The Alta Pusteria (‘Hochpustertal’ in German), broadly speaking, is the highest section of the Val Pusteria (‘Pustertal’), in the north-eastern section of South Tyrol .
To be more precise, with the definition of “Alta Pusteria/Hochpustertal” it is generally intended the highest section of the Drava (Drau) valley and that of its affluent Rio Sesto/Sextnerbach: an area that belongs politically to Italy even though it is situated to the east of the Sella di Dobbiaco (Toblacher Sattel; 1,219 m), which constitutes the dividing line (technically speaking, the main watershed) between the Adriatic/Mediterranean zone to the west and south, and the Danubian zone – draining into the Black Sea – to the east.
The highest section of the Rienza/Rienz valley also belongs to the Alta Pusteria/Hochpustertal; this river, in fact, runs along the whole lenght of the Val Pusteria/Pustertal on the Italian side, matched by the Drava/Drau on the Austrian side.
This valley portion – a section of the main horizontal valley floor that extends all the way from Bressanone/Brixen to Lienz in Austria, plus the shorter side valley of the Rio Sesto/Sextnertal – then constitutes what is now collectively known as “Alta Pusteria/Hochpustertal”.
As anticipated earlier, this territory is thus formed by the municipalities of Villabassa/Niederdorf, Monguelfo/Welsberg, Braies/Prags, Dobbiaco/Toblach , and San Candido/Innichen in the Val Pusteria/Pustertal proper, while Sesto/Sexten is in the valley bearing the same name (and for precision, one should also include Sillian on the Austrian side – belonging to the Osttitrol region).
From an historical point of view, the land situated beyond the Sella di Dobbiaco/Toblacher Sattel (1,219 m) to the east had never been comprised within Italy, nor considered part of it, and it is only after the events of WW1 that radical political changes occurred in this area.
In a nutshell, the Treaty of London signed in 1915 originally stipulated that the geographic watershed should be followed quite strictly to determine which territories would belong to Italy and which ones to Germany, but the frontier was moved after the Treaty of Saint-Germain (1919).
This treaty decreed the birth of the Austrian nation, and that is when it was decided – purely for military reasons – that some small sections beyond the natural watershed (and therefore geographically belonging to the 'German' side) would be allocated to Italy.
Economy and Tourism
The economy of the area is driven mainly by summer and winter tourism, but on a more local level there has also been the establishment of some industries – especially related to local food products.
These activities include the production of spa water, sweets, and various artisanal trades and crafts. The exception to the rule is that in this section of the valley is based the biggest industry for the production of Speck at national level ('Speck' is the smoked ham typical of South Tyrol – so much so that it is has definitely become its culinary emblem).
The transportation system is centred on the National Route of the Val Pusteria/Pustertal, which is followed in parallel by the railway, divided into two branches: the Fortezza/San Candido branch and the Lienz/San Candido branch, coming from Austria (Osttirol); the two lines meet at San Candido/Innichen .
This area is therefore, on the whole, well-connected to both the Italian and the Austrian road and rail systems, and this is certainly an aspect that plays in its favour.
The Alta Pusteria/Hochpustertal is heavily frequented, as it gives access to some of the most beautiful peaks of the Dolomites , fringing its territory to the south. It displays also interesting mountains to the north, of a more rounded aspect and leading into the Tauern chain – the tallest mountain range in Austria.
All in all, in the area there are extensive woods crowned by impressive rock faces, while at lower levels the landscape is very open, with wide verdant pastures: these and several other motives of natural interest make the Alta Pusteria/Hochpustertal widely appealing to those looking for both 'real' mountains and a serene setting, and provide good reasons for coming to this area time and time again.