Our weekend break at the Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon – video

What a night for a drive down to Devon! With rain pelting down on the windscreen and leaves blowing across the road, any thoughts we had of stopping at a country pub on the way were abandoned in the hope of just arriving safely at the Moorland Garden Hotel.

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

We’ve arrived at the Moorland Garden Hotel!

Just north of Plymouth we turned off the main road and down a secluded drive to reach the gates of the hotel, a long two-storey building with all the bedrooms overlooking the lawned gardens. Parking the car and running inside to escape the downpour, we were soothed by the warm welcome at reception and the sounds of music and celebration coming from the room at the other end of the corridor. This being rural Devon, the Young Farmers’ annual dinner dance was in full swing with lads in DJs and lasses in full-on evening glamour and tottering heels, wandering in and out of the bar, not a wellie or barbour jacket to be seen.

I hope you enjoy my video below of the Moorland Garden Hotel

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Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Harking back to the hotel’s glamourous heyday

The hotel was built in the 1930s, originally named the Moorland Links Hotel because of the nearby golf club and enjoyed a glamourous reputation in its heyday, attracting celebrities such as David Niven and Rex Harrison. With a large ballroom complete with sprung dance floor and resident orchestra, guests flocked to attend tea dances and balls, while in the 1940s the hotel was popular with army and naval officers stationed at nearby Plymouth. In 2011 the hotel was bought by the current owners Brian and Sonia Meaden who have gradually put the hotel through a complete refurbishment of the 44 bedrooms and public areas. While the swimming pool and tennis courts of the 1930s are no longer there, the hotel has taken on a new character as a welcoming place for guests wanting to combine the wild walks of Dartmoor with the Waterfront attractions of the Ocean City of Plymouth. To celebrate its 80th anniversary this year, the hotel has been drawing on its heritage, with a 1940s themed tea dance, Agatha Christie inspired afternoon teas and summer picnics in the wildflower meadow that adjoins the gardens.

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Relaxing the Dartmoor Bar and Lounge

Having left the cases in our bedroom (more about that later) we settled into the comfortable Dartmoor lounge for a warming bowl of haddock and sweetcorn chowder and chilli Exe river mussels from the bar menu. The decor was cosy and traditional with some modern touches and looked as if it had benefited from the recent refurbishment with an inviting air of fresh paint and new carpets. We settled into the oversized patchwork armchairs by the fireplace, which would be a favourite spot in winter when the fire is lit, admiring the striped tapestry, brocade and velvet fabrics with gilt mirrors and glowing red glass lamps. The walls were covered with artistic photos of Dartmoor, reminding us of the wild landscapes, granite tors and mossy covered river boulders that we had explored on previous visits to Devon. In one corner was a desk covered with useful information leaflets of local attractions and on the shelves were games and jigsaws to while away an autumn evening.

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

The adjoining Dartmoor bar had been similarly refurbished with plenty of comfortable seating areas, leather sofas and velvet banquettes by the wall. The wild landscapes of nearby Dartmoor were referenced in the black and white photos of moorland miniature ponies and twisted oaks, with metal stag heads on the wall and stag motifs on the cushions. Guy was keen to try a pint of the Dartmoor Best ale although we discovered from the barman that it actually comes from St Austell in Cornwall.

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Settling into the Lily of the Valley Suite

After recovering from our windswept Friday night drive, we were able to enjoy our spacious Lily of the Valley Suite on the first floor, where home-made biscuits had been laid out for us. All the rooms in the hotel have been individually redecorated with the help of West Country designer Nadine Judd, drawing on a garden theme to bring the natural beauty of the moor into the hotel. Like all the bedrooms, ours overlooked the garden and so when we awoke we had delightful views over the lawns and down to the Tamar valley beyond.

I had a peep in a few of the other bedrooms and found the decorative style was colourful and modern, often using patterned feature walls, bright floral prints and striking pieces of furniture. Our Lily of the Valley suite took up the fresh floral theme, with leaf green walls, pretty cream linen curtains with a delicate floral sprig and a feature wall covered with hand-printed lily of the valley paper on a dark background. We sat eating our warm biscuits on the green crushed velvet sofa with pastel floral cushions and flicked through the books and magazines that had been thoughtfully left under the glass of the coffee table. The overall effect was very pleasing although there was the odd item that seemed more high street than high end – a metal garden chair at the desk and a strange IKEA style metal shelf on the wall beside the bed. The en suite bathroom was clean and fresh with pale grey tiles and a shower above the bath although I suspect that this was one of the few remaining bathrooms in the hotel that was due for refurbishment, since I saw other rooms with more modern bathrooms.

Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Elegant Dining in the Wildflower Restaurant

On Saturday night we planned to eat in the Wildflower restaurant, having heard great things about the restaurant which won a Gold in the 2013 West Country Taste of the West awards and was named Best Restaurant in the South West. The Head Chef, Bruce Cole has been at the hotel for 18 months now and has created new menus that feature locally sourced and seasonal produce from nearby farms and food producers. After dinner we had a chance to chat with Bruce and he told us “When I arrived much of the food came from the freezer and the menu changed twice a year. Now everything is freshly made including the bread and pastries, we use the best local produce and we change the menu every 4 to 6 weeks with the seasons”

The Wildflower restaurant has large French windows that overlook the gardens which open in summer leading out onto the terrace. There is an elegant silver and turquoise theme with patterned turquoise velvet chairs, silver leaf wall decorations and a striking private dining area with silver and turquoise floral wallpaper and silver mirrors. I’d love to visit the restaurant in summer to enjoy a cream tea overlooking the gardens or to be there in September when the hotel hosts the Delicious Drake’s trail that ends on those lawns.

Dinner in the Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dinner in the Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

We had invited a friend who lives in Plymouth to join us for dinner and we were all wow’ed by the dishes which were beautifully presented and above all delicious. I started with a crab mille feille, a soft crab pate piled into a tower with crispy biscuits and a  piquant mango garnish. To follow I ordered the sliced breast of duck which was well cooked with a ring of crispy fat, served with vegetables and a prune puree that gave a fruity piquancy. My desert was a perfectly creamy crème brullee with a crisp caramel topping and ball of lemon sorbet in a brandy snap basket. Guy tried a board of delicious West Country cheeses and our friend had the Langage Farm lemon and lime sorbet on a creamy jelly with pretty edible pansies. I thought that the three course dinner which included coffee was incredible value at £28.95 considering the elegant surroundings, friendly and attentive service and of course the delicious food.

The next morning we were back at our window table for breakfast to enjoy the garden views in daylight and of course I had to have the English cooked breakfast while Guy ordered a kipper from the breakfast menu. There was the usual range of hot toast with jam and marmalade, croissants, fruit and yoghurts, a choice of packet cereals, although the selection was fairly limited and I thought the breakfast didn’t quite live up to the magnificence of the dinner the previous evening.

Crystal room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Crystal room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

You can get married here too!

After the Young Farmers’ party on Friday night I noticed that the ballroom was being laid out for a wedding on Saturday and went to have a nose around while the staff were setting out the tables. The large Crystal room at the far end of the hotel is on two levels, the first of which was being set out with chairs for the marriage ceremony while the ballroom area was arranged with tables for the dinner-dance that followed. The room lived up to its name, with sparkling chandeliers and mirrors, and would be the perfect setting for a summer wedding when guests can walk out onto the lawn. In the gardens I spotted the wrought iron rose arbour which was designed and made by local blacksmith Matt Dingle and is popular for wedding photos or even for the wedding ceremony itself. Although the wedding reception was in full swing on the Saturday night when we were dining in the Wildflower restaurant, I was impressed that the staff managed to keep everything running very smoothly, accommodating both groups of guests, although I probably wouldn’t want to be sleeping in the bedrooms immediately above the ballroom when a major event like this is being held in the hotel.

Gardens of Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

The morning market at Tavistock

On Saturday morning we ventured out from the Moorland Garden Hotel to explore the nearby market town of Tavistock, which sits on the western edge of Dartmoor. The town became prosperous in the Middle Ages from the wool trade and was one of the “Stannary Towns” around Dartmoor that controlled the local tin mining that took place on the moor.

Market in Tavistock, Devon

Market in Tavistock, Devon

In front of the impressive stone Guildhall we chatted to the owner of the fruit and veg stall and wandered through the covered craft market. Through an archway we found the Pannier Market, a historic covered market that was given its charter 900 years ago and houses an eclectic mix of different stalls that change daily, with antiques, crafts and daily necessities. On the Saturday it seemed to be a bustling general market of everything you could hope to find in a Devon town, from birdseed to fishing bait, tweed hats to moleskin trousers and country fudge to old books and antique costume jewellery.

Around the courtyard that enclosed the Pannier market there were a number of small specialist shops, including de la Torre’s selling a huge variety of olives and Mediterranean foods like houmous, olive oils and jars of condiments. Right next door was the Country Cheese shop where the staff were only too happy to let us try a sliver of this or that before we decided which of the many West Country cheeses to buy, deliberating between the delightfully named Miss Muffett, Tilly Whim and other Devon specialities.

Market at Tavistock, Devon

Market at Tavistock, Devon

The Garden House at Buckland Monachorum

On the way back from Tavistock that afternoon we stopped in at The Garden House, a privately owned gardens in a secluded Devon valley, set around a Georgian vicarage. The garden was bought in the 1940s by Lionel and Katharine Fortescue who moved to live in the vicarage and started planting the 10 acres of garden which was further developed in the 1960s by head gardener Keith Wiley who introduced the naturalistic landscapes of the cottage garden, wildflower meadow and Acer glade.

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

Walking past the house where I made a mental note of the tea-room, we started our tour of the garden at the small lake where the water lilies and sculptural gunnera made a picturesque setting with the half submerged blue rowing boat that was moored to the bank, but not going anywhere. Most beautiful at the end of summer was the walled garden where the long herbaceous borders were filled with hostas turning to yellow and decaying brown, with fraying silver thistles and the bright spots of dahlias blazing pink and pumpkin orange. In the middle of the walled garden was a small stone thatched cottage, perhaps the gardner’s cottage making a backdrop for the dusty pink hydrangeas and pink penstomen.

At the furthest end of the garden we enjoyed the rhododendron walk which was now full of autumn colour with golden maples and acers lighting up the dark rhododendron foliage. The path led us gradually up hill through the Acer glade beside a small stream trickling over shale which had been cut into the grassy bank. Having completed the circuit of the garden we hurried back to the tea-room in the house before it closed, to have a Devon Cream tea and a slice of home-made fruit cake. Please note the Garden House is now closed for the winter and will re-open again in March.

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey, home of Sir Frances Drake and a Rembrandt self-portrait

On Sunday before we headed for home, we drove the short distance to Buckland Abbey, a medieval abbey which later became home to the Elizabethan sailor, Sir Francis Drake and is now run by the National Trust. We spent a few hours here, enjoying the great barn, medieval house, the Rembrandt exhibition and had lunch at the cafe before driving back to Bristol, although it would be very easy to stay a whole day here if the weather was fine.

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

The Cistercian Abbey was founded here in the 13th century, but after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the abbey was sold to Sir Richard Grenville who demolished some of the monastic buildings and converted it to a family home. In 1582 Sir Francis Drake bought the property with the proceeds of his bucaneering raids on the Spanish fleet in the Americas and it remained in the hands of his heirs until earlier this century. This year Buckland was in the news due the Rembrandt Portrait which came to Buckland Abbey in 2010 and after a 2 year investigation by art experts has now been confirmed as a genuine painting by the master himself. We enjoyed looking around the special Rembrandt exhibition within the house showing the portrait and details of all the ways they had confirmed it was genuine, as well as other museum exhibits such as Drake’s Drum which accompanied him on his voyages and is said to sound when England is in danger.

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

There are no shortage of things to see in this part of Devon and another time we might enjoy a walk up to one of the Tors on the moor or drive into Plymouth where the waterfront is being developed with new restaurants and museums. If you’re looking for a comfortable and welcoming hotel with an excellent restaurant to use as a base for exploring the area I’d certainly recommend the Moorland Garden Hotel and would love to come back in summer to enjoy the gardens and sit out on the terrace, perhaps enjoying a Devon cream tea.

The Moorland Garden Hotel, Yelverton, Devon. Rooms for a weekend stay range from £100-125 based on B & B for 2 people sharing or £125-155 for a suite. Check the hotel website for information on special breaks such as 3 nights for the price of 2, Sunday night stays or breaks that include dinner and afternoon tea. Dogs are welcome in the hotel and can stay in certain rooms. My tip would be to check whether there is a wedding or function taking place in the hotel when you book and if so request a room at the opposite end of the hotel where you won’t be disturbed.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Climbing my very first Via Ferrata – in South Tyrol

October 21, 2014 by  
Filed under featured, Italy, Leisure, Nature, South Tyrol, video, Walking

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.

Heather peak

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

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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.

Taking the cable car to the start of Piccolo Cir Via Ferrata in Val Gardena, South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Taking the cable car to the start of Piccolo Cir Via Ferrata in Val Gardena, South Tyrol

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?

Views of the Dolomites from Piccola Cir, South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Views of the Dolomites from Piccola Cir, South Tyrol

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.

Climbing my Via Ferrata in the Dolomites Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Climbing my Via Ferrata in the Dolomites

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.

Concentrating at a tricky bit on the Via Ferrata Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Concentrating at a tricky bit on the Via Ferrata

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.

Climbing the Piccola Cir Via Ferrata in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Climbing the Piccola Cir Via Ferrata in South Tyrol

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.

Made it to the top of the Piccola Cir Via Ferrata Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Made it to the top of the Piccola Cir Via Ferrata

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.

Walking back down to the valley Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking back down to the valley

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.

Thanks to my ever patient guide, Veronika Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Thanks to my ever patient guide, Veronika

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: info@catores.com. 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

My thanks to the South Tyrol Tourism Board for their support in this trip in collaboration with Travelator Media

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Cycling with wine and apples – on the South Tyrol Wine Road

Let’s imagine a perfect Sunday afternoon in South Tyrol. The sun’s shining and we’re having lunch on the terrace restaurant beside the sparkling water of Lake Kaltern, where families are sunbathing and enjoying a turn on the pedalos. It would be fun to have a swim but we’re off on our bikes to follow the small lanes above the lake that take us through the vineyards where ripe grapes are dripping from the vines and rosy apples are waiting to be harvested.

At the end of our cycle around the lake, we’ll stop to taste of some of the local wines from the small vineyards we just passed to round off the afternoon. Sounds inviting doesn’t it? This was my experience recently on a visit to South Tyrol, where in early September the summer crowds are heading for home and the weather is settled and sunny. It’s the ideal time to enjoy the fresh air and gorgeous landscapes combined with the gastronomic pleasures that this region has to offer, so let’s head off and enjoy the afternoon together!

Cycling the wine road in South Tyrol above Lake Caldaro / Kaltern in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling the wine road in South Tyrol above Lake Caldaro / Kaltern in South Tyrol

Let’s start with lunch by the lake

Beside Lake Caldaro / Kalterersee (everywhere in this region has an Italian and German name) is the lido and restaurant at Gretl am See where it seems that the whole population of Bolzano / Bozen is out to enjoy the last weekend of the school holidays. The sun loungers are laid out on the grass around the swimming pool but the sun-worshippers have laid their towels out on the slatted wooden piers that overhang the lake. This is the warmest lake in the Alps, being relatively shallow and blessed with long days of sunshine, making it perfect for bathing late into the summer. There are pedalos for hire and we’ll be sure to keep an eye on the flag flying from the ruined fortress on the hill, so we know when the wind from Lake Garda will be strong enough to go windsurfing.

Lunch at Gretl am See with a view of Lake Caldaro / Kaltern in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Lunch at Gretl am See with a view of Lake Caldaro / Kaltern in South Tyrol

Our table has been reserved on the terrace overlooking the lake and today I’m trying the grilled trout, but you can have pasta or risotto if you prefer. We are in Italy after all, although this part of South Tyrol has a more Germanic feel. The restaurant is running a “fish week” menu with seafood dishes, since we’re not so far from the Adriatic, but I’m sticking with the trout from the Alps rather than the prawns or scallops from the Mediterannean.

If you go:
Gretl am See: Restaurant by the lake with a summer terrace, open from Easter to October.
Lake swimming at Kalterersee: Swimming is possible from May to October. In addition to the Lido at Gretl am See there are a couple of other places to bathe around the lake for a fee at Seegarten and Campi al Largo.
Camping at Gretl am See: There is a campsite right by the lake next to the restaurant as well as a number of hotels and self-catering accommodation around the lake.

At Gretl am See by Lake Caldaro / Kaltern in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Sunday at Gretl am See by Lake Caldaro / Kaltern – doesn’t the water look inviting?

Cycling on the wine road

It would be relaxing to spend the rest of the afternoon beside the lake, but I’m keen to explore more of the “Wine Road” that threads through South Tyrol. This well-mapped route for driving or cycling joins up the vineyards and wine producing villages where you can stop and taste the local wines and we’re planning to cycle a small section of it this afternoon. Let’s pick up our rental bikes in the village of Kaltern, on the hill above the lake and meet Roland, our guide for this afternoon. Roland is lean and tanned with spray-on lycra shorts and when he’s not leading cycling tours he works as a fitness instructor. Although we may not match Roland in fitness we have a secret weapon to help us keep up with him on the hilly stretches of our cycle route around the lake – our e-bikes. At the press of a button on the handlebars the electric motor cuts in and Hey Presto! suddenly the steep bits seem quite effortless.

View of the vineyards by Lake Caldaro / Kaltern in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of the vineyards by Lake Caldaro / Kaltern in South Tyrol

We’ll follow Roland out of Kaltern and onto small lanes with hardly any traffic that run through the vineyards above the lake. The vines are neatly trained on wires with bunches of luscious, ripe grapes dangling at the bottom where the leaves have been trimmed away to give them maximum sunshine. Some of the bunches are plump and glossy black, others almost as small as raisins and others green and golden brown. I’m quite tempted to eat a few but I don’t quite dare, having read how one grape pulled carelessly off the bunch can lead to rot and spoil the whole bunch – enough to ruin a farmer’s day! Every so often there’s a large crucifix beside the road or a water trough at the edge of the vineyard planted with a rose bush or clump of lavender. In the shade of the vine we can spot a bench with a table and sense the good life, a place to rest from the sun in the shade of your own vines. Down in the valley is the blue water of Lake Kaltern and on top of the wooded hill the flag is now flying in the wind beside the ruined turret.

Let’s follow the road downhill as it leads us back down to the valley and the road beside the lake. The shady road through the woods is cool as we pass a few local houses where the ducks and chickens are pecking in between the vines. Outside one of the houses (website here) is a wine kiosk with bottles hanging up ready for a wine tasting, a small farm and wine producer which also offers accommodation under the Red Rooster organisation offering farm holidays in South Tyrol. We could have stopped to taste some but Sunday is a day of rest here in South Tyrol with most of the wineries being closed so we’ll press on past another larger guesthouse and winery Weinhof am See Ferienwohnungen a little further down the hill.

Exploring the small vineyards of the wine road in South Tyrol near Lake Caldaro / Kaltern Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Exploring the small vineyards of the wine road in South Tyrol near Lake Caldaro / Kaltern

Apple time in South Tyrol

Now we’ve reached the road that runs along by the lake and cross over onto the SeeWanderWeg path that runs around the southern side of the lake. The land here is naturally marshy, too wet for vines and in between the apple orchards are drainage channels with wooden walkways leading into the Biotope area that’s been created among the reeds as a wildlife habitat. The apples look so appetising, some green, some yellow, some rosy red or plum coloured. I ask Roland where I might find the reddest apples to stop for a photograph and he tells me “there’s a place near my house in Kaltern where the apples are so red you can’t imagine, every time I pass them I want to pick one”.

Apple time in South Tyrol cycling through the orchards at Lake Caldaro / Kaltern Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Apple time in South Tyrol cycling through the orchards at Lake Caldaro / Kaltern

Time is getting on so we’d better speed up along the far side of the lake with the wood rising up above us. Luckily the e-bike comes helps us keep up the pace as we pedal along, past a couple of hotels that have swimming places. The small paths thread through vineyards where the grapes are dripping below the pergolas and the land rises up towards the village of Kaltern. You’re probably getting thirsty on the upward stretch but let’s keep pedalling a little longer and we’ll get up to the main road where we can stop at the Wine Center run by the Kellerei Kaltern wine co-operative.

If you go:
Bike Hire: We hired our bikes from Piazza Rottenburger in Caldaro / Kaltern from €21 per day for an adult bike or €30 per day for an e-bike (worth every penny). You can also buy a BikeMobil card  for 1, 3 or 7 days from €24 for 1 day which entitles you to use South Tyrol’s integrated Public Transport Network with Bike Rental for 1 day during the period from any of the stations or cycle hire places in the Sudtirol Rad / Bici Alto Adige network. More information on the SudTirol Rad Website

Time for some wine tasting

Phew we’ve made it! I think by now that we’ve earned a taste of some of the local wines after our ride around the lake, so let’s stop at the spacious modern Wine Center beside the road that runs from Bolzano. Like many of the wineries in this area the architecture is striking with glass walls and open spaces, contrasting with the older buildings nearby. Most of the wine makers in these parts farm small plots of land of a hectare or less so they go for quality rather than quantity and rely on the expertise of the wine co-operatives in the wine villages like Kaltern to produce and market their top quality wines.

Wine tasting at the Wine Center at Kaltern in South Tyrol  Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Wine tasting at the Wine Center at Kaltern in South Tyrol

You’ll notice that the staff are all wearing their dark blue aprons with pride, it’s a mark of an artizan food producer in South Tyrol. Before the Wine Center closes we’ve just got time to taste our way through a few of the many local wines on offer. There’s a Vial Weissburgunder Pinot Bianco which is fresh and fruity, a light wine for an aperitif, to drink with fish, risotto or pasta. Here’s the Premslaver Sauvignon 2013 and I’m tasting lemon and citrus flavours in this full-bodied wine which has been matured in oak for drinking with food. I’ve been looking forward to trying the Campaner Gewürztraminer although this grape is more typically grown around the village of Tramin which give the wine its name. The spicy flavours go well with Asian food and I’m tasting roses, lychee and mangos, although the style is not as floral as the Gewürztraminer that we tasted when we were in Alsace.

Although I prefer white wines, we can’t go without trying some of the reds like the Pfarrhof Kalterersee wine that is named after this area and is produced from the Vernatsch or Schiava grape that we passed on our cycle ride dangling from the pergolas. Then there’s the other typical grape of the region, the Carano Lagrein which is rich ruby red and full-bodied; “this is our Ferrari” says our sommelier. We’ll finish with a sweet desert wine, an award winning Muscat full of peach and apricot flavours, so delicious that I can’t resist buying a bottle to take home.

Wine tasting at the Ritterhof winery at Kaltern in South Tyrol  Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Wine tasting at the Ritterhof winery at Kaltern in South Tyrol

Our afternoon comes to an end as the Wine Center closes and I’ll pack that bottle of Muscat away in my suitcase, ready to open at Christmas and bring back the memories of the vineyards of South Tyrol, the sparkling Lake Kaltern and the 300 days a year of sunshine.

If you go:
Wine tasting: The WineCenter of Kaltern is right on the main road from Bolzano and offers tastings and purchases of a wide range of local wines. You will pay a small amount to taste each wine which is then set against any purchases you make. You can also find more information about wine tasting in Kaltern on the Kellerei Kaltern website and you will find their winery in Kaltern village, as well as the Wein.Kaltern website representing the wine growers of this area.

South Tyrol Wine Route: There are 3 sections of the wine route through the wine regions of South Tyrol, the Northern wine route starting in Bolzano, the Central Wine route from Merano to Lake Kaltern and the Southern wine route from Kurtatch to Salern. The Winepass MobilCard can be purchased in wineries and tourist offices and allows use of the South Tyrol Public Transport Network, combined with wine offers such as winery tours, tastings and entrance to wine museums. The cost is €35 for 3 days or €40 for 7 days. There is also a free South Tyrol Wineroad App to download for iPhone and Android and a free Culturonda Wine App with information about South Tyrol’s wine culture for iPhone and Android.

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

My thanks to South Tyrol Marketing for providing this experience on my visit to South Tyrol in collaboration with Travelator Media

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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