TO THE HILLS

Dis­cover rest and re­ju­ve­na­tion on a moun­tain re­treat.

In the Moment - - Contents - Photography: Liz Schaf­fer

For me, there has al­ways seemed to be two types of travel – the kind where the con­tents of my suit­case are largely taken up by a king-sized beach towel and a stack of muchan­tic­i­pated nov­els, and the kind which in­volves ex­plor­ing, im­mers­ing my­self in the cul­ture, the ar­chi­tec­ture and the his­tory of a place. As much as I en­joy both, when I’m feel­ing tired and in need of an es­cape from my ur­ban day-to-day, it’s the beach I’ve al­ways turned to for a dose of rest and re­lax­ation. But as it turns out, re­ju­ve­na­tion can also be sought far from my usual coastal haven: there’s restora­tion to be found up in the moun­tains too.

Since read­ing Jo­hanna Spyri’s Heidi, as a child, the Alps have held a ro­man­tic ap­peal for me, but a pair of dodgy an­kles has kept ski­ing o my agenda and the clos­est I’ve come to ex­plor­ing these moun­tains is in the pages of this en­dur­ing novel. My

rst alpine visit, then, is to South Ty­rol, north­ern Italy, and the Dolomites, a range that forms part of the vast Eastern Alps,

span­ning Italy, Aus­tria and Slove­nia. The Dolomites have been a UNESCO World Her­itage Site since 2009, and ar­riv­ing in Verona, the clos­est air­port, I soon dis­cover that the two-hour drive to my moun­tain re­treat is a won­der in it­self.

As we wind our way nearly 1000 me­tres up through the foothills, we pass ap­ple or­chards and vine­yards stepped into the slopes. Our jour­ney is ac­com­pa­nied by the twin rivers of Ei­sack and Rienz, in­dis­tin­guish­able as they criss-cross our path like braids, their glacial wa­ters a milky blue grey. We are head­ing to the pic­turesque town of Brixen/Bres­sanone, the old­est town in South Ty­rol, and the point where the rivers meet. Like the rivers, ev­ery­thing in this re­gion has a twin: a Ger­man and an Ital­ian name, an in­di­ca­tion of a past less har­mo­nious but now healed.

Once part of Aus­tria, South Ty­rol (or Südtirol) was an­nexed in 1919 and the re­gion un­der­went ‘Ital­ian­i­sa­tion’ dur­ing the Fas­cist pe­riod. In 1923, Ital­ian was made the o cial lan­guage, places were re­named and Ger­man (spo­ken by the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion) was banned, along with the re­gional lan­guage, Ladin. To­day, South Ty­rol has re­claimed its her­itage, and the re­gion is a multi-lin­gual melt­ing pot that draws to­gether the cul­ture, food and tra­di­tions of both Ty­rol and Italy.

My des­ti­na­tion is My Ar­bor (www.my-ar­bor.com), a new well­ness ho­tel built on the slopes of the Plose moun­tain. We round a hair­pin bend and the build­ing ap­pears, ma­jes­tic, rest­ing on a se­ries of tree-like stilts. My room, a ‘Nest’, is cool and airy with a large bal­cony and comfy daybed with a panoramic view of the val­ley and the town be­low. It’s so­phis­ti­cated and lux­u­ri­ous with­out be­ing pre­ten­tious; the per­fect place to wind down and al­low your­self a lit­tle TLC.

While my usual form of re­cu­per­a­tion in­volves do­ing a lot of very lit­tle, be­ing in the moun­tains means hik­ing is de rigueur. There are plenty of well sign-posted trails that you can take straight from the ho­tel (South Ty­rol re­port­edly has more than 13,000km of nat­u­ral, marked hik­ing trails) but if you’re trav­el­ling solo, or want to learn more about the re­gion, the ho­tel can or­gan­ise a guided walk or you can join a lo­cal tour via the tourist board (www.suedtirol.info/en).

On my rst morn­ing, I join a group with a lo­cal guide, Veronika, for a 2-hour hike. It’s a 300m as­cent from the Passo delle Erbe to Mau­rerberg lodge (www.mau­rerberg.com), with spec­tac­u­lar views across the val­ley to the Dolomites’ snow-topped Geisler peaks. The sky is a painterly mix of cerulean blue and white, with brushstrokes of cloud that pro­vide wel­come respite from the sum­mer sun. Our hike takes us along shady for­est paths and through val­leys pop­u­lated by leisurely-look­ing Ty­rolean cows, their bells jan­gling as they am­ble along.

As we walk, the air is an earthy mix of scents and sounds – birds call rau­cously across the aro­matic pines, and bees hum as they it be­tween blush-pink Alpine Roses, which our­ish along­side the sun­nier lengths of the path. I can feel a gen­tle burn in my legs as we as­cend the steeper sec­tions of the trail and I reassure my­self in­wardly that my body will thank me for this af­ter­wards. At the top of each as­cent we make a ‘photo stop’ for those of us who need a breather, and I am pleased to note that my an­kles are hold­ing up.

When the moun­tain lodge comes into view, its gin­ger­bread-house ex­te­rior makes me feel

as though I’m in Aus­tria, rather than Italy, and I’m re­minded that in win­ter this whole re­gion be­comes a ski re­sort, cloaked in snow. It’s a won­der that this lush, green land­scape thaws and is re­born in such splen­dour each spring. Mau­rerberg’s own­ers greet us warmly in English and Ger­man, o er­ing us a Hugo to drink. “It’s the spe­cial­ity of the re­gion,” Veronika ex­plains. “It’s named for the bar­man who in­vented it.” This re­fresh­ing mix of el­der ower cor­dial, soda wa­ter, fresh mint and a splash of Pros­ecco is an in­stant favourite.

The lodge’s menu is a typ­i­cal Ty­rolean blend of Ital­ian and Ger­man dishes. We be­gin with

antipasto – a shar­ing plate of salami, smoked ham and lo­cal hard cheese, served with a spicy horse­rad­ish and a bas­ket of schüt­tel­brot (or ‘shaken bread’) – a tra­di­tional farmer’s bread, which is baked then cut into chunks and shaken in the tray as it’s baked again to dry it out and pre­serve it. It’s de­li­cious. This is fol­lowed by hearty Ger­man dumplings, made from a mix of crum­bled bread, fresh herbs and cheese with a herb but­ter dress­ing. It’s a for­ti­fy­ing com­bi­na­tion that fu­els our de­scent!

A sauna and a swim at the ho­tel re­vive my tired legs and the next morn­ing I wake up feel­ing en­er­gised, re­freshed and ready for more of this mar­vel­lous moun­tain air. Plose cable car sta­tion is a short walk from the ho­tel and prom­ises in­cred­i­ble views from the out­set –

in less than 10 min­utes the car climbs 1000 me­tres. The view from the top sta­tion, which acts as a ski lift in win­ter, is a heart-soar­ing panorama across Bres­sanone, with the beau­ti­ful Pus­te­ria val­ley in the north and Isarco val­ley in the south.

My guide this morn­ing is Bet­tina, who takes our group along the ‘Woody walk’ – an easy hour-long trail that fol­lows the Plose moun­tain on one side with spec­tac­u­lar views across the Dolomites on the other.

Half way along the walk we come to a Kneipp Garten. ‘Kneip­ping’ is a form of natur­o­pathic wa­ter heal­ing, based on the e ects of cold wa­ter on the skin, de­signed to stim­u­late blood ow and strengthen the im­mune sys­tem. The afore­men­tioned ‘gar­den’ turns out to be a lad­der of small pools cre­ated from stones and peb­bles. We are en­cour­aged to take o our hik­ing boots and walk up one side of the lad­der and down the other. The wa­ter is icy cold and my feet tin­gle at the change in tem­per­a­ture.

“Ev­ery day I try to take a ‘Kneipp cof­fee’,” Bet­tina tells me, a prac­tice named for its caf­feine-like en­ergy kick. Bet­tina shows me how it’s done and we sink our bare fore­arms into a trough of fresh wa­ter, feel­ing the cold st­ing be­fore re­mov­ing our arms and shak­ing them gen­tly to stim­u­late the blood ow. She’s right. It’s bet­ter than an espresso!

The trail ends at the lovely Ros­salm lodge (www.ros­salm.com), where we stop for an­other

Hugo and a rest be­fore hik­ing back to the cable car sta­tion. Back at the ho­tel, I treat my­self to a mas­sage, then sit and take in the view with a glass of fresh herb tea. De­spite a few achy mus­cles, my moun­tain hikes have en­er­gised me, and I ac­tu­ally feel rested with none of the slug­gish­ness I some­times ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter a day spent loung­ing on the beach.

On my nal morn­ing, there’s just time to take a walk with My Ar­bor’s for­est bathing guide, Marco, be­fore I make the jour­ney back to Verona and on­wards to home. Dur­ing our walk, we pause and Marco leads us through a short med­i­ta­tion. I try to ab­sorb as many of the scents and sounds of the for­est as I can be­fore I return to city liv­ing. “Trees are like peo­ple – they care for each other,” Marco says. “They can iden­tify their off­spring and they look af­ter them. Some of their roots are kilo­me­tres long and they send nu­tri­ents by join­ing their roots un­der­ground.” I think about this, and see­ing my own fam­ily when I get back, and it makes me smile. I’m al­ready plan­ning my return with them to these soul-sooth­ing moun­tains, so that they can ex­pe­ri­ence the moun­tain air for them­selves.

As I start my jour­ney home, I’m re­minded of the quote from Scot­tish-Amer­i­can nat­u­ral­ist and au­thor John Muir: “You are not in the moun­tains, the moun­tains are in you.” Feel­ing re-cen­tred and re­freshed, I’d like to think that I’m em­body­ing his words, bring­ing a lit­tle of the moun­tains home in me.

Clock­wise from top: My Ar­bor ho­tel rests on tree-likestilts; a 'Nest' suite is the per­fect place to re­lax;South Ty­rol's pic­turesque moun­tain trails are easy tofol­low; Kirstie takes a mo­ment to ab­sorb the view.

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