Saturday, September 24, 2016

Down from the Mountains

Whenever we visit Italy - which we have been doing every year for the past six or seven years - it is usually to the Mediterranean coast because I am such a lover of the sea. But Sky also has a great love of mountains. So this year, as a special treat for him, I organized a trip to the far north of Italy, to the Dolomites.
As usual, we came overland - train from London to Paris, Paris to Zurich and then down into Italy, watching with fascination as Alpine Switzerland gradually morphed into Alpine Italy. I had often wondered what it would be like to live in that border country. So we rented an apartment for a week in the beautiful little town of Ortisei, nestled in a valley between majestic mountains, where everybody lives in gorgeous, Tyrolean-style gingerbread houses bedecked with flowers and you would swear you are on a set for The Sound of Music and yet people are speaking Italian. However many also speak German and a lot of the signage is in both German and Italian. This area once was a part of Austria called South Tyrol but at some point in history it changed hands and became part of Italy called Trentino-Alto Adige. It is fascinating to see this blend of cultures.
Here is Garni Salegg, where we stayed: 

This was the view from our balcony:

It would be hard to find a more picturesque little town than Ortisei, nestling in a little green valley called the Val Gardena. Here's a view down the main street with Sky in the foreground:

And here is a view up the street in the other direction: 
Wood carving is the local cottage industry and there are interesting, innovative examples everywhere you look. (These carved figures have bee colonies living in their tummies!)

For the first couple of days we concentrated on exploring the town and taking some walks in the valley. Then we bought ourselves a three-day pass for all the lifts and cable cars, of which there is quite a variety. We started off by taking a cable car up to Seceda, at seven thousand feet... 

...and hiking across the Alpine meadows... an interesting rock formation called Pieralonga. 

There, we had a picnic lunch beside a mountain hut. What a glorious feeling, being on the roof of the world!

The following day, we rode the funicular to Resciesa, high up on the western side of the Val Gardena.

There, we enjoyed a cup of coffee on the terrace as we gazed out at the beautiful mountain scenery.

 In the afternoon, we took a bus down to Selva at to the other end of the valley and rode a cable car up on the eastern side to a spot called Ciampinoi. The views from here were amazing.

On the third day, yet another cable car ride on the  eastern side, this time from Ortisei, took us up to six thousand feet and to the edge of a glorious, undulating plateau called the Alpe de Suisi, dotted with trees and criss-crossed by trails, some of which wound their way up into the far mountains. There, we took two short hikes, one part way down into a shallow valley...
... and the other along the edge, with magnificent views of the mountains.

After a wonderful week of 'ups and downs' in this delightful little corner of the Alps, we spent a few days in Verona. The weather was hot and Verona was extremely crowded with tourists... 
...especially around the area of 'Juliet's balcony' (so called). 
However we enjoyed walking around the city and our little B&B on the bank of the River Adige was a delightful and very atmospheric place to stay. 
After Verona, we headed south and east towards the Abruzzo, a rugged mountain region of Italy that we had never visited before. Here, we enjoyed a peaceful week in an apartment in the historic centre of Sulmona. This time there were no crowds, and almost no tourists at all and everything felt very laid back. Sulmona, with its narrow streets and ancient alleyways...
 ...and its beautifully preserved medieval aqueduct... a most pleasant place to visit...

...and a great base for anyone planning to explore the Abruzzo's several national parks.

One of Sulmona's claims to fame (as well as being the birthplace of Ovid) is its'confetti' stores, of which there are at least a dozen along the main street. Whoever knew that so much could be done with one simple confection, i.e.sugared almonds?!

Yes, all the bright and flowery things you see in this picture are sugared almonds.

It was a great trip to the mountains, to Verona and to Sulmona. And now it's over.

After a four-day train journey via Milan, Geneva, Paris and London, we are home again.
(And already planning our next adventure.)