The “Roads” of Europe

Part 5  ‘South Tirol’s Wine Road’

Well, here we are on Part 5, the last of this series.  I could have carried on even further, because this area not only has a wine road, Strada del Vino dell Alto Adige, but also has an ‘Apple Road’, Strada della Mela and even the more complex ‘Apple and Flavour Route of the Non and Sole Valleys, which in Italian is called by its complete name of Strada della Mela e dei Sapori delle Vali di Non e di Sole.  (Try saying that fast).

Before we get into the details of my story, I should tell a little about this entire area of Italy, the ‘Trentino Valley’.  Years before, we traveled down this valley on a train, from Bolzano to Verona, and were fascinated by the vineyards, apple orchards and the castles we saw on the surrounding mountains.         

Castles: apparently there are more that 300 castles and fortresses in Trentino.  Most likely due to the fact that it was a good location to watch the valley below, and set up a ‘toll gate’ and collect money from passing traffic or merchants over the centuries.

Apples: This is a huge apple growing area, supplying over half of the Italian apple market, and up to 15 percent of the European market, with over 18,000 hectares producing 900,000 tons of apples.

Apple country

But back to the Wine Road:

Starting in our favourite ‘Süd Tirol’ or Alto Adige area of Italy, we come across the ‘South Tyrolean Wine Road’ or Südtiroler Weinstrasse,  or in Italian ‘Strada del Vino dell’Alto Adige’, running from Bozen (Bolzano) south through several villages and wine communities.  One of these is Kaltern, a delightful village, totally dedicated to the wine industry, complete with a fascinating wine museum.  Another village it travels through is Termeno (Italian) or Tramin in German.  This is the birthplace of Gewürztraminer.  This wine is named for its ‘seasoned or spice’ notes (Gewürtz in German), and ‘Traminer’ from this village.

Veni Vidi Vino from Author Ian Kent

Veni Vidi Vino

Kaltern, or Caldaro in Italian, is a beautiful little village by an equally beautiful lake at the south end of the South Tirol, Alto Adige region. The first time we visited Kaltern, we were driving with a another couple, and we were pleasantly surprised at what we found. The Wine Museum in Kaltern covers the entire history of wine, from the Romans to modern times.

Alpacas in the Hills from Author Ian Kent

Alpacas in the Hills

As we drove around, we noticed almost every building had ‘Zimmer Frei’, (Rooms to rent) signs up, so we figured it would not be a problem to find a place.  Just on the edge of town, we spotted a likely candidate, a lovely guesthouse beside a vineyard, with a lady outside tending to her kiwi fruit vines.  We parked the car at the end of the driveway, and Harvey and I walked up towards the house.  The landlady could not speak English, but before long we established that she did have two double rooms.  We asked if we could see them, and she was a little hesitant to go any further.  We then commented that we would like to bring our wives to show them the rooms.  She suddenly warmed up, smiled and waves at our wives waiting in the car.  I can only guess that she was little hesitant to rent rooms to two strange men, without wives?  Before long, Diana and Shirley had joined us and our landlady was serving us wine on the balcony of our rooms for the night.  That was an interesting stay, as neither of our hosts could speak English, and during breakfast the next morning, we were entertained by our host telling us jokes in German, with us understanding barely a quarter of it.  Still, the entire scene was hilarious, and we still found it worth a laugh!  There was another situation where I gave our hosts one of our ‘friendship pins’, much to their delight!

The next time we were in Kaltern a few years later, we were driving around with another couple, explaining to them that the entire village is filled with rooms to rent, guesthouses, hotels, etc.  No such luck this time, everything was full!  Eventually, we learned we were there on an important German National holiday, the anniversary of the opening of East Germany, so it seemed like every German in the country had driven down to northern Italy for their holiday.

“No problem”, I said.  “There are lots of hotels and guest houses around.”  So we started driving, first, all around the Kaltern area, then we headed up the mountain to Mendola and the Val di Non area.  Normally, to get up to Mendola, you could take the funicular up the mountain behind Kaltern.  This is an interesting cog-wheel train that runs on a very steep track over 854 metres up the mountain on 64% incline in 12 minutes.  Halfway up, the track splits and doubles, so a second train can come down and pass the first.  The cars on this train are weird, slanted steeply so the floor is like a set of stairs, so you have to walk up or down the stairs to change seats or get to the other end of the car. This ‘Mendelbahn’, or ‘Funicular della Mendola’ dates back to 1903, planned by a Swiss engineer Emil Strub, and at that time was the steepest funicular in Europe and the longest in the world.

But we were driving on this trip. By driving up the long, switchback road up the mountain, we could stop periodically and check for vacancies.  Stop after stop, we still could not find a room.  We then approached the small town of Brez, and spotted a little square box of a hotel called Hotel Alpino.  We stopped and my friend Lennart and I left the girls in the car to investigate, not holding much hope as it was listed as a one star accommodation!  What a surprise!  This little hotel, Albergo Alpino, was an absolute delight!  Decorated in old classic styles and furnishings, with newly renovated rooms, all with lovely private bathrooms and even spacious balconies.

We returned to the car with sad faces, and suggested the girls come and take a look, not giving them any clues.  Of course, they were surprised and delighted, and we were soon ensconced in our lovely rooms, enjoying a glass of wine!  I still vividly remember standing on our balcony, watching traffic passing by on the main road.  Load after load of apples, trucks full, long trailers and tractors pulling wagons, all loaded up with apples!  We were obviously in apple country, and this was the ‘Apple Route’, or ‘Strada della Mela’.

We soon overcame our anxiety of room hunting, and began to enjoy the ambience and hospitality of our new residence.  The restaurant was amazing, and of course, so was our breakfast.

The next day, we packed a lunch and some wine and headed out of town into pasture and hiking country.  We weren’t hikers at that point, but we loved picnics and wine.

Picnic in the field (the cows missed this photo) author Ian Kent

Picnic in the field (the cows missed this photo)

And of course, the highlight of the day (at this picnic) was our good friend Lennart celebrated his 65th birthday!  What a great Birthday party!

Lennart's 65th Birthday
Lennart’s 65th Birthday

And so ends my little series about the Special Roads of Europe.  I covered only five, and mentioned a sixth, but there are a lot more.  Just keep on traveling and I hope you come across your own favourite “Road”.

Click here to read part 1 – Germany’s Fairy Tale Road

Click here to read part 2 – Germany’s Castle Road

Click here to read part 3 – Germany’s Wine Road

Click here to read part 4 – Germany’s Romantic Road

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