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TRAVEL

THE ALPE DI SIUSI IS FAMOUS FOR ITS

SKIING, BUT ONCE THE SNOW MELTS

IT BECOMES A HIKERS' HEARTLAND,

CRISS†CROSSED 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.

CULTURAL MIX

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.

OUTDOOR PLAYGROUND

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.

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