‘Now, come, please – eat, drink! You can’t walk on an empty stomach,’ says Norbert, laying down a platter of bread and cheese, which is eaten to the bassy drone of the orchard’s honeybees and the sputter of a tractor in a nearby field.
Food is a cornerstone of life in South Tyrol and hiking the Keschtnweg reveals a landscape shaped by agriculture: vines climb the slopes; barns stand in fields of barley; plump cows graze. The region owes its productivity to the climate. The Isarco Valley occupies a buffer zone between the mountains and the sea, benefiting from warm, moist air from the Mediterranean to the south, and cool, dry air from the Alps to the north.
Every inch of land is used for something – all but the mountains themselves that is. The Dolomites are an inescapable presence along the Isarco Valley. Known as the Monti Pallidi, the Pale Mountains, a reference to their milky-white colour, they’re a reminder of the wild world that lies beyond the neatly tended fields. Towering above a pastoral patchwork of villages, meadows and farms, the summits spike the skyline like wolves’ teeth.
As the sun sinks low over the valley, the rocks shift colour, from diamond white to coral pink and copper gold. Seen in the half-light of dusk, it’s easy to know why the locals once believed these mountains to be inhabited by witches, trolls, giants and ghosts. It’s a place where magic seems not just possible, but probable.
At the southern end of the valley, as the Keschtnweg nears its end just outside Bolzano, the region’s Italian side comes ever more into focus. Italianate villas appear. Barley fields become vineyards. Temperatures warm and accents soften. There’s also a crispness in the air that hints of autumn’s end – and for winemakers like Florian Gojer, that also means the harvest is drawing to a close.