For the family of organic farmers nestled on the side of a snow-blanketed mountain in Italy's northern province of Bolzano, the coronavirus was no match for the immunizing effects of the crisp alpine air, the invigoration of a good hike and the healing powers of the forest's mosses, herbs and vegetables.
"If someone coughs, we do onion compresses, a body cream of thyme and myrtle, and drink a lot of tea," said Sabine Durnwalder, 37, an unvaccinated resident of the farm in the scenic valleys near the border with highly infected Austria. "I know how to protect myself."
Bolzano has traditionally had the healthiest, fittest and most active population in Italy. Now, it is also the area with the highest rate of coronavirus infection. A traditional preference for natural remedies has extended to a widespread rejection of vaccines, making it Italy's least vaccinated region.
Though officials have raised concerns regarding conspiracy theories and disinformation about vaccines spread by right-wing populists, experts here say the nature-loving and science-doubting health enthusiasts are at the heart of a vaccine skepticism.
"The main reason is their trust in nature," said Patrick Franzoni, a doctor who spearheads the province's vaccination campaign. "They don't understand that it is no help against COVID."
With about 70% of the province fully vaccinated, Bolzano has the highest number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Italy, and the highest share of intensive care unit beds occupied by coronavirus patients. All of the patients in intensive care were unvaccinated, Franzoni said.
He said many patients arrive at the hospital with advanced cases of the virus, increasing the likelihood that they will succumb.
Doctors in the area have long complained that they are often late at diagnosing serious illnesses because the local population — which consumes the least amount of pharmaceutical medications in the country and has the lowest rate of tetanus, flu and hepatitis B vaccinations — often wait weeks before calling an ambulance.
Durnwalder, the vaccine skeptic at the organic farm, argued that her main contact with the outside world is with people who rent out apartments at the farm, she said. Then, she said, she wears a mask and keeps her distance.
"If you trust yourself and nature," said her husband, Markus Burgmann, 39, throwing a snowball for the couple's dog to fetch, "you should not be afraid."