The spiritual energy of alpine witches pulsates on the plateau. We fall silent at the marvel: a fairy tale-scape of pine woods, acute summits and cerulean sky, and a hundred mysterious cairns, like midget infantry defending the Sarntal Alps. ‘Barbara was the last witch of our village to be burned,’ hotelier Gregor Wenter whispers, ‘because the church feared her knowledge and power, but we don’t know the purpose of the Stone Men.’
The ‘wild women’ of the Dolomites were herbalists and the slopes pop with the jewelled colours of their ingredients: edelweiss; arnica; feathery soft ‘cat’s paws’; gentian; ‘devil’s claw’… Gregor crushes a bloom between his fingers and shoves it under my nose. ‘Incredible, yes?’ he demands, and I have to agree.
Cowbells, cooks and honey baths
At quirky restaurant Putzar Kraitz, we’re served by lederhosen-wearing, tattooed mountain men: vivid beetroot and cheese dumplings with sauerkraut; and an excellent bottle of South Tyrolean white. Descending past wild spinach and jingling cows, we end the day in the spa, before a gourmet dinner and a nightcap of fiery schnapps made from dwarf pine, a staple at Bad Schörgau, a family-run hotel that brings the delights of the mountains to its cuisine and beauty products.
The next day, another resident alchemist, Michelin-starred chef Egon Heiss teaches us to make elegant grissini, gnocchi and wobbly ricotta soufflé before more honeyed soaks, massages and intense giggling.
This is a region of mixed cultural messages; both in lyrical Italian and precise German. Once part of Austria, we don’t know whether to serenade it with ‘The hills are alive!’ or O Sole Mio but, one thing is certain, our hearts are singing and our spirits lifted, as if by magic.
Vee and Fjora were hosted by spa hotel Bad Schörgau, prices from £205 for two people per night, and the South Tyrol Tourism Board. A cooking lesson with Egon Heiss costs £134. Flights with easyJet to Innsbruck and Verona cost from £117.