South Tyrol - wonderful fall with awesome colors, October/November 2015

South Tyrol is one of my favourite locations for shootings during October and early November. I love larches  especially in fall when its leaves change their color from green to yellowish green to orange and finally to brown. Due to the massive differences in altitude you often have orange trees towards the tree line when in the lower valleys flowers are still blooming and you can sip your coffee in short sleeves.

For this years trip I focussed on landscape and the mountain roads of the famous mountain passes. I started in areas I know quite well and ventured a bit further east and south. Right in the middle of my trip I received a mail from a vintner (Weingut Lagler) in the Wachau, that I could cover the grape harvest in his vinyards, but I must come soon as they will finish the harvest in 10 days. A decision was made and I returned to Munich to add some equipment and drove to Wachau a couple of days later. My Wachau blog is already online. When I returned from Wachau the weather was still fine in the southern alps and I returned again to South Tyrol for the final days of this years fall.

 

 

First Stop - Val Gardena or Grödnerntal or Gherdëina on the western side of the Sella Mountains

This part of the Dolomites has millions of visitors each year, the mountains have household names like Sella, Geislerspitzen, Seiser Alm, Langkofel to name just a few. The mountain passes Sellajoch and Grödnerjoch are extremly popular with cyclists, motorbikers and coach tours, in high season it is often a bumper to bumper traffic. In late fall however you are nearly alone.

When I left Munich it was still raining and snowing, the forecast however predicted sunny weather for the second half of the week. I love sceneries with snow capped mountains and colorfull trees and flowers. The risk was in any case worth while and it worked out pretty well. The first days where cloudy with snow well below treeline, then it changed and I got what I have hoped to get.

I took camp in a remote Bergbauernhof (called Tubla, highly recommended) in Wolkenstein as nearly all other options where closed. I mean this is Wolkenstein and they must have around 10.000 beds and somehow it looked more like a ghosttown and definitly not like a buzzing tourist destination.  I had a very clear idea what I wanted to shoot:

  • Seiser Alm
  • Geisler Mountain Range, Langkofel and Sella
  • the mountain roads of the Sella and Grödner Joch mountain passes
  • the villages of Wolkenstein, St. Christina and Gröden

Lets start with the things which did not work at all. As I mentioned the villages where ghosttowns, the blinds of the hotels where down, 99% of the restaurants where closed, no tourists in the streets, no way to get suitable pictures, I did not even try to get some pictures. When I arrived we had a good amount of new snow and the whole Seiser Alm was covered in deep snow. That was not the images I envisioned, I skipped it, especially as there was enough to work on without going up to the Seiser Alm.

Everything else worked quite well, you can decide on your own after browsing through the pictures.

The Mountain Passes

Stories, which are following famous roads and routes, seem to be still in high demand. That was the impetus to try to center some of my shooting around the famous Sellaronda with the mountain roads up the Sella Pass, Grödner Pass and Pordoi. I checked as usual picture books and they always have some pics with winding mountain roads.

I planned to do this project already during summer, but due to weather and other obligations I could go only in late fall. The results are good, but I developed some more ideas, for the next year(s). As there was nearly no traffic, it was quite time consuming to wait for cars on the roads, but that was the only problem I encountered. The pictures will never win any competition or many likes on whatever platform. Nevertheless it is quite demanding to shoot a black stripe of tar in an attractive way. Good exercise and hopefully it will pay off.

Landscapes

There is a reason why this area is so popular, it is just very very beautiful, Americans would probably use awesome. Let the images tell the story.

Second Stop - La Val and the Gadertal or Val Badia

After crossing the Grödner Joch you enter the Gadertal or Val Badia, to be precise the upper part of the Gadertal called Alta Badia. My target in this part of the Dolomites was besides scenery and mountain roads the famous Viles, the traditional hamlets of the local mountain farmers. I visited this area in last November for a day and new already what I wanted to shoot, at least to a certain extent.

No tourists, nearly all hotels have been closed, some story as in Grödnertal. I wanted to stay in La Val, as I liked the scenery and the atmosphere of this small valley. And there was even one hotel which still was open, again a very good choice (Hotel Pider, highly recommended).

The Viles and villages

and more pretty scenery from this valley

Third Stop - Pustertal or Val Pusteria

After having decided to cover the grape harvest in Wachau I moved north and closer to Munich to my last location to reduce the hours spent on road when I returned to Munich. The Pustertal or Val Pusteria. It is a big place with iconic mountains like the Drei Zinnen (Tre Cime) and prime tourist destinations like Sexten or Bruneck. In Sexten I was, imagine, two days not to very happy with the weather. To much haze for landscape. The final day was dedicated to the Drei Zinnen and I had (again) a gorgeous day.

Bruneck or Brunico and Sexten

Drei Zinnen (Tre Cime di Lavaredo) - the Icon of the Dolomites

Second Part - late but not to late

After returning to Munich I just had a couple of days before I drove east towards the Wachau. I packed up not only for Wachau and the grape harvest, but also for Saxon Switzerland. When I was in the Wachau, the weather changed in the north east and I skipped the NP Saxon Switzerland in favour of another trip to the southern side of the Alps.

I started in Alta Badia to be precise in St. Kassian. It was already difficult to find a hotel or a restaurant a couple of weeks ago, but now it was even more difficult. My idea was to start in St. Kassian and move either towards the d'Ampezzo or to the Unterland of South Tyrol. It all depended on the weather and the colors of the vegetation. I expected the larches to be already quite brown or leafless in the higher altitudes.

Thematically it was the same as during my first trip, landscape, mountain passes and in the Unterland the colors of the autumnal vineyards and orchards.

All around Valparola Pass

As expected the vegetation in the higher altitudes was not such exciting any longer, but the weather was great and even high up in the mountains most of the snow was gone. All cablecars where closed, therefore I started for all my excursion from one of the passes, Valparola, Falzarego or Giau. I can tell you I drove many switchbacks during those days!

During WW1 Falzarego and Valparola have been one of most active theaters of war, the rock walls and peaks are full of remains dating back to this dark period. The bright building in the picture above was one of the austrian Sperrforts now a museum on Valparola.

One mountain I wanted to focus on was the Tofane with its three peaks, world famous but, I must admit, not very photogenic. It took some time, but finally I found some nice angles and compositions including a near perfect reflection.

 

 

The Tofane

Valparola, Falzarego and around

Giau mountain pass - a pleasant surprise

I did not know Giau before I scouted for more locations, to be honest I do not know this part of the Dolomites at all. Cortina, Civetta, Marmolada and so on are just names for me, I never was there neither for hiking nor for photography.

Giau is definitly not a household name like Sella oder Grödner pass, let the images speak for Giau!

The Unterland

The decision to drive down to the Unterland was easy, the vegetation in the higher altitudes was already gone and I did not want to go to the more southern parts of the Dolomites around the Civetta or down to Friaul. The Unterland was easy, I know it quite well and the foilage was splendid. I stayed in Bozen/Bolzano for a couple of days as I did not want to drives half an hour for an open restaurant (which would have been the case on the southern Dolomites).

The sun was shining, the colors were golden and the temperature was pretty warm for mid of November, it could not have been much better. Moreover the change helped to stay focused, not always easy after nearly two months of travelling.

And finally the city of Bozen/Bolzano

During the last 5 years I was a regular visitor of South Tyrol, but I never  took pictures in Bozen. After all the mountains it was a good change. Due to the low sun the more famous medieval old town was not such a great place for photography, moreover it was very hazy, when I was there. The newer parts of Bozen, especially the museum of contemporary art was lots of fun.

That's it for the moment, I have many thousend files to process, my "Iceland in Winter" workshop is fully booked and has to be prepared and some days of rest would not be bad either!


Stay tuned and all the best

Munich December 2015

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