As I have now settled back into Midwest life after 7 weeks of travel, I stop and daydream of the places I recently had the good fortune to visit. People will ask me, “what was your favorite place in Italy?” I don’t know that I can really answer this. Of all the places I’ve been, in Italy and around the world, I truly like all of them. But, some do stand out more than others for different reasons. Sometimes it’s because of something special that happened. Sometimes a place becomes a favorite because of who you were with at the time. Sometimes it’s a memorable meal. Other times it might be a chance encounter with a local or another traveler.
For me, as much as I love Toscana and Umbria and the beautiful countryside, fabulous food and warm locals, I truly love the areas of northern Italy where the Dolomiti are. And, when I think of returning to Italy, the Alpe di Siusi area and the town of Castelrotto (Kastelruth in German) is the place that pops up in my mind. I see the high altitude alpine meadow of the Alpe di Siusi. I hear the sounds of the cow bells ringing in the fresh mountain air. I see the rugged peaks of the Sciliar (Schlern in German) rising up as they guard over the Alpe di Siusi and the town of Siusi. I see people of all ages walking on the trails that wind their way through these mountains and valleys. I smell a mix of cow dung and fresh cut hay. I see locals smiling as they work on this gorgeous land.
Maybe because I’m a mountain gal, the Alpe di Siusi is my most special spot in Italy. The strange thing about this is that this area is not very Italian. It’s more Germanic. German is spoken first here. It looks more German and Austrian with half-timbered houses. The food is more Germanic as well, although still very good. The apple strudel is delicious. The wines are good…I haven’t met a bad Italian wine! But for me, it’s the scenery – the hills, valleys and mountains and small, picturesque villages. It’s being able to jump on the cable car and go up and up to a high mountain valley with trails running in all directions. Choose any one and you’ll not be disappointed with views to more rugged peaks, green valleys dotted with the occasional house, cow bells clanging in the wind as the herd munch on the fresh grass. It’s walking out of your guesthouse, belly full of a delicious breakfast of fresh yogurt, eggs, cheese, fruit, bread and meat and hiking around the valley without needing to drive your car anywhere. Out the door and into the hills, forests, valleys and mountains you go! It’s quaint villages with onion-domed churches sitting in valleys of green surrounded by rugged peaks. Stunning!
The people who live here are wonderful too. Yes, more Germanic in many ways, but just as warm and friendly. They are very attuned to the land as they tend to herds of grazing cow, goats and sheep. These hard-working folks are also very traditional as they continue the customs that are part of this region that once belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is a region steeped in history, culture and tradition. It’s really quite special and very unique and its people are just as special and unique.
Having been here in late June, in early summer, and again in mid-September, as autumn was just beginning, I keep longing to actually be here in winter. I dream of snowshoeing the trails I’ve hiked on, making snow angels in the pastures the cows once grazed in, and cozying up to a warm fire with snow falling out my window. Maybe next time…