Before today I thought that a Via Ferrata was a hiking trail with some sections of ladders and cables to keep you safe on the tricky bits. Now I’m in South Tyrol, in the heart of the Dolomites, I quickly realise that a Via Ferrata is not a hiking trail, but a rock climb and since I’ve never climbed in my life it’s a somewhat scary prospect. On my previous hikes in the Alps on the Tour de Mont Blanc I’d come across the odd cable or ladder, but always managed to find an easier alternative route. Today there’s no escape.
I meet my guide Veronika at the Catores Mountain Guide offices in Ortisei where she fits me out with the helmet and harness I’ll need, as well as the two karabinas and the rope that she’ll secure to my harness. The back story here is that these climbing routes, literally “iron roads” were originally built with ladders and cables to enable soldiers in the First World war to move around the Dolomites safely. Italian and Austrian solders, just as young and fit as the climbers I’ll meet on the mountain today, fought to dominate this area, building trenches and trying to blow each other up on the mountain.
I hope you enjoy my video below of climbing the Via Ferrata in South Tyrol
Despite the Austrians having won the battle, the Italians won the war because they were on the side of the Allies and in the post-war division of spoils were given the province of South Tyrol to add to their territory. These days the Via Ferrata have been restored to allow climbers to enjoy the Dolomites, beginners like me in the company of a guide, while more experienced climbers can use them on their own so long as they have the right equipment.
The cable car takes us up the mountain to the start of our climb, although by now the cloud is swirling around us and hiding the peaks opposite from view. The path climbs steadily above the mountain restaurant, getting progressively more steep, while I get progressively more breathless. As I walk up mundane thoughts swim and swirl around in my head. Will my nails, newly manicured and polished for this trip stand up to the battering? What are the kids doing back home? How can I capture the experience (for your benefit dear readers) without my iPhone slipping from my hand and plunging down to the valley below?
I scrabble for handholds to steady myself on the dusty rocks, wishing that I’d worn my fingerless cycling gloves that Veronika said I didn’t really need for such a short climb. At the top of the approach Veronika suggests that I take off all my rings as they could get caught or damaged on the rocks and I very carefully zip them into my pocket, terrified that I’ll drop my wedding ring and it will roll all the way down the mountain.
“Where are all the ladders and cables?” I ask. Veronika points up the mountain and tells me “this is just the start”. I look up at what seems like a sheer wall of rock with a cable running up it. Fear takes hold. I’m no climber. How on earth will I get up there?
At the start of the cable, Veronika shows me how I should clip on both my karabinas and slide them along with one hand while the other hand finds a hold on the rock. At the places where the cable is secured to the rock I unclip one karabina and clip it back on the other side of the metal bar, then do the same with the other karabina, always secured to the cable in case I fall.
Veronika points out an edelweiss, an increasingly rare sight on the mountain. I once posted a photo of what I thought was edelweiss when I was walking the Tour de Mont Blanc, quickly to be corrected on Twitter that it was a thistle! This is the real thing – looking like a felt flower that you might tuck in your hat. Set into the side of the raw rock nearby, I spot a little shrine with a statue of the Madonna. “She keeps us safe on the mountain,” Veronika tells me.
A group is climbing up below us and I start to panic slightly – will I need to speed up or will I be holding up the entire mountain? They all look like they know what they are doing with wrap around sunglasses and tanned muscular arms. Veronika is endlessly patient as she waits for me to take my time and progress slowly upwards. In the meantime she takes out her camera and takes photos of me grinning up at her. I AM enjoying this, I tell myself.
Now I start climbing in earnest and everything is focused on this moment. Everything becomes very small. One step up. I look up to find the next handhold. Now the next foot. Will I really be able to balance my weight on such a tiny ledge? Don’t look down. It’s just about the next handhold. It’s just about the next foothold.
Now I understand how climbing can be a kind of meditation to clear your mind of the jumble of thoughts and crumbs of everyday life. As I climb it’s not about admiring the views or the wonder of the Dolomites. It’s about this moment of concentration, the next foothold, the next handhold. Like a mathematical problem to be solved, there’s a sequence of moves that will get me up the rock face. If my hand goes here, then my foot can go there and my next hand here and my next foot there.
“Small steps”, says Veronika encouragingly “small steps”. But there are places where only a big step up will do, as I hoist myself up inelegantly, praying that the tiny ledge I’ve chosen as a foothold won’t give way. My upper body strength is pathetic and I’m feeling every old twist or sprain in my arms and wrists. I can see why climbers are so lean and strong and why they seem so calm and confident. Up here on the mountain is no place to get excited, you can’t take your frustration out on the mountain because the mountain will win.
It’s a relief when we arrive on a flatter path with sheer drops on either side and take the opportunity to pose for a few photos. Now I have the chance to look around at the view. The cable car station is a toy town building down in the valley with the access track snaking up to it and the cloud hanging over the plug of rock that is Sasso Lungo.
Veronika is agile as she trips lightly up the steep slope, surefooted as a mountain goat. I scrabble behind her on all fours in undignified fashion trying to find handholds on the slope ahead of me, more of a spider than goat. A short climb later and we’re suddenly at the top, sharing a tiny peak of rock with two other ladies of my age who are chatting away as if this were a social gathering (which it probably is for them). Once I am settled with my bottom on that peak they head down and now we have the whole of the Dolomites to ourselves. Without moving my bottom an inch I gingerly get out my camera and twist my body round to take in the panorama of jagged peaks around me.
Veronika takes more photos of me sitting there, clambering surefooted up to the next bit of rock and leaning so far out to get the perfect shot that I feel sure she will fall. I savour the moment of my success in getting up here but then the realisation dawns that I’m going to have to get down again. “Don’t worry” says Veronika “the way down is much easier”. I’m relieved that I won’t have to climb back down that vertical rock face, but first we have to rappel the short distance down off this peak to where we pick up the cable again.
Veronika instructs me how to lean away from the rock face, letting the harness take my bodyweight. “Two hands on the rope” she calls to me but I’m too scared and my hand reaches out for the cable, half scrambling, half abseiling down. Just below the peak we pick up a different path, easier than the sheer rock face as Veronika has promised but still not a walk in the park.
We are still clipped to the cable but the dusty shale and rubble slides underfoot and my muscles are now rebelling against the contortions they’ve been put through. I’ve scraped my knee and my thighs keep going into spasms. After my brief success it’s time to focus again, we’re not down yet. The cable snakes down a rocky couloir and again I scrabble as Veronika follows surefooted behind. At some point we abandon the cable but she still has me on the rope. Finally she expertly winds up the rope and we’re walking over the dusty rock on a path that’s barely there. Down to where the rock ends and the grass starts, down again to the cable car station and down again to the valley to pick up the car and drive back to Ortisei.
Back in Bolzano that afternoon I meet a local lady and tell her of my daring exploits climbing in the Val Gardena. “Oh yes” she smiles, “that’s where we love to take the kids climbing on a Sunday”. My bubble bursts as I realise that for the locals a family climb in the Dolomites really is a bit like a walk in the park. But even though it’s not quite Everest, I still feel secretly thrilled at the achievement of climbing MY first Via Ferrata.
If you’d like to try a Via Ferrata in South Tyrol
The Piccola Cir Via Ferrata took around 4 hours door to door from the Catores office and around 2.5 hrs from the top of the Dantercepies cable-car station (1.5 hours climbing up & 1 hour down). All safety equipment (harness and helmet) was provided as part of the climb.
Thanks to my guide Veronika Schrott who can be contacted via the Catores Alpine School in Ortisei, Val Gardena e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The main office of the mountain guides is at Via Rezia 5 in Ortisei where you can arrange guided climbs, hikes and ski safaris in South Tyrol with routes suitable for families and beginners as well as advanced climbers from €95 per person as part of a group. Four people is the maximum each guide can cover.
For more technical details of the Piccola Cir Via Ferrata visit the Sentres website
Information, articles and resources for South Tyrol
For more information to plan your own visit, find accommodation and discover all the things to do in South Tyrol, visit the South Tyrol Tourism website and watch videos about the region on their YouTube channel. For updates on things to do in South Tyrol follow the South Tyrol Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram pages
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In this article our guest author, Lee McIntyre, shares some of the foods of South Tyrol she came to love while living in Bozen/Bolzano, Italy and invites us to experience the Törggellen festival, a mouth-watering celebration of autumn.
Bozen/Bolzano is a beautiful medieval town nestled at the foot of the Dolomite mountains, a town with a subtle blend of Italian style and Tyrolean tradition. But the thousands of visitors who use the town as a base to explore the surrounding natural wonders of the South Tyrol also know that there are a number of Tyrolean food specialties that shouldn’t be missed!
One way to taste many of those foods all at once is to head to the South Tyrol in the autumn to have a traditional Tyrolean Törggellen feast. I think of the Törggellen meals as sort of “harvest” celebrations, although I’m not sure that’s really quite an accurate description. Unlike the Thanksgiving holidays in North America and elsewhere, where everyone celebrates the harvest on the same day, there is no one day for a Törggellen. Rather, restaurants offer these meals throughout the autumn months.
A Törggellen meal begins with a typical Tyrolean first course of a starchy item: for example, you might start with Schlutzkrapfen/mezzelune, little squares of pasta that look like very thin ravioli, often filled with “something green” (a mix of spinach, onion and herbs, traditionally), pumpkin, or squash. This dish is topped with melted butter and Parmesan cheese.
Or you might choose instead some Knödel/canederli, which are big bread-based dumplings. These are made with bits of bread-for-stuffing (like you’d use to stuff a goose or turkey), which is then mixed with pieces of cheese, small chunks of Tyrolean cured bacon (Speck), and/or bits of spinach. This bread mixture is then shaped into balls or ovals and boiled in water. Like the Schlutzkrapfen, Knödel are often served in a melted butter sauce and topped with Parmesan cheese (my favorite!), although another typical presentation is serving them in a soup.
After the first course, the Törggellen feast becomes all about the meat. Specifically all about pork. I once had a hard time identifying all the kinds of pork products that were presented on a Törggellen platter, there were so many different varieties presented, including ham, roast pork, and many varieties of pork sausages. Pork dishes in the South Tyrol always appear alongside a bowl of some of the tastiest horseradish I’ve ever eaten, anywhere. It’s not sour and adds just a bit of a kick when combined with a bit of roast pork, or a slice of salami.
But the most different for me of all the pork offerings is the dark red Blutwurst sausage. In English, the literal translation of that is “blood sausage”, which doesn’t sound that appetizing, and it’s not something I ever ran across in the U.S. At a Törggellen it is served whole and hot on the central pork platter; you slice off a bit of it to transfer to your plate. It’s not as solid as the other sausages and it sort of falls apart and spills out of the casing when you cut into it. Lots of spices, including cloves, gives it a really distinctive taste. Very flavorful, very different … and very good, but definitely an acquired taste at first.
There are usually no vegetable side dishes offered at a Törgellen, apart from the piping hot sauerkraut, which has little pieces of pork mixed in, in keeping with the overall pork-theme of the meal. At the Törgellen feasts I went to, the bowl of sauerkraut on the table was constantly replenished – an all-you-can eat offering at the meal.
Of course, in some ways, even all of that food serves as merely a preamble to autumn-specific food that comes at the end of the meal: a huge pile of roasted chestnuts accompanied by glasses of the “new wine” that has just been bottled. Your fingers become quite sooty as you peel the still-warm blackened chestnuts, revealing the plump, cooked nut in side. It’s the perfect counterpoint to the slightly sweet and every-so-slightly fizzy new wine.
Although the chestnuts accompanied by new wine are available only in autumn, all of the other standard Törggellen specialties can all be found in restaurants year-round. So any time of year is perfect for a visit to sample the sumptuous flavors of the South Tyrol.
Read more about the food and wine of South Tyrol
To plan your visit to South Tyrol
For more information to plan your own visit, find accommodation and discover all the things to do in South Tyrol, visit the South Tyrol Tourism website
About our guest writer: Lee McIntyre is an American photographer, teacher and author who has lived, traveled and taken photos all over the world. Prior to moving to Tübingen, Germany in 2011, she spent three years in Bozen/Bolzano, Italy trying to master the ins and outs of life in a new language in the South Tyrol. Lee chronicles some of her adventures in her lighthearted memoir, “Life on a Gelato Diet: Everyday Expeditions with an American in Bolzano”, available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon worldwide, and for all eBook readers from LeanPub. Lee has also created a line of tote bags featuring some of her most popular photos from Bolzano. Available in a variety of sizes and designs from shop.clfoto.net, these bags are perfect for everyone’s everyday expeditions, anywhere in the world. Find out more about Lee’s current projects on her website at www.clfoto.net.
Photos: copyright Lee McIntyre except first photo by Heather Cowper
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If Knomo were your best friend, she’d be one of those cool, stylish people who lives life to the full – always on the move, trying out the latest gadgets, working on some interesting, creative project or other. Perhaps she’d be a photographer, designer or even a blogger, moving effortlessly from an informal business meeting to drinks with friends. Knomo is a girl who doesn’t really care about logos and labels, she just loves things that are beautifully designed and work for her lifestyle. Understated elegance is her trademark, she’s the sort of girl that always looks polished and put together, even though you can’t quite place what brand she’s wearing. Perhaps Knomo is a girl just like you or me, or perhaps with the perfect piece of luggage we can live her lifestyle too.
Of course I’m just having a bit of fun imagining the Knomo lifestyle, since Knomo is not a real person but a purveyor of luxury luggage, handbags and other finery that might just work in your lifestyle. If you’re looking for a classy bag with room for your tablet, laptop and mobile, that won’t shout “technology geek”, look no further. Or perhaps a case for that iPhone 6 that’s already on your Christmas list? Or even the perfect soft leather messenger bag that will keep the man in your life organised and looking good (Knomo’s not just for girls you know).
I made a short video below so you can see how I got on with my Knomo Bolsover case on my cruise
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To test out whether Knomo could cope with my aspirations for effortless style as well as accommodating all the technology that goes with a blogger’s lifestyle, I took the Bolsover trolley bag along as hand luggage on my MSC Mediterrranean Cruise. On the flight out to Barcelona to meet the ship we had one suitcase between us as well as a small carry-on case which was the perfect scenario for my Bolsover. In Placa Catalunya we stopped for a photo opportunity, enjoying the sunshine and the life in the square that is Barcelona’s beating heart.
Isn’t she pretty?
I must say that this gorgeous bag made me feel quite the jet setting girl about town. The luxurious red carry-on is piped in leather-effect trim and covered with a soft waterproof fabric that’s quilted in a diamond pattern. I love that rich, red colour, the shade of tomato ketchup or should I say a glass of good claret? It feels luxurious, elegant and expensive (but of course no more than I deserve!) There’s a sturdy metal telescopic handle that allows you to pull the case along easily in the aiport but slots down and zips away neatly when you want to use the bag as a weekender to drop into the back of the car, as well as a tactile but robust carrying handle at the top of the bag. I’m instantly impressed by the amount of shiny chrome zips and endless pockets – a girl can never have too many pockets in my opinion.
Lets take a look inside
Zipping open the main compartment of the case reveals four little side pockets to tuck way your underwear, jewellery or other small items with some straps to keep everything firmly in place. In the lid are two more larger pockets to pack your shoes and a half depth zip pocket to keep a book or kindle. Already I’ve counted seven pockets but that’s before I discover the extra zipped compartment that becomes your office storage area built into the lid.
You can tuck a 17 inch laptop in here, with some more sleeves and pockets for all those pens, chargers and other odds and ends, with a zip pocket for your tablet. That’s another six pockets and there’s more! On the outside lid there’s another full width zip pocket where I’d put a magazine to read on the flight and a cute little zip pocket set into the leather trim that’s the perfect size for your mobile. Two more pockets, what more could I ask for ?
Perhaps a way of finding my Knomo case again if I ever lose it? They’ve thought of that too. Inside the top compartment you’ll find a unique ID which you can register on the Knomo website. Now if you and your case are ever parted and it’s found by some honest citizen, Knomo will return your bag to you free of charge.
Who is the Bolsover case ideal for?
With all these compartments and zipped sections, this case is ideal for the elegant business traveller who’s away for a few days, or a leisure traveller like myself who always travels with a laptop and other techological paraphernalia. I have to find space in my luggage for a laptop, mini-ipad that I use for novels and online travel guides, a video camera, normal camera and all the associated batteries, cables and chargers (that’s where all those pockets come in handy). The Bolsover is a great weekend bag for those who like to pack in an organised way with a place for everything. This really is a case that you could hand to the porter at the smartest luxury hotel with pride and pretend that it’s packed with your designer wardrobe (Silly me! Who’s pretending? I know you only buy the best!)
What’s not to like?
If there is anything to watch out for with the Bolsover I’d say that if you are a truly minimalist and lightweight traveller, this may not be the case for you. The height of the case is slightly shorter than the maximum allowance for most airlines, which could be a waste of potential extra packing space if you are trying to maximise your allowance without paying for checked luggage. At nearly 3.4kg the case isn’t the lightest around and if you are packing all your technology it will end up being on the heavy side and an effort to get into the overhead locker on the plane, not to mention being a bit too heavy for those airlines that have a carry-on bag weight allowance.
Here’s what I love
I love the way that the Knomo bags are all so stylish and elegant, yet they are also perfectly designed to fit your tablet, mobile, laptop of any other technology that you need to take with you for business or leisure. It may look like an elegant clutch but there’s room for your mobile, keys, credit cards and notebook. It may look like a sporty cross body bag for the girl on the go but you can still find room for your tablet and camera. I like the fact that you can keep all these things with you without revealing to the world that there’s an expensive laptop or camera inside. Smart but not shouty.
Check out the other items I love that match my Bolsover case
The Vital Statistics
Heather tried the Bolsover carry-on wheeled trolley in scarlet from Knomo. The bag has a zipped compartment that fits a 17 inch laptop at the front of the bag and is made with a quilted nylon exterior and leather style trim. The bag measures 45cm H x 29cm D x 19.5cm D and weighs 3.42kg. The Bolsover wheeled trolley costs £249 and can be ordered from the Knomo Website. Other matching items in the Fitzrovia Collection include the Maple cross-body bag £79, The Huntley weekend bag £149 and the Great Portland Shoulder Tote £119.
Thanks to Knomo who provided Heather with her Bolsover carry-on for this review.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey