The South Tyrol is an adventurer’s playground: sun or snow, there’s an eclectic range of activities to satisfy thrill seekers, but also superb landscapes that will draw other types of holidaymakers to the region also known as Alto Adige. Trek, cycle, amble or ski, and admire the idyllic scenery ranging from majestic towering peaks to verdant valleys.
Be sure to delve into the South Tyrol’s multicultural society too – the area became annexed to Italy in 1919, having previously been part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire; over 70% speak German as their first language, and to protect that, the province is classified as autonomous.
So, let’s go on a trip through the South Tyrol, the northernmost region of Italy, and inspire you for when the time comes to travel again…
Where to stay and what to do in the South Tyrol
We recommend checking into Boutique Hotel Zenana, a homely property with all the comforts of a first-rate establishment, but the hospitality of a luxury B&B.
The building has quite a history: back in 1753 the house belonged to a tailor, and in 1829 it became the store of a glove maker, before being converted into a Viennese café in 1859. And now, a charming bed and breakfast in the Dolomites – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Occupying a building on the pedestrianised main street of the market town of San Candido (or Innichen in German), the bedrooms look out to the surrounding mountains. Each is uniquely decorated, with themes ranging from African sunset to Hollywood elegance.
Stay in Zenobia and be greeted by pale green walls, a feel of Persia, and unusual dormer windows framing panoramas of the peaks, or opt for soothing turquoise-hued Elena and enjoy a separate seating area, a wood and stone bathroom, and a balcony. With seven more one-of-a-kind rooms, you’re spoilt for choice.
The added bonus? Friendly owner and host Anna gladly shares the wealth of knowledge she has of the area with guests, and will happily make recommendations.
The Three Peaks region of the Dolomites has something for everyone. In wintertime, ski picturesque Baranci, where the piste stretches down into town; Zenana is just a few minutes’ walk from the lift. And for those brave enough to dare, take to the slopes by night on a Tuesday and Friday.
The resorts of Monte Elmo, Croda Rossa, Orto del Toro, Plan de Corones, and Val Comelico and also within easy reach by car, bus or train.
An array of biking routes pepper the area: a top choice is San Candido-Lienz, a 46-kilometre, family-friendly track ending in Austria. The challenging Stoneman and somewhat easier Dobbiaco-Cortina trails are also well worth considering.
For a slightly more relaxing time, head to one of the many shimmering alpine lakes: Braies (Pragser Wildsee), Dobbiaco, and Anterselva are just three options.
Bressanone (Brixen) – the oldest town in the Tyrol – is just a one-hour drive away, and a mere 15-minute car ride north of there is architecturally impressive Novacella Abbey; founded in the 12th-century, it’s surrounded by vineyards and open for tours.
A further 40 minutes southwest and you’ll reach the capital and largest city in the province: Bolzano (Bozen). Set in a valley, the medieval centre is filled with pastel-painted townhouses and cobblestone streets. And it’s an anomaly too, by virtue of its Italian-speaking majority.
Half an hour northwest is fairy-tale Merano, best known for its spas, and with a more Austrian than Italian vibe. Wander the Old Town with its tree-lined Piazza del Grano, the archway boutiques of Via dei Portici and Gothic St. Nicholas’ Church, before taking a scenic hour or so stroll along Sissi’s path to Trauttmansdorff Castle.
And then it’s time to unwind: head to modern Terme Merano for indoor pools and outdoor thermal baths and saunas.
Another quality accommodation choice in the South Tyrol is Ciasa Salares, a 47-room, child-friendly hotel that’s been in the same family for four generations and counting. Ski lifts are located just a stone’s throw away, shuttles run to the Lagazuoi cable car from in front of the property, and facilities include a tranquil indoor spa and a top-class restaurant. What’s not to love?
Nearby Alta Badia is a skier’s heaven with over 450 kilometres of snow-covered runs, and a nature lover’s delight in the summer. The area is also known as ‘the gourmet valley’ because of the many food events held throughout the year.
A Taste for Skiing, or ‘Sciare con Gusto’, is just one initiative, where local, national and international chefs make guest appearances at huts on the slopes.
When to visit the South Tyrol
Sitting in the heart of the Eastern Alps, this part of Italy appeals in all types of weather. Head to the region in winter for snow-capped mountains and top-notch skiing conditions, take a holiday there in autumn and be greeted by shades of yellow and orange and comfortable temperatures, or plan a trip for late spring or early summer and enjoy seas of wildflowers and warm weather.
July and August attract many German and Italian tourists, as well as those from other parts of the world – something to keep in mind.
Food and Drink
Bordering Austria to the north and Switzerland to the west, South Tyrolean cuisine draws on a number of influences, and is a haven for Michelin-starred restaurants. There’s the Ladin factor too: a small, regional community with its own dialect that’s shaped not just the food of the area, but also its traditions.
Expect to see dishes and products such as canederli (cured ham, cheese and bread dumplings), Schlutzkrapfen (a thicker-than-usual, half-moon-shaped ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta or spiced potato), spätzle (thick noodles used in soups or as a side dish), Graukase (rindless, grey cow’s milk cheese), and fortaies (fritters served with jam and covered in icing sugar).
Foraged herbs and flowers are used in abundance, and PDO-protected foods such as speck are plentiful. In short, the province should be on the to-visit list of all foodies.
And to drink? The Alpine-Mediterranean Hugo: a spritz-style cocktail created in 2005 by Roland Gruber at his bar in the South Tyrol. A refreshing mix of Prosecco, St Germain elderflower liqueur and soda water, it’s a must-try.
Vino-wise, this part of Italy is known for crisp, mineral tipples, with seven main winemaking areas: Bolzano, Val d’Isarco, Oltradige, Val Venosta, Merano, Valle dell’Adige, and Bassa Atesina. And grape varieties range from Gewurztraminer and Riesling to Pinot Noir and Schiava. Oenophiles should take a trip along the Alto Adige Wine Road with its 16 villages and 70 wineries.
There are no direct flights from the UK to Bolzano. Instead, head for Venice, Verona, or Milan (depending on which part of the region you’re journeying to). Austria’s Innsbruck is also a good option in terms of transfer time.
Main image: Eberhard Grossgasteiger, Unsplash