High levels of plastic byproducts discovered in children, study finds

September 18, 2019 by  
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A “human biomonitoring” study, jointly conducted by the German Environment Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute, is sounding the clarion warning that plastic pollution is present — and not just in our oceans, estuaries and the fish we eat. Rather alarmingly, the study found toxic levels of plastic byproducts in 97 percent of the blood and urine samples gathered from 2,500 children tested. The children in the research study ranged from 3 to 17 years of age. Of the 15 plastics under scrutiny, researchers detected 11 in the children’s test samples. Presence of these plastic byproducts in the children’s bodies increases their risk of hormonal dysfunction. That’s because plastics , at the micro level, can mimic the action of particular hormones, thus confusing the human endocrine system. The disruption, in turn, can manifest as obesity, metabolic disease, cancers, reproductive disorders, behavioral aberrations or developmental delays. Related: How to teach children about climate change What’s disquieting is that exposure to these plastic substances can arise from the most mundane things — storage containers, DVD cases, receipts, package linings, PVC piping, imitation leather, treated furniture, carpeting, even toys and medical devices. Plastics and microplastics surround us; consequently, we cannot avoid being exposed. One of the scientific authors, Marike Kolossa-Gehring, stated, “Our study clearly shows that plastic ingredients, which are rising in production, are showing up more and more in the body.” The study also revealed that the most susceptible subjects were younger children and children from poorer families. Both at-risk groups registered more plastic residue than their counterparts. Similarly, the study addressed the issue of replacements, citing that substances classified as perilous to humans should not be replaced by similar chemicals. After all, the substitutes might be just as toxic and detrimental. Hence, replacing with similar chemicals does not mitigate the chances of being exposed to harm. Researchers expressed uneasiness about the high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the young subjects. The apprehension surfaces from the fact that PFOA is extremely persistent, bioaccumulative and rather toxic. PFOA is typically used in the process for making Teflon, which explains why it is usually found coating non-stick cookware and waterproof clothing. PFOA is a threat because it is toxic to both the reproductive system and the liver. The European Union is expected to ban PFOA in 2020. The scientists concluded that more research is needed to discover the pathways that plastics take to enter the human body. A solution is likewise needed to minimize the risks of children accumulating plastic byproducts at unsafe levels. Via Spiegel Online and TreeHugger Image via Ruben Rubio

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Spiders are becoming aggressive thanks to climate change

August 22, 2019 by  
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Can climate change influence a spider’s aggressive behavior? According to a recent study, yes! A team of researchers from Canada and the U.S., who were led by Alexander Little at the University of California, Santa Barbara, concluded that colonies of communal spiders ( Anelosimus studiosus ), who typically reside over rivers or streams, can be impacted by climate change and hurricanes in what they call a “cyclone-induced disturbance.” Related: The ‘tipping point’ has arrived as temperatures rise in 70 US counties The research group conducted its study in North America’s Atlantic coast and observed 211 spider sites before and after a hurricane struck. This was accomplished by traveling to the areas at various times, before and after a hurricane, and measuring the spiders aggression to web vibration caused with an electric toothbrush and piece of paper. Little and his colleagues study is “a remarkable example that addresses this knowledge gap; by studying the impacts of tropical cyclones with spatiotemporal replications and control sites, they show that selectivity for more aggressive colonies of Anelosimus studiosus  is a robust evolutionary response to cyclone-induced disturbance,” wrote Eric Ameca, a researcher at Beijing Normal University, in a Nature commentary . While aggression ranges in communal spiders, the group’s overall observations revealed that after a hurricane, the more aggressive colonies produced extra egg sacs and had more babies survive. Researchers also believe that spiders might become more aggressive due to less food availability after a cyclone or if a storm killed a mother spider. If so, it  forced the babies to survive on their own. In addition to this study, others have surmised that some weather patterns can be attached to animal behavior, however, those have centered on observations solely after an extreme weather event. Ameca said this study showed the importance into how some species like the Anelosimus studiosus can conform and survive in extreme weather. Via Gizmodo Image via Flickr

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See the forest for more than the trees why reforestation isn’t working

August 6, 2019 by  
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We can all agree planting a tree is good for the environment — right? According to a recent study in Nature , the global crusade for reforestation as a remedy for climate change is largely missing the mark. So where did it go wrong? The new evidence reveals that most of the countries with large-scale tree-planting programs are actually developing tree plantations, which might help the economy but fail to sequester the carbon that the countries originally pledged to. The Bonn Challenge promises 350 million hectares of trees In 2011, the international Bonn Challenge was announced as an ambitious plan to plant 150 million hectares of trees by 2020. In 2014, more than 100 nations signed on under the New York Declaration of Forests, increasing the target to 350 million hectares by 2030. Unlike many lofty development goals, most countries are actually on track to exceed their promises, at least at first glance. In fact, the world actually has more forest cover now than it did in 1982. So, what’s the problem? Related: The ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ is transforming northwestern Pakistan Well, the majority of countries have been using the incentives and global momentum to back monoculture farms and counting trees that will be logged within years in their Bonn Challenge totals. According to the assessment, 45 percent of trees planted were species that will be quickly harvested for paper production. Another 21 percent were tree farm species, like fruits, nuts and cocoa . Only 34 percent of trees planted were part of so-called “natural forest,” even though the original intention of the Bonn Challenge was that all hectares planted should be natural forest. “Policymakers are misinterpreting the term forest restoration [and] misleading the public,” argued the study authors, Simon Lewis of Leeds University and Charlotte Wheeler from Edinburgh University. While agroforestry trees do provide important benefits to the environment and economy, monoculture plantations (especially when farmers clear natural forests for crops) fail to provide anywhere close to the same benefit in terms of sequestration and biodiversity . The value of natural forest A general definition of a natural forest is a “multilayered vegetation unit dominated by trees, whose combined strata have overlapping crowns, and where grasses are generally rare.” In general, a natural forest will store up to 40 times more carbon than a plantation that is harvested every decade. Related: How forest bathing can profoundly improve your health and well-being More than just trees , forests are important and intricate ecosystems. They are home to incredible biodiversity and provide sanctuary and habitat for thousands of species. They are also critical to the climate, because forests maintain rainfall and prevent desertification. Because clouds accumulate over forests, places that have destroyed all of their major forests often experience low rainfall, drought, desertification and other climate-related issues. Reforestation pledges around the world Even before the Bonn Challenge, China launched a massive reforestation program in response to flooding along the Yangtze River. Despite over two decades of reforestation, the report claims that 99 percent of all trees planted have been within monoculture plantations. Related: Philippine students must plant 10 trees to graduate, new law says In Niger, after years of complying with foreign and government extension officers who advised farmers to remove trees, farmers have finally argued that native trees serve an important purpose right where they are. Trees stabilize soil, produce nitrogen, buffer strong wind and improve organic matter in the soil. As a result of the farmers’ knowledge, deforestation has decreased, although the majority of farmers now wisely plant trees that will supplement their incomes rather than simply sequester seemingly abstract carbon. Yale Environment 360 reported that in Brazil, up to 82 percent of the forest restoration work is developing monoculture plantations and not natural forests. How to plant a forest? “Get out of the way.” According to National Geographic’s investigative article, “ How to regrow a forest: Get out of the way ,” even specific efforts by the U.S. Forest Department to plant natural forests have not worked the way they were intended to. For ease of planting and eventual use as lumber, the Forestry Department had a long-term tradition of planting native trees in neat rows at 12-foot gaps. Though the majority of trees were then left to develop into natural forests, the meticulous spacing has since exacerbated fire risk. The Department now opts for more irregular spacing and species biodiversity. Although it is more time- and cost-intensive, it ends up saving the department in firefighting costs later. Similarly, in Canada, a study found that a government campaign to drain wetlands thought to be smothering spruce trees caused a fire that destroyed 2,400 homes in 2016. Under the pretense of growing larger trees to store more carbon, peatlands were systematically destroyed. However, it is now recognized that peatlands ultimately store enormous amounts of carbon naturally and were more resilient to fires. “If you take the perspective that no matter what, more trees are better, that’s going to have unintended consequences,” said Sofia Faruqi from the World Resource Institute. “In the case of the West Coast, restoration may mean removing trees from the landscape.” Turning over a new leaf on reforestation pledges According to Faruqi, policies must acknowledge both what kind of tree is planted and how the tree “jibes with the larger health of the forest, the amount of water available or the needs of local people.” As we approach the start of the United Nation’s declared Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, many forestry experts agree that reforestation solutions must be localized — both at a national level and at the individual forest level. While the need for income, especially sustainably sourced income, is paramount, cash crop trees should be planted in addition to the 350 million acres of natural forest. Tropical forests are particularly important, because they have the potential to capture more carbon than any other forest type in the world. In many equatorial regions, where there are large amounts of land available and a high need for economic stimulation, healthy tropical forests can provide jobs, support indigenous traditions and capture an estimated 3 billion tons of carbon annually. That’s the equivalent of taking 2 billion cars off the road every year. Blanket pledges of specific tree planting targets have not worked and leave the door open for damaging misinterpretation. More research and awareness is needed to understand the importance of different ecosystems and more priority given to protecting and keeping natural ecosystems intact. The idea that any tree planted helps is simply outdated and misleading. A quote by American poet, environmentalist and farmer Wendell Berry sums it up nicely: “Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.” + Nature Via Yale Environment 360 and National Geographic Images via Michael Benz , Marc Pell , Jesse Gardner , Janusz Maniak , Steven Kamenar and Zoer Ng

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See the forest for more than the trees why reforestation isn’t working

Indian cafe offers food for trash, then turns the waste into roads

July 29, 2019 by  
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The city of Ambikapur in India’s Chhattisgarh state is launching a “garbage cafe” where anyone can eat healthy meals in exchange for collecting trash. The cafe will be centrally located in the city’s busiest bus terminal and is owned by the Municipal Corporation. Although such cafes exist in other cities around the world, the plastic trash collected for Ambikapur’s cafe is unique, because it will go directly into asphalt to pave the city’s roads. The practice of melting plastic and incorporating it into paving materials is not new in India. In fact, the government mandated that all urban areas utilize plastic waste in their roads in 2015, but most have yet to follow orders. The city of Ambikapur has one such road so far, and there are an estimated 100,000 kilometers of plastic roads throughout India . The innovative chemical process is led by professor Rajagopalan Vasudevan, but it has also been replicated and modified by engineers around the world, including the plastic-producing giant Dow Chemical . “At the end of the day, plastic is a great product. It lasts for long, which is a problem if it’s a waste product, but not a problem if we want it to last,” said engineer Toby McCartney, whose company produces recycled plastic pellets that are mixed into roads. According to McCartney, plastic roads last three times longer than conventional roads and need less maintenance. They are more resistant to flooding and less likely to get potholes. McCartney also promises his prototype does not break down into microplastics or enter ecosystems. With an initial budget of just about $7,000 USD, the cafe is a triple-win for the government’s goals to address food insecurity , clean up the roads and improve infrastructure. Via Vice Image via Rajesh Balouria

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Indian cafe offers food for trash, then turns the waste into roads

Study shows reusable menstrual cups are safe and just as effective as tampons, pads

July 18, 2019 by  
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Reusable menstrual cups have been around for decades, but they are just starting to pick up in popularity. Most people can’t shake their familiar comfort with tampons and pads, but a new study indicates that the cup is just as effective as the disposables and has no health risks. If you can get past the learning curve and “ick” factor, the menstrual cup is one of the easiest and most sustainable options for your period. Reusable cups are typically made from silicone or rubber and are inserted into the vagina. The cup stays put via suction against the vaginal walls. A finger must be inserted to break the suction, and then the user removes the cup, empties its contents, washes it and reinserts it. It can stay for up to 12 hours. The initial cost of cups might seem expensive, around $40 USD, but they last up to 10 years. Related: 5 eco-friendly menstrual products that also protect women’s health The study in The Lancet Public Health used data from more than 3,000 people around the world and proved that the cup is safe and effective. Not only are there no associated health risks, including vaginal infection or discharge, but the cups are light, compact and easy to travel with. Once you get past the initial sticker price, cups are one of the most affordable options and could be helpful for people in poor and rural communities. “People in non-profits assume that [the cups are] not suitable,” said Mandu Reid, founder of The Cup Effect , which trains people how to use cup. “That’s based on presumptions about these women’s preferences. That they wouldn’t like them because they have to be inserted or because they don’t want to touch their own menstrual blood.” There is certainly an “ick” factor to get past and some challenges in areas with limited access to clean water ; however, the study found that 73 percent of first-time users expressed a willingness to continue using it. + The Lancet Public Health Via NPR Image via Shutterstock

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Study shows reusable menstrual cups are safe and just as effective as tampons, pads

Millenials are bringing camping back

July 15, 2019 by  
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Let’s get one thing straight: camping was always cool. It wasn’t, however, always a very popular pastime among young people. According to the 2019 North American Camping Report, sponsored by Kampgrounds of America, there are more millennials and Gen Xers likely to identify themselves as lifelong campers now than in any other year. The study, which began in 2014, was conducted through surveys in both the United States and Canada.  The percentage of North Americans who camp three or more times per year has increased by 72 percent since 2014, adding 7 million more camping households (families with children under 18 years-old who camp) to the Canadian and American campgrounds. Younger campers are also helping to increase the popularity of hiking and backpacking while they camp, according to the report. Related: Seven commandments of Leave-No-Trace Camping While the majority of campers choose the traditional approach of camping (sleeping in tents), there are more millennials choosing to camp in cabins and RVs instead, with 14 percent using cabins in 2016 and 21 percent in 2018 to be exact. The study also found that campers are more diverse than ever. Of the 1.4 million households that went camping for the first time in 2018, 56 percent were millennials and 51 percent identified as nonwhite. For the first time since 2014 (when the study began), the percentage of non-white first-time campers outpaced the percentage of new campers who identified as Caucasian. When it comes to trendy “glamping,” all age groups are showing interest. Particularly in millennials, 50 percent of which said they were interested in glamping in 2018 versus the 25 percent who said they wanted to try it in 2017. Glamping refers to unique camping accommodations that often includes enhanced services like luxury yurts, king-sized beds, spas and even private chefs. Some glamping companies have been praised for providing an eco-friendly alternative to traditional hotel or resort accommodations. Many take advantage of locally-sourced food, composting toilets and solar power to give their guests opportunities to connect with nature while still having access to the creature comforts they’re used to. The same goes for “van life,” a camping lifestyle that uses altered camper vans, or motorized class B vehicles, as opposed to RV’s or tents. The main objective is often to go off the grid and easily move from place to place without having to disassemble a tent or find an electrical power source for your RV. The number of millennials who wanted to experience van life shifted up by about 4 percent between 2017 and 2018. Those who live the van life trade modern comforts and space for a chance to get as close to nature as possible while living a minimalist lifestyle.   So why the spike in camping interest? 30 percent of millennials say that major life events such as having kids is impacting their desire to camp more, while another 30 percent said that the ability to see other people traveling and exploring popular destinations (thank you, social media) made them want to spend more time camping. Even more encouraging, half of all campers said that the “love of the outdoors” first sparked their interest in camping, meaning that more camp-loving North Americans are beginning to value nature even more than before— a good sign for our national parks , and the planet as a whole. One out of every 20 camping families said that 2018 was the first time they’d ever camped. 2018 also saw the highest number of self-identified lifelong campers ever recorded, with more millennials identifying themselves as lifelong campers than in past years. As studies have shown, spending as little as two hours in nature can improve mental health, and camping offers the opportunity to connect with nature with the added benefits of unplugging from the internet and electronic devices. Additionally, activities such as hiking which often accompany camping provide good exercise , even setting up your tent and site counts! Since the study began in 2014, the amount of North Americans who intend to camp more has almost doubled. The groups who were most optimistic about their camping future were families and millennials, as 61 percent of millennials said that they planned to camp more in 2019. There’s no denying it, the future of camping looks bright. So if you were in one of those families growing up that had an annual camping trip, consider yourself lucky. You’re already ahead of the pack! Via Matador Network , Curbed Images via Xue Guangjian , Kun Fotografi , Rawpixel.com , Cliford Mervil , Snapwire

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Pentagonal Snhetta cabin overlooks breathtaking Oslo views

July 15, 2019 by  
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Beautiful vistas aren’t the only treat awaiting hikers in Oslo’s Nordmarka forest — a Snøhetta -designed cabin has recently been added near one of the city’s most stunning viewpoints and can be booked online year-round. Dubbed Fuglemyrhytta, the small self-service cabin takes the shape of a pentagonal timber shelter punctuated by a large panoramic window to frame views of the Oslo fjord at Vettakollen. Easily accessible by foot and public transit, the charming, city-owned cabin can accommodate up to 16 people by day and 10 people overnight. Opened to the public in September 2018, Fuglemyrhytta has since welcomed over 2,000 overnight guests — a number the architects reported to be over six times the average for similar service cabins — and is usually fully booked every day of the week. The popular cabin is located on the west side of a small hill by Fuglemyra near the Vettakollen metro stop, which connects to the city center. A “gapahuk” shelter and timber benches can also be found around the cabin, and a small outhouse with a toilet and woodshed is tucked behind the building. The architects built the cabin with locally sourced and natural materials, from a structure of cross-laminated timber with two stiffened and isolated glulam frames to ore-pine cladding. Inside, cross-laminated timber also lines the interior while select walls are treated with hard wax oil to create surface variations ranging in color from light gray to burgundy to orange. Related: Snøhetta designs healing forest cabins for patients at Norway’s largest hospitals “The cabin is composed of two staggered pentagonal volumes, whose shapes and height add a sense of lightness to the different rooms,” Snøhetta noted in a project statement. “The shape of the rooms further creates clever sleeping solutions and more interesting views out on the surrounding landscape.” A large, south-facing window frames views of the outdoors and brings light into the spacious common room, which includes plenty of seating, an oven and a stove. The cabin also features a long mudroom at the entrance, a drying room and two bedrooms. + Snøhetta Photography by Ivar Kvaal and Ole Petter Steen via Snøhetta

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Pentagonal Snhetta cabin overlooks breathtaking Oslo views

Air pollution may decrease eggs in women’s ovaries

June 26, 2019 by  
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Air pollution doesn’t only affect your lungs as new research suggests air quality may also be linked to a decrease in the number of eggs in women’s ovaries. It has long been known that environmental factors impact our reproductive systems, and multiple studies linked low sperm count with environmental indicators, but fewer examine the connection to ovaries. This newest study, presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology is the first to look at the prevalence of eggs and not just fertility. Italian researchers collected hormone samples from 1,300 Italian women and compared their levels of the AMH hormone to air quality metrics. The AMH hormone typically signals a woman’s egg “reserves” but can also fluctuate depending on the woman’s age, genetics and if they are a smoker. Related: Almost all U.S. national parks have polluted air Researchers found that lower AMH hormone levels were associated with higher air pollution indices. This suggests that air pollution may be connected to lower egg count in ovaries. However, researchers also recognize that often air pollution is concentrated in areas with lower income and other environmental justice issues, therefore there are likely confounding factors that also impact women’s ovaries within these areas. The study also did not measure direct exposure to air pollution, only indirect exposure via the average air pollution index at the participants’ home address. “Living in an area associated with high levels of air pollutants in our study increased the risk of severely reduced ovarian reserve by a factor of two or three,” said Dr. Antonio La Marca, who led the research. Other studies have similarly linked air quality with womens’ reproductive health, including one study that links pollution with irregular menstrual cycles and another that connected ozone pollution with decreased fertility . More research is needed to clarify the findings and determine if this is a temporary or permanent effect for women. Via The Guardian Image via Ian MacNicol

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Two thirds of world’s rivers are contaminated with drugs

May 30, 2019 by  
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A large study of the world’s rivers found that out of 711 sites tested, the majority are dangerously contaminated with antibiotics. The study , conducted by the University of York, is the largest of its kind and involved a team of international scientists testing for water pollution. Last month, British Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sally Davies argued that the rising prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria is just as much an existential crisis as climate change and called on widespread awareness, protest and action. According to the United Nations , antibiotic resistant bacteria could be responsible for 10 million deaths by 2050. This most recent study confirms that environmental bacteria are a major pathway to resistance among bacteria, with over 65 percent of all sites recorded with dangerous levels of antibiotics. The prevalence of bacteria in rivers and ecosystems allows bacteria to develop immunity to the drugs over time, rendering them useless for human saving purposes. Related: Supreme Court will make historic Clean Water Act ruling “It’s quite scary and depressing. We could have large parts of the environment that have got antibiotics at levels high enough to affect resistance,” said Alistair Boxall, who co-led the study. Drugs enter waterways primarily through human and animal waste that contain the antibiotics and cause water pollution. In addition to health care, antibiotic use is alarmingly high in the farming industry. Waste can enter directly into waterways in low-income countries, or through leaks in wastewater facilities. In some cases, drug manufacturing sites might also leak or illegally dump waste into watersheds. According to the study, the Danube river in Austria contained clarithromycin at four times the level considered safe, while the Thames river contained ciprofloacin at three times the safe level. In Bangladesh a river was reported to be the most severe site, with metronidazole at 300 times the safe level. The researchers plan to follow their study with further research on how the antibiotic prevalence is further contaminating waters and affecting fish and wildlife . Via The Guardian Image via pxhere

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Two thirds of world’s rivers are contaminated with drugs

A gorgeous eco hotel to open in the Dolomites

May 30, 2019 by  
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In June, the Adler Hotel Group will debut ADLER Lodge Ritten, a new eco hotel in Italy’s Dolomites mountain range. Sited on the Ritten plateau, the new hotel features views of some of the world’s most beautiful mountains and forests. The hotel group expects the ADLER Lodge Ritten to attract city dwellers wishing to get away from it all. The retreat was designed to blend into the surrounding forest rather than stand out. It is built from local timber and resembles other rural alpine structures. Related: A series of geometric, sustainable treehouses is imagined for the Italian Dolomites The ADLER Lodge Ritten meets Klimahaus ( Climate House ) standards, which means it adheres to strict environmental protection and energy conservation measures. In addition to the main structure, which houses the lobby, bar, restaurant and spa, two additional buildings each contain 10 junior suites. Twenty private one- and two-story chalets are also scattered around the property, with some built around a small lake. Each room has its own bio sauna. Billed as a gentler alternative to a Finnish sauna , bio saunas warm the body without getting as hot as a regular sauna nor as humid as a steam room. Guests who yearn for hotter temperatures can use the classic steam sauna in the main building or venture into one of two saunas set in the forest. “Under treetops, you can experience the feeling of untouched nature even better,” said spa director Emily Brugnoli. The hotel will work on an inclusive arrangement, meaning meals and drinks are included in the room rate. Chef Hannes Pignater’s menus will focus on local and regional products, and he’ll use organic ingredients whenever possible. “My cuisine is creative and authentic at the same time, an interaction of two culinary traditions — quality products from our committed local farmers in South Tyrol, and delicious specialties from other parts of Italy,” he said. Guests who want the most relaxing getaway don’t even need to drive themselves around the area. The Rittnerbahn, a historic narrow-gauge railway , stops 200 meters from the hotel. While visiting, guests can get around on bikes, skis or snowshoes, depending on the season. + Adler Lodge Ritten Images via Adler Resorts

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