THE ALPE DI SIUSI IS FAMOUS FOR ITS
SKIING, BUT ONCE THE SNOW MELTS
IT BECOMES A HIKERS' HEARTLAND,
CRISSCROSSED BY TRAILS
such as fruit growing, dairy farming and
viticulture. More recently, it's also become
known for a range of outdoor pursuits -
skiing, rock-climbing and cycling, as well
as the high-altitude assault courses known
as via ferrata.
I've come here to hike from my base
at the delightfully secluded Hotel Briol,
hidden in the mountains above the village
of Barbiano and accessible only by 4x4.
Established in the late 19th century,
the hotel's rooms are rustic and woodpanelled,
there's no phone reception,
Wi-Fi or television, and everyone is
served the same menu at dinner, but it's
anything but dull.
In many ways, Italy's most northerly
province feels more Teutonic than Latin.
For much of its history it was part of the
Austrian Empire, before being seceded
to Italy after WWII. Consequently, it's
a confusion of cultures. Nearly everyone
speaks both German and Italian, road
signs are always given in both languages,
and every village has at least two names.
But it's at the dinner table where things
get really confusing. Like all Italians,
Südtirolers are passionate about food,
and there's no shortage of pizza and
pasta - especially the local speciality
of schlutzkrapfen, ravioli stuffed with
spinach and ricotta. But much of the
food has a distinctly Austrian flavour,
including the stodgy knödl (dumplings),
meaty sausages and thick-cut speck (cured
ham). Südtirol is also celebrated for its
fruit, particularly its apples, used to make
organic juices and fiery schnapps.
Every year, Südtirol celebrates its
seasonal bounty with harvest-time feasts
known as torgellen. It's for this reason
(and also to avoid hiking in the heat of
summer) that I've scheduled my visit for
early autumn. I begin with a feast at a
local farm, where I'm seated at a wooden
table with the other guests and tuck into
smoked ham, sausages and sauerkraut,
followed by bowls of freshly roasted
chestnuts, which we peel by hand, trying
not to scorch our fingers.
Afterwards, I visit Neustift Abbey,
one of South Tyrol's oldest and most
prestigious vineyards. I head down into
the musty cellars, where the wines are
aged in wooden barrels, protected by the
cool, constant climate, and then try recent
vintages: crisp, dry whites and robust,
fruity reds made from South Tyrol's
signature grapes, Kerner and Lagrein.
�e tasting continues long into the night.
After my indulgences, it's time to burn
some calories, so I take the cable car up
to the mountain plateau known as Alpe
di Siusi, one of Europe's largest alpine
playgrounds. In winter, it's famous for its
skiing, both downhill and cross-country,
but once the snow melts it becomes a
hikers' heartland, criss-crossed by trails.
I tackle a four-hour loop to the Witches'
Benches, a rugged area once believed
to have been haunted by phantoms and
sorceresses - but the only sign of life I find
is a mountain refuge, where the warden
serves me a hearty lunch of meat, cheese
and beer, followed by a fortifying apple
schnapps. With majestic mountain views
on all sides, it wasn't a bad lunch stop.