A taste of Germany in Italy
The morning began like any other day in Florence. We went for a run in the hills behind the city and bought some pastries from the bakery before heading home. After a shower, Walter made coffee using the stovetop Moka and we enjoyed it with our fresh pistachio brioches.
Other than some last-minute packing, there wasn’t much to do except catch up on our communication. We did have an exciting conversation with some friends from Auckland – they are about to head to Europe and the intention is for them to visit us in Florence for a few days.
Knowing that we were only getting to our overnight accommodation after dinner time, we’d made a lunch reservation at a nice little restaurant in San Frediano – halfway between home and where we were to pick up the hire car. This paid off as whilst Walter went to collect the vehicle, Glenda went home to get everything ready. It didn’t take long for him to complete the paperwork, so soon we were on our way north – more than an hour earlier than expected.
En route to Maranza (Italian) / Meransen (German)
Meransen is a village in South Tyrol, Italy. South Tyrol is the English version, German is Südtirol and in Italian, it’s Alto Adige (wine aficionados may recognise the latter as it’s a famous wine making area). The province is the northernmost of Italy and the second-largest. Its capital and largest city is Bolzano (German: Bozen) According to the 2011 census, the largest majority of the population – more than 62% uses German as their first language, with most Italian speakers mainly in and around the two largest cities Bolzano, and Meran.
Meransen is located on the slopes of the Gitschberg mountain. The village has a population of around 850, but fills during the winter season as it is part of the Gitschberg Jochtal skiing area, which has several lifts and three aerial tramways. These same lifts service visitors during the summer when hiking and mountain biking is popular. We had no idea of this when we booked our stopover.
We stopped off at an Autogrill for coffee and bathroom break but other than that the trip was uneventful. That is apart from the scenery – despite the mist that shrouded the mountains, it was spectacular. It was also quite exciting as we realised that we were driving through the same valleys that we’d seen the cyclist of the giro d’italia ride through the previous week.
Arrival was less than ideal. As we neared our destination we could see the storm clouds rolling in and the strong winds began playing havoc with the car. Big drops of rain fell on the windscreen. As we made our way up the steep, windy road up to the Pension Sonnenhof, the mist took away all the beauty. We were certainly glad to be arriving earlier than planned as that meant it was before the 9pm sunset. By the time we reached our room, the mist had lifted enough for us to see the lovely views across the valley and the church up the hill.
A day in the Gitschberg-Jochtal region
The following morning, Glenda opened up the room window and the valley was shrouded in heavy mist. A disappointing start to the day. Fortunately, that was where the displeasure ended. Having checked out a few things in the Dolomites, Glenda had an idea of what do do for our single day in the area. This all went out the door when we we told about the local mountain and given a free pass to all the cable cars. Ironically, the main cable car was just opening that day for the summer season – we couldn’t believe our good fortune! Later on in the day, when we discovered that it was Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day in Italy), it made sense as to why they commenced on a Thursday.
The little pension with lovely views over the valley (when not misty) was run by the Unterkircher family. The buffet breakfast was more than satisfying. We hate to admit that we’re not big fans of Italian bread, particularly Florentine bread (we haven’t acquired the taste for bread without salt) so couldn’t resist trying a few of the beautiful German breads. We did balance the bread, cheese and prosciutto with some fruit salad and yogurt.
Our first mountain summit in Italy for 2022
By the end of the day, we certainly felt justified at the amount of breakfast we’d consumed. Whilst we did take the cables cars up the mountain, they were not running all the way up to the summit of Gitschberg (2,510m), so we had to make our way up one of the many paths carved by previous hikers. There were a few spots where we had to veer off the path at it was covered with leftover icy snow – when hiking in Canada a few years ago, we’d discovered how treacherous those seemingly innocent-looking stretches could be.
The mountain is well set up for summer and winter visitors and we felt obliged to take advantage of the tables in the sun outside one of the refuges. Walter loves German wheat beer, so it didn’t take much to convince him to order a large glass. Glenda has discovered how well the Italians do a Spritz (cocktail) and at less than half the price we’d pay in Australia, she succumbed to that temptation. Not feeling hungry at that stage, we resisted the urge to order a wurst roll or strudel. A decision we’d rue later on in the day when we discovered the only little supermarket was closed for Festa della Repubblica. Good thing we’d stockpiled a couple of bananas from breakfast and that we had a booking in the restaurant at the pension for evening dinner.
Enjoying a sauna
Although we didn’t expect the supermarket to be open for its afternoon session, we decided to go for a walk and double check. Unfortunately we chose just the wrong time to do so and were glad to have at least taken an umbrella with us as we made our way back. Feeling a little chilly as we walked back into the family run guesthouse, I let out a brrr! Christian, owner of the pension heard and quickly responded by offering us two fluffy white robes and pointing us to the sauna downstairs. There was still half an hour before the 2 ½ hour sauna session started but soon we changed into our bathers and robes and took the lift downstairs. Wow! A variety of different sauna and heat rooms. We sweated our way through a 15 minute session before heading back to our room feeling warmer and relaxed.
German cuisine Italian style
It was a good thing we hadn’t eaten much during the day! Dinner was served in true Italian style with lots of courses following after each other. Add to that the rich, heavy food that Germany is famous for. Never mind that the server kept coming by to offer us more of each course. The chocolate mousse for dessert was beautifully presented and a standout – pity I didn’t have space for one of the spares that were offered at the end. A good end to a fabulous day.