If, like us, the thought of spending your precious holiday half way up a mountain, shivering your ass off while trying to navigate back down without breaking a leg, fills you with fear, you’ve probably never considered a trip to the Dolomites.
However, it turns out this mountainous stretch of Northern Italy is a fab little destination for the summer months too! Who knew!
Bordering Austria, residents here speak both Italian and German, as well as Ladin in some parts, which makes for an interesting blend of food (pasta AND apple strudel!), culture and landscape.
Flying into fair Verona (of Romeo & Juliet fame), we were hit by the balmy temperatures of mid-twenties in mid-September. However, South Tyrol is another 3 hours by car so don’t forget to pack snacks and a jazzy piece of knitwear to keep the chill off, temperatures can drop slightly in the mountains.
We stayed in the picture postcard village of San Vigilio di Marebbe. With mountains & pine trees wrapping around you in all directions, the cosy wooden huts have a distinctly alpine feel to them, and luckily for us, ours came complete with a full on ‘wellness’ area. Not quite in need of a rest just yet, we dived straight into the local activities on offer.
Having not ridden a bike in about 20 years it was with some trepidation that I approached my designated e-bike. For those of you not au fait with this contraption of the future, it’s a bike with a little motor to whizz you up the hard bits and stop you from breaking a sweat. Finally, exercise we can get on board with! But seriously, we’ve never had so much fun cycling the pleasant 12km up towards Fanes Sennes Braies natural park. It took all of our self-control not to keep hopping off for photos, it’s just so beautiful here.
We passed tinkling streams, rustic huts, huge pines and some very handsome cows.
Fully embracing our new found adventurer spirit, after cycling back down towards the village (we say cycling, really it was just letting gravity take its course) we let a strange man harness us up, put us in the back of his 4×4 and drive us up a very dodgy dirt track.
Yep, we went zip lining. And not just any old zip lining. The Dolomites is home to Europe’s biggest zip line, boasting 10 lines back to back over 3km, with a good 400 metre drop off the ground against the most breathtaking background. Swallowing our fear, once my cable was fastened (and triple, triple checked) away we went. It was AMAZING. Priced at just 59 euros, it’s a great value activity, incredible fun and you’ll feel like a complete boss once you’ve done it. Sorry if you heard my swearing from here.
By this point we had reached peak adventure. Time to explore the spa facilities. We got changed into our comfy white gown and set up residence by the pool, book in hand. We actually had the whole place to ourselves, the only noise disturbing the peace was the relaxing waterfall feature. After a dunk in the whirlpool we headed downstairs where the wellness area continues. You’ll find an impressive array of options and directions to make sure you’re getting the most of them.
Start by activating your circulation in the Kneipp pools (a form of hydrotherapy involving stepping in hot and cold bowls), before moving on to the Classic or Finnish sauna, the Turkish steam room and finally the Aromarium (the aromatic lavender was surely the reason we slept like a baby).
Fully revived, the following day we took a scenic car trip along winding mountain roads (plenty more photo ops here), followed by a cable car ride up to Val Gardena where we embarked on a bracing hike in search of the promised Hugo.
If you’re not yet familiar with Hugo, do let us explain. He isn’t the smouldering, handsome mountaineer you may have in mind, no, it’s the most delicious, fragrant, light aperitif made of prosecco, elderflower and mint and it happens to originate in South Tyrol. You’ll find it sold everywhere and we couldn’t get enough.
Unfortunately we didn’t have mini motors powering us up the hills today so only made it as far as Troier Hut, a cute pit stop where we devoured plates of spinach dumplings, alpine cheese, cured meat and plenty of Hugo. If you can find the extra energy, continue onwards towards Sofie Hut for a more refined offering. Despite being 2000 metres above sea level, they have an impressive wine cellar and their very own gin, distilled on site and only available here. If that doesn’t spur you on, we don’t know what will.
Before heading back to the airport you must visit the Zaha Hadid designed Messner Mountain Museum, again only accessible via cable car (you quickly get used to this as a standard mode of transport around here). Even if you’re not big into Italian mountaineering, the breath-taking beauty of the building is worth experiencing alone. It’s a magnificent final viewing platform to take in all the natural beauty before you say goodbye.
With a little Hugo hangover, having discovered our inner adrenaline junky and with a newfound appreciation for all things alpine, we took in our last big gulp of crisp mountain air and sadly said goodbye to South Tyrol.
Who knows, maybe next time we’ll even try skiing.
For more info visit: http://www.suedtirol.info/en