Active holiday in South Tyrol
“Waterfall? No one said anything about a waterfall before.” My heart skipped a beat and my already compressed chest trapped in a neoprene suit felt even worse. I was sitting in a rafting boat with a group of people who had (like me) never done this before. With only 30 minutes to go on our tour we thought the worst was already over when they made us jump into the 7°C cold water to experience the feeling of floating. But no, apparently there was a waterfall ahead of us – and the second boat had just disappeared from our sight. Pulling myself together I thought about the soft hotel bed, the delicious food waiting for me at dinner and the cute Argentinian rafting guide whom I did not want to think bad of me. Paddling towards the edge, seeking shelter in our sturdy boat and eventually dropping a mere 4 metres into the cold wet I should not be disappointed – an active holiday is what I signed up for, a thrilling adventure is what I got.
Following an invitation by the local tourism board I recently made my way to Italy – not Venice, Florence or Rome, but the northernmost region South Tyrol, more specifically the versatile holiday region Kronplatz which was only recently expanded to the valley Tauferer Ahrntal. At the beginning of the valley lies Sand in Taufers, a conglomerate of five villages and ideal starting point to explore the region. Europe travellers tired of the beaten tracks of Alpine tourism will find a hidden gem in this area, which is famous for its eponymous skiing hill Kronplatz, but also a fantastic spot for active outdoor trips in summer. The range of activities is endless. From leisurely to challenging hikes in the mountains, historical towns like Bruneck, local culinary treats, bicycle or mountain biking routes, white water rafting, rock climbing, paragliding or even thrilling adrenaline kicks.
Exploring the area with your own car is the most independent mode of transport, but there is also a well-developed rail and bus network connecting the villages of the region with the surrounding cities Bolzano (capital of South Tyrol), Innsbruck (Austria) or Munich (Germany). They all have airports served by several European airlines. There are local taxi businesses offering pick-up services from all over the area. All that means that even if you can not bring your own car or renting one is not in the budget you get to see a big deal of the region – and there is really plenty to do and see.
The mountains are clearly a destination for the active among you – and with the addition of the valley Tauferer Ahrntal the region won an amazing spot for that. It offers some of the area’s best rock climbing, but even for pure beginners like me there are plenty of possibilities. Matthias Larcher is an experienced mountain guide offering tours on any level and any environment year round. In summer he can take you up mountains, across glaciers and up the rocky faces of the hills. We booked a tour to climb Sambock, a peak just below 2400m. From the top you get a 360° view across the surrounding area across Kronplatz, the Italian Dolomites and the Austrian Zillertaler Alpen. Even the plain white glacier of South Tyrol’s highest peak Marmolada is visible from there. The ascent is steep, but not too challenging and totally worth the sweat. Once you had enough of the beautiful vistas (ever?), you can either go down the way you came or continue along the rocky ridge on the back of the mountain. Proper shoes and a head for heights are an absolute must, but with a guide like Matthias that should not be the problem. The effort will be rewarded with a lunch break at the mountain hut Plattner Alm – home-made schnapps and rustic South Tyrolean cuisine included.
Less strenuous but just as beautiful is a bicycle tour along the valley’s bike trail network. Ahrntal Bike in Sand in Taufers rents out city, mountain and e-bikes on a daily basis starting at 16€. The bike trails through the valley are mostly flat and lead through the forest and fields. From the shop it is only a short ride and easy stroll to one of the valley’s many waterfalls Reinbachfälle – a set of three stunning waterfalls.
Cycling about 15km the other way you will reach Bruneck, the area’s biggest town with a colourful historic city centre. The town offers all sorts of shops, a pedestrian area through the centre, museums, a castle and most importantly culinary highlights. If you are here around lunch time head to the restaurant Tabula, which is situated on the rooftop terrace of the city hall. The views are stunning and the food is a delicious blend of traditional alpine and the well-known Mediterranean. Nothing wrong with a little bit of seafood and pizza.
Mountains, glaciers and beautiful streams go hand in hand, as does adventure with rafting. Rafting Club Activ in Sand in Taufers offers all kind of fun water activities – from rafting over white water kayaking to canyoning. Equipped with tight neoprene suits and shoes to keep us warm we set out on a tour on the stream Ahr. The atmosphere was cheerful thanks to the beautiful views and our Argentinian guides. Imagine a Venetian gondola, exchange the calm water with some white water, the Italian gondolier with a singing Argentinian in the back of the boat and you are pretty much there. Along the way we stopped to walk up a powerful waterfall and several more or less voluntary dips in the water. Luckily the neoprene suits do their job and after a first shock of ice-cold water running down your back you feel rather warm quite quickly.
Finally, all this physical activity screams for relaxation and culinary treats. Many of the area’s hotels are specialized in active holidays and offer in-house wellness-facilities to their guests. The hotel Drumlerhof stands for sustainable management and the use of locally sourced produce, they also attach great importance to the well-being of their guests. This does not only show in the home-made delicacies served for breakfast, lunch and dinner or the carefully furnished suites – the use of Swiss stone pine for example is supposed to quiet down your heartbeat with a soothing effect – but also the spa and wellness area. There is a covered rooftop pool with beautiful vistas over the surrounding mountains, an outdoor whirlpool on the terrace, several saunas to choose from and a big treatment menu including hay baths, honey peelings and massages to relax your muscles after an active day in the hills.
With its blend of Mediterranean Italian and traditional Austrian influences the South Tyrolean cuisine is some of the best you could imagine. The local farmers and producers are very proud of their specialities – it might even happen that you get to taste different apple juices like other taste wines (head to Pur Südtirol in Bruneck for this experience). They might not always sound so nice, but the typical South Tyrolean dishes like Schlutzkrapfen (ravioli-like filled pasta) or Schüttelbrot (crunchy bread) are worth a try. The herbal restaurant Arcana is situated above the valley in a beautiful hill-side location. The food served there surprises with interesting combinations and unusual herbal influences. On request they can set up a tasting menu with various specialities accompanied by locally produced wine. Many grape varieties are unique to the area which explains why South Tyroleans are so proud of their wine. Even if the main courses are delicious make sure to leave some room for dessert and order a chocolate cake which must be straight from heaven.
No less excellent is the hotel restaurant of Hotel Langgenhof on the edge of Bruneck. Tucked away but still in walking distance of the town centre its restaurant exceeds any expectation you could have for a three star hotel. Served in a traditionally rustic dinner room guests are spoiled with a 4 course menu, great wines and good company.
The weekend I spent there was hardly enough to do all there is to do, but in my head I am already planning my next visit. If you plan a summer trip to the Alps but want to go to a less well-known area South Tyrol’s Kronplatz region is just the right for you.
I would like to thank the tourism board of the region Kronplatz for the invitation, Sandra and Artur for the warm reception and Christiane Hannsmann from Maro & Partner for the organisation of the trip.
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner, the tourism board Kronplatz and Drumlerhof.