The first surprise about going to South Tyrol is that it is in Italy, and not Austria, which is very confusing because Tyrol, without the compass direction, is most definitely Austrian! Historically, the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that is until 1919, when it was annexed to Italy and became a German-speaking region within Italy. After decades of unease and unsuccessful attempts to make the inhabitants speak Italian, the region was given its autonomy in the 1970s and today it is the wealthiest province in Italy.
Visiting South Tyrol from Switzerland by train is an adventure in itself as the scenery just gets increasingly more beautiful as the journey advances. Leaving the Swiss train at Zernez, the only way through the mountains into Italy is by the postal bus that makes its way up and over the hills and through medieval town streets so narrow that you want to applaud the bus driver. The passengers are obviously all locals as I’m the only one who seems to be holding my breath as we drive through old city gates with only millimeters to spare on each side.
I’m traveling here to mountain bike around the town of Naturns and test Tudor’s latest chronograph in the process.
Born to Dare
As this adventure was going to be quite athletic, I needed a timepiece that was tough enough to keep up, so I chose the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chronograph, a timepiece that I had almost overlooked what with all the other Tudor timepieces released this year, but one that had my entire attention once firmly strapped to my wrist. And as Tudor’s tag line is #BornToDare, it seemed somewhat appropriate for a weekend of mountain biking.
The lovely people at Tudor put it on one of their splendid denim-style straps for me. All Tudor Nato straps are woven on 19th-century Jacquard looms by a 150-year-old family firm from the region of St-Etienne, France. These fabric straps provide the perfect fit, especially for the smaller wrist size.
The Heritage Black Bay Chronograph is equipped with the brand’s manufacture caliber MT5813 with column wheel, vertical clutch and 70-hour power reserve. The timepiece is somewhat of a hybrid as it combines the aquatic heritage of the brand with the world of motorsports (and now amateur cycling)! The 41mm steel case includes an engraved tachymeter scale on the bezel, enhancing the sportive nature of the watch. Other features include hollowed sub-counters on the dial for optimal contrast, a date at six o’clock and the famous snowflake hands.
The Resia Pass to Naturns
The Tudor’s first adventure was to mountain bike in the Val Venosta. With our guide from Naturns’s Ötzi Bike Academy, we set off by minibus to the start of the trail. The journey takes about an hour up to Lago di Resia, an artificial lake that is famous for the 14th-century church steeple that protrudes from the water. In winter, when the lake freezes, you can walk out to it. Legend has it that the bells still ring, even though they were removed before the creation of the lake.
After taking a few requisite photographs, we get on our mountain bikes and set off on a 65-kilometer ride which has an elevation of +80 m / 1,000 m. The trail is relatively easy as it is practically downhill all the way, although don’t underestimate what 65km of cycling can do to your bottom!
The route is predominantly on trails, and only crosses roads on rare occasions, making it a favorite for families. There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the scenery, such as the medieval town of Glurns with its wooden bridge, porticoed streets and fortified gatehouses. We pass Spondigna and Prato allo Stelvio to Laas, which is famous for its marble. From the cycle path, you can see the steep railroad that brings the marble down from the mountain. This was the very same marble they used for the New York City Ground Zero monument.
As we arrive down into the valley, the apple orchards spread out as far as the eye can see. This region produces over half of all of the country’s apples, and our guide informs us that one in 10 of Europe’s apples come from here. They sure do look good and I have to suppress the urge to go scrumping.
South Tyrol Wine
It isn’t only apples that thrive here; the region is also famous for its Riesling, which matures later than most wines and is usually found at higher elevations. Naturns is very proud of its Riesling and each fall the town celebrates its wines for a month-long event where the Riesling Gold Award is given to the best vino.
As I’m unfamiliar with Riesling wine, I have the pleasure of the company of local oenologist, Monica Unterthurer, who organised visits to local vineyards Viticoltore Franz Pratzner and Castel Juval for me.
The following day I have an early meeting at the Ötzi Bike Academy with somewhat of a headache from all the winetasting, and a very sore bottom from all the riding. When I look at the map and see the elevation — going up this time — I must admit, I wasn’t feeling quite as sporty as I was the day before. But, much to my surprise (and delight), our guide brings out two electric mountain bikes.
I always had the impression that e-bikes were for the elderly, the lazy, and/or those who don’t want to get all sweaty on their way to work. Electric mountain bikes, however, are quite a different story as they are for mountain bikers who want to climb up to the top of a hill and then bomb down the other side. They allow bikers to avoid crowded trails where the only way up is by cable car or chair lift. The e-mountain bike gives you the freedom to go anywhere and everywhere. You still have to peddle, but the boost the motor gives you is incredible. According to the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chrono, we climbed over 1,000m in one hour fifteen minutes and came down the other side in 18 minutes. It was an absolute thrill.
Relaxing in Naturns
Luckily, I was staying at the Preidlhof Hotel, which had a four-storey spa and wellness center for my weary legs, a must on any mountain-biking holiday. In the evening we met up with local photographer and author, Christjan Ladurner, who took us up in the cable car to Unterstell where we walked out on a platform that gave panoramic views of the whole region. Just below the platform was the Klettersteig Ferrata mountain climbing course, which I got talked into doing. I was assured that children do this all the time, but as I advanced into the course, I started to worry about how Tudor would react if I fell down the ravine with their watch. I remembered their #BornToDare slogan and reached out for the next peg. The South Tyrolien children must have awfully long legs!
Back on firm ground we ate the most incredible spread of local meats and cheeses at the Berstation Unterstell restaurant. The Italian influence has definitely been adopted by the German-speakers. It is really the best of both Austro-Hungarian and Italian cultures.
The cable car had long closed by the time we had finished dinner, but the owner kindly started it up just for me and I got my own personal ride in the dark. It was the end of a perfect weekend, my legs were weary, my tummy was full and I had thoroughly enjoyed my Tudor Chronograph. The following morning the lovely Petra from the Naturns Tourist Board put me back on the bus with a bag of local apples. I am definitely coming back, and hopefully the Tudor can come with me!
All the Details
Sophie Furley went to Naturns (Naturno in Italian) via train from Geneva. By plane, the closest airport is Verona. She went mountain biking with Ötzi Bike Academy (+39 347 1300926 / www.oetzi-bike-academy.com), which rents bikes, gives mountain-biking lessons and has guides who can take you around. For those with their own bicycles, it is possible to get combined train/bus/bike tickets.
She stayed at the Preidlhof Luxury DolceVita Resort (www.preidlhof.it) and dined at Schlosswirt Restaurant (+39 0473 668056 / www.schlosswirtjuval.it) and Berstation Unterstell (+39 0473 667747 / www.unterstellhof.com). Wine tasting is possible by appointment at Castel Juval (+39 0473 667580 www.unterortl.it). For wine tours contact Ms. Monica Unterthurner at [email protected]. For German speakers, check out the Der Meraner Höhenweg travel guide by Christjan Ladurner.