Escape to Italy’s secret beauty spot
Hiking, fine food and jaw-dropping scenery are on the menu at this under-the-radar destination
Words by Ute Junker
Photo by Kordula Vahle via Pixabay
Originally published in Traveller
If I didn’t know better, I would say we have taken a wrong turn. The deeper we head into Alto Adige, Italy’s northern-most province, the more I feel we have accidentally crossed a border and strayed into neighbouring Austria. Instead of the rolling hills and fertile plains that characterise much of Italy, studded with baroque cities and charming hill towns, we find ourselves in a very different landscape. Here, verdant green slopes rise to cloud-scraping peaks, punctuated by swathes of pine forests and picturesque Alpine villages.
There is a reason for this distinctly Teutonic vibe. This province, also known by its German name of Sudtirol, was part of Austria until the end of World War I, and German is still widely-spoken. It has long been popular with European skiers; locals will proudly tell you that there are more than 1200 kilometres of ski slopes. However, the area’s stunning peaks and high plains – which have scored a UNESCO World Heritage listing for their exceptional beauty as well as their geomorphology – are increasingly drawing summer visitors who have realised that the Dolomites offer some of the most scenic hikes in Europe. Which is why, when we wake up on our first morning in the mountains, the first thing we do is to reach for our walking shoes.
The area is so rich in trails that choosing which one to tackle first is difficult. So we outsource our decision-making to Agustina. Agustina, like most locals, is an outdoors type. Her job involves leading hikes in summer and ski safaris in winter; on her days off, she does pretty much the same thing.
Agustina is looking forward to today’s hike. “It’s a really beautiful area,” she says. I ask her how long the hike will take. “Five, six, seven hours … it really depends on you,” she says.
“Um, I think we’re more short-trail hikers,” I say, cautiously. “Maybe three hours?”
“We’ll see how you go,” she answers. “There are always options.”
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