Interview with Reinhold Messner
Under a golden sun, two castle guides are waiting for their first guests at the heavy wooden door in the outer wall, with their dog. That’s us today. There is a magical calm within the courtyards of Castle Juval. A fine network of ancient walls, greenery and a meditative Saturday morning. We allow ourselves to be lead from one sculpture to the next, until Reinhold Messner appears. He takes us behind the castle, passing murmuring Tibetan monks on the way. We sit on a wooden bench, the castle wall at our back, the extensive Senales Valley in full view.
Ötzi was discovered at the end of Senales Valley, on Hauslabjoch. And here, Castle Juval stands guard over the entrance to the valley. Mr. Messner, there are rumours that some archaeological finds were also made on Juval hill. Are they perhaps from the Copper Age? Ötzi’s family?
Even when the road was built about thirty years ago, fire pits and wall foundations were found. All these items are on display these days in the Archaeological Museum in Bolzano. Slag and bits of copper were discovered later on but they still have to be examined. They are from a different period.
Apparently, Ötzi had his winter settlement just there where the tunnel transitions to the sunny courtyard. A small settlement to which the semi-nomads returned. Half way up the hill, because down in the valley it was wet and full of midges. We’re talking about the Ice Age, of course. The valley itself consisted of a moraine cone. In the cellar at Castle Juval, we have pure glacial polish. The history of the past 50,000 years of the earth can be read there.
It is certain that people lived on this plateau and that they worked with copper. However, we cannot say for certain whether it was Ötzi’s community.
Juval Hill - Standing guard at the entrance to the valley?
There are a lot of questions about this. Why settle right here? It’s not a good location. There is only this one level area near the tunnel, half way up. During the Longobard period, Juval hill certainly did the job of standing guard for the valley. Most likely, customs duties also had to be paid here.
Ötzi - an early representative of transhumance?
Nomadic pastoralism was the usual form of business. Ötzi and his people were most likely semi-nomads. Probably only the most skilful walkers and hunters managed to leave Senales Valley to the North. The animals were led up the mountain above the tree line and to the meadows. There was no tree clearing during the Copper Age. The reason is that agriculture and domestication only began about 10,000 years ago. Vegetable cultivation also had to be learnt slowly.
A new economic system has to be learnt slowly ... You developed a holistic concept of self-sufficiency with Castle Juval and the local Ortl farms - a clever interpretation of total supply. How do you think mountain farming can remain an attractive model for the future?
The farmer at Unterortl had the idea of specialising in wine - I supported the project financially. Oberortl itself is a closed self-sufficient farm. A maximum of 5% of the produce are used for their own consumption. The remaining produce is sold “on the plate and in the glass”. As a result, the entire supply chain is in the hands of the farmer. Because he produces, processes and sells. The mountain farmers will be in a position to retain this model.
A strong vision. What is it, in your opinion, that distinguishes Senales Valley and its sustainable tourism?
Specialisation and all-round care. The young farmers are already very good at it. But, everyone has to find his niche, his own model. Mountain farming can then be operated as a service. Even for tourism there has to be a sensible policy in place. It needs a few good 4-5 star hotels just as much as the holiday on the farm model. The old farmhouses have to be placed under ensemble protection and preserved. Because, “enjoying architecture” is part of a holiday experience.
And, I have the feeling that the Senales Valley people are in an upwind. Cheap tourism is no longer “South Tyrol-like”, that was understood a long time ago here.
You know so many places around the world. Which places, climbs or viewing points in Senales Valley do you like to go back to again and again?
One of my favourite places, the most beautiful place, is the Moar-Alm, which really should be preserved. The view is magnificent! The hut is now easy to get to. If there was investment in catering there, the innkeeper could certainly make a living out of it. It would have to happen for sure in the next few years. The hut is from the Middle Ages and shouldn’t be allowed to go to rack and ruin. Protect the ensemble buildings, pour a glass of something...
The love for a person or a place goes through the stomach, or some other way: A visionary spirit needs a well-nourished body! Do you have a favourite dish that you can only get in Senales Valley?
The best Schöpserne I ever had was cooked by the farmer’s wife at Finailhof farm. It was cooked for hours in sugar beet stock, maybe even for a whole day. The sugar beet was grated and the fat was completely dissolved in it. Phenomenal! I’d certainly go back again and again for that dish.
(Explanation: Schöpserne is a spicy mutton dish in which all parts of the sheep are cooked).
The memory of that happy meal is still in the air. Our eyes follow Messner’s finger, pointing towards the end of the valley. Here, we have an old pathway from Castle Juval through Senales Valley to Vent, over there, the converted helicopter tower, with two goats lolling about in the sun. The connection between ancient, strong basic structures and visionary ideas, that’s where the immense creative potential lies. Values and services that point to the future.
As we wander through the Tibetan Collection, the lord of the castle pays a visit to the wine-tasting session in the Vinschgau farm store. Because, when something has been introduced into the world, it will live on and pulsate where people come together. At a shared table and with home produce “on the plate and in the glass”!