Tyrol-ling along

When deciding where to go for our main summer holiday there were three conditions;

  • not too hot (his condition),

  • not too expensive and

  • not somewhere we had been before.

He’s got a list of places he wants to visit and Tyrol was pretty near the top. Tyrol crosses Italy and Austria. As a part of the world that has been contested for over 1,000 years there is plenty to see if you’re into castles, wars and mountains. We love walking, hiking and cycling so with the Dolomites, lakes and cities all close at hand, it is perfect for a more active holiday too. We are also trying to make our lives more eco-friendly, so there were a few new things we built into this hol. They included:

  • Attempting to reduce plastic and palm oil use

  • Using public transport instead of hiring a car

  • Avoiding single-use stuff even if it wasn’t plastic (like paper straws, napkins and disposable cutlery)

Verona

We flew into Verona. From the UK, this was quick and cheap. Arriving super early, we went straight into the city and visited the one thing you must do in Verona - Juliet’s balcony. It was one of those moments where you don’t truly get what’s happening; you’re visiting a randomly associated spot about a fictional character that the author of the play never visited. But it was a fun five minutes! Reading the notes pinned on the walls is by far the most interesting bit. We didn’t spend much time doing this, but it was worth it. Verona is pretty and parts of it are very old, going back to Roman times so there’s lots to wander round including the arena and the stadium. We were there for 24 hours and that was fine. It was the opera season in mid July so there’s a performance every night which I’m sure would be incredible (but it’s opera-prices, so we skipped it). There was a huge thunderstorm about 9pm too, which could only have added to the atmosphere of Aida.

Verona seems full of sushi restaurants and the one we had dinner in, Kobe, was fab. We had a glass of wine/ beer each, plenty of food and dessert for €70.

Lake Garda

The next day we set off for Lake Garda. This hol was car-free, so we took the train. It’s about 15 minutes from Verona to Peschiera del Garda in the south-east of the lake, and the train was clearly a popular option! It was Saturday though so I’m sure it was filled with local people as well as tourists.

Lake Garda is pretty big - 15km wide and 50km long so you have plenty of choice in where to stay. Peschiera is very commercial - we stayed in Meet Hostel - big and modern with great facilities and a fab vibe. If you wanted a more chilled out vibe, I’d recommend Garda or one of the small towns on the west of the lake, where there was much less resort feeling.

We hired bikes from Mauro in the centre of Peschiera, he was super! Fast, clear and helpful. We paid €10 per day per bike. Getting around is dead easy - there’s bike lanes everywhere, but be warned that they tend to disappear at roundabouts and sometimes randomly halfway up a road! You just need to be aware that you’re sharing the space with cars. And despite it being a lake, there are HILLS. We did over 100km on the bikes in 2 days and several of the hills we climbed were nearly 20% inclines. TOUGH, especially in flip-flops on a 4-gear city bike.

To get around between cycling, we got on the ferry. The routes need some research and you pay a supplement for the bikes (usually about €4 per journey). You can get a pass, but you still need to pay the supplement for the bikes with this pass.

We did the following routes on the ferry:

  • Sirmione to Bardolino

  • Garda to Gardone

  • Manerba to Sirmione

  • Malcesine to Riva del Garda

Each trip was about €10 per person (plus the bike supplement). Each little town has charm and interesting little shops as well as historical stuff and amazing food. At Riva del Garda, I totally recommend taking a short road-hike up the hill to Cascata Varone. It’s 3.5km from the west side of town up a hill, but it’s well worth it!

After 2 ½ days, we left the lake from Riva del Garda and got the bus to Trento. Here, there’s not a huge amount to do, but it’s pretty for a wander around and a good spot to sleep if you’ve done a lot of activities in the previous few days, like we had! There’s a large university there, and it’s really mainly a student town. Beer is cheap and decent (rather than just commercial and generic) and you’re not going to break the bank eating in any of the local restaurants (except maybe Le Due Spade, which was full and looked really fancy).

Bolzano

From Trento, we got the train to Bolzano, which took about 40 minutes and was very pretty. I fully recommend travelling by train, as you get to see and talk about so much more than just heading up another highway with one person concentrating on the road. I think this journey cost us €15 each.

Bolzano is the ‘last’ town on the Italian side of the border - and everything is posted in both Italian and German. It’s a perfect example of how things can be done perfectly sensibly in multiple languages with no one really taking much notice of which you chose to try to communicate with them in. It makes me feel so awful that I have almost no grasp of any other language, despite being taught French since I was 7 and having decent grades in German GCSE. As you might imagine, everyone also speaks English.

Bolzano is very pretty and full of interesting buildings and spots to sit and watch the world go by. Our AirBnB was the most unusual crooked apartment at the top of a turret - complete with art by the owner and vintage bathroom fittings! It really felt like we could have been staying during any given decade of the last 100 years.

From here, we took the cable car (there’s several) up to Suprabolzano (literally ‘above Bolzano’) and hiked for a couple of hours. A return ticket was €10. I can’t imagine how beautiful and perfect it must be in winter - like an Alpine mountain dream. In the middle of July it was verdant green, full of meadow flowers and buzzing summer insects (in a good way!) and babbling brooks in the dappled forests. The signposting for the routes is impeccable and you can choose anything from a 45 minute wander to a 6 hour hike.

We got back into town just in time for our host to tell us about the lunar eclipse that evening - which pretty much topped off our sense of otherworldliness of this incredible spot! We ate a typically Tyrolean dinner of dumplings and sauce (him) and risotto (me) and proceeded to wander the town in search of our millionth Aperol Spritz. We’d been told to head to the park along the river for the best view of the eclipse and by 11pm, when the moon was due to tip over the 4,000 foot peak above the city there was a few people standing on the bridge and in the park waiting with cameras, binoculars and baited breath. As we all know, you need some pretty decent equipment to photograph the moon, but suffice to say seeing it in person was awesome. After this unique experience, we walked home a bit mesmerised and got up early to head out of Italy and into proper mountain terrain!


Ortisei/ Vipiteno

Our final day in Italy was spent in tiny mountain villages. We took a local bus to Ortesei, which is a very small winter sports centric town, where we dropped our bags off at a ski/ bike hire shop by one cable car station, and walked across town to another cable car, up into the most beautiful mountains. There was literally days of hikes to be done, all superbly marked. This was our main problem - it had taken us a while to get sorted when we arrived in town - be warned! Everything (except restaurants) close between 12 and 2pm, so if you want to hire a bike or find any info, you’re not going to do it between those hours. I would recommend getting out there much earlier than we did, packing a picnic and just getting out there into the mountains.

Eventually, we got everything we needed, and took the cable car up to the top station at Seceda. Cable cars are pricey in this region as they are actually pretty incredible feats of engineering, and take you a long way. The price for one return ticket up to the top station here was €34. Make the most of it! After taking some gentle high altitude routes, we decided to walk back to the middle station, which we mistakenly thought would take us 40 minutes, but was actually more like 1.5 hours. Only we didn’t have 1.5 hours until the last cable car (due to waiting until after 2 to head up there) and we had to literally sprint the last mile or so. Scary, stressful and the next day… not good for your legs!


We got back to the town, picked up our bags and got back on a bus to Ponte Gardena, where we connected with a train to Vipiteno. This journey, from Bolzano via Castelruth, and up to Vipiteno was about €30 each in total. We arrived into town about 8pm, and straight into the middle of a festival! This was totally unplanned and really awesome. The whole town was out, lining the streets under make-shift long tables, with each restaurant along the high street serving slow-cooked pork and traditional Tyrolean food. At the top of the street, in the main square, was a stage with a huge dance floor. This awesome Austrian gypsy band were playing the kind of folk music that you cannot sit still to, and after a couple of truly awful red wines (and Weissbiers for him) for about €4 each, we were swinging each other around. We even managed to find some vegetarian food for about €8 each. The festival was a celebration of lanterns - there were stilt walkers wearing lit-up costumes that looked like Chinese Lantern plants! It was magical. I wish we hadn’t booked a hotel here, as there were so many guesthouses in town that looked great quality and I’m sure wouldn’t have been any more pricey than our truck-stop motel.


Innsbruck

As one of the most popular ‘jumping off points’ for winter sports, we thought we’d be spoiled for choice with activities. Whilst the town has a couple of interesting things to see, and the cable cars are totally spectacular, there isn’t the glut of summer activities I was expecting. We had 2 days here, with the intention of taking a pretty convoluted journey to Hintertux glacier. But after we got our timings wrong hiking down from the cable car to Vipiteno the day before, we were too muscle-sore to spend another day doing mountain sports! We got a train from Vipiteno to Brennero, then onwards to Innsbruck. The whole journey was about €20 each.

So we wandered a bit, and found some time to chill out in the park with a book. We took the cable car up to the top station at Nordkette - again, a pricey ticket at €36 each for a return, but such incredible views, I think it was worth it. Leaving the city in shorts and sandals, only to have your toes in the snow 45 minutes later reminds you of the power of this planet. If we fail to take heed of the damage we are doing to it, I have no doubt that it will tip us off and return to equilibrium. I am filled with awe at its splendour.

These two days of being a little calmer were actually very welcome, and if I did this holiday again, I’d have spent less time in Innsbruck and more time in those gorgeous villages high in the mountains in Italian Tyrol with said book, a glass of wine and a beautiful view.


Munich

Our last day, we headed north on the train to Munich. Crossing from Austria into Germany, this journey was about €40 each, and took nearly 2 hours. Trains are super clean, new and comfortable so it was no problem but this was our most travel-heavy day and I’m glad we didn’t do this much train time any other day, as it’s a bit more boring than the bus, without the option to break it up so easily.

I liked Munich! It’s a big city, with plenty of cultural areas like a chinatown, hipster areas (of course) and some cool museums and institutes. It was the only day that rain spoiled our fun, and as it was our last day, we suffered with that ‘waiting to go to the airport’ feeling too. We headed to the Deutsches Museum - jumped the huge queue by buying our tickets on our phones and walking straight to the front, and spent ALL day in there. The cloakroom is free (cha-ching!) and the museum is just huge. Apparently it’s considered one of the best in the world, and I can believe it. The basement is set up like a working mine, and takes you on a journey that feels like it’d fit in at a theme park, let alone a museum.

I’m an easy sell on learning, so I think I was always going to love this place, but it really is worth it if you’re 8 or 80. Totally recommend. From about 5pm, when the museum closed we sat outside Rosi cafe until it was time to get the metro to the airport. Munich is full of this type of bar - with lots of seats and table service. People came and went, sat alone, on dates or with friends, and it felt cosmopolitan and friendly. I’d go back to Munich.


Notes

We paid around €100 per night for pretty much everywhere we stayed. This was the cheapest we could find whether it was a hotel, hostel or airbnb. We were never disappointed with our accommodation, and it’s fun doing a mixture of hotels and airbnbs, but this was part of the holiday that made it more ‘adventure’ and less ‘relaxing’. I don’t recommend it if you just want to chill out for a week!

Most of our tickets were bought on the day too - either online with our iPhones or in the station. You can do this very cheaply, but you do need to make sure you know what route you want to take or it can get confusingly expensive. Remember if you’re not on an EU passport that you are sometimes crossing borders on the train, and you may need to prove your right to travel.

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