Buon Natale, or Frohe Weihnachten, 2012
22.12.2012 - 29.12.2012 4 °C
The kids have long dreamed of a white Christmas, so it was with some anticipation that we set off for Merano, in the northern Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige, or Sudtirol as the (many) German speakers are more likely to say. Our Vermont friends here in Bologna - the aptly named Natale family - had recommended the town after an enjoyable summer visit.
Located at the juncture of three valleys, Merano is 325m above sea level, and is surrounded by the stunning Dolomite mountains. The town has a long history as a therapeutic spa resort (famously patronised by Empress Elisabeth of Austria, or 'Sissi', in the mid-1800's), and has been a focal point in conflicts between the French, Austrians, and Italians over the centuries. Merano is just south of the Austrian border, with German the most prevalent language spoken, and the cuisine and architecture is a pleasing combination of Italian, Austrian, and German.
There were so many aspects of the town and area that appealed to us : lively Christmas markets along the Passer River; gluehwein, apfelstrudel, and zuppa di gulasch coming out of the kitchen; beautiful pedestrian-only main street (Via Portici) with stunning Christmas decorations; three dedicated pathways (passegiate) around town which showcase the best Merano has to offer, which of course includes the chocolate-box views of the alps.
Travelling up to the snowfields was a fairly painless exercise. A 15 minute bus-ride from just near our hotel to the funivia, followed by a short wait, then a brisk 8 minute cable-car ride up to Merano 2000, the local ski resort. The resort is around 1900m above sea level, and whilst it would be classified as basic amongst accomplished skiers, does a great job in servicing families and beginners. Prices were reasonable, with a daily ski pass for the four of us costing around AUD100.
We booked the kids in for a couple of private lessons, and then let Gabi loose into ski school for the last two days. The slopes were surprisingly uncrowded on the days leading up to Christmas, but became a lot busier after that. We elected to go up on Christmas Day as well, and we're so glad we did, as the lunch in the traditional rifugio (mountain hut) was memorable. Blessed by lovely weather on most days, we actually sat outside frequently for our rejuvenating meals and hot chocolates.
Two other activities we undertook are worth noting : a 3-hour visit to Terme Merano - a massive new complex in town that continues on with the therapeutic tradition. With 15 pools (and another 10 available in summer), spas, saunas, solariums, salt-treatments, and a multitude of other indulgences, this place had something to offer hypochondriacs and big spenders alike. As it was we all enjoyed the experience, but at 55 euro for the pleasure it could hardly be described as 'good value'! And finally, the girls and I had a crack at ice skating on the local rink. Harder than it looks I reckon, so the determination of the girls was admirable. We were even treated to a guest visit by Carolina Kostner - 2012 ice skating champ who lives nearby.
For those interested, a short video showcasing (?) the Happell family skiing ability :