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Trip Report 10 Days in Sud Tirol & Dolomites

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We got back from a trip to the Sud Tirol / Alto Adige and the Val Gardena on Labor Day. As I’ve really benefited from posts in the past, here’s a quick report for everyone.

My husband and I are a 51 year old athletic couple with biking experience and minimal hiking experience. It all started with a post by “hardwater” back in Nov 2009 talking about a very reasonable self-guided bicycle tour in Austria. We did that tour last year solely based on his post and really enjoyed it. So this year we decided to try another European self-guided bike tour.

We picked a South Tyrol tour by FunActive, even though we couldn’t find any reviews on the company. We selected the South Tyrol tour because you stayed multiple days in some locations and it would be a fast bus ride to the Val Gardena for hiking to end the trip. We found that German was typically the preferred language throughout our holiday but everyone was bilingual and also spoke Italian. We only saw two other groups of Americans over 11 days and no Brits – it was 100% German and Italian. We biked, trained or bused everywhere – we did not rent a car.

Here’s a high-level recap with a few pointers.

We flew into Munich because it was non-stop from Atlanta and it took less frequent flier points. We did pay for “econo-comfort” seats which give you a bit more leg room and a bit more recline for $40 per flight … plus free drinks. We decided it was worth it mostly because we were one of the few people with an open seat in our row on the way back. They don’t seem to do any automatic upgrades to econo-comfort from coach.

We got our train ticket from Munich to Brixen that morning when we arrived, because we weren’t sure which train we’d catch. We didn’t want to pay for first class, but the only downside was that without a three hour advance we couldn’t get reserved seats in second class … plus we had big bags. We survived just fine but got booted from our seats twice on the way to Innsbruck and roamed the train for places to sit, splitting up at first. It gets a bit crazy when the trains are crowded with luggage everywhere and people are sitting on jump seats or standing. Reserved seats are nice and only cost about 4 euros per ticket in 2nd class.

Brixen – we stayed at Hotel Gruner Baum, which we enjoyed. They actually put us in the wing up the street. We had a huge bathroom and lots of room. A beer garden appeared in the park across the street on the second day, complete with a great oompah band who played til 10 PM each night. We loved it – it was a pretty high class family affair for a beer garden. The breakfast bar at the hotel was pretty good – it even had a self-service juicer with carrots and apples. They were having the honey festival in the Centro while we were there, complete with a Honey Bee queen (could have been Miss Georgia) and yes, another beer garden. We loved the combination of German and Italian cultures! A hidden but tremendous deal is the Brixen card. Our hotel was a participating hotel, and included this card – but you better ask about it as you make the reservation. We got 7 days of free buses and trains and entry to museums such as Otzi, so it had a long range far outside Brixen (train all the way to Mals, Sterzing and Toblach) – GREAT! We trained to Toblach and biked back. Then trained to Sterzing the next day and biked back - lovely down hill rides!

Bolzano – we stayed at Hotel Stiegl. The common and outside area was nice, but the room was shabby and it was quite noisy with the window open. Depressing after Gruner Baum! Staff was very nice and efficient. Really liked the Otzi exhibit. Also enjoyed dinner on the Centro square where a café had a 5 piece jazz band playing – lovely! We really enjoyed the Kaltersee area while bicycling. Had lunch in the Centro of Kaltern and enjoyed some wine tasting. Saw apple orchards and vineyards everywhere.

Merano area – we only spent a night in Merano at Hotel Flora and didn’t see much of the town. Hotel Flora was very basic but everyone does get a balcony and the staff was very nice. There is a lovely bike ride that is extremely popular where people take the train to Mals (where you can rent bikes) and then bike to Merano. It’s around 60K on lovely paths. You immediately go thru Glurns, which is a tiny and beautiful walled town. You could do this for a day without being part of a bike tour – it’s all flat or down hill.

Val Gardena – we trained from Merano back to Bolzano and walked a block to the bus station to catch the bus – easy! We stayed in Ortisei at Hotel Grones. We loved Hotel Grones! The food was fantastic, we haven’t eaten that well ever in our lives. The trails were a bit crowded the weekend we were there but the dolomites were still quite impressive and inspiring. I’ve now hiked a bit in the Berner Oberland, the Engadine and the Dolomites … loved them all and each one is a bit different. If there weren’t so many people in the Val Gardena, that probably would have been my favorite, as it is they are all tied. We hiked around the Alpe de Suisi and went down the Kompatch lift taking the bus back. Only issue there is that Alpe di Suisi lift is not part of the Val Gardena card, so we had to pay extra to get down. The terrain over by the Seceda lift is absolutely gorgeous, it’s a must-do. Also we did the hike mentioned other places but backwards. Went up the Mt Pana and Seura lifts from St. Christina, hiked up and had lunch at Comici and then hiked down to the Ciampionoi lift and bused home. Lunch at Comici was fabulous. Saw four men hunting right by the path on Seceda, weird and kind of scary. I understood from someone who lives in the Engadine that it’s perfectly natural for hunters to be out in hiking areas in Europe. Hotel Grones had a lovely little reception for everyone on Friday night complete with appetizers and a Tyrol accordionist. Our only complaint there is that they pour the weakest drinks we ever had. Stick with wine or beer or even the mini-bar. It was a lovely experience at Hotel Grones!

I knew, having asked Fodorites, that I’d have to get our return ticket on the bahn site because the Italian railroad doesn’t sell tickets thru to Germany. It looked like it was going to be a pain to get Hotel Grones to print our ticket as they had no public computer/printers so I decided to just get the tickets on the train. That worked just fine and there was no upcharge –the only issue being that once more we didn’t have reserved seats and had to be somewhat nomadic finding open seats. The upside is that you meet a lot of people.

We absolutely loved the combination of German and Italian cultures … my husband was thrilled because people were much more willing to talk to him in his broken German than they had been in Austria. The weather was lovely, and the bike paths were incredible. Train and bus transportation was very easy even though we spoke little more than English. We are already looking for next year’s tour!

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