The natural world is fantastic to see in person, but photographing it is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; there’s an immense body of knowledge to theorize why animals behave or look the way they do and how natural formations came to be. Try as I may to reproduce what I see with my camera, I can’t begin to describe the geology of the Alps, and only recently did it dawn on me that there’s a great many valleys in even this little corner of the Northern Limestone Alps. Zermatt was at the end of a similar valley, and I never considered just how many more there could be across the rest of the Alps. Ignoring my lack of familiarity with the geology of the region, on a weekend with bad weather forecasted for the Allgäu I found myself yet again looking at snow-topped peaks — only this time, not in Zermatt to the southwest but rather several mountains, valleys, and more mountains and valleys to the south.
A few hundred kilometers to the south of the Allgäu is the Vinschgau, a quiet valley area in Südtirol (South Tyrol) that has enough sunshine annually to have allowed it to become among the largest of Europe’s apple growing regions. The start of my weekend was not one of the bright, sunny days the region is known for, however, and the constant drizzle was wearisome on the drive in. A friend had shown me pictures of the now-flooded belltower of the city of Graun — now rebuilt on higher ground across the road — and unknowingly and remarkably coincidently I had driven to the same place.
Nevertheless, I didn’t come to Südtirol to stay in the valley. As the winds whipped the clouds around, I got my first glimpse of the elevation of the area (beyond watching my thermometer go crazy as the road climbed and dove): above Graun and the valley floor it sits on… mountains. Capped in clouds, admittedly, but the whites in the heights would continue into the next day.
On Sunday, the valley awoke to ample sunshine. I hiked up to St. Martin im Kofel, had a drink and lunch outside (it was cold, sunshine or not), and headed back down. The views southward were impressive — unobstructed views to the valley, apple trees in neat lines spread across the area. On the way down, I passed by the abandoned Schloss Annenberg. Neuschwanstein is apparently not the only castle sitting prettily with the Alps as a background.
My route back to Germany took me across the Timmelsjoch (Italian: Passo del Rombo), which isn’t quite as picturesque as the Furka Pass but winds its way up (and then down) for far longer and arguably more aggressively. The only downside: unlike the Furkapass, this one charges a toll. Three years in the Lowcountry made me forget the pleasure of driving on winding mountain roads. Crossing the border from Italy to Austria on this alpine road brought back all the memories.
In the last few weeks, I’ve [finally] begun to experience the mountains, and my first observation — whether they lie in Südtirol or in the Allgäu or in Switzerland: there are valleys everywhere. More important, however: if this is the best I can do to explain where I’ve been and how one place with a valley differs from some other place with a valley two countries away, I have a lot to learn.