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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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 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.
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.
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
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