Volksmarching in Italy

By Rod Smith
This item appears on page 30 of the December 2013 issue.

Every two years, hundreds of walkers gather for the International Volksmarching Convention. In 2013 the 4-day event took place June 25-29 in Val Gardena, Italy, located in the Dolomite Mountains several hours north of Venice.

According to the website of the International Volkssport Federation, Volkssports are “non-competitive, non-motorized sports such as walking (Volksmarching), biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, kayaking, in-line skating, etc.” Volkssports originated in Germany and were brought to the United States in 1976.

Walkers and bikers shared trails in Val Gardena, Italy. Photos by Rod Smith

This was the 13th biennial event organized by the federation. (It was held in Turkey in 2011, in Japan in 2009 and in Estonia in 2007.) Welcoming ceremonies at the convention included a touch of Olympics-type ritual, with walkers parading behind their national flags. The country with the largest group this year was Germany, followed by Norway, Luxembourg, France and Belgium. 

Three thousand people representing 29 different countries took part. There were numerous mapped walks ranging from five to 24 kilometers; biking events of 18 and 24 kilometers, and daily swimming of 12 laps in outdoor and indoor pools. Aficionados like my wife also collected stamps, in books, for events participated in and the distances covered. 

There were 77 people registered from the United States, the largest US contingent being a group from Walking Adventures International, or WAI (Vancouver, WA; 800/779-0353), which included my wife, Karen, and me. 

The trip cost of $1,250 per person covered transfer from the Venice airport on June 24 to Mestre, Italy, for an overnight, then a bus to the convention, where we stayed for four nights in Val Gardena. Also included were breakfasts, four dinners, all tips to guides and drivers, registration for the convention, two optional trips and another night in Mestre before we returned to Venice.

WAI offered this tour as a pre- or post-trip to travelers signed up for either their “Classic Italy & Northern Spain” tour (which my wife and I did) or the “Danube River Cruise.” It wasn’t available on a stand-alone basis.

Karen Heady standing next to signs denoting Volksmarches of different routes and paces.

WAI combines walking with sightseeing, but everyone does not have to participate in any given activity. When possible, you’re allowed to set your own schedule or activity.

In northern Italy, Val Gardena is built around tourists and woodcarving and has all the amenities you would expect from an upscale ski destination in winter and a center for hiking and biking in summer. You can even get the day’s Wall Street Journal downtown. The nearest international airport is Venice, about four hours away by bus or car. 

In the fairy-tale valley are three small towns, connected by footpaths, whose names reflect the three languages that mix in the area: German, Italian and Ladin. Selva is also known as Wolfenstein; Urtijëi (a Ladin name) is also called Saint Ultrich, and the third town is Ortisei. Road signs are written in all three languages. 

You never know when you say “Hello” which language the other person uses. Most people know all the languages because local schools teach in all three.

I mentioned that we took two optional trips. One was a drive through the Dolomites. The other was to Bolzano, 25 miles from Val Gardena, where we went to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (Via Museo 43, I-39100, Bolzano; phone +39 0471 320 100)

This is the home of “Ötzi,” the 5,000-year-old iceman mummy, and it was a worthwhile side trip. The museum was open Monday-Friday 9-12 and 2:30-4:30, and admission cost 9.

The next International Volksmarching Convention is scheduled for September 2015 in Chengdu, China.


Oskaloosa, KS