The Ulten Valley – known in German as Ultental and in Italian as Val d’Ultimo – is an amazing and not-to-be-missed spot for sports – and nature lovers. Thanks to a local policy that promotes the preservation of rural architecture and the fact that it is still unexplored by mass tourism, it is considered one of the most authentic valleys in South Tyrol.
Ultental / Val d’Ultimo is a 40-km-long valley located in the western part of South Tyrol and, thanks to the large amount of woods, it is considered the greenest valley in the entire region. Given that many areas of South Tyrol are sadly suffering the consequences of mass tourism, Ultental has recently become a trendy destination among the inhabitants of the Autonomous Province that want to escape the hordes of tourists and find a peaceful and authentic environment.
Ultental is not a destination just for anyone, surely not for those who like to claim they want to experience the “real mountain atmosphere”, the off-the-beaten-path destination, and then complain there are not shopping malls in the neighbourhood.
Ultental is for:
- HIKERS AND TREKKERS: it is estimated that in Ultental there are almost 700 km of trails (!) Being the offer so wide, there are tracks with various degrees of difficulty: from expert level to easy paths to walk even with small kids;
- CYCLISTS, BIKERS, PARAGLIDERS;
- FISHERS AND MUSHROOM PICKERS: you can pay for a special permit to be allowed to pick mushrooms or go fishing in some of the many lakes located in the valley;
- SKIERS: the ski area of Schwemmalm, reachable through the cableway of Kuppelwies/Pracupola, consists of 25 km of pistes (medium and easy levels). Schwemmalm is the ideal choice for those who want to enjoy skiing without having to battle the hordes of tourists like in other more famous areas;
- NATURE LOVERS and PEOPLE LOOKING FOR SOME PEACE AND QUIET to recharge the batteries.
ULTENTAL’S TOWNS AND THEIR MAIN ATTRACTIONS
ST. PANKRAZ / SAN PANCRAZIO
When ascending the mountain to reach Ultental from the town of Lana, St. Pankraz is the first town you will encounter. Located at 736 m of altitude, this town is a little gem and you will be able to enjoy the tiny city centre in all freedom, without having to worry about the traffic. The main road was moved outside the heart of the town after a referendum held few years ago.
You will find beautiful houses, decorated with colourful geraniums, amazing paintings and murals, and the local church, which is said to be the oldest in the entire valley.
The most famous attraction in St. Pankraz is das Häusl am Stoan , “the little house on the stone”.
Incidentally built on a giant rock, the little house was able to resist to a scary flood in 1882 that swept away all the other buildings in the neighbourhood.
ST. WALBURG / SANTA VALBURGA
St. Walburg (1190 m) is the main and most populated town in Ultental. It is some sort of scattered neighbourhood since the houses are distributed all over its territory. The peculiarity of St. Walburg is the absence of a “town centre” and the suburban location of the church, positioned on top of a hill with a panoramic view on the valley.
There’s only a museum in town, Culten, that showcases local archaeological finds, but among the cultural attractions I would also personally list Gasthof Eggwirt, an historical hotel and restaurant.
The interiors amaze everyone who sets foot in this hotel, which include two of the most beautiful stube I’ve seen in the whole South Tyrol. The stube are the dining rooms of the houses located in the Alpine area. They take their name after the “stove”, as the dining room was usually the only one with the heating system. The most peculiar characteristics of the “typical Tyrolean stube” are the wooden interior lining and the finely detailed decorative features.
The first stube of Eggwirt has a corner decorated with an impressive crucifix, a common theme in the Tyrolean art.
The second stube, though, is the most impressive thing of this genre that I’ve ever seen. It dates back to 1611 and it was renovated in 1836.
ST. NIKOLAUS / SAN NICCOLO’
St. Nikolaus is located at 1256 m of altitude and, like the previously mentioned towns, it has a church which is surrounded by a cemetery, built the typical South-Tyrolean way: there are no gravestones, but iron crosses with peculiar patterns.
One of the most interesting things to see in St. Nikolaus is the Talmuseum, “the Museum of the Valley”.
Formerly the local primary school, the building was converted into a museum in 1973. It’s a very interesting permanent display of objects belonging to the local rural culture and it gives a very precise idea of how the valley’s inhabitants used to live.
ST. GERTRAUD / SANTA GERTRUDE
St. Gertraud (1519 m) is the last town of the valley and it represents the starting point of countless of interesting excursions. Part of its territory even belongs to the Stilfser Joch National Park / Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio, which is the largest park in the whole country.
In St. Gertraud there’s one of the three official museums of said park: The Visitor Centre Lahnersäge.
Nowadays it hosts a permanent exhibition focused on the woods – such an important resource in this valley – and on the life-cycle of the indigenous trees; in the past, though, it was the seat of a Venetian sawmill ( it’s 200 years old!), which was employed by the local farmers until the 80s.
The Venetian sawmills, which invention was even attributed to Leonardo, were first introduced, as the name suggests, by the Most Serene Republic of Venice in order to obtain planks from trunks, thanks to a saw activated by the force of the water. Wood planks were to be employed in the construction of the Venetian ships. With time, these mills started to be used also in the adjacent areas of the Republic, like here in South Tyrol.
After a recent restoration, the Venetian sawmill is now, once again, functioning. If you visit the museum on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3 pm during the summer touristic season, you’ll get to see the sawmill functioning through a guided tour.
The most famous attraction of St. Gertraud, and of Ultental in general, are, though, the three millennial larches, allegedly the oldest conifers in the whole Europe.
Reachable through a 20-minute-long walk leaving from the Visitor Centre, the three larches stood there for a very long time (they don’t know exactly since when, but a tree nearby, that was knocked down in the 30s, had 2000 rings!)
The tallest of the three is 36,5 m and has a girth of 8 m; the second one, like the first, has lost the tree top since it was struck by lightning and it is recognizable thanks to a rather impressive protuberance. The last one is the most outstanding: the trunk is hollow and basically dead, but it is still able to germinate. That’s what resilience truly is!
As already mentioned, the local administration actively promotes the preservation of the rural architecture (even through financial aids).
For this reason it’s still possible nowadays to appreciate the typical farmsteads (maso/Bauernhof), usually made by masonry (the bottom part) and of larch (the top).
The roof is the most recognizable feature: it is made of larch shakes, which are secured with rocks. It’s very resistant, since larch is a very strong kind of wood, especially thanks to its resin. The shakes are allegedly turned around every 25 years.
These farmsteads are pretty as paintings, in particular during summer when they are decorated with colourful geraniums.
Other than the impressive amount of woods, Ultental is famous for another thing: its water. Its high quality is demonstrated by the thermal history of the valley and by the illustrious guests that were here hosted (Empress Sisi, Thomas Mann etc.)
Also the quantity of the water plays an important role: it is in fact estimated that in Ultental there are 44 lakes (!!), most of which are exploited by the hydropower industry.
There are natural lakes, mostly located at a significant altitude, and artificial ones, which were created in the 50s and 60s, like the majority of the artificial lakes and dams in South Tyrol. You can reach the most remote and enchanting lakes through hiking trails.
The most common activity for tourists in Ultental is indeed hiking: the almost insane amount of well-laid-out trails allows people to enjoy the beauty of the valley at its fullest. The views they offer on the valley are dreamlike!
On Wednesdays from June until September, the so-called itinerant “evening markets” are hosted in the various valley’s towns. The sold products – food, arts and crafts etc – are local and often hand-made.
In September there are many events connected with the transhumance, the seasonal movement of people with their cattle or flock between fixed summer pastures, usually located up in the mountains, and the winter sheep-folds or cattle sheds, usually located near the towns.
In Ultental it’s possible to witness to the transhumance of some flocks, but the most picturesque events are surely those related to the cattle. The parades of the cows wearing big bells on their necks and floral decorations on their head are something not to be missed.
In Ultental the last two weeks of September are the so-called Lammwochen, the “lamb weeks”. During this period of time tourists and locals can enjoy fairs with products made with local wool and taste lamb-based dishes in the restaurants.
How to reach Ultental: check this page
Events: Zuanochten, Almabtrieb, Lammwochen
Culten Museum: open usually from April until October, Wednesday-Sunday h. 10am-12am + 2pm-6pm. Price: 5 euro (adults)
Talmuseum: March – April on Sundays h 10am–12am, 3pm–5pm; May-October: Tue-Fri h.11am-12am, 3pm-5pm + Sundays h.10am-12am, 3pm-5pm. Open donation.
Visitor Centre Lahnersaege: January-March, May-October: Tue-Sat h 9.30am–12.30am, 2.30pm–5.30pm; on July and August also on Sundays h 2.30pm-5.30pm. 3 euro (adults)
Gasthof Eggwirt: it’s a seasonal hotel/bar/restaurant (usually open from Christmas until Easter Time + Middle May-First Days of November; days off: Tuesdays). They won’t charge you for the visit of the stube of course, but consider, at least, to buy something to drink or eat, sit down and enjoy the atmosphere. It’s not a museum. https://www.eggwirt.it/en/
What to visit nearby: Meran, Lana, The Typewriters Museum in Parcines.
For more info, check the official channels of the valley’s tourist office: visit_ultental on Instagram, ultental.it on Facebook.