The Waale are man-made water channels designed for the irrigation of vineyards and orchards. The narrow trails along these channels are called Waalwege, and are a peculiarity of Merano and Environs. They date back as far as the 13th century, thus being a part of the local cultural heritage, and are popular hiking routes.
The history of the Waalweg trails
Due to the irregular rainfall in Merano and Environs, local farmers already built Waal water channels centuries ago, with the water being taken from streams in high-altitude valleys. The word Waal is derived from the Latin "acquale". The trails along the canals were initially only used by the Waaler, the guardians of these irrigation systems, who were in charge of their maintenance and had to ensure that the rules regarding the Roaden were obeyed (a Roade being the one-hour time unit, during which the farmers had the right to take water from the Waal). In some places, the flow of the water is still signaled by a Waalschelle bell, its regular knocking indicating the smooth water flow; whenever the water wheel stops turning, the water’s passage is obstructed somewhere.
The Waalweg trails today
The Waalweg trails rank among the most popular hiking routes in Merano and Environs. They run through forests, orchards and vineyards, past historic monuments and marvels of nature. They have a combined length of about 60 kilometers and are mostly passable in every season. Depending on general weather conditions, the Waal channels carry water from the beginning of April to the end of October.