See Part 1: Christmas Magic in Austria & Italy: Part 1 Vienna
I rolled into Vipiteno, exhausted and excited for the mountain air vibe. I recognized the identifiable tower, and knew it was my stop. Vipiteno / Sterzing is the northernmost city in Italy, pure Tyrollean charm. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I’m in love with the fusion of Austrian and Italian culture you find in the Dolomites, a place where you can get a Bretzel mit Prosciutto and get naked in the spa for an Aufguss (special steam bath) and it’s not weird at all, then cap the evening off with a pizza.
I stood at the quiet train station, gazing up at the stars and wondering how I was going to get to my hotel, perched up on top of a mountain. I thought there would be some cabs around, but none at all. I was glad I had an international plan activated on my phone, so I called my hotel, and they sent a cab. While I waited, I Instagrammed:
Ahh that mountain air vibe! I’m up a mountain outside the little town of Vipiteno. Time for farm fresh dinner. I love love love this region! 💗Tyrol
In the meantime, I peeked at the hints of quaint homes up in the mountains, and tried to imagine the views I’d see tomorrow. The cab wound up and up and up, and then I began to wonder and worry that perhaps it was too far out of town. Would I be able to make the walk? Would it be nice? But as we pulled into the driveway, I could see stars even from the car, and the cozy glow from the windows let me know that, yes, I would love it here. It was affordable during a very popular time of year as many Italian families go away for a ski week at this time, and it featured fresh air and farm to table food. And that’s what I was excited for upon my arrival.
It’s always so exciting to drop my bags into a room after a day of travel and to know I have a place to call home. I crashed onto the bed and eventually peeled myself off, freshened up, and went downstairs. A solo female diner this time of year – a time for family and friends- was a bit of an anomaly, and they sat me in my own secluded section. Waiting for my food, I posted:
My dinner date and I have a private dining area to ourselves. 🍷📖
As a teacher, especially in the modern collaborative environment, I treasure “me” time, time where I can read, be alone with my own thoughts, relish the peace. So this little moment was my perfect welcome to Vipiteno. I was reading travel writing but can’t remember what the book was, perhaps A Day in Tuscany (but the author of Too Much Tuscan Sun).
After the hearty meal and vino, I drifted of to sleep in the cozy twin bed. In the morning, I was treated to the beautiful views I had been anticipating, but sadly not the snow.
What a beautiful start to my last day of 2015. I followed the mountain down to the town, and while it was not a short walk, it was lovely and enjoyable. I passed the local ski slopes, perched atop dry hills. Would I ski? It didn’t seem like the right weather, but I was hopeful that snow would be on the way.
Once into town, I could not get over the quaint, fairytale charm. It was pure magic.
The pastry shop featured a gingerbread replica of the main bell tower.
All the travel, all the hassles, all the stress of the season melted away as I wandered through the fairytale, excited for what would come next. It was just so darned cute! I have seen several Dolomite towns this time of year (Ok, 2 others) but this one was special, like straight out of a Christmas village. Eventually, I made it to the spa, where I enjoyed an experience typical of the Dolomites – more like Germany than Italy, there is a communal area, like an indoor pool anywhere, with some hot pools on the side. I swam laps, I read my kindle a bit, and I think I may have had an ice cream or something at the snack stand, wrapped in a cozy bathrobe. But then I headed to where I really wanted to be, the naked area.
Each town in the region seems to have its own spa, and each has its own unique layout and feel. This nude area was small, but nice. There were a couple of indoor saunas and wet baths (Turkish saunas) and the outdoor saunas were lined up in a row, with beautiful views over the valley. You’d have to dash quickly, but not too quickly because no matter how hard they try, the spillover from the hot tub will cause ice. There was also a cold plunge pool, very welcome after 10-15 minutes in the Finnish sauna.
Inside, you can drink complimentary water or tea made from local herbs, wrap yourself in a bathrobe and swing in a cozy nook, curl up on a couch with German or Italian language magazines, or nap in one of the quiet rooms, where there seems to be no concept of time. After a couple of rounds, I managed to melt away the remaining tension. NOW I was on vacation.
I noticed the chalkboard featuring the day’s special Aufguss timing. An Aufuguss a special ritual held in the super-heated Finnish sauna. They keep the door open while you load in, placing your towel on the wood in such a way that you can sit as well as place your feet on it (it’s seen as poor etiquette to let any part of your sweaty body touch the wood). The room crowds, and there are naked strangers way closer than you would normally think ok. But it’s the time honored communal experience, and with nobody creeping, it’s ok. (The workers make sure to keep it professional, and it’s such a part of the culture).
For my first Aufguss, the man came in, decked in his little loin cloth, toting a tray of scented iceballs. I forget the “theme” of this Aufguss, but let’s say some kind of lavender relaxation or something. It’s quite a show as the room heats up. He fans the air with his towel, seemingly immune to the heat (a Finnish Sauna is 158-212 degrees Fahrenheit, and I am pretty sure this one was 110C). He says all directions and greetings in both German and Italian, a great way for me to practice both. “Buon Schvitz” (Good sweat?)
After the initial fanning, he took one of the balls and ceremoniously smashed it onto the hot rocks, aromatherapy steam rising up, the room instantly growing hotter. A flash to the senses, then he came around to fan everybody. Each batch of people (5-10) got about 3-4 waves of his towel or giant paper fan as he came by for each pass. All the while, sweat rushed down my body and I fought the urge to run out. I can tolerate this. I can stay. It will be worth it for the exhilarating rush out in the fresh mountain air after.
Finally, the last ball, the last sexy whipping of the heat into my face. I copied the others and raised my arms to enhance the sensation. And then “Grazie, si prega di doccia” Thank you, please shower. And some other warnings to cool off and then rest.
The sauna experience cannot be rushed. The body needs time to recover after the temperature changes, and it’s so easy and absolutely delightful to fall asleep after. I did three rounds of Aufguss on this day, the final one, a special Capodanno one (Happy New Year). The guy saw me sipping my tea, and invited me in to make sure I didn’t miss it. I wasn’t sure I could tolerate another, but it was the most special, followed by a prosecco toast and panettone. This was the most delightful way to end 2015. I enjoyed dinner right by the spa. Then I strolled through town, enjoying the lights, and decided I didn’t need to stay down until midnight.
I instagrammed this photo while waiting for my pizza.
Post spa glow. The last Aufguss was a special Capodanno one, including a break for an aromatic sugar scrub and followed by panettone and a prosecco toast! (An Aufguss is a steam event in the Finnish sauna where they pour aromatic water on the rocks in a special ritual followed by dancing with the towel to blast us with heat. The guy turned up music and was an awesome performer.). 2015 was good to me because I was good to myself! On to sweet 2016. But first a Quattro Formaggi pizza!
After my pizza and stroll, I walked up to the mountain, zoned out on the bed, and walked down to the markets just in time to grab a prosecco, listen to the DJ, and countdown to 2016!
To be continued with my first day in 2016 and the finale of the adventure.