POSTCARD FROM VAL GARDENA
20th January 2019 | James Cove, Val Gardena, Italy
The Italian resort in the Dolomites is steeped in alpine history & charm. PlanetSKI has been soaking it up on our latest travels.
Now I can’t say the idea of an evening torch lit walk through the snow after a hard day on the slopes is my idea of fun.
I have different requirements from my après ski.
How wrong could I be?
My guide was 47- year old Diego Deiana.
His family have lived in the valley for 5 generations.
Its history and culture run through his veins.
On the walk he told me a little bit about its history.
Val Gardena, as its name suggests, is a valley not a resort.
Shaped by the ice age glaciers.
The valley is about thirteen miles long and runs more or less from west to east.
It consists of three main villages: Ortisei, St Cristina and Selva.
They have respective populations of 5000, 1800 and 2800.
Over a year more that 1millon tourists swell the numbers and they are fairly evenly divided between summer and winter.
It used to be in Austria but was ceded to Italy after the First World War in 1918.
It is part of the Sud Tirol and the Austrian influence is everywhere to be seen.
Not least in the architecture.
The name Val Gardena is first recorded in a deed of gift from the year 999, when Duke Otto von Andechs made the Bishop of Freising a present of an area of woodland called ‘Forestum ad Gredine’.
There is evidence of pre-historic settlements in the area.
At Plan de Frea prehistoric objects were found during archaeological excavations.
Archeologists date this find to 6000 years before Christ.
Arrowheads, needles and other tools turned out to be the oldest archaeological finds in the whole area of the Dolomites.
The locals speak German and Italian but the main language here is Ladin.
The signs around the valley reflect all three languages:
The language is individual to the valley and spoken by the 20,000 or so inhabitants.
School children learn it from kindergarden through to when they leave school at 18-years old.
“It is vitally important the language is taught in school otherwise it would die out,” said Diego as we trudge through the snow.
“Us locals use it as our main language.”
“I speak to my 12-year old daughter, Anna, in Ladin and she will likely speak to her children in Ladin when the time comes.”
“We pass it from generation to generation.”
So, what does Ladin sound like?
Step forward Christina Demetz from the Val Gardena tourist office.
And just in case you are wondering what Christina said:
“The valley is the most beautiful valley in the Dolomites. You have the mountains so close and it gives you the possibility to do all kinds of outdoor sports in this great scenery.”
And outdoor sports there are a plenty.
Not least the skiing.
It is part of the mighty Sella Ronda ski circuit and I reported on one of the most famous piste ski tours in the mountain in this earlier article on PlanetSKI.
And then there’s snowshoeing, winter hiking, sleighing, ice climbing, ice skating, cross-country skiing, horse riding and many more.
And that’s just in the winter months.
Val Gardena is in the heart of the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The scenery is stunning.
From its signature mountain, Sassolungo (3,181m):
To other spectacular views:
And as our torch lit hike continued we came across this.
It turns out it was made by Diego himself.
It is gold plated and stands as a symbol to the beauty and symmetry of the area.
He is also a woodcarver, something of a tradition in these parts.
As early as 1600 people produced religious figures and children’s toys to sell in the markets.
In the late 18th Century carving became an important economic activity and many carvings were sold on to Catholic churches across Europe.
Artistic and vocational schools were founded leading to the development of a modern industry that thrives to this day.
“Val Gardena seems so authentic because it has not lost its culture, language and unique charm,” said Diego.
There are cultural festivals across the winter from ice sculpture to carnivals.
And, this being Italy, food is an essential part of life and on the slopes above Val Gardena there are 16 slope huts – think the exact opposite of the large self-service restaurants found in other ski resorts:
So, which one word sums up Val Gardena for me?
The one I use to describe all my favourite ski resorts: authentic.
And much discovered by the light of a flaming torch.
PlanetSKI’s chief reporter Jane Peel has been skiing in another part of the Dolomites – Madonna di Campiglio.
Read her report here:
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