Excursions on the Ritten, South Tyrol
The Ritten (or Renon in Italian) is a high plateau just north of Bozen (Bolzano) in northern Italy. Its main villages lie at an altitude between 800 and 1500 metres. It is perhaps best known for the narrow-gauge single-track railway, the Rittnerbahn, which trundles through forests and pastures between the upper cable car station at Oberbozen (Soprabolzano) and Klobenstein (Collalbo) linking a number of villages on the way.
The use of two languages (German and Italian) can be confusing for visitors and that is not to mention the local dialect or the Ladin language spoken a little further away in the Grödnertal (Val Gardena). The area known as South Tyrol (Alto Adige) was part of Austria until 1918 when it passed to Italy. Only much later was it decided to allow German to be one of the two official languages. In a conversation with the father of a little 5-year old, it was explained to me that the local dialect is used in the home, a child will then learn German (Hochdeutsch) in nursery school and when he or she goes to primary school at the age of 6 Italian will then be learnt.
If you have just a short time to spare on the Ritten, you should head for the fascinating Earth Pyramids. There are several formations in this area but the most accessible are probably those which are about 25 minutes' walk from Klobenstein train station. It is puzzling to see large boulders perched on top of fragile-looking spikes of tuff. As the tuff is gradually worn away by wind and rain, the boulders fall to the ground and the pyramids are then more vulnerable to erosion. This area provides a stark contrast to the vineyards, green pastures and forests to be seen elsewhere on the Ritten.
The whole Ritten plateau is crisscrossed by easy footpaths and you can make use of the occasional bus services or the more frequent train services to reach a particular starting point. A multitude of spring flowers, hayfields, neat farmsteads, and the occasional Haflinger horse are to be seen.
In fact there is a harsher side to the Ritten: the Rittnerhorn at 2270m is the highest point and the surrounding area has a striking resemblance to the moors of Scotland. The easy way is to take the cable car from Pemmern to Schwarzseespitze from which point it is worth taking the Panorama circular walk with stunning views of the Dolomites on the opposite side of the Eisacktal. A further 30-40 minutes take you to the summit and the Rittnerhornhaus. From there I took path no. 2 down towards Gissmann and enjoyed having a whole slice of the mountainside to myself. Unfortunately, from Gissmann you then have a fairly long walk on the tarmacked road back to Pemmern.
The photograph below was taken from the Rittnerhorn and shows the Seiseralm, on the opposite side of the Eisack valley. Through this valley rush thousands of people every day on the motorway, the main road and the railway, but at this altitude all is peace and quiet and birdsong.
A panoramic map is handed out in tourist offices, hotels, etc. and it gives a good idea of the geography of the area. The footpaths are marked but some versions of the map do not indicate footpath numbers which hardly makes for easy navigation. Make sure you get hold of a version giving the path numbers or else do what I plan to do next time: buy the Kompass 1:25000 map of the area: Ritten / Renon 1 : 25 000: Wanderkarte mit Panorama und Radwegen. GPS-geeignet
I stayed three nights in early June 2010 at the wonderful family-run Hotel Dolomiten in Klobenstein (Collalbo). The welcome is so warm, the food is excellent and the whole atmosphere helps to make you feel at home here. This is definitely a hotel I shall be going back to, and for a longer stay next time.