Have you ever arrived somewhere a bit apprehensive, afraid that you may have chosen unwisely when a big attraction is located just an hour or so away? Have you ever been so pleasantly surprised to find that you actually made the best choice ever? Welcome to Ahrntal, Italy.
When mother and I continued our journey following Granny’s footsteps around Europe, it took us to a place I hadn’t heard much about before. We had some leeway since it wasn’t super specific, but settled on a valley called Ahrntal since I had already been to other parts of South Tyrol and had fallen in love with the food and discovered I like rock climbing in the Dolomites (famous local mountains and a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
When we initially looked at the spot on a map again en route on Eurail, Mom pointed out that it was pretty far from the famous Dolomites. It was all that she knew of the region, and it was all I knew as well. I was a little nervous but optimistic.
Then, we arrived and discovered a quaint and far less touristy little valley that was full of greenery and little mountain chalets. Even better, there were so many hiking trails all over the place that there was no chance of boredom, with or without the Dolomites next door.
What I loved about Ahrntal is how undiscovered it still is. South Tyrol, especially where the Dolomites are (closer to Bolzano) is not exactly a secret destination but this German-speaking, Alpine region of Italy is still not what most people picture when they think of an Italian holiday. I guess that’s why I dig it so much – it’s unexpected.
I like this region of Italy for just about every kind of holiday – family, solo (I loved the interactions I had with locals there), and I can imagine it being perfect for romantic holidays, too.
I was also happy to come back and see it in a different season since it was full of fall foliage the last time I was there. The summer greenery gave me a new level of appreciation, just like I’m sure the winter does with its snow blankets.
We partially chose this valley because of the Hotel Alpenpalace. It looked so stunning from the photos, plus it included meals that consisted of several courses, plus a pick up from the train station and rides to the surrounding hikes – our main reason for being there.
They also offered activities like guided hikes and yoga daily as well. We didn’t partake since we had our sights set on one hike in particular, but it struck me how, if one were to really take advantage of everything offered, the price of a five-star starts to even out to what a cheaper hotel would be where snacks, meals, and activities aren’t included.
Mom and I also couldn’t get over how fun and cute our server, Antonio, was. Always saying, “anything for you Madame,” to my mother.
Here’s a little video if you’d like to see more:
The trail we set our sights on is called Speikboden – also a popular skiing slope in the winter.
We were pretty impressed before we even started walking, finding that we had the trail almost entirely to ourselves all day. Each step provided us with yet another view and another perspective of the gorgeous valley. Then we rounded a corner, and, both in awe, my mother said, “this is every other mountain view on steroids” and I agreed.
It was easy to see why those who live among these mountains erect crosses every so often along the trails and at the top of various peaks.
When you’re surrounded by such profoundly beautiful nature, it becomes that much easier to believe in a higher power – a divine hand that could have created something otherwise beyond imagination.
To get to the top where the hiking is the best, I suggest taking the round-trip cable car + chairlift combo ticket for €17.
You still get plenty of steep hiking in if you take the route we did, which was the panorama trail plus the trail to the giant cross from the start of the cable car to the chairlift. It took us all day, with a break for lunch, to do it all.
It’s also possible to go before sunrise on Wednesdays, which, if we’d been there on a Wednesday, I would have insisted on. As it was, we got up there right in the early morning, during what I can only refer to as “blue hour” given how the mountain layers looked plus the Dolomites in the distance.
Nothing is too far away
Pretty close to where we stayed, there was a gorgeous little water fall and a hiking trail that ran right up to it.
The falls were beautiful on their own, but what really delighted me was peering in the other direction, and seeing a full-on circular rainbow on the other side.
If you still want to see the Dolomites or the famous Lago di Braies, everything is just a short drive or bus ride away.
My second return to South Tyrol within the year was such an excellent decision, and I was so happy to return with my mother, especially after saying to a local last time I was there, “I’m coming back, and next time I’m bringing my mother with me.”
The fact that it worked out so perfectly as we followed Granny’s journal just added to the perfection.
Thanks for the beauty, Ahrntal.
*This post was brought to you in collaboration with Hotel Alpenpalace and Eurail. As always, you can trust that everything I’ve written is what I really feel. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either company for your South Tyrol vacation.