South Tyrol or Alto Adige, part of Italy’s northernmost region, is a mountainous area with lakes, castles, and vineyards. Alto Adige only became part of Italy following WWI and still retains much of its Austrian heritage, including the German language. The region has more than 800 castles, vineyards producing some of Italy’s best white wines, and 19 Michelin star restaurants, the highest density in Italy, including the 3 star St. Hubertus in the Rosa Alpina luxury hotel. Much of the region is in the Dolomite Mountains.
Bolzano, the largest city in South Tyrol, is known for its Christmas market and and Otzi the Iceman, the 5000 year old mummy found in the mountains that’s now in the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano’s city center. The bustling medieval center, just a few minutes walk from the train station, has an Austrian feel to it. Piazza Walther is the main square and nearby is the Romanesque and Gothic style cathedral. Another highlight is the 13th century Runkelstein Castle with beautiful frescoes inside, on the edge of town and reached by bus or from the parking area below followed by an 8 minute walk. Bolzano has several other museums and along the river at the edge of town are parks, gardens, and walking paths. Bolzano, and other towns in the region, is a top place to go in Italy for Christmas markets.Where to Stay in Bolzano:
- Hotel Greif, design hotel in a historic building ideally located on Piazza Walther.
- Parkhotel Laurin, Art Nouveau style hotel set in a park less than half a mile from the cathedral and train station.
Surrounding Bolzano are vineyards and apple orchards amidst villages and castles with many places for hiking, biking, and enjoying nature.
The Alpine town of Merano, a half hour from Bolzano, is famous for its spas. Merano is also known for its Art Nouveau architecture and castles, one of the best being Trauttmansdorff Castle and garden just outside town. Merano has a medieval historic center and walkways along the Passirio River give it a relaxing feel. The Terme Merano Thermal baths are just across the river from the center. Nearby is Merano 2000, with a cable car up the mountain for winter skiing and summer hiking.Where to Stay in Merano:
- Hotel Villa Freiheim, with pool, spa, and parking.
- Aparthotel Villa Helvetia, an Art Noueveau building in a garden, 5 minute walk from the center.
The Dolomite Mountains, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, offer a variety of activities from winter sports to summer hiking and biking. Europe’s largest alpine meadow (Seiser Alm), 1 national park, and 7 nature parks are found in the mountains, with 17,000 kilometers of hiking trails for all levels. Since snow may still be on the ground in May, summer is the best time for hiking or mountain biking. 12 ski resorts with approximately 750 miles of slopes form the biggest connected ski network in Italy, all accessible with one ski pass. Snowshoe walking and cross country skiing are also popular.
Brunico (or Bruneck), in the northeastern part of the region, has a good historic center, one of the region’s top castles with a mountain museum inside, shopping, and plenty of places nearby for hiking, biking, or skiing.Where to Stay in Brunico:
- In the city close to the castle, Hotel Post Alpine City Flair is a traditional hotel with wellness center.
- At the foot of an elevator to the Kronplatz ski area, Hotel Garni Hochgruber has rooms with mountain view balconies and hiking and biking trails that start right near the hotel.
Most of the mountain lakes are too cold for swimming but some have walking paths around the lake, boating in summer, and ice skating in winter. Pragser Wildsee or Lake Braies, the pearl of the Dolomite lakes, sits at 1500 meters above sea with the stunning Seekofel Massif towering above it. In the lower elevation south of Bolzano, Lake Caldero or Kalterer See is the warmest lake in Europe with summer water temperatures reaching 25 degrees C, providing a good place for lake swimming. It’s surrounded by vineyards and mountain views.Where to Stay near Lake Braies (Pragser):
- Right by the lake, Hotel Lago di Braies has a ski bus to resorts and rooms furnished with antiques. Balconies offer lake and mountain views.
- A few miles from the lake, Silentium Dolomites Chalet Since 1600 is a renovated 17th century chalet surrounded by woods and meadows. It features a wellness center, meals for guests, and cross-country skiing or transport to ski slopes in winter.
- Right by the lake and public beach, Hotel Seegarten has a wellness center with indoor pool.
- Surrounded by vineyards near town, Designhotel Gius la Residenze has a wellness center with indoor pool and rooftop terrace with great views.
Plan Your Visit to South Tyrol
90% of the accommodations are family-run and there are a wide variety of choices from chalets and small hotels to farm houses and mountain refuges. Italy’s highest concentration of spa hotels are found in South Tyrol.
The 3 closest major airports are Milan (Malpensa, 3.5 hours), Venice (3 hours), and Munich (3.5 hours). At the airport you can rent a car or take a train to Bolzano. To arrive by train from Milan or Venice, you may need to change trains in Verona although there are a few direct trains taking about 3 hours.
The Dolomite Mountains are part of the Alps with the highest peak, Marmolada, rising to 3,343 meters in elevation. The Dolomite are also part of Trentino andthe neighboring Veneto region where you’ll find the popular mountain towns of Cortina d’Ampezzo and Belluno.
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