Caravan Park Sexten, South Tyrol, Italy
Interview with Andreas Happache, owner.
Where are you located? Tell us a bit about you and your campsite.
Caravan Sexten is located in South Tyrol region of the Italian Alps. It is a family owned business and I’m the third generation. My grandfather, a local farmer, started the site about 45 years ago and then my father built it up, now I’ve been the CEO for the last six years. You could say my grandfather was a camping visionary. Despite the locals thinking it was a bad idea at the time, he swapped some land with the local government and seized the opportunity. When my father took over he wanted to focus on quality camping. He also started to introduce innovative ideas like saunas, which again fellow owners were skeptical about. But it paid off, we now have a site of over 300 pitches, a spa, saunas, a variety of accommodation choices and three restaurants.
What’s unique about your campsite?
We focus on promoting overall wellness and we’ve created facilities and an atmosphere on the site to reflect this. I think this is also a reflection of where we are located, right in the centre of a UNESCO natural world heritage site in The Dolomites.
Is there a particular type of camper who would really enjoy staying at your site?
I don’t think there is a typical camper! We’re not like a five star hotel where there is a certain price level you start at and therefore a certain type of customer coming to your place. At the campsite we can have guests who are traveling light with just a motorbike and tent, or someone who arrives in their state-of-the-art RV equipped with every modern luxury! We don’t discriminate, everyone is welcome. Of course in winter most of our guests arrive with their motorhomes or opt to stay in our treehouses or the hotel. We try to service and welcome every type of customer – that’s what I love about camping.
I think there are common characteristics of campers – whether in a tent or a luxury treehouse, they choose to camp because they can kick back, enjoy nature and enjoy being part of a ‘community’ –people are looking for that. Also a lot of campers are dog lovers – hotels don’t take dogs – and campers often don’t want to sleep in someone else’s bed! That may sound strange but during the Covid pandemic this has been a massive plus side for camping over other holiday options, even self catering.
What do your guests say they enjoy the most about staying at your site? Do you have any quotes or testimonials you can share?
“We come here every year – Caravan Sexten has become a “home away from home” for us. The landscape is fantastic and multifaceted, both in summer and winter. Friendships develop between pitch neighbours easily.”
“There are so many things we love! The family atmosphere, the friendliness, the staff, the good food in the two fantastic restaurants, the shop and especially the excellent spa.”
“A few years ago we were snowed in – totally isolated from the outside world without power or enough diesel for the generator. But what sounds like a horrible scenario for most was, in fact, one of the best experiences at Caravan Park. Everyone helped each other and a truly wonderful community was formed. The Caravan Park team is committed to making the holiday an unforgettable event and succeeds every time.”
How have you seen the world of camping change over the past year?
2020 was definitely not a typical year, normally we would see a lot of people from different countries but this year with the uncertainty and border restrictions we have had a lot more ‘local’ guests. In the past few years, we’ve definitely seen a rise in touring and van life, you can really extend your holiday season and options that way. We’ve also seen the rise of rooftop tents. In terms of trends I think people are looking for quality above all else. I don’t think it is a question of price, it is more about the quality of the experience at the price offered. Campers are looking for authenticity.
Tell us a bit about your local area, what is it famous for, why should people visit?
The combination of nature and culture makes South Tyrol unique. We have the backdrop of the three peaks dominating of course but also other attractions, like Lago de Braies and Alpe Nemes (now on the Instagram ‘trail’). As well as just enjoying the spectacular scenery there are so many sports you can do including hiking, climbing, skiing in season, paragliding etc. With three amusement parks close by, it’s also a great place for families. South Tyrol is also special because of its combination of Italian and Austrian food reflected in the unique culinary specialities. We’re lucky to have one of the highest densities of Michelin Star Restaurants so ‘foodie’ campers will not be disappointed.
Tell us about your favourite places to visit or experience in your local area? What activity should be top of your visitors list?
I love nature and the outdoors travelling along scenic routes. Monte Paterno is one of my favourites as you get to see the full view of the three peaks – it’s a particularly unique experience at sunrise. It’s also pretty accessible if you don’t want a mountain guide, but be prepared for a big hike so it’s not for everyone!
Tell us a bit about your favourite restaurants and food in your local area? What do you like to eat there – is there a speciality you would recommend?
There are a few tasty things to try – Ravioli alla Pusterese/Schlutzkrapfen, it’s a kind of pasta filled with potatoes and ricotta. We also have Pressknödel which is made with a special ‘grey’ cheese called Graukäse, which is traditionally made from Buttermilk and pressed into dumplings. My favourite place to have both of these dishes is in the mountains, at Lärchenhutte in Sexten.
Are you a camper yourself? What have been your favourite camping holidays in the past or campsites you have stayed at?
This year I tried a roof top tent and we went away to the centre of Italy where I did some paragliding – a big hobby of mine. However, normally I travel further afield, where I can’t travel with a tent so don’t camp as often as I’d like. But of course, like many others, I do love a camping trip to the seaside.
How do you feel about opening your campsite this year, given the Covid-19 situation? Have you had any particular challenges or changes you have had to make? How have your staff or guests feel about camping during a pandemic?
As everybody did, we had to cope with a lot of uncertainty and constant changes of the rules and safety. We started our season cautiously and then opened more areas but with restrictions of course and high attention to safety. We have also changed our cancellation rules for this year and allowed guests to cancel a week in advance to help them manage the uncertainty.
What are your top camping hacks or tips for campers – new and experienced?
I discovered two interesting hacks recently, both more for wild camping – you hopefully won’t be needing them on our campsite.
- A metal pencil sharpener to use on sticks to make tinder for a fire – especially useful when the wood is wet on the outside.
- Plastic bag shower – fill a bag with water, put it in the sun to heat and then put holes in it to hang up and have a shower.
What are your favourite bits of camping kit and why?
Mine at the moment is definitely my roof top tent. Such a great product as you don’t need to travel in a whole van and you can camp off the ground. It’s inspired us to build a new ‘Yakima SkyRise village’ at Caravan Sexten for next year where we will put roof top tents on top of wooden platforms. We’re hoping keeping tents off the ground will mean camping guests will be able to camp with us in the colder seasons also.
What are the best pieces or strangest pieces of kit you have seen guests bring?
We have an annual competition for our winter campers here that we started a few years ago. It involves building bars made of snow and ice. They are incredible and some of them even have sculpted themes or they’ve gone all out on integrating kit such as proper grills and fondues!
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