Italy like I never knew it!
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Where I stayed
I feel soooo lucky to have stumbled upon this area of South Tyrol, a portion of Italy that is so far north the people speak German, not Italian. We are staying at a biofarm, that I stumbled upon online, called the Land Hotel Anna. Anna is the grandmother of Eric who has lived here all his life, and 25 years ago introduced the idea of organic apple farming to the area
This morning his wife, also named Anna, and their Canadian apprentice, Heidi, took us on a two hour private guided hike along the ancient Roman aqueducts that were once used to irrigate the valley. Along the way we saw plenty of gorgeous fir trees and merroni trees in full color for the fall season. Set against the backdrop of the snowy Alps, words cannot describe… This has been the most amazing part of our trip for me.
As we walked we stopped to say hello to a fisherman, an old couple who make their home on the side of the mountain. We also were led to a breath-taking waterfall that gushed almost as much as we did. The kids found a small playground and a bunch of interesting rocks along the way. Our final destination was a tiny crumbly Roman Church that was built in the year 1288, and is still in use today.
During the day Anna and Eric shared lots of information about the area and their organic farming practice:
Land costs $90/meter for the valuable farm property. Family Vill owns 6.5 hectacres apple orchards. Brian did the math, this humble family is worth over 4 million dollars, and they work harder than anyone I know.
They sell 10% of all of Europe's apples from this valley. 50% of all of Europe’s organic apples come from this valley. Most of the same varieties of apples are grown here, as in Michigan – but no Empire. Their cider is perfect – we bought 5 liters. I need to introduce them to Wasem’s donuts!
The town was founded during the 11th century, and that is when Anna and Eric’s house was built.
The mountains here were 4000 meters at their tallest. The hiking we did was on a 1900m mountain, and we went maybe ½ way up. Anna, who speaks German and Italian, was careful to lead us on trails that were not too steep. Alexander took about an hour to warm up to the hike, and insisted I carry him 80% of the time.
There are 120 farmers in the valley here, and they realize the importance of coop farming and working together in agricultural and marketing practices. They are starting to sell their apples in Morocco and Algeria now.
The LandHotel remains busy year round. Snow does not stick on the sunny side of the mountain/valley. But the mountains provide a constant source of snow and skiing.
Flowers like snap dragon, hydrangea, marigold, and geranium can still be found in full bloom now, in the second week of November.
Later that evening we went into the town of Laces with plans to shop and see a parade to mark the beginning of the Christmas season.
However, all of the shops were closed for the weekend by noon on Saturday!! In all of the region!! Thwarted again! Lucky for us, the girls and I found a few Italian gift shops on the way out of town on Sunday. Other than rocks and photos, I also have a red Italian leather handbag to remind me of our memories here.
The parade was also a bomb. Brian thought it looked to be gang meet up with BBQ food and elephant ears. As we were waiting for the start we saw lots of tough guys standing around in matching jackets drinking beer and listening to blaring 80’s hair bands mixed in with a little Michael Jackson and some Pitbull (love that song Bon Bon).
We were told that the parade is a tradition to welcome the beginning of the Christmas season. But part of the Santa tradition in much of Europe includes Santa’s bad guy sidekick, Krampusse, who scares children into behaving for St. Nick. Judging by the parade website, I think there are a bunch of Mason/ K of C like clubs that make it their job to uphold the tradition in Europe. The site shows photos of elaborate handmade devil masks on parade. Though my curiosity was killing me, we did not stay to see the parade. Brian took the kids to the pools, and I planned to stay to watch, but got sick of waiting and wanted to join back up with my family before the festivities even began.
So the pool – the AquaForum – is a spa in true European style.
We will go back and spend the evening there tonight, just as we did yesterday.
Yesterday was as astounding of a day as today. We left Zurich in a rain and wind storm which had us thinking we may see ruby slippers floating around. Not a great day to take off to explore the Alps, I was afraid. The rain gave way to plenty of tunnels under the mountains. About 2 hours into our trip, the mountain tunnels gave way to snow, and lots of it! Maybe 8 inches of snow in some areas that we drove along. I was worried about how unprepared we were, thinking that I should have packed snowpants and boots. I was almost ready to write the trip off as a disaster before it even started.
The mountain driving was every bit what I expected it to be. It originally looked to be close to 3 hours long. In reality it was just over 4. Alexander was able to let us know, in his own way, that 4 hours is too long to be expected to be in the car. We were thankful when the GPS led us to a train that trekked our car through a mountain instead of curving and winding, and nearly slipping around it. Alex was, of course excited about the idea of a car ride IN a train ride, but by the end of the dark tunnel he was curled up on my lap, asleep.
Nevertheless, we were able to get him back into his carseat and continue on. The girls are pros at long trips now. They were amply prepared with plenty of entertainment, and we all spent most of the ride gawking at the beauty.
When we arrived at the Landhotel Anna, I will admit, the room was not too impressive, in fact Kayley cried when she saw our quarters. Though we have two bedrooms and a living room in the top level of the hotel, it feels like we are the attic dwellers in some Italian uncle’s old farmhouse. The furnishings are tattered and dated, but the hospitality is second to none.
As soon as we were able, we headed over to the Aquaforum for some R and R poolside. European Hallebads are an idea need to be brought back to the US!! A kiddie pool, lap pool, whirlpool were nice, but nothing in comparison to the indoor/outdoor pool that gave us the opportunity swim under the snowcapped alps as the sun set!
We were also given access to the spa, but when we walked up to the locker rooms, a sign made it clear that bathing costumes were not allowed in the area. If you shook your finger at me for taking the kids to Oktoberfest, you may spit your coffee when you read this! It took us about 3 hours to get comfortable with the idea, but eventually we all made our way into the clothes free zone. (All right, I will admit, we all hid our suits under our towels for most of the time). In the spa we found relaxation rooms like we have never even heard of before: a sanarium, a sauna, a tea room, 2 relaxation rooms with very Zen reflection windows, a cold plunge tank, foot baths, showers, an ice trough, and our favorite room, the caladium. In the caladium they pump steamy aroma therapy scents into a darkened tiled room as you sit transfixed on color changing lights. It is a very Swiss approach to relaxation, and it worked very very well for me and the girls (once we got past all of the nakedness, we really were able to relax like never before!)
We toweled off only to eat real Italian pizza (once again the local wine was cheaper than soft drinks or water) and gelato in the attached Bistro. Basically, that is the only food we ate all weekend, pizzas and gelatos. After finishing, we made our way back to the pools for a final swim of the night.
This area of Italy is nothing we would have found as tourists. The biofarm is nothing I would have seeked out for our family. But it has come as such an amazing blessing.
This past week has had me in a bit of a funk, and I do not know exactly why. I know I have felt tremendously homesick; ready for the adventure to end, like I have already learned everything that I have set out to do by coming here (except for the language, darn it). This week, I could cry at the drop of a hat, or the sight of my husband coming home after a long day at work. By the time night falls, I have felt so hungry for my old life, with all of its schedules and business, that I’ve laid awake at night dreaming of packing up and getting organized, and of all the stuff that will need doing upon our homecoming. I guess I’ve felt antsy, almost bored, maybe depressed.
But this weekend holiday with my family is already renewing me. I am ready to look at the blessing that this opportunity is and continue to ride it out with a smile on my face.