When I first visited South Tyrol a few years ago I immediately fell in love with this beautiful and unique region in the North of Italy. I have been back now two more times to discover it more and each time made my affection for it even bigger.
It’s not just the picturesque look of the region with its luscious green valleys surrounded by a stunning panorama of mountains. It’s more than that. It’s the friendliness and openness of the people, the mix of modern and traditional culture, the food, the air – just everything seems like straight from a picture postcard.
To give you a bit of a better idea, what exactly fascinates me so much about it and why you need to visit there as well I put together a list of 7 reasons why South Tyrol is so awesome. Enjoy after the jump.
1. The Mountains
For me the Alpes are simply the most beautiful thing in Europe. I love passing over them in the plane on my way to the South, but even more do I enjoy being right in the middle of it, either for skiing in the Winter season or for hiking and exploring in the Spring and Summer. South Tyrol gets the Southern part of the Alpes and especially the Dolomites are really a stunning site.
On the trips I’ve made so far I took advantage of the mountains in different ways. I love cable cars for example, you have them in most areas with ski slopes. There is something really romantic about going with a little train towards the sky. The mountains are also incredible for climbing and hiking. I’ve mostly done the later, for instance in the Northern area of the Eisacktal on top of the Gitschberg. If you are the adventurous type, you should definitely try paragliding down the mountains into the valley.
2. The Lakes
The lakes in South Tyrol are incredible. You would think that mountain lakes are too cold to swim in, but with the amount of sun they get, they are actually quite warm. My favorite lake is the Kalterer lake a bit South of Botzen, especially early in the season the lake is so clear and pure that you feel like swimming in Evian water, but even better, because you are surrounded by a magnificent mountain panorama. I recommend you rent a little paddle boat with a water slide, it will definitely bring out the child in you!
Another lake that I can recommend is the Pragser Wildsee in the North. The scenario there is so exotic that you feel like you are on a far away island and not in the middle of Europe. The water is a bit more chilly than the Kalterer lake, but it’s still warm enough and absolutely worth it.
3. The Food
The kitchen of South Tyrol is really a good example of how this unusual region brings together the best of Austrian and Italian cooking. You can choose between traditional Alpine dishes such as Knödel or Kaiserschmarrn, or enjoy the most delicious home-made pasta. Either way, you can’t go wrong! In all the times that I’ve been to South Tyrol now I have wined and dined at so many places and I was never disappointed. In the little picture gallery below I will mention and link to a few restaurants that I particularly liked.
Gasthaus Fink, Brixen
Panholzer Hof, Kaltern
Wirtshaus Vögele, Bozen
Castel Ringberg, Kaltern
Castel Fragsburg, Meran
4. The Orchards & Vineyards
When you travel through South Tyrol there is one thing you will notice immediately: Whenever you are not in one of the cities or villages you will be right inside an apple orchid. Literally every free stretch of land is used either for growing apples or wine (and in some rare spots also apricots). And in the case of South Tyrol it really is as picturesque as it sounds. I was lucky to catch the apple harvest and see how the farmers go through the orchards and pluck the fruit by hand. I don’t know if you ever noticed, but when you check the stickers on the apples in the supermarket here in Berlin, the majority is actually from South Tyrol.
But what is even more fun to do in the orchards is biking. Mostly these huge plantations have many little streets where no one really goes except for the harvest. It’s fun to cruise around and if you are lucky you find a long long paved street that goes down the hill without any side street. You can chase that one down without any danger and it almost feels like free fall. If you are not a very sporty cyclist I do recommend you rent an ebike though because as fun as it is to chase down the hill, there is that part where you have to get up and you will thank the holy apple for that turbo drive.
5. The Farms
Something that I find particularly charming about the mountain regions are its farms. Yes, you are hearing the soundtrack of Heidi right now in the background. I guess it has something to do that we don’t have anything remotely as peaceful and nature-bound as a farm here in Berlin, let alone one that has a spectacular view down into the valley.
As South Tyrol is pretty well prepared for tourism a lot of these farms are set up to welcome visitors for many purposes. You will find horse farms to ride, ones where you can learn how to make traditional dishes (or just enjoy eating them), you can even book holidays there to experience the farm life for a few days surrounded by the animals.
One farm visit that I kept in good memory was our trip to a secluded cheese farm at the Kreuzwiesenalm where the young and charming farmer Johannes produces one of the most delicious mountains cheeses that I ever had. Oh and his cows were simply the cutest! Another interesting farmer is specialized in growing rare and old varieties of vegetables that he brings into modern restaurants. Read more about his stories here.
6. The Wine
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Who doesn’t like a good wine? Oh boy, do they have many of those over there. In the world of wines South Tyrol is a little bit on the upper market side of things. We treated ourselves to a couple of tastings and got to try out the wine in 3 family-run wineries and all of them were amazing.
The winery of Elena Walch was probably the most fancy one with a more exclusive selection of wines, but that was pretty much to my delight and it turned out to be my favorite one. The winery Unterhofer was a more modest one with a down-to-earth kind of selection, but equally delicious. Last but not least the biggest one is the winery of Tramin that is also the origin of the famous Gewürztraminer (a very flavorful white wine). They have a very stunning modern building designed by South Tyrolean architect Werner Tscholl that is quite the looker and they offer tastings and tours of their vineyards and wine cellars.
7. The Cities
Finally, what would a region be without its cities. The three major ones that you will want to look into are Bozen, Meran and Brixen. Brixen is actually the oldest one and aesthetically the most charming with its medieval architecture. Our visit there coincided with the traditional town festival that brings out a parade with very cool traditional folkloric costumes. It was lovely to see that even the younger, modern crowd was dressing up in leather pants and dirndls, something that we wouldn’t expect to see anywhere else than at Oktoberfest.
Meran is a the more modern and young city of the three. On our visits here we took advantage of one of their coolest attraction which is the hug thermal bath and pool. Especially in the summer the outdoor areas are just a delight.
Bozen is the biggest city in South Tyrol and also the most touristic one. It is understandable, because it’s simply beautiful and offers a lot of modern infrastructure and amazing restaurants. In this city the history of the region is more present than in any other place as there are an actual Austrian and Italian part of the city that really do look quite different. When you are there, do check out their modern art museum, they do have excellent exhibitions there.
additional photography by Katja Hentschel
If this has wet your appetite and you want to experience it yourself I do have a couple recommendations for you for amazing hotels below. If you want to learn more about the region of South Tyrol you can also have a look here.
5 Awesome Hotels in South Tyrol
The Miramonti is a youthful and modern mountain hotel near Meran that has one of the most picturesque views that I’ve ever seen and that’s almost unreal. From you balcony you see a cute old little church on a little hill that looks like it’s straight from a fairytale. The hotel has a great restaurant and spa that will make you want to stay their for all your trip.
High above the Eisacktal in the North of South Tyrol lies the climate friendly Gitschberg Hotel. It’s one of the most modern Hotels I’ve seen with a really clever interior combining traditional materials such as wood and felt with cutting-edge contemporary design. From the hotel you have a breath-taking view of the mountains and you can see the Dolomites. A near-by cable car will bring you all the way up to the Gitschberg where you have excellent hiking trails.
If you want to make a truely authentic and traditional experience the Irma Hotel is a great choice. It’s run by a truely charming family and give you the feeling you are on a little royal visit. They have an excellent modern spa with a great variety of wellness treatments and they have a beautiful outdoor area with lots of pools, ponds and gardens. It’s closeness to the center of Meran makes it also a very practical option.
If you want to get away from the city and out into nature the Vigilius Mountain Resort is your kind of place. The 5 star design hotel is embedded into the pure nature of the car-free Vigiljoch mountain area and it will make you forget the stress of your city life while still being surrounded by modern comfort. You have a spectacular view over the valley down to Meran that will make you feel like you are up in the clouds.
Our last recommendation is a farm house in the mountains. These „Almhütten“ are usually quite traditional, embedded right into nature with great views and peaceful atmosphere. This one is like a modern version of it with contemporary architecture replacing the traditional one. But what remains is the familiar atmosphere of a farm and being surrounded by animals and nature. If you are in the Alpes, this is the best experience you could look for.