South Tyrol
April 2024
More photos here


During lockdown I'd had a guided trip to the South Tyrol first postponed and then cancelled, the latter due to post-Covid low numbers. So I felt I was owed. This trip is actually entitled Merano and the Val Venosta, run by
Art Pursuits, and led by Ulrike Ziegler, who had been the manager of last year's trip to Medieval Champagne.
Due to the early start tomorrow I overnighted at the Gatwick Hilton. I signed up to use an app on my phone to open my door to bypass any queues, but as the desk had two staff and no queue I covered myself and got a key card too. Which was just as well as the miles of corridors, with room numbers on the signs in cunning reverse order, meant my phone battery had run out... I exaggerate of course. The room (4145) was much nicer than the ones in the Heathrow Hilton, having everything one could want, except for a face flannel.

Sunday 14th
I set my alarm for 5.45 so as to meet Graham from Art Pursuits between 6-7am at the British Airways check-in desks in the South Terminal. The aeroplane was the emptiest ever, with our group of ten making up about half the passangers. And our early departure meant we were 35 minutes early arriving at Innsbruck. Coming in through the mountains was special. Our early arrival meant we could cluster and meet before Ulrike, our leader, and Stefanie our tour manager arrived. Our coach from the airport took us into the city centre of Innsbruck for lunch. A veggie quesadilla and a Dunkel Weissbier went down very well.
We then met back up to visit the Museum Ferdinandeum to admire a carved wooden altarpiece from Tyrol Castle (to be visited on Tuesday) which lacked its painted panels as they were away being restored. Some fine sculptures, though, including some by Hans Multscher. The ground floor seemed to house a supermarket, but it was an art installation, complete with a bored bloke on the till fiddling with his phone. And you could buy groceries from it, and thereby contribute to the piece.
A longish coach ride through the Brenner Pass to Merano and the Hotel Bavaria. My room has nothing wrong with it at all, and a balcony with a view and birdsong and church bells on tap. The room had everything, including a (wide-screen-shaped) face flannel. (Much later in the week, on our very last day in fact, I was informed that they were bidet towels.)
After the 6.30 greet-up, with prosecco, the included dinner at the hotel, was five courses. The veggie version featured a berry smoothie, which was odd, and a coconut brownie with mango sorbet (see right) which was delicious. Our waiter Erik, when I expressed my admiration of the latter, let on that cake was the chef's speciality. The salad, arancini, and pasta in a tomato sauce were more straightforward, but also yummy.

Monday 15th
Breakfast was excellent, with plenty of bread choice, as you'd expect in Germany, but no cake, like you'd get in Italy. And typically Italian unfresh orange juice. I mentioned the unItalian lack of cake to our boss waiter Erik, especially as he'd told me yesterday that cake was the chef's 'thing' , and he pointed out how the South Tyrol really wasn't like the rest of Italy. True.
After breakfast we strolled down to, and along, the promenade beside the river/rapids into the centre of Merano. First we visited the Hospital Church of Santo Spirito (see interior right) which had carved wooden altarpieces which were not special, and odd columns that fanned straight into vaults without capitals, which I'd not seen before. Our second church, St Niklas, in the medieval centre, was very similar. We stopped for coffee in between, or hot chocolate in my case, with a look at the Kurhaus (spa complex), designed by a colleague of Otto Wagner who had a bit of a thing for the baroque. After St Nick we made for the Landesfürstliche, a little very old townhouse with much charm and wall painting. The chapel behind railings is the photo right.
After lunch, which a few of us had back where we'd had coffee this morning, where the waiter got something wrong with almost all six of our orders, I had my first gelato of 2024: a mandarin and coconut conno, which the nice man topped with a sample of raspberry.
We then coached it up to Schloss Trautmannsdorff, which was a favourite of Empress Sisi and which has a huge garden of a horticultural nature, with gardens devoted to different countries and art pavilions, with great swathes of tulips and we had a charming and knowledgeable local guide and... it was OK.
Our evening meal was at the Saxifraga Kurhaus. I had asparagus soup, followed by pasta with asparagus, both times the white sort. The creme caramel with cherry sauce ended things well.

Tuesday 16th
At breakfast this morning I seemed to be getting odd looks from the waiting staff and then I noticed that the bread table was now a bread and cake table. My new mate Erik had taken my comments to heart and promises me cake all week. Now that's service!
A day of short coach hops today, firstly to the Schloss Tirol (see a photo of the approach right) the Castle of the Counts of Tyrol to admire ancient church remains, two fine carved doorcases and a two-level chapel decorated with frescoes, where the altarpiece missing its panels which we saw at the museum on Sunday lived.
Lunch was a relatively modest single course affair, after recent blowouts. I had spinach ravioli with a piccolo Weissbier. The ice creams were all big sundae jobs with much whipped cream and syrup, so we all resisted.
Next the coach took us to Schenna for a visit to the Mausoleum Erzherzog Johann, where one of the last Hapsburg Archdukes is buried in the crypt. It's 19th century neo-gothic and hence was not such a novelty for us Brits. The appeal was the local guide who was married into the local aristocratic family, who looked after the church and lived in the castle behind. Then on to St. Georg Fresken, a circular-planned church half-full of good and odd frescoes (see left).
Tonight was an independent dinner evening, but we nearly all opted for the hotel restaurant's a la carte. Me I had a plate from the salad bar, a cherry and almond smoothie and a cauliflower quarter in a curry sauce. The desert was After Eight cake so I resisted, not being at all a mint choc fan.

Wednesday 17th
We took the coach today to Lama, one small town with two jaw-dropping churches. Maria Himmelfahrt has a spectacular carved wooden altarpiece (see right) by Hans Schnatterpeck largely. St Margaret's has impressive Romanesque frescoes all over the east end, which are also winningly weird in places.
Our Included lunch at the Restaurant Reichhalter was also special, with a touch of the Indian in the flavours.
We got back to our hotel around three, and were thereafter free. I took the opportunity to take myself to the Merano cemetery, but it was a bit too clean and well-kept - more interesting than loveable, with a mind-boggling range of shapes and types of headstones, all with photos of deceased taken in better times or the care home.
Having been well stuffed for several days now I was able to contemplate taking a sweet bretzel to my room, borrowing a kettle from reception for the brewing of redbush tea bags, and having a quiet evening and a bath. So I did.



Thursday 18th
The coach this morning took us up the Val Venosta to Schluderns and the renaissance Churburg castle (see photos above, and the deer with the radish right). We had to have a local guide, called Wolfgang, but he was very entertaining and knew his stuff. He even let me hold his impressive bunch of big old keys. Twice. The painted walls of the courtyard and the OTT mannerist decorated rooms were very impressive and quirky. Armour and weapons are not my thing but the (world's largest) private armoury was, dare I say it, awesome.
Also in Schluderns our included lunch was at Burggasthof zum Weißen Rössl. A cheese platter, with some yummy bread, was followed by mezzaluna-shaped spinach ravioli.
Afterwards our coach took us to Latsch and the Spitalkirche zum Heiligen Geist for another spectacular carved and gilt wooden altarpiece, this time by Jörg Lederer & Hans Schäfelein. Our last visit was to Naturns to visit St. Prokulus with it's very old frescoes (see far right) which have recently had their dating changed from ages and ages ago to just ages ago. The church has a museum which we weren't visiting, but some of our group took advantage of the facilities and I bought a fridge magnet, with the woman confusingly apologising for not having one in English. She meant the caption on the front.
An independent evening but some of us opted for the hotel's a la carte again. I had the salad bar and berry smoothie, followed by tempura vegetables.

Friday 19th
For our last full day we coached up along the Val Venosta again, but further than yesterday, to Müstair, which is in Switzerland, but only just. To the Benedictine convent church, of St John, which is full of well-preserved frescoes, in overlapping Carolingian and Romanesque layers. The Museum has more frescoes - large removed panels. Then we got shown, by a local guide, the more patchily decorated Chapel of the Holy Cross, and she let us look at usually closed crypt, where a large number of baby skeletons were recently found. The convent shop supplied me with apricot jam and Hildegard of Bingen biscuits, made by the nuns, and a bar of locally-produced spicy pear bread. My evaluation of the cost of these items was somewhat skewed by my not realising that they were in Swiss francs.
Back in Italy we had an independent lunch together, at the Gasthof Grüner Baum in Glurns. I had pesto gnocchi and my first apple strudel of the trip, which featured very unflakey pastry and no vanilla ice cream. The most memorable aspect of the place was finding the toilets, in the maze of cellars, which were chock full of bric-a-brac, including skis.
The coach then took us to Burgeis for the Kloster Marienberg, with a monk showing us the heavily frescoed crypt chapel. Having discussed the beardless and bearded Christs previously in the week, we commented on the oddly feminine face of Christ in the apse (see right) and the monk told the story of how a female restorer had changed to face to its current weird femininity without asking the monk's permission. It had almost ended up in court. Lastly to the Carolingian church of St. Benedikt in Mals, to conclude our day of fine early wall paintings.
Our last night dinner was at the Restaurant Kallmünz, and included asparagus, but with the green sort too; and potato croquettes with bits of aubergine inside, on a cheesey tomato sauce. Dessert was a pile of fruit bits with half a ball of mint ice cream coated in chocolate (see above).

Saturday 20th
My mate Erik had told me that Friday nights at the hotel restaurant were cake nights. My disappointment at missing it was very soothed by this morning's tasty leftovers.
Following farewells and bill settling our cases were loaded on the coach and we headed for
Feldthurns to visit Schloss Velthurns, the renaissance summer palace of the prince-bishops of Brixen, a Mannerist treat for its wall paintings and wood panelling and views out of windows (see right).
The coach then took us to Innsbruck. We were supposed to have an independent lunch but a booking was made so we had in independent lunch together. Our final visit took us not to the Multscher Museum, as planned, as it was closed, but to the museum again, which is attached to the Mausoleum chapel of Maximillian (see right) which is introduced by a very impressive audio-visual display through three rooms, featuring models and projections. The rows of huge bronze figures are of inspirational past Hapsburgs, as well as figure with less obvious connection like French king Clovis and King Arthur from England
Our 7:30 evening flight looked like being as good and empty as our inbound and then the weather delayed it's departure by two hours. I got home well before midnight nonetheless.
So, a memorable trip, for all good reasons. See above for most of them. The weirdest thing was being in Italy, but it not being like Italy at all. The language thing meant that the dual-language panels in the museums never had English, the bookshop I went in in Merano had books in two languages, both of which I can't read, and where all Italian towns have a via Cavour here it was called Cavourstraße. I really must visit Germany more, although I was in Italy this week, as usual. Apologies if this trip diary mixes the Italian and German a bit confusingly, but that's the way it was.




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