Reaching New Altitudes: Discovering Merano 2000


I’ve had this dream of hiking in the Alps for quite some time: something of a mixture of the magnificent views  from the Sound of Music and an active and sweaty sports holiday. The dream came true in August. We spent our holiday in Northern Italy, in Trento, and did day trips in different directions. One destination was the summit Merano 2000. My highlights and tips, here you go:


So what is it about?
Merano 2000 is a hiking and recreational area with numerous panoramic hiking trails. A cable car (Via Val di Nova) will take you up to the summit in seven minutes. Quite a quick ride from the ground level to the mountains. There is a wide range of routes (altogether 19 of them) from a brisk stroll along a gravel path to more demanding vertical rises towards the mountain peaks. The place also has tens of kilometers of mountain biking trails.


Why go?
Because: the views, the workout and the views. And the bonus reason: the delicious apple strudel bigger than your head. The views to the Dolomites (which is an UNESCO World Heritage site) are stunning.

 


How?
The trekking trails are clearly signposted all the way. We did the hike from Piffing to the Kuhleiten hut. It consisted of the following parts: first an easy trail along a gravel path (trail number 3). Then a more demanding ascent marked as only for experts (oops): we did some improvising here and took a little shortcut – we ended up almost crawling on all fours up the hill. The rest of the way we then decided to follow the marked path, which was a moderately heavy trail. I’d say that the more arduous paths require a good physique and that the given time estimates in the wooden signs are  mostly accurate.


For whom?
For so many: for those who enjoy the outdoors, gorgeous scenery, being active and summer adventures. For couples, entire families with children, for all ages really. All in all, it is an excellent outdoor holiday option for those, who relax best by staying in motion.

Timewise
Note, that during the high season the last cable car heads back down at 6 o’clock pm, which is relatively early as there would be daylight still for a few more hours. On Fridays, the ropeway operates until 9 o’clock pm.


The biggest surprise?
What surprised me was the big number of (a total of 19) Hütten (mountain huts) and the wide selection they had: you can try the traditional treats of the local gastronomy, for example a Gulaschsuppe, Käseknödel or then my favourite, Südtiroler Apfelstrudel. A piece of warm apple pie with whipped cream (how else) tastes close to heavenly in the refreshing mountain air. The language used is German and the prices are very reasonable. A strong recommendation to these refreshing and tasty oases. Some of the huts even have an Übernachtungsmöglichkeit (gotta love German), that is, the possibility for overnight accommodation.


How much?
The cable car ride cost 27 Euros for two people (round trip): this was the happy hour price (valid from 2 o’clock onwards), the normal price being 20 euros per person. The snacks in the huts were affordable.


What to remember?
First, sunscreen. Take it from someone whose lips were peeling for several days after the holiday: remember to put sunblock on your lips as well. Other necessities: comfortable and sturdy shoes, a hat, a water bottle and a camera to capture all that beauty. And also a sweater with long sleeves: it is quite chilly and windy high up there (says someone who insisted on enjoying her espresso in a sports tank top, and in goose bumps).



I am a girl who loves to be by the water (sea, lakes, ponds, waterfalls, any water source really) but now the mountains definitely have a strong hold of me. When and where to next, those are the questions once again.

Have fun, viel Spaß, up there!

Porto Venere, the Sixth Gem


As the boat approaches Porto Venere, we spot the tall colourful and narrow buildings packed tightly side by side by the coastline. Higher above sits the citadel Castello Doria. Shimmering white sailing boats swing on the waves in the harbour. A madam in a brimmed hat sips white wine on the terrace of the Grand Hotel. Welcome to Porto Venere, located in Liguria on the Italian Riviera, in the northwest of Italy.

We decided to do a daytrip to this picturesque fishing village from the town of La Spezia. The reason: we had some good time in our hands and had read that it would be a beautiful destination. We had reserved three days of our road trip for exploring the villages of the Cinque Terre but I must be frank, in two good days we felt like this was beautiful and nice to visit but what’s next. And so we hopped on a boat and headed towards the south. In around 40 minutes we arrived in this small town with less than 4000 permanent residents. The cost of the boat ride was 16 euros for two people one way.


Porto Venere got its name from the goddess of Venus who was born from the foam of the sea. This mythical connection comes to mind when the tall foamy wave crests hit against the rocks of the shore. If the Cinque Terre could have a village number six, the title should definitely go this gem by the Gulf of Poets. All six villages are regarded by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Porto Venere is charming and pastel-coloured with narrow medieval streets, houses covered in gorgeous lilac flowers and numerous small shops selling a selection of fresh and delicious pestos.


What are the best to-do’s? Climb up the cobblestone streets to the Castello Doria (entrance 3 euros/person) and marvel at the splendid views of the Chiesa di San Pietro and the harbour. There is a hiking trail from Porto Venere to Cinque Terre that starts right behind the castle. It is about a five hour walk so come prepared, if you opt for it. Instead of the considerable hike you can change into your bikini and take a swim in the sea where the poet Byron once swam too. And then, enjoy a tasty lunch for example at the seaside restaurant Ristorante La Marina. They serve the Caprese di Bufala originally on a stick and the chef is the former cook of Juventus.



Grazie e Arrivederci Porto Venere!

Discover Northern Italy: 5 Highlights


Oh Northern Italy. The sweet and intoxicating scent of flowers in the warm amiable evening. The mixture of sun oil and salt on my skin. And that particular glow that results from vacation freedom, utter happiness and a bit of glowing sweat as the thermometer reaches 30 degrees Celsius. Pure love.


We spent almost two weeks in June road tripping in Northern Italy. We began our trip with a steady and faithful Fiat Punto* in Milan and headed toward La Spezia and the colourful Cinque Terre with a lunch / day stroll / photo stop in Pavia. Our tour also included Porto Venere, Florence, Modena, Bologna, Lago d’Iseo, Pilzone, the Franciacorta wine region and then lastly, Milan.

*If the friendly customer service lady promises you an upgrade to your rental car it can be a good idea to check that you are on the same page when it comes to the meaning of that term. But anyhow, the journey goes on.

I have a million and three tips and recommendations and I’ll dive in to the beautiful cities and villages, the winery and restaurant recommendations and unforgettable do’s in upcoming posts but now I thought I’d share some selected highlights. So, let’s start!

The best lunch view


The view from the restaurant Al Castello in the village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre. You can enjoy a fresh from the sea and al dente Pasta Vongole as a primi and listen to the waves hit against the vertical rock wall down below. The view is spectacular, the seafood is savoury, but the service could afford a little improvement as the elderly waiter was quite grumpy.

The title of the most beautiful view of our entire trip goes to the rooftop vista from the Duomo in Milan. Or the magnificent view from the Castello Doria in the town of Porto Venere. Or the view of the village of Manarola as the sun sets.




The hottest thing

By far and without a doubt our bike tour in the Franciacorta region, from Pilzone to the Bellavista winery and back, a good 30 kilometres in total in the equivalent amount of degrees.


As we hit the town of Iseo all I wanted to do was run straight into the lake. The bike tour was great: biking is a good way to explore the wine region and the many wine roads. There are several prestigious wineries in the area. It’s a good idea to book a visit in advance either by contacting the wineries directly via email or booking a tour from the Iseo tourist office. And for the bike excursion remember to take with you your phone for navigating, a hat for the sun and a bottle or two of water. We got the bikes for the day from our accommodation, which brings me to my next point:

The best accommodation

The award goes to [drum roll] Antica Casa Fenaroli in Pilzone (Via San Pietro, Iseo). Upon our arrival to this mansion house the hosts greeted us with bubbly prosecco, strong espressos and sweet delicacies prepared by the mother of the direttore. Quite a welcome! The room, a suite apartment as it turned out, was cozy, spacey and very well equipped. And the breakfast served to our room was plentiful and tasty. As a cherry on top we got to borrow two bikes for an entire day for visiting the wineries. I would make a critical remark if I had one but nope.

The learning experience

There is a precious wine area, the Franciacorta wine region, South of the Lake Iseo in the Province of Brescia. That I knew. The sparkling wines are made by the metodo classico (the same method as with champagne). We visited two wineries, Ferghettina and Bellavista and learned quite a bit. Stay tuned!


The gem

This is my favourite. We got to see an opera at the La Scala! Must admit, when it comes to opera I thought that I wasn’t quite in touch with my inner Niles Crane, but this program ended up being one of the top experiences of the whole trip. Getting the affordable tickets for the performance of the evening requires that you make space in your day’s schedule and go the Evening Box Office by Via Filodrammatici three times on that day: first to get your name on the list at 1 o’clock pm (the first 140 get in), then at 5 pm to get your voucher and thirdly at 5:30 pm to exchange the voucher for the actual ticket. The tickets are balcony tickets: we had our seats on the sixth floor and by standing and holding on to the metallic rail we saw rather well to the stage. The piece that night was La Bohème. The powerful singing in Italian, the beautiful interior, the mirrors and crystal chandeliers in the foyer and a glass of sparkling Bellavista: a splendid night.