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Culture, Carving & Culinary Delights: Travelling Val Gardena in South Tyrol, Alto Adige

Creative Travel, Gourmet Travel, Travel With Locals, Europe, Italy, Travel Blog , , 0

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South Tyrol. What images does the name of this destination carry for you? The mighty Dolomites mountains. The sunny ski slopes during winter. The excellent local area wines. People out here in the far north of Italy perceive themselves as a region distinct from the rest of the country: “We are from South Tyrol.” Or, like here in Val Gardena, “Ladinians“. Everybody here speaks at least three, if not four or more languages fluently. “Bon di! Co vala pa? Buon giorno, come stai? Guten Tag, wie geht’s?” Karin Comploj, our “Ladin” language trainer, shows great commitment and enthusiasm in teaching us the most important expressions of this rhaetro-Roman language, which continues to be spoken by the approximately 50,000 inhabitants of the Val Gardena region today. “Ladin is our mother tongue. When I speak German, I am usually calm. When I speak Italian, I am also much louder, just as the Italians themselves! We really are at the confluence of many diverse historical and cultural influences that carry on to this present day!” Karin smiles at us with a wink. Clearly, she enjoys introducing us to the secrets of the Ladin language and its present-day culture here in Val Gardena, South Tyrol. Together with her and our local hostess Christina, we take a short walk in the footsteps of history.

Angekommen im Val Gardena, lassen wir die Magie der UNESCO Weltnaturerbe-Landschaft der Südtiroler Dolomiten auf uns wirken ...

Arriving in Val Gardena, we let the magic of the UNESCO World Nature Heritage, the Dolomites mountains work on us …


Der kurze Sprachkurs mit Karin entführt uns in die Besonderheiten der hiesigen Sprache, welche mit dem Italienischen, Französischen, Lateinischen, Katalanischen sowie gar Spanischen & Portugiesischen verwandt ist.

A short language course introduces us to the basics of this fascinating rhaetro-Roman language that has its similarities with other Roman languages, such as Italian, French, Catalan, even German to some extent, Spanish or Portuguese. A most fascinating fact, especially for a language fan like myself!


Neben Karin tut Gastgeberin Christina Demetz ihr Bestes, uns bei Laune zu halten: Beispielsweise beim Ausflug zu den berühmten Holzbildhauern des Val Gardena/Grödnertales, welche anlässlich der jüngst stattgefundenen Fussball-WM zahlreiche Fan-Statuen in Holz nachbilden.

Apart from Karin, our local area host Christina Demetz does her best to keep us entertained: Here, she shows off next to a wooden statue carved by the local Val Gardena artists.


Unter den Holzbildhauern des Val Gardena finden sich überregional bekannte Künstler wie der sympathische Gerhard Demetz, welchen wir direkt in seinem Atelier besuchen.

Among the famous wood sculptors of Val Gardena, we meet with Gerhard Demetz who welcomes us to his workshop on a sunny Sunday morning.


Mit seinen Skulpturen geht er einen eigenständigen, schöpferischen Weg fernab aller Klischees der sogenannten "Herrgottsschnitzer" aus dem Grödnertal: Hier beispielsweise wird eine Kinderskulptur mit einem Hotdog-Gürtel für Furore.

His sculptures have come to be considered true, original art, extending into the realms of the New York art scene even where this carved sculpture of a boy wearing a “hot-dog-belt” has caused a lot of controversy.


Looking for the (in)famous “Herrgottschnitzer” here in Val Gardena does not necessarily mean you will also find them. People, as much as their language and art, like to evolve.

So where does the passion of the Ladin people for their creative carving techniques come from? Long winters spent at high, isolated mountain altitudes as well as the daily preoccupation with wood gradually transformed simple peasants into talented artists. Since the late Middle Ages, their sculpting & carving skills have become known well beyond the borders of the mountain valley itself. If you ask the local wood sculptors for the coined term of the so-called “Herrgottschnitzer“, a name indicating the sacred meaning and tradition of numerous works of art, it turns out that the vast majority of them would rather not be associated with this part of their heritage any more. Present-day artist dynasties, like the Moroder or Perathoner families, wish to be understood as independent artists and creators of their own art, be it wooden sculpture, painting or carving: “Commissions received through the church are still what keeps many of us going. However, as a response to the development of the market, we have started early enough to organize ourselves and thus raise, for example, the Artists Association UNIKA” explains Filip Moroder-Doss, president of the association and a passionate artist himself. Listening to Filip talking about his art is a real pleasure. He tells his story and that of the people in the valley with the passion and calm of a person who has arrived. Modest and unassuming in nature, as are his sculptor colleagues Herbert Perathoner and Paul Kostner who we also visit in their art workshops, he talks to us about what fuels art & creativity here in Val Gardena.

Kreativwerkstatt im Val Gardena: Zu Besuch bei dem Bildhauer Paul Kostner im malerischen Ort Sankt Ulrich inmitten des Grödnertals.

Creative workshop here in Val Gardena: Visiting the sculptor Paul Kostner in the picturesque town of Sankt Ulrich.


Paul Kostner wie er leibt und lebt, nimmt sich spontan Zeit für den Besuch und erklärt, woran er gerade arbeitet - einem Pult für den Altar einer Kirche!

Paul Kostner likes to welcome us and share what he is currently working on – an altar for a church!


Sein Kollege Ferdinando Perathoner arbeitet ebenfalls gerade an einem sakralen Motiv ...

His colleague Herbert Perathoner also works on carving this madonna statue, passion and inspiration carrying through …


schließlich heißt es: Willkommen bei Filip Moroder-Doss, Präsident der Künstlervereinigung UNIKA.

… everywhere we go: Here, we visit Filip Moroder-Doss’ workshop, who is the president of the artists’ association UNIKA.


Filip ist ein Mensch vieler Talente und Leidenschaften, auch der sakralen Kunst kann er viel abgewinnen: Hier etwa bei der Darstellung des "hoffnungsvollen" Jesu am Kreuz als Symbol für die Auferstehung.

Filip likes to see his own interpretation of sacred art, which to him always carries a sense of hope: Even Jesus on the cross is looking “hopeful”.


Beim Rundgang durch seine Werkschaft finden sich profane ...

Walking around his workshop, you get to see more of the mundane stuff too …


... wie sakrale Motive: Diese Darstellung einer Krippenszene hat mich in ihrer Leichtfüßigkeit und Offenheit wirklich begeistert.

… as well as more sacred motives: The portray of this nativity set is a welcome change to the ones I have seen so far.


Blick auf das Werkzeug: Was ist notwendig, damit aus einfachem Holz wahre Kunst wird?

Looking at the tool set of the local artists: What is necessary to turn ordinary wood into (sacred) works of art?


Und wahre Kunst ist dies allemal: Neben sakralen Motiven beschäftigt sich Filip Moroder-Doss gerne mit Figuren und Themen aus der Sagenwelt der Ladiner, wie beispielsweise der Wassernixe Agana hier.

And yes, it is true art we see everywhere we go: Besides showing us his workshop, Filip Moroder-Doss takes us the local UNIKA exhibition where one of his works plays upon the many legends and tales of Val Gardena, such as Agana the water goddess here.


Anlässlich des 20-jährigen Bestehens der Künstlervereinigung UNIKA, der rund 40 Künstler aus dem Val Gardena angehören, sehen wir den Künstlern live beim Schnitzen & Holzbildhauen zu.

Watching sculptors at work …


Ein Teil der Ausstellung umfasst auch Werke dieses Künstlers hier.

… and having new interpretations challenge our traditional way of thinking of what wooden carvings need to be or look like!


Back to the beginning: A visit to the “Museum de Gherdëina” explaining the local carving tradition. Then, it is our turn to become creative during a sculpting workshop!

So much “high level art”, not only geographically but also figuratively speaking, truly merits a visit of the local area history museum in Val Gardena. It perfectly portrays the 400 years of tradition of wood carving & sculpting around here. Friendly local museum director Dr. Paulina Moroder makes it her mission to guide us around the premises.

Im Museum de Gherdëina wird die Tradition lebendig: Motive der ersten Holzschnitzer selbst in Holz "gefasst" (bemalt) und wiedergegeben.

Tradition becomes alive here at “Museum de Gherdëina”: Small statues such as this one give a hint at how wood carving developed back in the early days.


Dieses wunderhübsche Pferd als Teil der frühen Spielzeugsammlung des Museums begeistert mich in seiner Formvollkommenheit und Vollendung.

This pretty little wooden horse taken from the local toy collection is among my favourite works of art on display.


Danke für den interessanten Besuch hier, liebe Frau Moroder!

Thank you for this interesting visit, dear Paulina Moroder!


Immediately after, it is our turn to “lend a hand”. Our artist & tutor Florian offers regular creative carving courses for visitors during the summertime. Creating our own artworks from the fascinating raw material of wood is quite a process! At last do we realize what an art wood sculpting really is: It is not easy to “liberate” whatever shapes from the wood that also meet our high artistic and aesthetic expectations … expectations surely fuelled by the ubiquitous art on display here in the valley. The ambition of the Val Gardena wood carving tradition has really put us under a creative spell!

Kreative Schnitzklasse: Los geht's mit Hämmern, Schnitzen und dem einen oder anderen Fluch sowie Lachanfall!

Creativity at work: Off we go carving away happily!


Echte Arbeit schafft aus dem vorliegenden Holz etwas wirklich Besonderes: Mein Motiv einer Spirale wird nach und nach sichtbar.

It takes strength, but also precision, to “liberate” the form I want from my piece of wood – an unfolding fern, or spiral right here.


Das Schöne am Kreativ-Reisen: Allen Gruppenteilnehmern geht es nicht anders! Und doch steht uns schon nach kürzester Zeit die "Freude des Gelingens" ins Gesicht geschrieben. :)

The good thing about creative travel in a group: We all feed off each others’ enthusiasm and share a common sense of achievement. 🙂


Fertig sind wir: In knapp drei Stunden haben wir alle "echte Kunstwerke" geschaffen, zumindest in unseren Augen. Danke, lieber Florian, für Deine Geduld !!!

And well, at least in our eyes, we have truly achieved something: Small wooden carvings in less than three hours merit a round of applause !!!


Luxury Travel Tips from Val Gardena: All those adventures truly deserve your visit of the Albion Hotel as well as the gourmet restaurant Tubladel in Sankt Ulrich.

Unique. From the outdoor infinity pool here at Hotel Albion, we are under the impression to swim straight into the Val Gardena; the sauna opening up our view to the nearby Dolomites. The dessert served to us at the restaurant Tubladel is served in one of the most artistic ways that I have ever seen in a restaurant: A long wooden board literally loaded with lots of sweet delicacies for well over 10 people … The people of Val Gardena really like to look after you I believe.

I advise you to bring one thing above all when travelling here: TIME. For the people. For the art. Also for the art of nature to create truly unique landscapes. And above all: The art, and time, to enjoy yourself. 🙂

Wir starten den Abend mit dieser herrlichen, geschmackvoll intensiven Ziegenkäseterrine ... was für ein Gedicht auf der Zunge.

Starting the evening with this beautiful mousse of goat cheese …


Nachspeise im Restaurant Tubladel: Ein wahrer Augenschmaus & Festtagstraum. Weiters zu beachten: Das innovative Sohn-Mutter-Gespann, welches den Land hier auf einzigartige und augenzwinkernde Art und Weise "schupft"!

… we move on to dessert quite literally “as never seen before”. Do consider heading out here when you are visiting the area: You won’t be disappointed by the staff at Restaurant Tubladel!


Blick von der Wellnesslandschaft des Hotel Albion ...

Looking on from the outdoor terrace at Hotel Albion …


... die Landschaft der Dolomiten ist aber auch "zu schön, um wahr zu sein".

… the surrounding landscape has a way of really getting to us.


Perfekt für Kuh-Selfies! ;)

Perfect for taking a cow selfie! 😉


... sowie kunstvolle Ausblicke wie diesem, im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes: Blick auf die Dolomiten mit den "Fans" der Holzbildhauer des Val Gardena: Vielen Dank, liebes Team von Val Gardena, für die Bereitstellung dieses Fotos nachdem es das Wetter bei unserem Besuch nicht immer so gnädig meinte!

… as well as enjoying the views from the mountain top as it should be during good weather conditions: Thank you dear Val Gardena team for sending this photo through when we were for once less lucky with the weather! (c) Val Gardena / Gröden Marketing


Check out the following photo gallery for even more inspiring, creative travel moments from Val Gardena, South Tyrol in Italy:


Disclaimer: We have been invited by Val Gardena / Gröden Marketing to travel to Val Gardena in the north of Italy. All opinions are my own.

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Written by Elena

Elena writes about creative destinations, shares her personal travel stories and brings inspiring photography & interesting news updates home to you. Her mission is: "Continue to be amazed at this world, one creative travel experience at a time."

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