Alpine Dolce Vita: crossing South Tyrol

Sud-Tyrol

Between Austro-German culture, Mediterranean influences and Alpine traditions, the multiple identities of South Tyrol can be savored in every sense of the word. So andiamo!

At the end of the First World War, the Kingdom of Italy reclaimed an Austrian region nestled in the Dolomites: South Tyrol. Now the autonomous province of Bolzano, this northernItalian region now attracts hikers of all levels, as well as cyclists and winter sports enthusiasts.

Beyond that, it has won a following among all the curious in search of Mother Nature’s wonders. It has to be said that Mother Nature has been rather generous with South Tyrol. Indeed, all the violins agree: the place is an overkill of beauty. It’s almost as if nature’s journey had mystically allied itself to man’s, » adds Italian writer Aldo Gorfer, referring to Alto Adige (Italian for « Alto Adige « , German for « Südtirol » ), the other name given to the region.

Le Passo Giau

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Elis_s

Our mini road-trip will take us through sumptuous valleys, home to picturesque villages where life revolves around markets, crafts and gastronomy. And of course, our path will cross lakes, green or rocky mountain landscapes, and even a handful of vineyards.

From west to east, it takes just 6 to 7 hours to drive through South Tyrol. However, we’ll take the time to enjoy, stroll and take a few side steps…

Indeed, the region is pleasant all the time, and surprising at times. Who expects to find a Mediterranean vibe in this former Austrian region? What’s this isolated chapel doing on the edge of a forest? Does it make sense to eat Italian risotto as a main course, and Austrian strudel for dessert? For the neighboring influences of Alto Adige, a trilingual region by the way, are indeed what make it so rich.

Let’s explore South Tyrol together, respecting the rule of epicureanism all’italiana: take your time, and enjoy every moment (and eat everything, of course).

Departure from Val Venosta

Departure point: Glorenza

Destination: Stelvio

⛰️Lieux places to visit: Glorenza, Resia village and lake, Stelvio road and pass

Recommended time: 2 days

The first leg of our South Tyrol road trip begins in the western part of the region. Here lies the sunniest valley in the Alps: Val Venosta, named after the mysterious Celtic Venosta tribe, who populated the valley in ancient times.

The area’s particularly mild climate, the cultivation of apples and the famous « Pala » pears, and, of course, its mountain passes and wonderful lakes have earned it a reputation among visitors. We’ll be back soon! And for winter sports fans of all kinds, Val Venosta is the place to be (or il posto giusto, to put it locally) for some downhill skiing.

Le Val Venosta, région du Sud-Tyrol

Val Venosta is just the beginning, and yet…it’s a sight to behold! – Photo credits: Shutterstock – DonMarcito

The first stop is Glorenza, the smallest town in South Tyrol, founded over seven centuries ago. It’s also an extremely well-preserved medieval town! Its ramparts and towers served as a fortress against neighboring enemies. As well as its remarkable architecture, Glorenza is also a delight for art lovers: take a trip to the Mostra Paul Flora to admire the work of this cartoonist born in the village.

If you prefer contemporary art, take a look at the GAP studios. Finally, take time to observe the strange cubic « PUNI » building, Italy’s first whisky distillery, which dates back to 2012.

Glorenza

The pretty village of Glorenza – Photo credit: Shutterstock – lorenza62

After half a day of wandering around the town and wolfing down a pizza, it’s time to swap the city for the countryside. Twenty minutes’ drive north of Glorenza lies Resia, a tourist hamlet whose lake has made it famous. Lago di Resia, close to Switzerland andAustria, is a must-see in South Tyrol.

So, once you’ve left your suitcases in one of the local hotels, preferably on the shores of the lake, it’s time to set off and explore.

Le Lago di Resia

Lago di Resia and its famous submerged bell tower – Photo credit: Shutterstock – MN84

In the middle of this majestic 6.7 km² body of water sits the Curon bell tower. Partly submerged, this Romanesque edifice dates back to the 14th century. In summer, you can approach the solitary steeple by boat, and in winter, conditions permitting, you can reach it by walking carefully on the frozen lake.

Lago di Resia is also a favorite playground for kite-surfers and snow-kiters, depending on the season. And the surrounding area is a delight for hikers and winter sports enthusiasts alike (skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing…). In short, it’s a great playground!

In fact, Lago di Resia is the big brother of another, much smaller water body: Lago della Muta. You can stop off in the village of San Valentino to get close to it and take a healthy walk. From San Valentino, you can also easily reach the snow-covered slopes during the winter season.

Le Lago della Muta

Lago della Muta and its panorama of Mount Ortles – Photo credit: Shutterstock – Marco Taliani de Marchio

In addition, all the small villages around Resia and the two lakes are linked by an ancient trade route from the Roman Empire, the Via Claudia Augusta. And just a few kilometers from the lake, the Vallelunga and Roia valleys are a sight to behold!

Via Claudia Augusta et village de Resia

Left: Via Claudia Augusta | Right: The village of Resia – Photo credits: Shutterstock – moreimages | Marco Taliani de Marchio

After a relaxing night in Resia, it’s time to set off for the Stelvio region, some 40 minutes to the south. The road passes through Glorenza, where we stock up on local specialities for a proper alpine picnic. Then take the famous zigzag mountain road to the Stelvio Pass.

La montée vers le Stelvio

The legendary climb to the Stelvio, well known to Giro fans – Photo credits: Shutterstock – Placatoocasatec | Chris Rinckes

For even more sensations, and if you’re well equipped, the Stelvio road can be explored by bike or motorcycle. Once you’ve reached the highest road pass in the Italian Alps, it’s time for a snack in a landscape that’s sure to whet your appetite.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Stelvio Pass marked the natural border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy. It was therefore the scene of major confrontations until the 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which declared South Tyrol to be Italian.

A bucolic stroll through Merano

Departure point: Stelvio

Destination: Merano

⛰️Lieux Places to visit: St. Nicholas Cathedral, Palazzo Mercantile, Kurhaus, Tappeiner Weig, Trauttmansdorff Castle, vineyards and thermal baths

Recommended time: 1.5 days

As we said in our introduction: South Tyrol’s special character lies in its balance between Alpine and Mediterranean culture. In Merano, we’re leaning towards the latter! Let’s begin our exploration in the medieval old town, whose ramparts leave an opening through three ancient gates (Passiria, Venosta and Bolzano).

As you stroll through the medieval streets, you’ll come face-to-face with the impressive 15th-century Gothic Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Piazza Duomo. A few steps away is another historic square, piazza del Grano, home to the Palazzo Mercantile. The latter bears witness to Merano’s incredible heritage, and the richness of a dual Italian-Austrian culture.

Merano

It’s hard not to fall under Merano’s spell… – Photo credits: Shutterstock – lorenza62 | saiko3p

After strolling through the narrow streets of the medieval center, a more modern Merano awaits you: that of the Belle Époque! After having been the capital of South Tyrol during the Middle Ages, Merano became the capital of European aristocrats in the 19th century.

To discover this new side of Merano, simply walk along the river Passer and let yourself be surprised by the architectural gems. One example is the Kurhaus, a marvellous Art Nouveau building. It recalls the period when Sissi the Empress fled the cold winters of Vienna to chill out in the city. We’ll come back to the relationship between the Empress and South Tyrol a little later…

Continue your walk along the Passer to reach the Tappeiner Weg promenade overlooking Merano. It’s time to enjoy a panoramic view from the summit!

Kurhaus et panorama de Merano

It’s easy to see why Sissi the Empress loved coming here… – Photo credits: Shutterstock – saiko3p | StevanZZ

A morning in the Italian city is bound to whet your appetite! It’s time to sample the famous Alpine-Mediterranean cuisine, a forerunner of the contemporary concept of fusion food. The local specialty is speck. This is a very tasty lean cured ham. It goes perfectly with local cheese. If you prefer fish, choose a fresh trout caught directly in the Passer! And for vegans, let’s go for a delicious mushroom risotto.

Speck

Speck, strudel… South Tyrolean cuisine is a perfect testimony to the local culture – Photo credit: Shutterstock – M.Funke

The afternoon in Merano is divided into two parts: a session at the spa and a visit to the vineyards. After all, spas and winegrowing are two of the town’s mainstays! As for the vineyards, several local cellars offer tastings of local wines, such as Vernatsch. Wineries such as Meran Burggräfler and Château Rametz, whose production is based on traditional South Tyrolean know-how, offer tastings of their products.

If time allows, take a trip to Lebenberg, where the latter stretch out on the hillside. A castle dominates the landscape. As for the thermal baths, generally open until 10pm, you can choose the formula that suits you best: with or without treatments, 2 to 3 hours, saunas, steam baths and other pleasures… The watchword is simply: relaxation.

Château de Ramets

Château de Ramets, surrounded by vineyards – Photo credit: Shutterstock – Yuriy Biryukov

The next morning is a royal one, as we make our way to Schloss Trauttmansdorff, where Sissi the Empress (here she comes again!) came to spend some quality time in the 1870s. It’s easy to understand why, as the place is simply divine. More than 80 landscape gardeners from all over the world were involved in creating this lush botanical garden.

Let yourself wander through the different plant environments, water gardens and artistic installations that have given this place the reputation of being the prettiest garden in Italy.

Château de Trauttmansdorff

Trauttmansdorff Castle and its botanical garden – Photo credits: Shutterstock – lorenza62

And in the early afternoon, you can hit the road to Bolzano for the continuation of our South Tyrolean adventures!

Bolzano: magic, strolling, Ötzi

?departure city: Merano

Destination: Bolzano

⛰️Lieux Places to visit: piazza Walther, Notre-Dame cathedral, archaeological museum, winter Christmas market, Maretsch castle, Runkelstein castle, Renon earth pyramids and lago di Carrezza

Recommended time: 1.5 days

The two faces of the Alps and the Mediterranean can also be admired in South Tyrol’s largest city. Here, harmony is found not only in the cuisine, but also in the landscapes, where vineyards rub shoulders with the mountain peaks of the Dolomites. Whatever the season, Bolzano is well worth a stroll through its historic center: from piazza Walther, a tribute to the medieval poet Walther von der Vogelweide, to the Cathedral of Our Lady, via the medieval frescoes of the Chiesa di Demenicani.

Bolzano

Bolzano, capital of the province – Photo credit: Shutterstock – saiko3p

And of course, the archaeological museum is a must for discovering the star of the region: Ötzi. This perfectly preserved 5,000-year-old mummy was found with his clothes and tools in a local glacier. Not only has it helped to advance science by revealing the way people lived at the time, it has also been the subject of a bizarre criminal investigation, as *spoilers* Otzi is believed to have been murdered!

Oetzi

The famous Oetzi – Photo credit: Shutterstock – Zigres

In short, the Bolzano Archaeological Museum promises to be a fascinating experience.

In winter, take advantage of the sumptuous traditional markets, where the clichéd expression « Christmas magic » finally takes on its full meaning… In fact, Bolzano is home to one of Italy’s biggest Christmas markets!

Bolzano & Maretsch

Between Bolzano’s Christmas market and Maretsch Castle, magic happens in every season – Photo credits: Shutterstock – Ekaterina Kondratova | saiko3p

Following your stroll through the heart of the city, you can explore some of the nearby castles. Take a look at the 13th-century Maretsch castle in the center. If you’re still in the mood for a chatelaine, you can also visit Runkelstein, a thirty-minute walk from the center.

Like its neighbor Maretsch, this castle serves as a time machine back to the Middle Ages…

The following day, you’ll leave the urban area to explore two sites on the outskirts of Bolzano. The first, the Renon earth pyramids, are a 30-minute drive from the center (you can also opt for the cable car). These « clay peaks » are the result of erosion during the Ice Age.

Les Pyramides de terre de Renon

The Earth Pyramids of Renon – Photo credit: Shutterstock – Atmosphere1

You can follow one of the hiking trails according to your fitness level (n°24 is particularly flat!). This healthy walk will give you a breathtaking view of these jewels of the Dolomites.

After an invigorating lunch, it’s a short hour’s drive to the region’s second must-see site: Lago di Carezza (Karersee). One of the most beautiful lakes in the Alps, it mirrors the spruce forests whose resonant wood is used to make violins.

Lac de Carezza

Lake Carezza – Photo credit: Shutterstock – fokke baarssen

The needles of the Catinaccio and Latemar can also be admired in this translucent water. Now’s the time to take your best shots, but also to enjoy the peace and quiet! In winter, the Carezza ski resort offers you the chance to ski down a few slopes and fill up on vitamin D at the same time. In fact, there are more than eight hours of sunshine a day at the height of the winter season.

In the heart of the Alps…

Departure city: Bolzano

Destination: Ortisei

⛰️Lieux places to visit: Ortisei village, Seceda, Alpe di Siusi

Recommended time: 1 or 2 day(s)

Leaving Bolzano, we continue our journey eastwards through South Tyrol. Today’s new adventure takes us first to Ortisei, a small village of 4,900 inhabitants in the Val Gardena. A pleasant place to stroll, Ortisei is home to a number of local crafts, including woodcarving.

It’s a family tradition, but above all, it’s ancient! And above all, this craft has earned its letters of nobility thanks to the sumptuous Christmas cribs. These are a reminder of the importance of religious tradition in Ortisei: the chapel of Saint Anthony and the church of Saint Ulrich are two buildings well worth a visit. The latter are located at both ends of the most beautiful shopping street in the Dolomites.

Ortisei

The charming village of Ortisei – Photo credit: Shutterstock – Haidamac

After a good walk (and a bit of shopping?), enjoy a good caffè, the Italian secret. This can be accompanied by a local sweet lovingly prepared in a local pasticceria.

From Ortisei, take the Mont Seuc gondola up to an altitude of over 2,500 metres. Perched high in the mountains, the peaks of Seceda await you. In summer, you’ll come across herds of cattle in the pastures. In winter, a blanket of snow covers the peaks. In addition, there are several hiking trails that take you « up there » from the Col Raiser, for example, located 3.5 km from Seceda.

Seceda, Dolomites

The panorama of the Dolomites from Seceda… bewitching – Photo credit: Shutterstock – Angelo Ferraris

The journey then continues into the heart of nature. Head for Alpe di Siusi, where you’ll set down your luggage in one of the many chalets on Europe’s largest alpine pasture. Put on your hiking (or skiing) boots, and off you go! In the middle of the Dolomites, Alpe di Siusi offers an enchanting landscape, perhaps one of the most spectacular in the entire region. So breathe in the fresh air, open your eyes (and those of your camera) wide, and let yourself be lulled by the sound of silence.

Here’s a little recommendation: it’s the ideal spot for a picnic with a few local products, purchased beforehand in Ortisei.

Discovering two valleys: Funès and Pusteria

?departure city: Ortisei

Destination: Brunico

⛰️Lieux Places to visit: Chiesetta di San Giovanni, Santa Maddalena, Passo delle Erbe, Brunico town center, Plan de Corones, Riva waterfalls

Recommended time: 1 to 2 days

From Ortisei to our drop-off point in the town of Brunico, we take a side road (the SP163). This takes us through part of the sumptuous Val di Funès, with an obligatory stop (we insist) at the Chiesetta di San Giovanni. This Baroque edifice stands alone, on the edge of the forest and amidst the mountain ridges.

A short distance away is the village of Santa Maddalena, home to a second church worth discovering. Take a step up into the village and admire the church with the mountains in the background. The landscape looks like something out of an old fairy tale.

Chiesetta di San Giovanni

La Chiesetta di San Giovanni, and its breathtaking scenery – Photo credit: Shutterstock – zodyakuz

After this short spiritual stopover, it’s time to hit the road again for our penultimate stopover. To make the journey even more pleasant, you can take the scenic route (SP29) over the Col delle Erbe. This is a particularly popular spot for cyclists.

Once over the pass: welcome to Val Pusteria! This 90km-long alpine valley is the northern limit of the Dolomites. In addition to its scenic appeal, it’s famous for its ice hockey team and summer soccer camps. Like most valleys in South Tyrol, the Val Pusteria is perfectly suited to cycling, with a cycle path running through it.

Our first destination in Val Pusteria will be its capital: Brunico. It’s a lively town, with fairs, markets and a long tradition of textile manufacturing. But it’s also a place steeped in history, as evidenced by its castle overlooking the town.

Brunico

Brunico, another wonder of South Tyrol – Photo credits: Shutterstock – Ekaterina Sergey Vovk | A. Aleksandravicius

Finally, Brunico boasts a number of museums: the RIPA, the Stadtmuseum and the Messner Montain Corones invite you to discover the local heritage. Speaking of local, isn’t it time for a bite to eat? There are plenty of places to eat. On the menu: speck, of course, but also risotto, pasta, a series of antipasti and spätzle, because let’s not forget that we’re in the Alps.

As you stroll through Brunico, you’ll undoubtedly notice a mountain peak overlooking the town. It’s the Plan de Corones mountain, at around 2,300 meters above sea level. Intrigued? Let’s take a look! Plan de Corones is both a ski resort in winter and a hiking area in summer.

The LUMEN mountain photography museum is also a must-see in the area. After a couple of hours in this building, built by visionary architects EM2 Archiekten, we head for the Concordia 2000 peace bell. This bell holds the honorary title of second largest bell in the Alps.

I promise you, this 18-ton object, built to call for world peace, is well worth a look.

Messner

Left: Messner| Right: Kronplatz Ski Resort – Photo credits: Shutterstock – MoLarjung | Patrick Poendl

To round off your day in Val Pusteria, and if you can’t get enough of nature adventures, take the road 15 minutes north of Brunico to discover the Riva waterfalls, also known as Campo Tures. The waterfalls are particularly impressive, especially after the glaciers melt in spring and summer.

La grande bellezza: the eastern lakes at Tre Cime di Lavaredi

Departure point: Brunico

Destination: Tre Cime

⛰️Lieux to visit : Lago di Braies, lago di Landro, lago di Dobbiaco, Tre Cime di Lavaredo

Recommended time: 2 days

How about saving the best for last? It’s all relative, but what you’re about to discover on this last day of your trip is breathtaking. To explore these last pearls of South Tyrol, take the road that always leads east (SS49). Crossing this part of the South Tyrolean Dolomites, you’ll come across some wonderful lakes.

The first stage takes us to Lago di Braies, where we have to take a side road to reach it: the Braies di Dentro road. Considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites, the lake lies at the heart of a natural park listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. What makes it special? Crystal-clear water, where you can admire your own reflection, and above all that of the Dolomites.

Le Lac de Braies

Lac de Braies, an exceptional place… – Photo credit: Shutterstock – Swedishnomad.com – Alex W

A small wooden cabin blends into the landscape, almost making you want to confine yourself there to write a novel. The lake can also be navigated by boat, water level permitting, or if it’s not frozen, of course.

After this poetic pause, it’s time to turn back to reach the second lake of the day: lago di Landro. This is in the heart of the Val di Landro, (yet another) magnificent natural site (as you’ll have guessed: everything is beautiful in South Tyrol). The lago di Landro is nestled between several high peaks.

First of all, you’ll be attracted by its color which, if the weather is on your side, is a magnificent turquoise blue. Then, stroll around this splendid water feature and let your dreams flow. The place, as if out of time, lends itself perfectly to daydreaming.

Lacs de Landro et Dobbiaco

Left: Lake Landro| Right: Lake Dobbiaco – Photo credits: Shutterstock – DaLiu | beerchatdanai

Once the walk is over, it’s time to discover a third and final lake: lago di Dobbiaco. This Alpine lake, perched at an altitude of 1,176 metres, is just as fascinating as its neighbors. Here, too, you can sail on this enchanting basin. And as we never tire of it, you can spend the night in a campsite on the water’s edge, or in a hotel near the town of Dobbiaco.

After a short, but nonetheless restorative night (helped by the calm of the surroundings), it’s off for the final leg of this trip to South Tyrol. The final destination is Tre Cime di Lavaredo: a Dolomite pass divided into three « peaks », situated at an altitude of 3,000 metres. To reach it, you have to walk!

Indeed, the Tre Cime hike is accessible to all: it lasts around 2-3 hours, over 8 kilometers. Once you’ve reached the Lavaredo hut, and begun the hike to the Locatelli hut, the magic quickly begins. The three peaks await you, mysterious, or almost threatening if the weather is foggy.

Tre Cime & Lago dei Piani

Left: Tre Cime | Right: Lake Pani – Photo credits: Shutterstock – Ales Krivec | martim zamarski

Nearby are two watering holes: the Piani lakes. Take the time to stroll around them and enjoy a walk that’s sure to be a vacation souvenir.

So, would you like to jump in the car or hop on a mountain bike to explore this pearl of the Alps? Then experience, as we do, your best dolce vita by discovering South Tyrol. Admire its sacred multicultural heritage and delightful panoramas. And give our best to Ötzi!