After four nights on the Stubaier Höhenweg, today was my transfer day across the border to the Italian Dolomites. My destination was Bozen/Bolzano (South Tirol is bi-lingual, so every town has a German and Italian name. The German culture is actually more prominent, so those terms were usually used ahead of Italian names).
I got up and out of Dresdner Hut and caught the 8:30 post bus from the valley all the way back to Innsbruck, where the main train line ran towards Bozen (and continues to Venice).
In Innsbruck I had a couple hours before my train, so I checked my bag at the station and took a walk into the Altstadt. Innsbruck’s sights are bit more subtle than Salzburg or Vienna’s, but the medieval old town was picturesque and is home to the Hapsburg palace with the famous ‘golden roof.’
What struck me as great about Innsbruck was that it was a sizable modern city literally surrounded on all sides by mountains. Often, to access such geography you’d be forced to live in a tiny, remote town, but with Innsbruck you could live in a city with the job opportunities and social life that come with it and still be just minutes from the heart of the Alps. Pretty cool.
After some lunch (omelette and mini waffle with apple butter), I boarded the train heading south towards the Brenner Pass and watched the mountain landscape turn into a blur. The weather seemed to be getting worse in Austria, but I had been told it was sunnier on the Italian side of the border. Sure enough, almost instantly after the crossing (a strange, wild-west-looking structure of pealing plaster and hanging shutters) we came out from under the clouds and entered a world of sunlit hills dotted with unidentified castles and steeples as well as vineyards and wineries.
Bozen was hot and sunny and full of fashionable people. I was able to catch a local bus right outside the train station that took me to the village of Seis, where there was a gondola up to the “Seiser Alm”, the largest high alpine meadow in Europe—roughly 22 sq miles. It’s a huge plateau topped by rolling fields and surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Dolomites.
Once I was on top of this TellyTubby landscape, it was leisurely half-hour stroll over the rolling hills to my rifugio for the night, the DiBaita Puflatschhuette.
My plan was to stay the first night here on the Seiser Alm and the next day hike over it and up above onto the Schlern/Sciliar massive, which forms a giant wall above one end of the Seiser Alm ending in a jagged sawtooth known as the “three witches.” On top of the Schlern was my next rifugio: the Schlernhaus (Rifugio Bolzano), a castle-like stone hut with commanding views of the whole region.
When I checked in at DiBaita, the owner at first didn’t expect me or have my reservation. When I showed him the email exchange on my phone he said something about his wife and then hurried to get me set up in a room… which ended up having a direct window view of the Schlern! The Seiser Alm is more accessible than some of the mountain-top huts and this felt like a blend between a hut and a b&b.
At dinner I sat with a group of German hikers from a town near Frankfurt who were very friendly and brought me into their conversation. They were interested in U.S. politics and the election, and were pretty well informed on the details. They joked that I was a German expert because I helped one of them remember the name of a castle (Höhenschwangau).
Dinner was delicious—a thin steak or beef rolled into a loose log with lots of juice, local red wine and apple strudel with ice cream for dessert. In Italy, the food became a bit more exquisite while still having a unique alpine flair. After we ate, the group of us took our wine out onto the porch and watched a magnificent sunset against the Schlern. After hiking through all kinds of weather, it was refreshing to see so much blue sky!
At the end of a busy day traveling by bus, train and gondola, it was nice to be back in the mountains for the evening. As darkness fell, the only noise on the Seiser Alm was the peaceful sound of cowbells tinkling. Looking across at the Schlern, it was hard to imagine that tomorrow I'd be taking my evening view from so far away...