Friday, July 24, 2015

Spontaneous travel - Merano Hohenweg hiking path - Naturns, South Tyrol, Northern Italy

Have you ever traveled spontaneously not knowing where the next destination will be or are you a trip planner with a detailed itinerary pre-planned ahead of time? Both have its pros and cons.  When we take on world family travel, incorporating a bit of both is our style.  When we traveled to China in 2013, the first half of our trip was planned – locations picked and hostels booked with a basic yet flexible itinerary of what we wanted to see and do. We left the second half open for spontaneous travel to see where our adventures would lead us.  It worked then so we went with that travel style again for our 2015 Central Europe family travel adventure.

Sitting at the train station in Freilassing, a small municipality in the southeastern corner of Bavaria Germany, marked the tail end of our planned travel plans.  We were saying goodbye to family who we had travelled the past 10 days with, sending them off on their next planned travel adventures.  Our next destination was undetermined at this point. Joel and I had discussed going back to the Czech Republic, a place we had traveled to earlier in the trip. Possibly visit Cesky Krumlov, a small city in the South Bohemian region of Czech Republic.  But nothing had been decided yet so as far as I knew, Joel, standing at the Bahn ticket booth (German rail), was researching possible train routes to the Czech Republic.  Distracted with giving hugs and well wishes to family, I almost didn’t notice Joel who was suddenly standing beside me.  But the smug look on his face immediately told me something was up and the train tickets in hand confirmed my suspicions.  He quietly asks me, “Wanna go to Italy?”

We now had a destination - Naturns, a municipality in the province of South Tyrol in Northern Italy.  With a bit of research during our train ride from Bavaria we knew there were plenty of outdoor adventure possibilities in Naturns. Mountain Biking, rafting, and hiking topped our list. Narrowing the choice came down to affordability, being we were half way thru our trip.  Hiking was the obvious choice given no rentals or tour costs involved.  Reality of family travel is making sure you have a budget and stick to it.

The part I love most about unplanned travel is the freedom to slow down and just take in the travel moments as they happen. It was the first time all trip where we did not have to be somewhere at a specific time. For Joel and me, it was a relief. Time to relax and appreciate being in such a beautiful place.  Ben and Liv appreciated the morning swim in the indoor garden pool.  Another reality of family travel – allowing simple pleasures the kids enjoy.

Naturns lies in the valley between the Sonnenberg and Norderberg mountains, both slopes easily accessible by roads, trails, and cable cars.  It was no coincidence we found ourselves at the Unterstell cable car during our late morning stroll.  We had successfully convinced Ben and Liv that we were hiking up a mountain but they quickly figured out we were joking when they saw the cable car.  Ahhh, the joys of parenting – torturing your kids.

The cable car brought us up to 1300m on the alpine slopes of Sonnenberg and from here deciding a hiking path and what centuries old farmhouse hut we were going to stop at was considered our difficult task of the day.  I was amazed at the numerous choices we had and even more amazed with the beautiful views of the valley below.


We had the freedom to choose our own trail without any limitations.  Our feet took us along the beautiful Merano Hohenweg trekking path where we found ourselves at the back steps of the Galmein Hut. Each farmhouse hut along Sonnenberg has its own unique character.  The Galmein Hut, set in an alpine pasture, was a working family farmhouse complete with chickens, goats, cows, large gardens and pastures.

With the Naturns region being such a popular tourist location, farmhouses add to their livelihood by offering accommodation to multi day trekkers, serve authentic South Tyrolean cuisine, local beer and wine.  After perusing the menu, by that I mean trying to identify something familiar, we ordered our meals and drinks using a point and nod type method. Language barriers can be easily fixed thru simple gestures.

Our selections were fabulous and turned out to be one of the best meals we had during our entire trip. Hauswurst mit bratkartoffeln (homemade lamb sausage and fried potatoes) and spaghetti mit tomate. Keeping with the area we are traveling in, Joel selected an Italian premium pale lager brewed in nearby Merano, Forst Beir.  I enjoyed an Italian red wine from the Bolzano region and Ben and Liv sampled Spezi, a cola and orange soda mixture. If only all our hiking meals cold be this delightful.

Freedom had us back on the trekking path. All day Joel kept dropping hints about reaching a cross that we could just barely see atop a peak called Kirchbachspitze. We were hiking at an elevation of 1653m.  The peak in question was 3053m and the trail intersection ahead stated 4.5 hours to the top.

It was too late in the afternoon for us to be tackling that with Ben and Liv. Not to mention the glorious meal and glasses of wine consumed.  Did I mention there were a few Bolzano wines I tried back at the Galmein Hut? But the temptation was too great for Joel.  He decided to give it a go.  We sorted out our packs making sure he had what he needed and we parted ways.  For the rest of the afternoon, Ben, Liv and I sauntered back down the steep slopes of Sonnenberg. Even though the alpine was accessible by cable car, both up and down, I came here to hike even if just on principal. 

By 5pm, the kids and I were back at our penzion.  We took our time hiking down, stopping to investigate and watch every reptile (small lizard) we happened upon.  It was a perfect end to a perfect day of freedom.  Now, we wait for dad’s arrival and look forward to hearing all about his summit adventure. We waited, waited, and waited until finally around 8pm he returned and shared his story.
Joel never did make it to the peak of Kirchbachspitze but that does not mean it was without reward.  I am going to leave you with two photos Joel shared on Instagram of what he experienced in his own words.

[above photo] Shepard’s hut enroute to Kirchbachspitze (peak), Naturno, Italy.  It’s got a spectacular view of the South Tyrol mountains, 2 single beds with bedding (straw) and room for 10 sheep in the adjoining stable.  Best not forget the eggs or milk…up and down the 2700m of elevation to the nearest grocery store a grunt for sure.

[above photo] Kirchbachspitze, Naturno, Italy. Looking up from the trail below the summit was calling.  The signpost said 4.5 hrs to stand atop, 1400m elevation gain…it was 3pm so I needed to shave off 2-2.5 hrs off the expected time. Up and down Mt. Benson (Nanaimo, BC) two times I figured in comparison to something I know…that’s doable in two hours.  Wrong, wrong I was.  An unrelenting steepness and two weeks of beer, Weiner schnitzel and delicious bread left me glaring at another hour of climbing when my point of no return had been pushed further than I should have.  Not the first peak I’ve had to retreat from in defeat, definitely not the last. I headed back down the trail to the tinkling sounds of bells from goats grazing on nearby slopes…all of a sudden making it to the top seemed a tiny little problem.  Funny where you find moments of clarity, for me it’s rarely been in victory. 

In the end, we all found freedom along the Merano Hohenweg Hiking Path but... left the area with some unfinished business. 

1 comment:

  1. I really love hiking and i was travelling to many places to do it. In conclusion i think the best trip where that to merano. From Val Passiria hotel i could easily arrive at the mountains. The nature was perfect and i had a lot of fun.