The Seilbahns of the South Tirol

Here we are, back on the ‘sunny side’ of the Alps.  Every time we visit this area, we try to have at least one excursion on a ‘Seilbahn’.  The German word Seilbahn (pronounced ‘sile-bon’) ‘Funivia’ in Italian: these are the amazing, exciting aerial cable cars that transport people up the mountain.  This includes skiers and other snow enthusiasts in the winter, and hikers and ‘wanderers’ the rest of the year.  In some cases, they transport workers or school children to and from school, much like an aerial school bus.

From the city of Bolzano (Bozen) in the Adige valley, there are at least three of these transports. They head from Bolzano on the valley floor, up the mountains surrounding the city, to other residential or business centres.  The first one I will describe, I have mentioned before in another ‘travel tale’.  The seilbahn that reaches up to the Kohlern mountain (Funivia del Colle), to our favourite hotel ‘Gasthof Kohlern’.  My first photo is of an old poster advertising a ‘very interesting’ trip on ‘suspension train’ from Bozen to Kohlern.

The first mountain cable car from author Ian Kent

The first mountain cable car

When we discovered this many years ago, we learned that this was the site of the very first mountain cable car, and there is a recreated duplicate of the original with a plaque commemorating this achievement.  It basically says:

“THE HISTORIC FUNICULAR

On 29 June 1908, the Kohlerer- funicular went into service in Bozen.  It was the first cable car in the world to carry passengers.  About 800m difference in altitude could be covered in 15 minutes (nowadays in 5 min.).  It was small idea by the innkeeper Josef Staffler to bring guests up to Kohlern in the summer to the inn of the same name for a holiday away from the heat of Bozen.”

Today’s Kohlern innkeeper and his family from Author Ian Kent
Today’s Kohlern innkeeper and his family

Across the valley from this, is the another car that rises to San Genesio.  This is the only one we have not ridden on, but many times we have watched it from across the valley, as we nursed our drinks and enjoyed the view of Bolzano below.  The Seilbahn cars are barely visible as they slowly ascend to San Genesio.  Below them, a winding road twists back and forth, making a path for cars that decided to drive up to San Genesio.  They sometimes disappear into the hillside, working their way up to the same destination.

The third one heads up to the Ritten Plateau, (Renon), which we have also talked about before.  This one ascends the mountain on the north end of Bolzano to the Ritten Plateau, meeting an old electric tram, that provides the remainder of the train commute from several small villages to the city below.

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If you follow the Adige River further up the Valley, you will find beautiful Merano (Meran), the one-time capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, also surrounded by mountains.  Nearby, in the village of Dorf Tirol, there is another seilbahn.  This one travels up to the top of ‘Hochmuth’, and travels over the tops of more ‘earth pyramids’, similar to what we saw near the Ritten Plateau.  At the highest point, we enjoyed a fabulous view of Merano and the Adige valley, as well as a lovely dinner at the ‘Dorf Tirol Restaurant’.

            Meran 2000 and Hirzer

I have saved these two seilbahns until last, as they are the highest and I think the most spectacular.  The first, and probably most well known is “Meran 2000”, very busy car that starts it’s climb just behind the Trauttmansdorff Castle Botanical Gardens (a subject of another story).  As the name Meran 2000 suggests, it takes you over 2000 metres (over 6500 feet) up the mountain.  This brings us into ‘Haflinger’ country, named after some beautiful chestnut horses that are true Tyrolean natives.  Haflingers are a relatively small horse, with a history of Arabian and Tyrolean stock, popular not only here, but all over the world now.

Meran 2000 - Haflinger country from Author Ian Kent
Meran 2000 – Haflinger country

At the summit is a ‘Berggasthof’ (mountain guest house) restaurant, a delightful, traditional alpine restaurant that can supply drinks and nourishment to hikers and other visitors.  From here, hiking trails continue for miles up and all over these mountains.

Berggasthof “Piffinger Köpfl” from Author Ian Kent
Berggasthof “Piffinger Köpfl

The last one, and probably my favourite, is the ‘Hirzer’ seilbahn.  This seilbahn runs from the ‘valley station’ at the village of Saltaus on the Passeiertal valley floor.  The first stage travels up to a ‘middle station’ at 1404 m. (4600 feet), then continues up with another cable car to the ‘mountain station’ at 1908 m (almost 6300 feet).

Hirzer seilbahn car from Author Ian Kent
Hirzer seilbahn car

The entire mountainside is an absolute delight!  Covered with alpine meadows, scattered with wild Azaleas and other wild flowers, all decorated with cows grazing leisurely over the hills. (can you hear the cowbells?)

Cows amongst the azaleas in the meadows from Author Ian Kent
Cows amongst the azaleas in the meadows
Diana with her Haflinger from Author Ian Kent
Diana with her Haflinger

Hiking trails are clearly marked and for serious hikers requiring overnight accommodation or shelter, alpine huts are scattered over the mountains.  This area is popular with hikers, mountain bikers, and the occasional tandem para-sailer, crazy people who leap off the mountain to experience the sheer beauty and excitement of gliding over the valley.

Of course, my favourite feature are the occasional restaurants one finds in many hiking areas in Europe.  At home, one might pack a sandwich with a bottle of water or a thermos. On this mountain, just when you feel hot and tired from your walk, you might discover a small restaurant perched on the edge of the mountain, ready to serve you a cold beer, a glass of wine, or even a substantial meal.  There we were, comfortably seated, enjoying a cold one, overlooking the fantastic views of the villages scattered thousands of feet below!  How civilized is that?

This was one of many times we ordered an omelette, cooked a little differently in the South Tirol.  I think they put some flour in the egg mixture, maybe to add substance for those hungry hikers.  You can also find bits of asparagus or sausage, an extra fried egg, and many other treats to make the omelette special.  All I know is these are the best omelettes I have ever had, but then, maybe the location and the situation had something to do with it.

Try one some day!


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