I keep getting drawn to Italy’s ‘Sud Tirol’ or ‘Alto Adige’ area, around Bolzano and Merano. I suppose it is because there are few places more beautiful or hospitable than this one, and it has grown to become one of our favourites over the years.
This little tale is about an interesting natural sight just above the city of (Bozen) Bolzano called the Ritten (Renon) plateau.
Because this is a bilingual area, you almost always see name places or street signs in both German and Italian. This can be a little confusing to visitors when they first visit the area, but you soon get used to it, and generally choose one language or the other. For instance, Bolzano is the Italian name for that city, and it is called ‘Bozen’ in German. I always call it Bolzano. As the locals learn both languages all their life, they easily switch from one language to another, and are also trained in English, which makes it easy for tourists like myself.
The Ritten (Renon) plateau is a location high (over 900 metres) above and south of Bolzano. Because this area was mainly German speaking before it was ceded to Italy, it is still a German speaking district now (about 69%). Although today, one can drive up to this area, it used to be only accessible by a mountain cable car (Seilbahn) (Funivia) from Bolzano up to the plateau. This is still the most interesting way to access the Ritten plateau, as you sail over the forests, villages and farms, with excellent views of the famous ‘Earth Pyramids’.
The Seilbahn, or mountain cable car, began in about 1907, when they decided to extend the tramcar system of Bolzano to extend up to Klobenstein on the Ritten plateau. The story of this Seilbahn is another interesting one, involving many changes and growth pains over the years. The Ritten area became a popular holiday location for the residents of Bolzano, and soon grew into a popular tourist destination, because of cooler summer temperatures, and spectacular views of the Dolomites from there.
Once you arrive up on the plateau, there are several villages and farms spread out for miles. These are linked together by an old electric tramcar train (Rittnerbahn) that was started in 1907, and travels from Maria Himmelfahrt about 6.6 km. to Klobenstein. I must say, each of these locations has a story attached to them, which I will have to save for another time.
A short note: ‘Bahn’ is the German word for train, thus ‘Rittnerbahn’. The Italian word for train is ‘Ferrovia’, so this becomes ‘Ferrovia del Renon’.
When we first visited this area and took our first ride on this train, somebody told me the trams were old tramcars from Lisbon, Portugal, which have an interesting history as well. I could not confirm this story, as now, they are old trams brought from Esslingen, Germany.
The short ride between these two locations is a wonderful experience! Especially the old tramcar, rocking and rolling along a one meter gauge track, through the trees, past farms and residences, sometimes picking up or dropping off the locals on their everyday life. All the high-school kids from the farms and villages travel down to Bolzano in the morning and return in the afternoon. We have ridden with this boisterous crowd several times, both on the Seilbahn and the train! It is probably one of the most interesting 6.6 kilometres you will experience! We have taken several friends and relatives on this trip while touring the Sud Tirol, and they all enjoyed the experience immensely!
Back to the subject of this tale . . . “Ritten’s Earth Pyramids”, (German – Erdpyramiden am Ritten, Italian – Piramidi di terra del Renon ). These geologic formations are natural formations originating from glacial moraine rocks. They are constantly eroding, evolving into the sharp, peaked formations, usually with a rock cap we see today.
To quote the local tourist office, “They emerge from the forest like sharp teeth. The material comes from moraine clays deposited by erosion in the ice age creating these interesting pinnacles that are today a symbolic feature of the municipality of Renon (Ritten).
There are several areas around the Sud Tirol that have Earth Pyramids, but the ones alongside the Rittnerbahn are quite spectacular and easy to see.
Another note of interest regarding the Sud Tirol: when we first visited this area, we noticed many of the farmers, shop keepers and people working in the markets all wore a blue apron, a deep beautiful blue.. We found later, that this was almost a uniform, a traditional garb worn by all the ‘Sud-Tirolers’, even the farmers working on the farm wore them, we would see them out in the fields, in the stores, markets and basically everywhere. We also noticed it had become a great tourist item, which they sold wherever possible, with various greetings sewn on to them, with or without a Sud Tirol crest. Of course, we had to buy one, or two, or three?
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