cream to be found in Italy.
Nico and I originally had some plans to discover the old industrial architecture of Bozen and ended up just lazying around on the grass, really not even willing to talk to another. The sun kept our mouths shut. Our thoughts drifted back to the mountaintop. We’re definitely going back there – maybe next winter. Nothing compares to that view from a mountaintop and to that exhaustion in your body when you’ve really given all to get there. The thrill of jumping down on in a paragliding-chute and screaming your lungs out in excitement. The relief when you finally – finally – reach your destination after a long hike and you’re warmly welcomed with an amazing sunset and the freshest air you’ve ever tasted. The charm of the little towns in the valleys that tend to heat up in the summer, the fresh produce and that ever confusing mix of Austrian-German and Italian culture… I don’t even want to imagine how wonderful it must be in the winter. South Tyrol is famous for its ski regions and range of winter sports areas- so I did have a picture of what it must be like there although I’ve never been skiing in my life. But in the summer… in the summer it is the perfect escape. A day on a mountain feels like three in Berlin.
Bozen is very easy to discover by bike, especially when its got some extra-power. We rented our bikes from Südtirol Rad in the South of Bozen. – Website
Dining at Haselburg is a wonderful experience. The view over Bozen is not just romantic but stunning as well, with a clever kitchen that choses from local produce. Even if you’d rather just enjoy the view, visit the Skybar instead of the restaurant. – Website
Hidden somewhere outside the tourist center, the Gelateria Avalon is supposedly one of the best ice cream parlors in the whole of Italy. I’m pretty sure whoever said that was right. – Website
Open doors: this bar is for those who like to enjoy the Bozen breeze. Local favorites such as Hugo are a must at Fischbänke. Decorated with all sorts of funny philosophical ruminations, this bar makes for a perfect quick stop. – Website
There’s something about being so close to nature without any distractions. You calm down, mesmerized by the view. Nothing needs to be on your mind. There is no need to read a book or watch TV or use your phone up there. And who cares about the crowded beach with its annoying sand and screaming children. South Tyrol has cows and rabbits and entheal thunderstorms, man. Nico and I were captivated by the movement and the exhaustion that would then be compensated by the view, the cool drinks and the wonderful, wonderful food.
And here’s one thing I personally learned from this trip: there’s no need to go far away to experience new and exciting things. Especially in the summer, when everybody is hunting for beach vacations deals (and end up on overfilled or overpriced tourist traps), it’s way more economically feasible, ecologically responsible and definitely thrilling to opt for the mountains.
Stay tuned for the video of our South Tyrol trip and check out Saras travel blog 80days if you’re interested in more stories about places beyond Berlin.