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Far away, close by

Sometimes you have to take a step back and look at things in order to get closer to them. The blogger and author couple Judith Niederwanger and Alexander Pichler have had exactly this experience. Not only do they want to capture the scenic diversity of South Tyrol – but with their photos they want to arouse the desire to see the supposedly familiar from a completely new perspective.

A bird’s view: The high moor Wieser-Werfer (2,080 m) in the South Tyrolean Valle Aurina. Here the Marksteinjöchlbach brook forms elegant loops. In the background the Dreiherrenspitze towers towards the sky.

Judith Niederwanger and Alexander Pichler have been a couple for over ten years. She is a gardener and works outside a lot. He is a web developer and spends most of his time in front of a computer screen. She is from Brunico, in South Tyrol’s east, he’s from Merano in the west. That is also where they live now. A couple of years ago they took the leap and went on an around-the-world-trip: 352 days, 18 countries, 4 continents. In order to keep friends and family in the loop they set up a blog and promptly called it “Roter Rucksack” (‘red backpack’). It was named after the backpack that Judith bought especially for this joint adventure of theirs. After a year of living as cosmopolitan nomads they did not feel like stopping their exploration. This is how they came to rediscover their homeland of South Tyrol. Ever since then, they spend all of their free time hiking and photographing mountains. On their wanderings they continuously capture images that show things from a whole new perspective. They portray alpine valleys that from a bird’s view almost remind one of an Icelandic landscape. They photograph meandering rivers that could be set in the Norwegian Taiga. Their photos of wild and romantic alpine biotopes evoke a jungle-like feeling in the viewers. Everything one thought to have known forever suddenly appears fresh and new.

We talked to the couple that seemingly can’t get enough of South Tyrol.

Judith Niederwanger & Alexander Pichler | Blog: www.roterrucksack.com

What have you discovered about your home while you were away?
Pichler: Maybe that you have to be away for a while to appreciate being here in the first place. I would say that having been gone makes you go through life and through your own homeland with open eyes.

Niederwanger: This is true, we only started to go on hikes after our round-the-world-trip. Before that we hadn’t really seen much of our homeland. After coming home our daily work routine came back all too quickly, but the urge to live a new adventure every day remained. So we made a decision: Why not explore our homeland?

Pichler: We thought: There has to be a reason that so many people come here every year, right?

Have you come closer to finding an answer to that question?
Niederwanger: There are many factors that make South Tyrol an interesting destination. But it’s not just the mix of the Alpine and the Mediterranean that is loudly praised again and again. It’s the fact that the experiences here really start at your doorstep. You don’t have to go far to embark on an adventure.

Pichler: Yes, true, the landscape in South Tyrol really fascinates people. There is also a lot of contrast within a small space: palm trees on one side, snow and glaciers on the other.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many South Tyroleans rediscovered their homeland. As a local, are you sometimes blind to the adventures waiting at your own doorstep?

An artwork made of stone: Judith Niederwanger and Alexander Pichler discovered this spectacular rock arch on their hike to the Latemarhütte hut (2,671 m).

Pichler: Yes, I think that’s a fair assessment. We also had to leave before we could really appreciate the beauty around here.

South Tyrol is a relatively small patch of earth. Don’t you run out of options for new exploration tours pretty fast?
Pichler: No way, there is so much to see here! Our parents are a great resource, they always help us find new adventures. They love to hike as much as we do and know a lot of gorgeous places that they are willing to share with us.

Niederwanger: There are also hiking guides and the internet, of course. But what has always bothered us is that there is hardly any good photographic material of the hikes. We don’t just want to share tours of discovery, we also value good and clear images that inspire you to lace up your hiking boots.

Pichler: It is not our goal to lure people to a single specific hotspot. We want to inspire people to explore South Tyrol with their eyes wide open and to discover their own highlights. That’s really important to us.

The northern flank of the Monte Cornicolo (2,311 m) belongs to the municipality of San Pancrazio in Val d’Ultimo, while its southern side belongs to the municipality of Lauregno in the Alta Val di Non. A wedge that goes up to the summit on the east side is in the Trentino municipality of Borgo d’Anaunia

Friends from abroad are coming to visit. Where are you gonna take them?
Niederwanger: I would invite them to a picnic on the hill of Castelfeder.

Pichler: An excursion to Rio Lagundo above Lagundo to see the little church of Maria Schnee would be nice, then upwards towards Monte San Vigilio. But I’d also show my guests Merano. Judith is gonna disagree with me, but to me Merano is the most beautiful town in South Tyrol. (smirks)

Everything flows: The Passirio meandering through the Val Passiria Valley. It has its source under the Passo del Rombo Pass and, with a length of 42.6 km, it is one of the largest tributaries on the upper course of the Adige.

Niederwanger: I do have to disagree. To me Brunico is the most beautiful city. Just think about the castle that watches over it!

Pichler: Ach was, denken wir an die Gilfpromenade und an den Tappeinerweg in Meran … Das bietet sich zum Flanieren an!

It seems hard to agree on just one city…
Pichler: I’m from Merano, Judith is from Brunico and… Well, us South Tyroleans are always biased and think our own hometowns and valleys are the most beautiful in the region. (laughs)

Maybe you have to be away for a while to really appreciate being here.”
Alexander Pichler

Excursion tip to the Barbiano waterfalls
1 crooked tower, 3 churches, 3 waterfalls

Start in the town center of Barbiano. This is where the small St.Jakob church is. Its clocktower is a whole 1.5 m out of balance. It almost looks as though the tower is about to fall any minute now.
With your eyes on the Dolomites, follow the waterfall path uphill – past chestnut trees, Kneipp stations and straight through the forest. After about 5 minutes you are at the lower waterfall (1,012 m). A narrow path, partially secured with wire ropes, continues to the second waterfall. If you also want to see the third waterfall, turn off the path to the left side for a short while, but then walk back to follow the marker no. 6 in the direction of Tre Chiese. On the way there, you will come to a fork that leads to a clearing with a view of the Sciliar. Continue across the meadow until you reach a forest road that leads to the beautiful hamlet of Tre Chiese (1,120 m) with its three closely connected Gothic chapels. You return to Barbiano via path no. 11 and no. 11A.


Town center of Barbiano


ca. 3 h


8,5 km