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Trip Report Ortisei, Urtijëi, St Ulrich, it all means love - no matter how you say!

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Paris and Venice may be known as the cities of love, but I'll make a bold claim here and suggest Ortisei be added to the list! OK, so I am sure you don't need to go too far in Europe to find many more such cities (Florence!) and such a title is highly subjective, but I will declare this now to the world - I am in love with Ortisei.

I spent around 2.5 weeks in Italy late July and had played with the idea of just one trip report for all five places I stayed in, but I have decided to break it down into bite sized chunks, perhaps with some overlapping a little. I will start with Ortisei, even though we arrived after one week already in the country. Was it my favourite place? No. Did I have my favourite experiences here? No. You see, the word favourite and I did not make friends very well in Europe, because almost everywhere was my favourite. So by the end of the trip, favourite considered me a little promiscuous with its use. So I have stopped using it so as not to upset it anymore. ;-)

I will just say this, after six weeks travelling through Spain, France, Italy and London, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world, because I had so many amazingly incredible experiences, all completely diverse and all memorable in their own individual ways. In many of the places, especially in Spain and Italy, I felt easily at home. Ortisei was special for the following reasons:

1. I am Australian and while we have some 'mountains', we don't have anything like the peaks of Europe's alps, or the Dolomites, and I love to hike so seeing this incredible series of mountains put a smile on my face every moment I was there;

2. The beautiful open spaces and often quiet, almost empty trails, made me feel completely connected to where I was and to Italy, as I gazed in wonder at its pure natural beauty;

3. The village itself was like what I imagined a fairy tale place to be in my childhood.

4. The people.

5. The people.

6. The people.

Need I write more?

We arrived in Ortisei late on a Tuesday afternoon, after picking up a hire car in Vicenza (we had been staying in Padua but we booked last minute so there were no cars available there) late morning. While I think the estimated drive was less than 2.5 hours, we took somewhere between 3.5 and four hours – we are Australian so we drive on the left at home and are not used to the 130km/h speed limits either (110km/h is the most we are allowed. If we weren’t on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, navigating an unknown part of the world, we probably would have got to 130km/h no problems!), plus we also took a wrong turn once or twice which lost us some time.

I did not realise until I arrived in Ortisei just how badly I had wanted to come here. After months and months of research and planning for the trip, I had looked at many images of this stunning place. But we had left one week out of six unplanned and hadn’t booked Ortisei. My friend was not keen on hiking and I decided to wait and see when we arrived in Italy. We could always go our own ways for a few days.

But after enduring the searing heat of Padua and Venice for a couple of days (it was about 37 degrees in Venice but felt so much hotter given the large crowds and much concrete in the city and I nearly passed out after a few hours!) I knew that I needed to escape to the mountains for at least a few days, before heading back south towards Rome. My friend agreed and so we booked our car and off we went.

I had also originally liked the idea of Trento because it was closer and still offered hiking. But even though it was just one hour from Ortisei it was a searing 38 degrees, while Ortisei was forecast around 28 degrees or below. Decision made! And when we pulled into a service station at Trento for a drink and were greeted with a hot furnace blowing on us upon our exit from the car, we were very glad to be heading upwards!

Wonderfully, as soon as we arrived my friend turned to me and said ‘I am so glad we have come here!’ It was such a beautiful place, big enough to be occupied hiking or no hiking, and small enough to feel like a divine, cosy village. I will never forget the moment I saw the village spreading before me from my hotel room balcony.

We were very lucky to get two rooms in a hotel just a short uphill walk from the village for a very low price. We stayed at the family-run Garni Rives and were immediately fascinated by the mix of Austrian/German, Italian and Ladin culture within the region. I could write many pages about each day in Ortisei but I don’t want to bore everyone to tears so I will try to summarise based on what we did, rather than a day by day experience.

We stayed four wonderful nights and I hiked three days in a row. Ortisei gave me an entrée into hiking in Europe and I can’t wait to return either to hike/climb the via ferrata routes of the peaks, or to the Mont Blanc or Zermatt areas – or anywhere that challenges me while making me smile as Ortisei did!

My first day hiking was around 4.5 hours, after planning on about two hours. I am easily distracted and easily coerced by nature to just keep on going. I was advised by several people, including a lovely Welsh man we met the night before at pre-dinner drinks, to head to the Resciesa trail via the funicular. So this is what I did, but then I just kept going. I am not great at keeping records, although I did mark on the map where I had been, but I have left that at home and am not there now so I might update this bit later. Suffice to say I ended up walking to St Peter and have some wonderful pictures of me entering this lovely town. By this stage it was very overcast and I could hear thunder. The signs were telling me that to get back to Ortisei would take more than a couple of hours and I didn’t want to risk being stuck on a trail during a lightning storm (although I was always much quicker than the estimates), so I opted for the more unusual route home via the road! It had no shoulder and plenty of traffic so it was a little hairy but I have to say the amazing Italian drivers never once abused me or came close to touching me.

About 75 minutes later I arrived back in Ortisei just a little bit wet, very hungry and tired but smiling from ear to ear. When could I get back out there?! My only concern was that, not knowing whether I would hike or not I opted to leave my hiking boots at home to save weight in my case. So I just had my running shoes, which were OK but the rather rocky downhill terrain in parts was a little more hairy in these shoes than I would have liked (and not the most comfortable underfoot).

After a quick shower, Fiona and I headed into the village for a sandwich, more water and a glass of vino bianco to congratulate myself with! 

The next day, Fiona and I both decided to go to St Christina – just different ways. I headed there via Monte Pana, along the Seiser Alm route (I think this is accurate! I am not the best when it comes to working out maps and I was proud just to get to where I had hoped to, after asking the wonderful information centre staff each day on where I should go next!). I took the chairlift down from Monte Pana, but in hindsight I wished I had walked it. I had a funny moment when I climbed over a red and white ribbon seemingly indicating the trail might be closed – but it was so loose and small that it was hard to tell. In the end it was just indicating trail works were happening and there were many workmen laying bitumen. I figured that their calls of prego when I said grazie for moving to allow me past meant I had not broken any rules! This was another wonderful day, full of beautiful views and I really enjoyed the walk into Monte Pana, in which I was staring at one of the peaks of the Dolomites bearing down on me.

I met Fiona in St Christina and enjoyed a panini and some powerade before we set off along the main route back to Ortisei. My worries about wearing my running shoes dissipated today as the terrain was a mix of bitumen and earth, so very few rocks to worry me on this route.

My last day of hiking took me up the gondola to Alpe di Suisi and then I walked to Compatsch – a delightful little place with horses, a running park and a few shops. I wandered around, enjoying the sight of everything new, bought my son a couple of running tees which fit into my backpack nicely, and looped my way back to the gondola via another town which for the life of me I just cannot recall the name of! I will try to recall it and add it when I do! I am sorry for my lack of memory … It was a small town but had some restaurants and hotels and was in a beautiful valley. I headed from here back to the gondola in a mostly uphill route. I was glad to reach the top again! Then it was back down to Ortisei for some lunch and time to repeat our evening routine …

So our evening routine was another very special aspects of Ortisei for me. There was no other place during my six weeks which brought me back every single night for drinks and dinner than the bar and restaurant we frequented every evening in this beautiful place. I am sure we missed many wonderful bars and restaurants in doing so, but what we gained was a wonderful sense of belonging that made us feel as though we could easily become locals in this town.

Now this is definitely showing my lack of ability to recall things (and wish I wrote more down!) but I can’t for the life of me recall the name of the bar, but it was opposite Hotel Adler, on a corner, and had a lovely view straight ahead and to the left – the left view overlooked the gondola across the road. Each night I ordered prosecco (OK several proseccos) and we enjoyed the wonderful outlook, the lovely charming staff and chatted to other bar-goers. We met a lovely man from Wales who had just finished a day of bike riding after finishing six days of trekking in much harder terrain than my walks. And we also enjoyed the company of a wonderful lady from Munich who was in town for business.

Now I do know the name of our restaurant: Vedl Mulin. Why did we keep coming back to this restaurant/pizzeria? We didn’t actually mean to and every night we thought ‘oh we should maybe try somewhere else …’ and then we would end up back at Vedl Mulin. But we loved the restaurant so much, mostly for the delightful wait staff and their friendliness, along with the really good food and wine at a very reasonable price. It was also nice to enjoy the Ladin cuisine, as opposed to Italian (which I loved, but being in this region was like going to another country without leaving Italy, so why not try the food too?). Over the four nights I had fish and chicken and veal and it was all wonderful, accompanied by fresh vegetables and lovely sauces. On the first night, we decided to order dessert, as we had to try the local strudel! After talking with our waiters and answering their queries about where we were from, they brought out the dish with ‘Welcome Australian Girls’ written in chocolate sauce around the edge of the bowl. We were chuffed! Ortisei doesn’t get many Australians visiting – in fact most people thought we were English as they didn’t recognise our accent, and we didn’t hear any other Aussies the whole time we were there. We also only heard a couple of UK and American accents incidentally. So we were a novelty, it seemed. They actually brought the chef out to deliver us the dessert which was a nice touch.

The next night was very funny. We declined dessert this time but they still brought us some! A plate of strawberries and cream arrived, to our protests! But it didn’t stop there. The chef then arrived with another plate, which he set down in front of me. This one had a volcanic mud cake on it, with the words ‘Love is …’ written in chocolate sauce, and the cake served as the letter ‘o’! I laughed so hard I cried, it was a very funny moment and one which probably doesn’t translate as well in words on this page. A few minutes later the chef, who I later discovered also owns the restaurant, returned with a notebook, from which he started to sing Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender to me! That was it, I could not stop laughing. The poor German family next to us must have thought we were insane.

The desserts kept coming for the next two nights – more strawberries and cream and some coconut ice cream, but sans the serenades. We thought it was a good thing we were leaving after four nights because we would be rolling out of town if we stayed much longer! Seriously though, the wait staff at this restaurant were wonderful. And their stories warmed our hearts. Two of them were from Romania, including one who had just come to work there for the summer before returning to his home to go to university. But his older friend was 26 and had two children, aged two and four, who he and his wife left in Romania with his wife’s parents four eight months every year (split over two four month seasons) so that they could work in Ortisei and earn enough money to give their family a future. They work seven days a week for up to 14 hours a day, with a two hour break in the middle. I was humbled to hear this man’s story and it made me feel extremely grateful that I was able to travel from the other side of the world to enjoy this wonderful town freely, while he didn’t even get one day off. But of course I know that it is because we come that he has work. It is just nice to remember how lucky we are though, I think.

So, despite suggesting this would be a concise post I have gone on and on and am very glad I have not tried to do all of Italy in one post or no one would read it at all!

It is a wonderful thing to spend just four nights in a place and have an instant connection. This happened to me in every single town I stayed in in Italy, along with Spain. I feel like little bits of my heart are in all these places, and a big bit is in Ortisei. I do hope I one day return. I’ve been talking to another friend who has climbed the high peaks of the Dolomites before, about coming back next year. But I am not sure if I should or if I should try another part of Europe, perhaps in the Alps. I will see. I do know that the small, easy hikes I did here gave me the confidence that I could do the higher peaks, and the passion to make sure that I do.

Ciao for now,
RT :)

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