The Schnalstal Valley is a side valley of the Venosta Valley, and part of Merano and Environs. It is the most sparsely inhabited valley in South Tirol. Alongside hiking and skiing on the glacier, it has many interesting sites. This valley, of course, found fame through the discovery of the „Iceman“. But the Vernago Reservoir in Certosa/Karthaus with its former monastery, or the pilgrimage church in Madonna di Senales/Unser Frau, are also worthy excursion destinations.
Here are our excursion tips for guests who are especially interested in culture, or for when the weather doesn’t want to cooperate.
In 1991, a German couple on holiday in the Schnalstal Valley made a sensational discovery. While hiking on the main Alpine ridge between Similaun and Finailspitze, they stumbled across a corpse protruding from the ice. According to scientists, the glacier mummy from Hauslabjoch, also known as „Ötzi“ or the Iceman, lived 5,300 years ago in the Neolithic Period and died while crossing the glacier. The tour to the discovery site is still a popular hike today. (But a word of caution here: this hike is no walk in the park. An experienced mountain climber is needed to help navigate the ridge, not to mention sturdy footwear.)
This guided mountain tour will bring you, by foot or on skis, from Schnalstal Valley head to the discovery site on the Tisenjoch ridge at 3,210 metres a.s.l. The archaeological importance and unique glacier experience make this tour something special. On this tour one also learns to hike in a rope team and the safe surmounting of rocky places secured with ropes. There’s a tour every Tuesday and by request.
Time period : June – October (glacier trekking) and November – May (ski touring)
Required for participation: good physical fitness, no mountaineering experience necessary; for the ski tour, good parallel skiing skills, no ski touring skills required; for family groups, children must be 12 or older.
This archaeological open-air museum near the Iceman discovery site shows, on 4,000 m², the habitat and way of life of the Iceman and his contemporaries in the Neolithic Age 5,300 years ago. From here, the discovery site of the Iceman can be seen through a telescope. The recreated huts from this time period are quite interesting, as is the Iceman’s reconstructed equipment. Interesting family activities include diverse workshops on the living conditions of the time.
After a long construction period, the area has been doubled in size and furnished with new attractions (opening 16th July 2017). Nine 1:1 building models divided in three building groups show how the Iceman’s neighbours in the Alpine valleys and to the south and north of here may have built their homes. A special highlight of the new grounds is the dugout bridge. At stations 2 and 3 one can shoot arrows, bake bread, try out ancient handicraft techniques, and ride in a dugout canoe.
„Ötzi the Iceman“. With these words, the Archaeology Museum in Bolzano/Bozen greets its visitors. The mummy is stored in a specially developed refrigeration chamber, and can be viewed through a small window. Various items of his equipment and clothing have been elaborately restored in order to be presented to the interested public in an informative way.
The small community of Vernago/Vernagt lies at 1,689 metres above sea level on the Vernago Lake Reservoir in the Schnalstal Valley. The reservoir, built in the 1950s, is known for its turquoise-coloured glacier water and from the fact that, when the water level is low, a church tower rises up from the surface. This belongs to a church that once disappeared beneath the waters along with eight farmsteads. The route around the lake is a popular hike in good weather, with pleasant views of the beautiful, turquoise-coloured water. The eight farms can be admired in Oberraindlhof – they hang there memorialised in a wood engraving by the local artist Friedrich Gurschler.
There’s an interesting story behind the tranquil village of Certosa/Karthaus. The Allerengelberg monastery (mons omnium angelorum) was founded in 1326 by local monks, who then lived there in tranquility and seclusion for over 400 years. In 1782 the monastery was dissolved and the buildings made into houses. In spite of a devastating village fire in 1924, the old structure is still well preserved, and is one of the most idyllic mountain villages in South Tyrol. The monastery village may be visited year round. Guided tours are given weekly in the summer.
The unusual name of this village comes from a statue of the Virgin Mary, the „Schnalser Miatarle“ („Little Mother of Senales“). This statue was found at the site of the present pilgrimage church in the year 1304, probably brought there by a pilgrim from the Holy Land. In 1306 a chapel was erected to honour this holy statue. According to legend and documents of the Diocese of Chur, many miracles have been attributed to this place. A renovation in Gothic style was followed by an expansion in Baroque style in 1756. One reaches the church over a pilgrimage path that begins with a stone bearing an image of the Virgin Mary.
Juval Castle, high on a mountain, towers over the entrance to the Schnalstal Valley. This medieval fortress belongs to Reinhold Messner; the extreme mountain climber, author and organic farmer spends his summers here. Messner, arguably the most famous South Tyrolean (after „Ötzi, the Iceman“) has lived here since 1983 and has in the meantime opened his castle for public visits. It’s not just the castle chapel and private rooms with expedition exhibits; the largest collection of Tibetan art in the world, a gallery of mountain images and a collection of religious symbols are just part of the many things to see at the Messner Mountain Museum. Visitors can reach the castle with a shuttle bus, but one can also reach it on foot over many of the numerous interesting hiking trails from Naturno/Naturns.
The Merano Botanic Gardens are located on the grounds of the historic Trautmannsdorff Castle, and have over 80 examples of nature and cultivation from all over the world, on 12 hectares. Here a magnificent view of the mountains is combined with an exotic Mediterranean ambience. The sunny slopes over Merano/Meran holds gardens: forest gardens, sun gardens, water gardens and terrace gardens, as well as the authentic landscapes of South Tyrol. The castle itself, where Empress Elisabeth of Austria (aka „Sissi“) often stayed, has been home of the „Touriseum“ since 2003. This tourism museum focuses on the history, identity and perspectives of tourism in South Tyrol. The „Touriseum“ and the gardens are open daily between April and November.
Merano/Meran is often named the most beautiful spa town in the Alps. Here, South Tyrolean tradition is mixed with exotic Mediterranean flair in the art deco designs of the spa hotel, the palm-lined promenade, the race track, and countless churches and monuments. In the town centre, little boutiques alternate with farmers’ markets – here you’ll find something for everyone. The Terme Merano is a small oasis of well-being right in the centre of town. A bit further out, on a sunny slope directly over Merano, towers Trautmannsdorff Castle, an absolute highlight for garden fans who want to immerse themselves in the magnificent flowers and themed gardens.