Most who are reading this are thinking ‘what or where is South Tyrol?’ In North Italy of course! And is South Tyrol worth visiting? YES most definitely!
South Tyrol also known in its Italian alternative name as Alto Adige (meaning ‘upper adige’ in Italian) and is located on the northern side of Italy, bordering both Switzerland and Austria. Also known to most Europeans as Trentino-Alto and Südtirol (South Tyrol). Here the majority of the population are bi-lingual and speak both German and Italian, although it is a dialect of both called ‘ladin’ which is a bit unusual yet even hard for some Italians, Germans & Austrians to understand. Both German & Italian are actually the official languages for the region. Confused? Don’t be, they are ‘Tirolian’ – plain and simple! They consider themselves as different to both Austrians and Italians!
Everywhere you visit or drive to, you will see signs both in Italian and German, so for the capital city it’s Bolzano in Italian and Bozen in German/Austrian.
Südtirol offers quite a lot, beautiful rustic alpine cuisine and desserts from Austrian and Italian influence, local Wines, local fresh produce, incredibly beautiful landscapes, hiking that will could make your legs fall off, and did i mention food? And so much more including mountain or road biking, skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports in the obvious winter season. There is something for every type of traveller, whether adventurous or the laid back type.
My first visit was when i was in my late teens with my Dad taking me to where he used to holiday with my with my Granddad, Grandma and Uncle when he was younger in Kurtinig. This town is very very small and also is known as Kurtinig an der Weinstraße (Kurtinig on the Wine Street) or Cortina in English. The area is covered in Vineyards hence the name! Located about 30/40 kms from the capital city Bolzano for reference.
I wouldn’t suggest it as a destination, unless you want to stay somewhere surrounded in beautiful mountains and vineyards – tranquillity would be the best way to describe this area. Just remember that you are not in a real big ‘tourist’ spot, so other than the mountains along with endless vineyards that there isn’t much to do. You are as mentioned above not far from Bolzano, so quick day or half day trips out to other areas could be good if you want to be situated somewhere quiet.
In Kurtinig and other surround small South Tyrol areas are a mixture of small family owned Bed & Breakfast (pension in German/Austrian or albergo in Italian) along with a variety of hotels that include wellness spas which are more resort like. Prices vary from $20 EU per person a night right up to $300 EU per person a night depending where you stay.
Shutterbug Traveller tip is to stay at a Pension, you are supporting a local family and business but as we always say that you have the chance to meet the locals and often spend a bit of time with them. The breakfasts are always fresh with tasty local produce, and in most of our experiences are nicer than some larger hotels and include genuine friendly service, not pretend…
WHAT TO DO?
Bolzano / Bozen
The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology which hosts the famous ‘Otzi’ which is a mummified 5000+ year old man that was found in the mountains in the Dolomites in South Tyrol
Quote “A man from another era – Over 5300 years ago, Otzi was crossing Tisenjoch/Giogo Ti Tisa in the Schalstal/Val Senales Valey in Tyrol (confusing, both Italian and German names i know), here he was apparently murdered and naturally preserved in the ice.
Therefore he is older than the Egyptian pyramids and the Stonehenge and the result of highly improbable coincidences. Ötzi lived during the COpper Age, a period of the late Neolithic. He was still using stone tools but owned an innovated and very valuable copper axe.”
More information on entry costs and location on the official Museum Page here. Definitely worth the quick visit as it is basically situated in the City Centre and not often you will be able to see something as old and unique as this almost completely preserved, very interested even for those of us who are not particularly fond of museums or history!
Duomo di Bolzano (Bolzano/Bozen Cathedral)
If you’re not over visiting Churches and Cathedrals in Italy/Tyrol than 20 minutes will cover this one, maybe even less if you’re just wanting to see if from the outside and appreciate it. Whilst they all ‘seem the same’ they are not, there are many differences and between States and Countries across Europe the styling and designs are different from one another when comparing, but hey since you’re already wondering about it won’t hurt to have a quick look and continue on your walk.
Meran / Merano
Meran / Merano is the place which is common for most people to go for a Spa, yes unusual but its the popular place for most locals and outer Country visitors (Germans, Austrians especially) that pop by, as they also like this beautiful old town that has plenty of shops and great restaurants. Its fairly safe to say most head to the famous Forsterbrau for some local Tyrollian food, but prepare yourself as it does get fairly busy so don’t be disappointed if you’re not able to get in (or out). Plenty of other options, sometimes the smaller places will have the best food! Don’t be afraid to try anything on the menu that you see even if you’re unfamiliar with it – its always amazing!
Trauttmansdorff and Schloss Tirolo (Tirol Castle) are very close by and most definitely worth the visit. I would suggest setting a side a few hours for these visits as there will be a bit of walking and exploring to do. As you can see below the gardens in Trauttmansdorff is incredibly beautiful and we would highly recommend visiting even if a brief visit.
Scena / Schenna is smaller town just outside of Meran/Merano and about 25 kms away from Bolzano, and is one of our favourite places to stay every time we visit Tyrol. It boasts incredible views , beautiful small family owned B&Bs and hotels, most which are surrounded by fruit farms or vineyards making them very picturesque. Accommodation is quite reasonable and many of these B&B (pension) offer some spectacular views, pools, some even wellness spas and of course what we all need these days – wifi!
Whilst Schenna is a smaller town, it does have quite a lot to offer for all types of active and lazier visitors; head to the fruit farms, restaurants or vineyards and try the local produce including the famous Tyrolean Speck (similar to prosciutto). Or if you’re a little more active, there are many hiking trails that offer some challenging hikes through the Dolomites and surrounding mountains, whilst for those who enjoy a ride whether casual or a bit more intense you also have the opportunity of hiring mountain bikes and getting on those trails!
For the kid in you (us), jump in the car and head to Meran 2000 – this is basically their ski field but in their off-seasons they have what they call the ‘alpin bob‘, in short its like a single-person or double-person roller coaster on rails (no you cannot come off) and its awesome! They also have a few hiking trails that start off from there so head to their site here which will help you decide what activities you can do when visiting.
Visit the Schenna / Scena official site which is quite helpful, informative and provide even webcams to give you a taste of what they have to offer (as most Austrian, Italian and German websites do).
Wine lover? Curious what to look for in South Tirol?
Alto Adige is renowned for exceptional wines, yet for most western countries including Australia we’re completely unaware of this! They have quite a lot of white wine varieties for you to choose from (if thats your thing) such as Müller Thurgau, Sylvaner and Rieslings. For the red lovers, Pnot Nero, Vernatsch and Blauburgunder Bachgart to name a few only of a very large list! Its a 60/40 base, 60% white wines and 40% red wines for South Tyrol.
If you enjoy tasting some local wines, we would suggest to head to the Sudtirol Weinstresse (South Tyrol Wine Street/Road). Located at the heart in River Adige the route follows northwest from Bolano to Salorno and becomes quite popular from May to July and you’ll find plenty of wine-related events, open cellars, wine tasting nights and so on.
See more here on ‘The best wines of South Tyrol” if you’re interested to learn more about their wines.
Famous suddenly after Top Gear drove it, firstly let me say it is NOT exciting to drive regardless what car you are in so if you had hoped for that ‘epic drive’ forget it. Don’t get us wrong, it is beautiful and you will be in awe from the view and possibly a little car sick from zigzagging up also – but, you will have campervans and other cars going quite slow (As it is a very steep climb/decent) and quite tight. The negatives a side the positive is its beautiful, 48 hairpin turns its definitely gets into one of the worlds most dangerous but beautiful roads along with one of the highest paved roads in Europe as well at i think close to 9000 feet – the views up top, you know… pretty amazing!
Is the drive worth it? Yes and no, if you’re heading through that route and have the time by all means do so. But we wouldn’t recommend you go there out of your way to experience it as you can find equally if not nicer roads to drive and enjoy throughout Switzerland, Italy, Germany or Austria near by.