Monday, 8 August 2016

25th July - Weisshorn, South Tyrol, Italy

This year for our main holiday we decided not to travel too far, but to take a short flight into Italy, and then a train up to the Dolomites.  No long international flights with the prospect of jet lag, a short flight and a relaxing train journey, so much more easier.  We were travelling with Inntravel once again, and once again, up to before we left the customer service had been excellent, keeping us updated and at the last moment changing the rail tickets to avoid possible cancellations due to a rail strike.  If the rest of the holiday was a good as this service we were in for a treat.

The Dolomites are a particular mountain range of the Alps, known for the white rock (Dolomite can be said to mean white rock), situated in the South Tyrol region of Northern Italy.  This area has changed ownership over the years back to Roman times.  In the early nineteenth century Napoleon gave the region to the Bavarian troops who helped him conquer the region.  However when he became disillusioned with Maximilian I of Bavaria he took it back and it became part of his Italian Empire in 1810.  Then after the Battle of Waterloo Austria took control of the region and maintained it for the rest of the century.  The area then became popular with tourism and climbing but this ended with the First World War.  In 1915 Italy allied to France, Britain and Russia and this put the region in the middle of hostilities. 

The Great War changed the nationality of the region and the inhabitants.  Ultimately the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian war effort meant Italian troops could occupy the region.  A year after the fighting ceased, the region was given to Italy by the Treaty of Germain.  The region consists of two provinces, Trentino and and the SudTyrol.  Trentino fitted well with the Italian Republic, however the Sudtirol with its majority of German speakers lead to upheaval and friction.  In the 1930's Mussolini's regime trtied and failed to Italanize the region and though the region was occupied by the Germans during World War Two, it was returned to Italian ownership with the treaty of Paris in 1946.

We were visiting to enjoy the scenery, take on the challenge of some serious walking, and hopefully to record some of the fauna and flora.

We were up at 3.00am, on the road at 4.00am, the first challenge was the parking at Gatwick, we finally worked that out after some concerns, and made it through check in and security.  Flight was called on time everyone on board on time, then we waited for an hour to take off.  Fortunately we had a wait at Verona for our train to Bolzano, a wait of two and a half hours, then the train was late.  We arrived in Bolzano around 15.45 local time, we had now been travelling for just under 11 hours.  It was then a taxi ride, and we finally arrived at the hotel around 17.00.  We had been on the road for 12 hours and it felt like it.  In fact I felt much more tired than if we had endured jet lag.  There was a short shower as we sorted ourselves out in the room, but soon the rain cleared away and. The sun came out.  It was then dinner, time to watch the sunset, and bed.  Needless to say it didn't take much to fall asleep.

We were up relatively early today, from our hotel in Radein, the Gasthof Zirmerhof, 
 we would be walking up towards the huge lump of limestone that is the Weisshorn, or Conero Blanco as it is know in Italian.  The area whilst being in Italy has a huge German influence, and in places signs are shown in both languages. The hotel was predominantly German, and it felt like business conferences in the Munich area I have attended.

A few rooms had balconies looking out across the valley towards the Alps in the far distance.  In the clear early morning air the views were wonderful.

Looking west from the hotel.

And out across the farm run by the hotel.

We started our walk after breakfast after yet another drama.  The path took us away from the hotel, through a grazing pasture, with views back behind us of the hotel.

Then up through a forest of Pine and Larches.  In the trees Coal Tits and Goldcrests called, the sun was filtering through, and in the grass on either side were plenty of flowers including what  were to be many Spotted Orchids.

Huge mounds of pine needles by the side of the path, and out under the pine trees were the nests of Wood Ants, you had to get  close to appreciate the vast numbers of these busy insects that have created these huge colonies.

Wild flowers lined the path as we walked, this Martagon Lily one of the stand out flowers.  Martagon is in fact a Turkish name that refers to the shape of the flower, and an alternative name, the Turk's Cap Lily.

There were also low growing azalea like shrubs, which are known as the Alpine Rose, but are really a small rhododendron.

The route took us through forest, and then into more open sunny areas where the first butterflies of the day appeared.  The first to be seen being a first for me, the Large Wall Brown.  At first hiding in the grass.

Then out nectaring on a form of Knapweed.

Smaller butterflies appeared along the path.  I thought at first they were Small Heaths, but on the lower wing there are well defined spots, and a dark greenish sheen, not seen in the Small Heath, they were another first, an Alpine Heath.

Further up we were treated to some lovely views out across the valley.

We could also see down to Radein, the village we had walked from, and the local church.

In front of us was a lovely alpine meadow full of flowers and insects.  Butterflies and moths could be flushed from the grass as you walked through it.

There were more Alpine Heaths in amongst the grass.

And a fair number of Six-spot Burnets, a day flying moth.

A Jay sized bird flew across in front of us, and then another which settled at the top of a pine tree.  It was a Nutcracker, a bird I have seen before, briefly, but I was hoping for the chance for better views on this holiday.  The bird is related to Crows and Jays, and the full name is Spotted Nutcracker.  I described it Helen as a bird the size of a Jay that looks like a big Starling!

They feed on the pine seeds mainly, but will take nestlings and bird's eggs if avaialble, and they were not welcomed by the smaller song birds.

The meadow was full of daisies, and knapweed amongst the grasses, but low down were these delightful purple alpine flowers, known as the Chiltern Gentian, although this is the UK name given to it because it is only found in the UK in  the Chilterns, being the chosen county flower of Buckinghamshire.  It is widespread on the continent ranging from France to the Balkans, and has a a latin name Gentianella germanica.  Over the course of the holiday we were to see them at all altitudes on our walks.

The climb now became strenuous as we approached the 2000 metre mark.  This was our first day at altitude and it was telling, the pace slowed, but it did allow us to spend time watching some more new butterflies.  Although the only ones we found were common in the UK.

The Speckled Wood

And a superb Dark Green Fritillary

In the dark of the pine forests we came across this interesting flower that I have yet to identify.  Thanks to Andrea, this is now identified as Black Rampion.  Found widely across Europe, it is a form of Campula, and apparently this flower features in the story of Rapunzel.

Finally we reached a view point that looked down into the canyon, and up towards the summit of the Weisshorn.  This is the southernmost peak of the Dolomites at 2317 metres above sea level.  The mountain is set in a highly interesting geological area along with the Bletterbach Canyon.  As with the majority of prominent mountains within the Dolomites the predominant rock is Limestone.  

We now had a choice, continue to the summit, or walk around the base at the same level, but before we decided we took the opportunity to rest and enjoy the views over the Bletterbach Canyon, we would be walking through here tomorrow.

It was still a fair way to the top, possibly scrambling over rocks to get there.  As it was our first day walking and at altitude we were not used to yet we decided to rest, take in more of the panorama, and then head downhill through the forest again.

The path now was level for a while as it skirted the contour, then dipped down through grass and woodland.  More butterflies appeared in the open areas despite the now more overcast conditions.

A rather tatty Black-veined White, I hope there will be better specimens of this quite spectacular white butterfly.

A Mountain Green-veined White, another first.

There were also more Alpine Heaths and several other white butterflies that just passed us by not stopping for the camera, one of which was definitely a Large White.

A bird flew up into the pines in front of us and I now had that better view of a Nutcracker.

Along the side of the path there were more orchids, this a deeper purple in colour, but still a spotted orchid.

And in patches these White False Hellebores.

The sun had now gone in and grey clouds were gathering, storms were forecast for the afternoon, but once we reached a mountain inn at Gurndinalm the sun returned.  As we approached the inn we crossed a path that had a sign that left us with no excuse as to where we were.

The Inn was in an open meadow that looked up towards the mountain so we decided to stop and have some lunch and a drink.

A typical Alpine looking building made of pine with shutters with a wonderful patterned grain.

After lunch we carried on down the hill, again through the forest with only now a few butterflies about as the cloud was getting thicker.  The walk took us downhill through forest, and then more open grassy clearings.  In these there were several white butterflies, and when one did stop for me i realised that they were Wood Whites, a rather dainty butterfly that is almost all white and has a very light and gentle flight, almost like that of a fairy or nymph

There was to be one more drama on the walk, I had dropped the route notes and had to go back to find them which meant quite a steep climb back up the path.  Having found them it was back on our way, the path winding down into the village. The path took us through a small fam, and nesting under the eaves of the roof were Crag Martins, similar to the look of a Sand Martin, but without the lighter belly and breast band, these swallows flew around us like the House Martins, then settled on perches on the barn.

We seemed to loose our way but managed to get back onto the path we had walked when we left the hotel.  There were more Six-spot Burnets on the Knapweed, the flower also being an attraction to several types of bee.

As we walked back towards the hotel Swallows, House and Crag Martins were feeding low over the grass in the meadows.

Looking back up to the Weisshorn mountain dark clouds had gathered, and thunder could be heard rumbling away distantly.

We sat on the terraces it's a latte in the sunshine, but the thunder edged ever nearer until finally the rain came, and it was a lot heavier than the previous day with plenty of thunder and lightning.

Once the rain had finally stopped the mountains took on an air of mystery with grey cloud winding around them.  With different shards of light highlighting the range.

With different shards of light highlighting the range.

Dinner in the hotel both nights was superb, set menu, four courses and all of the highest quality.  The service too was very attentive while not intrusive, I would not hesitate to come back here it was excellent.

1 comment:

  1. Could it be the Black Rampion?

    I've enjoyed this post very much!

    Cheers, Andrea


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