Travels with Grace: Merano

Posted on June 18th, 2019 by

Welcome to this week’s segment of our 2019 #TravelTuesday series: Traveling with Grace. Today Grace spends some time in the Tyrol region of northern Italy during the summer of 1929.

July 28, 1929

1940 botanical postcard, edelweiss in Switzerland. Via.

Sunday. We leave St. Moritz in brilliant sunshine at 9:45 a.m. and travel for one hour on the little electric railway as far as Zernez making frequent stops en route. The proprietor gave mother and me each a box of fine chocolates on leaving. At the latter place we board a motor diligence, run by the government and ride over the Ofenpass, through the National park, a virgin and rugged territory where habitations are rare. At noon we stop for an hour at the first hotel, Il Fuorn. Then continuing our journey, we enjoy many lovely mountain vistas, look down into deep gorges through which rapid streams flow, the lower slopes are aglow with a variety of wildflowers, never have I seen such big daisies both yellow and white. Once we stop at a little inn to deliver some mail, for this is a post-diligence, and the proprietress gives us a lovely bunch of edelweiss which now decorates my hat.

Antique print, Chamois, 1836. Via.

In the shallow bed of a river we see some chamoix which have come down to drink as the sun is unusually hot today. When we reach the top of the pass – over 2000 meters high – we look out over the high peaks and see the snowy crest of the Ortler in the distance, the big, best and whitest of all, 3902 meters. We stop at the little villages of Cierfs, Fuldera, Valcava, and Santa Maria, all seem so remote and ancient, the diligence being the only link to connect them with the outer world. At Munster we change into another car and begin to descend into the Tyrol region of Italy. Gradually the character of the mountains changes. They grow less steep and rugged, more verdant and intensely cultivated. Vineyards appear on the slops and little squares of yellow and light green stand out as though illuminated against the dark background of trees. At 5 p.m. we arrive in Merano and locate at the beautiful Palace Hotel – palatially furnished – where the balconies of our rooms open on a lovely park. Adjoining is an old castle.

Luggage Label, Palace Hotel, Merano, 1935. Via.

July 29, 1929

Vintage travel poster, Merano, 1930. Via.

Monday. We take a carriage this afternoon and ride through the old town, very quant and interesting, the shops fronted by a low-ceilinged arcade with painted gothic arches, stenciled and painted roofs bearing the various trademarks of the shop keepers. The streets are narrow and winding and at the intersection one looks out to the mountains which hem in the town on all sides. We ride up through the newer portions of the town where there are many picturesque and even elegant villas and pensions laid out in charming gardens. Vineyards abound everywhere and there are many pear and apple trees. Merano has a fine Kurhaus, numerous parks and promenades for the public, a pretty theater. We ride out through Ober – and Unter-Maria all very quaint and Teutonic looking. The signs are always printed in Italian but most of the names are German and one can easily distinguish the German from the Italian merchandise in the shops. We see several old castles, abandoned and partly in ruins, perched high I the hills.

Vintage postcard, Merano. Via.

Tonight, we go across the street to the little Plankestein Kino to see the movie “Casanova,” very fine indeed. It is my first experience in a European movie theater. Of course, this is a very small one. The only music is furnished by a pianist who does very well. A man comes around twice to squirt perfume through a gun. The film is divided into seven or eight parts and there is a short intermission between each, while a bell is run before it starts and before it ends. But it is a pity to see the German captions relegated to a sort of screen on the side where it is difficult to read them. Also they are written in a miserable script, while the Italian is nicely printed and holds the center of the stage. I have spoken to quite a few of the old residents here and they express a hatred of the Italian rule and claim that the town is much less prosperous than of yore.

July 30, 1929

Our driver gives us a ride all around the valley this afternoon through the towns of Burgstall, Lana, Cermes, and Marlengo. The river Etch intersects this country which appears very fertile and covered with fruit orchards. Also there is a large fruit packing house which ships the products abroad. The towns however do not present an air of prosperity.

July 31, 1929

Panorama postcard, Merano. Via.

Today we go up the Fragsburg, a most picturesque ride climbing a spiral road to the top of one of the lesser mountains. At every turn a beautiful picture of the valley is enjoyed, framed in the opening of the trees. It is refreshingly cool riding through the woods bathed in the spicy fragrances of pines and watered by an occasional mountain stream tinkling merrily in its descent. Below us the town of Merano is seen in its entirety, encompassed by hills and the river shines like a broad ribbon of silver. The vineyards propped on their rustic stilts give the illusion of a vast green stadium when viewed from above. We see the suspended car of the aerial railway pass above our heads. There are two in the vicinity and they run every hour. Mother is doing her best to discourage father and me from trying one. At the summit of the Fragsburg we take tea at the Terrace Café which affords another wonderful panorama of the valley. The German people who run it are so kind and show us the rooms furnished with antiques. Nearby is an old castle.

August 1, 1929

Antique luggage label, Hotel Bristol, Bolzano Italy. Via.

Merano is another place which will go down in our “red-letter book of memories.” We leave amidst the warm farewell of the entire staff at 10 a.m. and arrive an hour later at the Bristol Hotel in Bolzano. The train ride was short and sweet. We follow the Adige for most of the way, the mountains on either side liberally sprinkled with old castles in varying degrees of decay usually situated on a crest overlooking a small hamlet where the overlord of the district was wont to hold sway. Also, there are occasional old forts, with look-out towers, bastions, etc. to strengthen the ancient hold. In the valleys between the ranges the fruit trees are quickly maturing toward the harvest. One often sees large leaved cabbages growing around the base of an apple or pear tree and grape vines are everywhere.

Bolzano-Gries vintage postcard, 1929. Via.

This afternoon we take a carriage around Bolzano, which resembles Merano in many ways, its setting, architecture, arbor culture, etc. There is a fine monument with fasciti design, to Victor Emanuel III, a pretty municipal park, promenade paralleling the river, theaters, casino, etc. In the principal square is a pretty church with sloping roof of colored tiles, a monument to the bard Walter von der Vogelweide. We ride through Fries, a town of villas and pensions, formerly a separate community but no incorporated with Bolzano. Here come many visitors in autumn to take the wine or grape cure and in the winter, there are the popular winter sports. We ride out through the country lanes sweet with hay, bordered with vines and fruit trees, and catch fascinating glimpses of the Dolomites and the sunset over the Catinaccio or Rosengarten.

August 2, 1929

Vintage Dolomites travel poster. Via.

Friday. In spite of a steady rain we start out at 9:15 a.m. in a private auto for a tour of the Dolomites. Our route starts out along the stupendous gorge of the Eggenthal, looking positively eerie through the veil of slanting rain, Nova Levante, Carezza, Karersee – a deep blue-green in its hollow of pines – Passo di Costalunga, big o di Fassa, Campitello, Canezei, Pordoi pass – 2250 meters high – Arabba, Piece di Lirinaflanga, Passo di Falsarrego – 2117 m. high – Costina d’Ampezzo, Lake of Misurina, Carbonin, Dobbiaco, Brunico, and Chiusa di Bressamone, the oldest town in Tyrol. The way is dotted with resorts more or less pretentious and good hotels are not infrequent. We have lunch at a modest one high in the mountains. The road is often a mass of serpentine curves and we several times encounter snow in our track. The views of the mountains are somewhat spoiled by the rain and heavy mists which float like clouds over the crests, but it gives the advantage of a dustless journey and everything looks so clean and green. At the inn where we lunch is a dead chamoix shot this morning, which they have fixed up in a natural position which at first fooled me into thinking it alive. Many people are out hiking and riding in spite of the unfavorable weather. It is really quite cold. Returned to hotel at 7 p.m.

August 3, 1929

Saturday. Sat in the park today and enjoyed the local color. Talked with some of the natives and all express the same feeling of unrest and discomfort with the present form of government. Even the children, whom we watch play, have serious, thoughtful faces. They use the German language in their games, but their elders regret that it cannot be taught in the schools. We have dinner in the garden restaurant across from the hotel, this being the first hotel of our acquaintance where meals are not served on the premises.

Thanks for reading “Traveling with Grace,” a series where we’re sharing (and annotating) posts from the travel diaries of Grace Amelia Hecht, native Baltimorean, b. 1897 and d. 1955. As mentioned in my introductory post transcription errors sometimes occur and I’ve made my best guesses where possible, denoted by [brackets]. – Rachel Kassman, marketing manager


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Travels with Grace: Italy Part 2

Posted on June 4th, 2019 by

Welcome to this week’s segment of our 2019 #TravelTuesday series: Traveling with Grace. Today we continue through Italy and into Switzerland.

July 14, 1929

At 9:30 this morning we take private auto to Bellagio. It is a charming ride along the eastern shore of Lake Como passing many little villages, their houses in pastel shades with vine covered terraces and gay little flower gardens. As all over Italy the babies are very numerous and here, they look especially healthy and well cared for. Many ravines are carved thru the mountains and little streams flow down beneath old stone arches. The road is thickly lined with villas and hotels, their cool gardens luring the visitor from the hot sun of the open road. Some of the houses lie far below the road, crowding close to the water’s edge and then they are provided with little wharves.

At Bellagio we take a little motorboat and ride on the lake for about half an hour. We visit the Villa Melzi d’Eril and stroll about the beautiful gardens which are only open to the publish Sundays and Thursdays. However, the only other people we meet here are an English couple. The grounds are well kept, the trees of many species most luxuriant, the pines particularly giving out the most delightful spicy aroma. The air is heavy with the perfume of heliotrope and gardenia. Beneath clusters of trees are little seats built of rocks and rocky grottoes open in the sides of the mountain. There are holly bushes, and ivy encircles the tree trunks about which the roses also climb. Rustic bridges curve over ponds starred with red and white water lilies.

This photo of i Giardini di Villa Melzi is courtesy of TripAdvisor

There is a pretty statue of Dante being led by Beatrice who points the way upward. A pretty little Moorish summer house invites one to rest at the water side and the villa itself, though not open to the public, presents a colorful façade in pure Italian style. From the boat we glimpse the Villa Giulia with its long avenue of cypresses. The views from the lake are more enchanting than those from the road. Flowering vines hang thickly over the walls, terrace after terrace of velvety green mount the slopes and melt into the timber line above. Huge rocks jut out into the water, one of which stands entirely isolated supporting two fir trees on its top. There are one or two little islands inhabited.

Vintage postcard of Bellagio. Via.

The picturesque fishing boats of the vicinity (Comacina) lend added charm and there are many tiny sail boats. Ladies sit beneath parasols in the row boats with a stalwart man at the oars. We take the auto up to the Villa Serbelloni where we take refreshments. It enjoys a high situation, but I do not like it as well as the Villa d’Este. On our return to Como we visit the handsome marble monument to A. Volta to which every country had contributed a piece of precious marble. Here are to be seen a collection of the instruments with which he worked. Tonight during the dancing I met Congressman Cohen from New York and Mme. Rosa Ponselle. The latter was so gracious and gave me her autograph.

July 15, 1929

Painting, Lake Como. Victory Art Gallery Via.

We leave the hotel at 9:45am in the same fine Fiat car we had yesterday and ride on the western shore of Lake Como as far as Tremezzo, passing through Moltrasio, Carate, Toriggia, Argegno, etc. There are exquisite villas and gardens everywhere. Each little village has a simple figure in bronze on a rough granite base.

This morning the women are busy at the pumps and troughs scrubbing away at their washing. Many women in this country carry huge vase-shaped baskets strapped to their backs piled high with brushwood or grass for their beast of burden. Men and women wear funny wooden sabots the toes sticking out and the heels slapping up and down. Many of the houses appear to have many windows (the shutters are always closed in the daytime) but on closer inspection half of them prove to be only simulated, that there is a groove which looks like a windowsill and the shutters are painted on. Once we see a woman appearing to open the shutters; she is also painted on. At Tremezzo we cross over a winding mountain road through some of the most beautiful country I have yet beheld, until the lake of Lugano comes into view. Then we clump up to Lange d’Intelvi where we enjoy a superb panorama over into Switzerland (Monte Bre) the lake branching off on either side below us. Then we descend by another spiral route to Menaggio on the Lake of Como where we lunch at the Grand Hotel. After lunch we follow the beautiful avenue shaded by plantain trees which connects Tremezzo and Cademabbia to the famous Villa Carlotta with its rich gardens and statuary. Returned to hotel at 4:30 p.m.

Die Villa Carlotta am Comer See by Carl Hummel (1855). Via.

July 16, 1929

Lake view, Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees. Via.

Started out on a long trip at 9:45 a.m. Every day the chauffeur puts fresh flowers in the car. We start by the way of Ghiasso, Stabbio, Arcisate and Varese, the first important town which is really very pretty. We see the fine war memorial, public gardens, business section, etc. Outside the town are some wonderful big hotels built on the heights and a little beyond the Lake of Varese a small but very attractive sheet of water. (From here we can look up and see Campo dei Fiori and Madre del Monte.) Soon we come to Lake Maggiore and skirt one side of it passing Ispra, Augera, Sesto Caleude, Olaggio, Arona, Meina, Lesa, Belginate, and Stusa where we stop for lunch at the Grand Hotel at des Iles Borronees. All along the shore we have been seeing the most exquisite villas and gardens ariot with color. They are usually planted on terraces and surrounded by cedar ledges or the most elaborate wrought iron grill work fences. The houses are of solid stone, windows and doorways frequently outlined in a mosaic pattern of colored stones or tiles with sometimes a broad frieze of the same around the top. On one house I notice a cute little weathervane, an iron silhouette of a woman watering a flower border, her watering can pointing toward the wind. Many of the houses of the poorer folk have one or two bird cages hanging before the doorway, the tiny feathered inhabitants adding their cheerful note to an already happy picture.

Garden view of Isola Bella. Via.

After lunch we hire a motorboat which takes us over to the Borromean Islands which are in plain view of the hotel. The Borromean family have been in possession of these islands for 250 years. There are three principal islands, Isola Madre, Isola Pescatori, and Isola Bella on which the family castle stands which is open to inspection and contains art treasures and mementos of Napoleon who stopped here at the time of the Battle of Marengo. The gardens are especially lovely and rich in variety of flora. They are terraced in pyramid shape and adorned with urns, statues, pergolas, etc., in effect like the fabled gardens of Babylon. We then resume our trip by auto which takes us further along the lake shore past Mattarone, Bavero, Ferriolo, Pallanza, Intra, Ghiffa, Oggebbia, Cannero, Cannolio (where we undergo the frontier formalities of the Swiss border) Brissago, Ancona, Locarno – a nice town with a peaceful leisurely atmosphere where we see the building, a fine edifice, in which the peach conference was held. Then we proceed to Lugano on the lake of that name which seems to be rather a large community chiefly of hotels and some very fine-looking ones at that. We cross a bridge over this lake and return over the mountains at sunset enjoying the beautiful panoramas bathed in the evening glow. Bells tinkle on the cows being led home from pasture. In the villages we see people taking their evening meal in the little gardens or courtyards, and young couple strolling arm in arm along the main street at this twilight hour seems to be the favorite time for promenading we return to the Villa d’Este at 8:30 p.m. Full moon on the lake.

July 17, 1929

Como Cathedral. Via.

Today we took a carriage and rode to Como where we visited the fine 14th century cathedral, highly ornamental both inside and out. We looked at some of the shops and returned to the Villa d’Este for tea. It is a never-ending delight to sit here enjoying the lovely view and fine music.

July 19, 1929

The same car and chauffeur calls for us at 9 a.m. to take us from this beautiful haven of flowers, blue water, green hills, smiling villas and balmy breezes which waft toward us perfumes from the gardens and the soft chimes of the bells which ring forth every half hour from the neighboring church towers. We ride on the lake shore covering the same distance we traversed the other day as far as Menaggio and beyond that through Rezzonica, Gravedona, and on up to the head of the lake where it is more sparsely settled. At this end the Alps come into greater prominence and one begins to see snow on the furthest summits. The villages grow further apart, the flowery villas disappear and in their place is to be seen an occasional chalet of more rugged means to correspond with the changing character of the landscape. At Chiavenna we cross the border into Switzerland and begin the ascent over the Maloja Pass. The pine-clad slopes are brokern here and there by patches of emerald-green pasture and the Mera river bubbles merrily down its stony course beside the road. Waterfalls add a racy charm to the scene, one of particular beauty tumbling in six parallel cascades which later mingle to form three. Others are seen high up near the snowy summits and are suddenly lost to view and reappear after an interval, farther down. The tall cones of the firs rise row upon a row, like hundreds of battalions of soldiers marching erectly upward only stopping a little short of the rocky peaks. At Meloja and at Silvaplana are pretty little colonies of hotels and a chain of jade-green lakes begin which continue until we reach the lake of St. Moritz, in its setting of loft Engadine Alps studded liberally with glaciers and snow fields.

Carlton Hotel, illustration, c. 1930. Via.

We stop at the hotel Carlton. The windows and balconies command choice views of the mountains, lake, and village. The Swiss clocks are well advertised here in the lifts, corridors and public rooms and when we look out of the windows, we see others across the way. No need to ever ask the time. On many of the smaller hotels are picturesque mural decorations, often taking the form of verses or proverbial sayings marked out in large block letters around the side walls. One house has the figure of a Pope in all his regalia painted on the front. Small as it is there are a number of craft on St. Moritz lake, row boats, motorboats, and I even note one little sail boat (it reminds me of a toy in a bathtub).

Thanks for reading “Traveling with Grace,” a series where we’re sharing (and annotating) posts from the travel diaries of Grace Amelia Hecht, native Baltimorean, b. 1897 and d. 1955. Next week we’ll continue through Switzerland. As mentioned in my introductory post transcription errors sometimes occur and I’ve made my best guesses where possible, denoted by [brackets]. – Rachel Kassman, marketing manager


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