Thursday, September 13, 2007

Alto Adige

Where would I go to in Italy if I could take a long vacation right now, or next month? I'd go to Alto Adige (or Suedtirol in German), one of my very favorite places in the country. The phrase "Alto Adige" means "upper Adige (valley)," the Adige being the river that flows through it, and further south, through Verona.

First of all, why does it have two names, an Italian one and a German one? The region is a border area near Austria, and has been contended for some time. It was awarded to Italy after World War I, despite the fact that at the time most residents were ethnically Germanic and spoke German. The world-famous mountain climber Reinhold Messner is from Alto Adige.

All of the region is in the province of Bolzano, its largest city. But another major town is Merano to the north, a spa town which I prefer to Bolzano. The region is mountainous, of course, and is a skiing destination. The chief attraction of these northeastern Italian Alps are the Dolomites (in the picture, the Dolomites of the Funes Valley), which are striking, irregularly shaped mountains that have a unique feature, the enrosadira, whereby they turn a rose color in the evening. There is even a charming, very European legend about this involving kings and curses.

Let me list the many reasons to go there: wonderful autumn weather, similar to our New England's (including beautiful foliage, but not quite as dramatic as ours); excellent price-to-quality ratio in accomodations, especially outside the two major towns; old-fashioned hospitality, often by hard-working families; absence of typical drawbacks of Italy such as chaos and noise; excellent food and wine (speck, venison, river trout, superb pastries and cakes); reasonably priced spa treatments; sports such as skiing, hiking, swimming (very many hotels, even the smallest, have indoor pools); and as much art and history as anywhere else in Italy. As if this wasn't enough, you have its proximity to the Veneto. Venice is only a few hours away.

What's not to like?