Sunday, November 18, 2012

Selva, Italy - September 2012 (Days 3 and 4)

A view of Selva

Looking down on our base village: Selva in the Gardena Valley just south of the Italian border with Austria.

The sky is beginning to lighten and I suppose the sun will be peeking over the mountains fairly soon. I will head down to breakfast in about an hour. This is the start of our first full day in the town of Selva near the Italian/Austrian border in the Dolomites. Here you will find signs printed with names in Italian and German: a legacy of when this area was taken from the Austrians in 1919 after World War I. Mussilini attempted to eradicate all vestiges of Austrtian/German influence but as so often seems the case he did not really succeed. You are just as likely to find people conversing in German as Italian and I expect people slip from one language to another with reckless ease. To say nothing of those who speak a language known as Ladin which is some local tongue I know nothing about. Selva, also known by the old German family name Volkenstine (sp), sits high in the mountains at an elevation of about 5,200 feet above sea level. It is the third and highest of three close villages that lead up to a pass that I suppose marks the border. The hotel Malleier (Ma-lay-ah) sits above the bulk of the village though there are plenty of inns higher up the mountain slopes than we are. I understand the population of Selva is 3,000 people but they have 12,000 beds for tourists. We are here at the very end of the walking season. Many hotels, including this one, will close for several weeks until the winter skiing season begins in December. This town does have an apprpriate alpine feel about it. Many of the buildings have flower boxes attached to their windows. The buildings have that chalet look about them that just feels right. At the same time the town is clearly geared towards the tourist industry with many small cafes, markets, sporting goods stores, and innumerable hotels. But while that kind of reminds us of Jackson Hole, Wyoming the town lacks the relentless theme-ing that Jackson Hole has. Or, maybe more likley, we just are failing to notice it. Selva feels more real somehow with the Dolomites rising all around her. Perhaps that is just an accident of geography. While there are some mountains snuggling up to Jackson Hole you typically have to drive to where you really want to go (e.g., Grand Teton National Park). Here cablecars and other mountain conveyances have base stations right in town.

We arrived in mid-afternoon and after dropping our luggage off in what seem to be very posh rooms the majority of the HF group formed up to take a quick walk into town for a bite to eat. We settled on a cafe with canary yellow canopies sheltering tables outside for our repast. They don't skimp on portions. The sandwhiches we got for ourselves will serve as at least one lunch today. The atmosphere was congenial and I suspect that although our group is rather large, 26 guests and 2 HF leaders - Paul and Michael, we will mesh well. Sitting under those huge umbrellas on a pleasingly warm, probably in the low 70s under direct sunlight, afternoon was a pleassure. After all, we had spent the previous couple of hours on a bus driving from Verona. I think we will have no trouble finding interesting places to pop into in this mountain village. When you walk by a place that has a giant wood carved chain saw in front with a sign politely asking that you not climb the saw you have to feel good about where you are.

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Sassolungo Massif

The Sassolungo Massif.

We decided to jump right in and tackle the harder walk. What seems to really differentiate the walks is the amount of elevation gain and looss, especially gain. The harder walk would take us about 9 miles starting and ending at our hotel through the northern and western, reletive to the villages in the Gardena valley below, mountain slopes. We would gain and loose about 2,900 feet though hardly in equal meassure of distance. Contrast that with the easier walk which was, I believe, about 8 miles and gained 800 feet while descending about 2,900 feet. Our group of 16 people including HF leader Michael probably got moving just around 10:00. The morning had warmed up from a brisk mid-50s a couple of hours earlier to the mid-60s and the valley temperature was heading for a high in the mid-70s. All in all, fine hiking weather.

We started the walk by strolling the winding and steadily climbing streets of Selva. These paved roads and sidewalks are often remarkably steep and it was not all that long before we were well above the heart of the town as we passed through the outskirts of the village along route number 3. We left the paved paths after about 0.8 miles and began, still fairly steeply, what can be thought of as wide hiking paths and sometimes single lane dirt roads maybe a bit akin to a woods road. Though steep the paths were very well maintained. You ascend through forests that seemed to me rather quiet. I heard the sounds of insects but I don't think I really noticed much birdsong. If you were lucky you might hear off in the distance the tolling of a cowbell.

Now and then our path would pop us out onto short grassy steep slopes that would provide us with the big mountain views. I beleive many of these peaks are limestone and it is fascinating to watch them change color as the light changes. For example, the dominating, rather conically pointed peak of Sassolungo was craggily gray and white early on but later in the day well on its way to jet black. A lone small cloud seemed to hover over the peak throughout the morning.

Rifugio Jusc
Rifugios like this one (Rifugio Juac) are located throughout the moutnains. Sure they, and the chairlifts,intrude on the "natural" scene but then you could argue there ihas been little not impacted by human hands in Europe for centuries so perhaps it's just part of the world.
One thing that I continue to be amazed by are the mountain rifugios (Italian: rifugio; German: hutte) that pop up from time to time. While perhaps not all have places for people to spend the night they all seem to have thriving kitchens that serve hot and cold drinks and food. I know mountain roads criis-cross the region but it still seems odd that these places are here. Numerous small huts that are used by families as resort cottages abound and I guess are accessed by mountain road or snowmobile trail depending on the season. Surely people don't schlep large amounts of supplies to these small and large huts via the gondolas that run up and down the mountain slopes. We took our first half-hour or so break at Rifugio Juac and I suppose our second half hour break was taken about an hour later at a somewhat higher hutte (Gamsblutt, Ithink). I tried a radla (sp) , a shandy, which is beer mixed with lemonade. It won't be something I crave; I found it not very thirst quenching. This second hutte was near our highest point of elevation. We began descending not long after visiting it. Initially our descent was on a mountain road.. We saw a couple cyclists and a car going in each direction. The road is actually steep enough that taking small steps is quite adviseable. There are enough loose bits of rocks to make footing at times seem a bit slippery though realy it is more than adequate.

Mountain vista
We found a little grassy hillside that gazed down into the grassy valleys below for lunch. A small narrow path was here but to be honest I am not entirely convinced it was an offiical hiking path. It had more of the feel of something that had developed over the decades are an alternative to walking the road. But even if that was the case it was a fine, and quick, way to drop elevation down towards the valley floor. When we left our lunch spot some clouds had rolled in blocking the sun but the temperature was still around 66F. Our thighs burned as we walked down the path towards the sound of distant cowbells. Lo and behold we soon found a small herd of cows munching their way through a small alpine pasture. The only cows we saw the whole day. Earlier we spied a horse and mule and maybe a cow but that was it. Leaving the mountain farmstead behind we found a hiking path that steeply switched back and forth down towards the village of Santa Cristina. By this time we were heading pretty much southernly and dropping fast. In fact, I am confident that we did our descending far more quickly and in a far shorter distance than the ascending. I would not be surprised to find that the descent was done in half the distance the ascent was (i.e. 3 miles versus 6 miles - sure some level bits were in the hiking too but never very much). A bit after 14:00 with the temperature soaring to about 75F we arrived at the heart of Santa Cristina.

Santa Cristina cemetary
Castle Volkenstine
I think what struck us most about this village , later repeated in Selva, was how still and quiet it was. No people were out and about. No cats or dogs made their existance known. We saw a couple people in the church and that was it. We definitely saw more people in the mountains than the villages. Now it is true that the big parking lot we encountered somewhere between our lunch spot and the village was surprisingly full of vehicles so perhaps everyone was out in the mountains but it still seemed a bit peculiar to be in a village that was so seemingly devoid of life. The cemetary plot outside the church was interesting. While the village may have seemed unreasonably quiet there was no shortage of traffic on the mountain highway that runs through Gardena Valley. Our group would split up in the village with many deciding to trek to a gondola for a ride up and down before hiking the rest of the way back to Selva. Four of us decided that wasn't worth the extra walking and so struck out along the jogging/cycling path that was once an old railroad that connects Santa Cristina and Selva. It is about 2 miles and you gain a few hundred feet of elevation as you stroll down the modern paved path with views of the mountains to the north, south, and east. Not far off the path is Castel Wolkenstien which was the family seat I suppose for the family who gave Selva its Austrian name. It was just after 16:00 when Mom and I returned to the hotel and found Dad waiting for us (he had been feeling under the weather so had decided to return to the hotel not long after we started the walk). A good but tiring day and I know my thighs will be sore.

You can see all the photos for the first day here (11 Photos).

You can see our route here on EveryTrail.


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