No one would predict that a trip to South Tyrol would take you to an ancient Greek enclave, and nor that a visit to a specialist carbon bike company would digress into organic wine and deep philosophical discussions. For fans of culture and individuality, there’s definitely something to take away from this story.
The capital of South Tyrol, Bolzano is also the birthplace of Claudio Camin, and the city where the former pro and multiple Italian Champion has set up his own custom carbon bike company, extolling the virtues of ‘Made in Italy’. After participating in our recent group test in the nearby Sarntal valley, Claudio extended an invite down to Bolzano and it was time to take him up on the offer. The former Tour de France rider also runs a bike shop in the city, with a wide range from road and mountain bikes to e-bikes. We wonder briefly if he’s inadvertently creating competition for his own brand, but he reassures us that it’s all about complementing Camin.
Zero – Architecture and pragmatism
The custom-built frames from the Zero collection are created tube-by-tube, meticulously harnessing the rider’s measurements to get the best from the material. We didn’t get to see any of the actual manufacturing at the HQ, as the Bolzano base is dedicated to design and assembly of the bikes; these custom tube designs are shipped to a small factory in Trento. Customers can choose their own colour schemes, and there’s a four-to-six week wait once you’ve placed an order for your custom frame.
The tubes are finely tuned to match the rider’s height and weight.
After a lap of the storage units (where we spotted motocross and skiing equipment too – clearly Bolzano has a lot to offer), it was time to talk business:
“The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself; to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile.” – Walther von der Vogelweide
Well, sort of. Despite being an ex-pro, Claudio has nothing more to prove – which is fortunate for me as I clamber onto my bike apprehensively. We’re about to ride up onto the Ritten, a local mountain. We roll out from the modern Camin Bikes HQ in the Enzo Ferrari Straße on the southern edge of the city and I’m thankful for the ease with which he rides.
As I’d checked into the Parkhotel Laurin late on the previous evening and hadn’t had any time to explore Bolzano, I jumped at Claudio’s suggestion for an espresso macchiato at the Waltherplatz, a square named after Walther von der Vogelweide, one of Germany’s most renowned medieval poets. The square is essentially the cultural heart of Bolzano these days, with locals and tourists flocking here to dine well and promenade. For us, it marked a brief detour before starting our ride.
„Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something.“ – Platon
A man of few words, the Bolzano-born Claudio is pragmatic and analytic, letting his work speak for himself, reflecting honesty, matter-of-factness and a welcome absence of arrogance. And obviously despite wanting to sell bikes, there’s no hint of marketing babble, neither from him nor from his team.
His passion for bikes is what drives him, and he’s still living out his dream, riding almost daily and living a quiet life –which, I have come to realize, is representative of most of South Tyrol. The most northern and detached province within Italy (with a considerable level of self-governance), South Tyrol blends the Italian dolce vità and Mediterranean flair with German and Austrian-esque structure and discipline.
„It is not living that matters, but living rightly.“ – Platon
But our conversation quickly strays from bikes when talking to Camin, as there’s a healthy dose of wine to consume, converse over and commend. Bought by Camin’s in-laws at auction in 2009, the family took over the former wine producing estate of a prominent Stuttgart-born winemaker: Rainer Zierock. It could be argued that this visionary professor and former vineyard owner had everything that should have made him happy but Zierock still wasn’t satisfied. Misunderstood by many, this veritable genius when it came to oenology was ahead of his time and employed drastically novel measures in his wine producing. Now his enchanting Ansitz Dolomythos wine estate and its historical buildings at the foot of the Ritten Sonnenplateau have been restored – and that’s where we were riding now.
„Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.“ – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Over the course of the afternoon we explore the treasures that Zierock left behind in the cool wine cellars, crammed with thousands of unlabeled bottles of wine. Following the biodynamic teachings of Rudolf Steiner, Zierock took an experimental approach to wine-making that was met with snorts of derision from many of his peers. A fan of Goethe, the Stuttgart-born professor decided that his estate, the Ansitz Dolomythos, would be finely crafted and structured to meet his wishes, giving Zierock the luxury of cultivating his grapes in the same manner as ancient Greece.
“Panta rei” – These words of wisdom that trace back to the Greek philosopher Heraklit are prevalent in the Ansitz Dolomythos. The literal translation is ‘everything flows,’ referring to the constant passing of time that can never be reclaimed. Everything is in a state of flux, and it holds true that you can never cross the same river twice. You could see this attitude as an appeal to seize every single moment of your life and enjoy it.
We took heed of the saying, feasting on some of South Tyrol’s tastiest Schlutzkrapfen ravioli, served to us by the Camin family after our ride, accompanied by a glass of white wine. This wasn’t your average light summer wine; it was a 9-year old organic Pinot Grigio, more reminiscent of a red wine given its depth and aroma. Plus, foodies out there should take note: the dumplings were on a bed of cabbage, but don’t be tempted to reach for your knife – according to South Tyrolean tradition, this would be highly offensive to the chef.
Pentagons and pentagrams – Not just visualized in the architecture and design, the symbols of the estate are reflected in the wine that’s produced as well, delivering a richness and uniting intellect with the four elements. The most impressive visual feature here is the gigantic, three-storey terrace in the shape of a pentagon, representing gods, spirits and the infantry. But if this all sounds a bit too hocus-pocus, the mountains on the horizon and the surrounding vastness of the Eisack Valley might be enough to take your mind off this philosophy. Although even here there’s no real escape from mythology, as the distant mountain peaks of the fabled Rosengarten are in sight, with its peaks that were supposedly created out of devotion by the dwarf king Laurin. As dusk falls, they’re bathed in a deep red.
The crowning culmination of this cultural and wine-quaffing excursion came in the form of sherry testing, when we mused on how all these myths, folklore and symbols provide a welcome break from the daily grind. And whether you pay heed to them or brush them off as nonsense, they’re still a good talking point. So on that note, cheers to ‘panta rei!’ I’m certain that I’ll be coming back here for a visit and while that might only be fleeting, certain unforgettable moments will imprint themselves into my memory.
More information can be found on the Camin website.
The Ansitz Dolomythos offers wine tastings for groups.
Bolzano’s Parkhotel Laurin is a great place to stay with its expansive, relaxing garden and location directly behind the Waltherplatz. There are gelaterias and restaurants within walking distance, and the hotel garden is home to a great bar.
Cycling Tours around Bolzano can be found here.
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Words & Photos: Robin Schmitt