Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Celebrating Bounty



Traditionally speaking, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate a bountiful harvest. It’s in this spirit that we post today's image. But first, a back-story.

The valleys of the Alps have been inhabited for thousands of years. In the beginning, Neolithic people settled in caves like those at Wildkirchli in the Appenzell region of eastern Switzerland. Over time, as the glaciers receded and the climate warmed, the cave dwellers emerged from the rock. Low lying villages took hold. As the years went by, the villages grew, populations expanded, and the surrounding resources dwindled. Eventually, the needs of the population surpassed the carrying capacity of the land, and the inhabitants turned their eyes skyward. They needed more space. The villagers cut meadows into the slopeside forests, digging, chopping, and rolling boulders as they climbed. The mountainside became an extension of the low-lying farms, and the new pastures, literally hand-hewn from the mountain slopes, gave farmers new acreage to graze their livestock. Thus, a new tradition was born. Cattle migrated to the high pastures for summer grazing, while grass grew and villagers stored it away for winter down low.

Fast forward to today.

Mountain people still maintain traditions from long ago. At first glance, this scene may not evoke the stereotypical image of a bountiful harvest replete with turkey, pumpkins and all that jazz, but to an alpine farmer, this picture celebrates bounty just the same. A simple pile of grass promises one more winter that is free from want. It promises another glass of milk, a wheel of cheese, and an extra pat of butter. It's meat on the table and winter heat from sleeping livestock. (One of the main reasons that mountain homes were built above barns). In the mountains, a barn full of hay means security. It means a day’s work accomplished and the promise of a good night’s sleep. Like the proverbial woodpile, banked against the oncoming storm, this is money in the bank. This is self-sufficiency at it’s best. This is bounty.

When I look at this photo, I see a story that transcends time. I see a tale of the hills. Ultimately, I see thanksgiving, and I’m thankful that I get to witness this traditional style of living first hand.

Image: By Ken Fuhrer. From the alpine pastures of Slovenia's Julian Alps.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Calling All Singles!


Our Cortina & Lakes of the Dolomites Trek is almost sold out. We only have two single rooms available! If you're a solo traveler, looking for a fun-loving group of avid hikers, then now is your chance. Have a look at our trip, then give us a call. We'd love to give you the inside scoop on this slice of heaven from northern Italy.

Image: By Mike Thurk. From our Cortina & Lakes of the Dolomites tour.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Those Dam Goats



Last week’s facebook post linked to jaw dropping photos of Alpine ibex scaling a precipitous dam in northern Italy. As it turns out, the article stirred up a few conversations among our friends regarding mountain goats. The big question; what’s the difference between an ibex, a steinbock and a chamois?

Here’s the quick answer:

The ibex and the steinbock are the same thing. Its scientific name is Capra ibex, a species of mountain goat that thrives in the high places of the European Alps. It's common name is Alpine ibex.

English speakers call him an ibex.
Germans call him a Steinbock.
Italians call him a stambecco.
French call him a bouquetin.
Slovenians call him a kozorog.
Astrologers call him Capricorn.



Characteristics: His enormous backward curving horns give him away. The horns of a male ibex can reach lengths of more than three feet. Males commonly grow to about three feet tall and weight between 150 and 200 pounds.

Habitat: Steep, rocky terrain at snowline.

Check out our Gran Paradiso Trek for an opportunity to get up close with these majestic animals. The Gran Paradiso National Park boasts a herd of more than 4,000 ibex.


A chamois is an entirely different animal. Referred to as Rupicapra rupicapra, a chamois is a goat-antelope species that, while originally native to the mountains of Europe, now roams as far of New Zealand.

English and French speakers call him a chamois.
Italians call him a camoscio.
Germans call him a Gämse.


Characteristics: Chamois have short, somewhat straightish horns, which hook backward at the tip. A fully-grown chamois reaches a height around 2 and a-half feet and weighs an average of 45 to 65 pounds, considerably smaller than an ibex.

Habitat: Steep, rocky terrain at moderately high altitudes.

The chamois is a popular game animal in Europe, highly prized for the taste of its meat. Chamois hides also produce a soft cloth with exceptional absorbant qualities. This is where chamois leather, colloquially known as ‘shammy’, comes from. If you’ve hiked with us in Europe, then you’ve probably seen chamois horns adorning the many beer stubes and mountain huts that dot the Alps.

Images: Steinbock, (Kozorog), in Slovenia's Julian Alps. Courtesy of Slovenia Tourism, Tomo Jesenicnik. Chamois in the Val di Rhemes. Courtesy of Val di Rhemes Tourism.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Please Share Your Thoughts


This is a quick reminder for our previous guests. If you haven't responded to our 2010 online questionnaire, then please do so. Your feedback is important to us. All 2010 guests should have received an email with a link to the survey. Please contact us if you didn't receive the link. We're happy to send it again.

Thank you!