Five beautiful villages to visit in South Tyrol
Surrounded by the spectacular peaks of the Dolomites, South Tyrol (also known as Alto Adige) is Italy’s northernmost region. Part of Austria up until the end of WWI, this splendid mountainous territory officially became Italian in 1919 but continues to retain its Germanic influences, which results in a unique blend of languages, cultures and gastronomic traditions.
South Tyrol is a fantastic ski destination as well as a great place to explore Christmas markets, but its offerings go much deeper, with countless sights that include over 800 castles to explore – more than anywhere else in Europe!
What’s more, the region basks in the sun 300 days a year, allowing visitors to enjoy its great outdoors pretty much in any season.
The region is also particularly popular with spa-goers, given its long tradition as a wellness destination, while local gastronomy boasts as many as 19 Michelin-starred restaurants.
Read on to discover five beautiful alpine towns to visit on a trip to South Tyrol.
South Tyrol’s capital and largest town is a lively alpine centre with a rich cultural offering that spans from archeology (Ötzi, the man preserved in ice for over 5,000 years, is enshrined here) to medieval gems like the Mareccio Castle, which enjoys a picturesque position amid lush vineyards. Once a major mercantile centre, today Bolzano is a cosmopolitan town that develops around a fascinating medieval centre with elegant arcades, perfectly preserved historic buildings and delightful squares. Don’t miss the cable car ride up to Soprabolzano, the village located on the high plateau right above Bolzano, where you can enjoy scenic walks in the crips mountain air and spot some curious rocky pyramids.
Merano is an elegant spa town along the banks of the Passiria river, often nicknamed the ‘city of gardens’ because it’s blessed with countless green spaces and colourful flowerbeds. Once a preferred holiday destination of Empress Sissi of Austria, Merano offers a delightful old town with grandiose buildings dating from the Middle Ages and the Belle Époque, splendid arcades housing traditional shops and eateries, and narrow streets leading to 18 km of scenic walking trails. One of the most famous is Sissi’s Path, a lovely walk named after the Austrian icon that connects Merano city centre with the magnificent Trauttmansdorff Castle. Popular things to do in town include rejuvenating spa treatments at the local thermal complex, delightful wine tastings and relaxing walks in the castle’s amazing botanical gardens filled with plants from around the world.
Bressanone is the oldest town in South Tyrol, originally founded as an ecclesiastical principality over 1,000 years of ago. Traces of its long history are still visible all around town, particularly in the grand Bishop’s Palace (housing one of the world’s most important collections of nativity scenes) and the beautiful 10th-century cathedral with splendid frescoed cloisters. Must-visit places include the delightful Via Portici lined with ancient buildings, the curious Pharmacy Museum, with an incredible collection of tools and curiosities narrating 400 years of medicine, and the picturesque alleys snaking through Stufels, the town’s ancient district nestled between the Isarco and Rienza rivers. The stunning views from the top of the Plose mountain are just a short cable ride away, while the many vineyards around town offer the opportunity to taste exquisite local blends.
Situated right at the heart of the Pusteria Valley, Brunico is an iconic mountain centre that attracts adventure seekers and mountain lovers with its stunning scenery and numerous activities, from epic skiing to window shopping along the banks of the Rienza river, which cuts through town. The key sight in Brunico is Plan de Corones, one of South Tyrol’s most popular ski destinations and home to the Lumen Museum of Mountain Photography and the Messner Mountain Museum, which celebrates mountain people and boasts a beautiful panoramic terrace. Another interesting museum dedicated to the charismatic mountaineer Reinhold Messner is located inside the town’s castle. Brunico is also home to an great number of top-notch festivals including the traditional market of Stegona – the largest in South Tyrol – taking place at the end of October.
Glorenza is the smallest village in South Tyrol, with a population of only 900 souls. Despite its small size, Glorenza is one of Italy’s most beautiful villages thanks to perfectly preserved walls that still protect the idyllic center, creating an enchanting medieval atmosphere. Art plays an important role here, with the church tower hosting the permanent exhibition of Glorenza-born illustrator Paul Flora, while the GAP space regularly opens its doors to local and international contemporary artists. Glorenza is also a popular destination for whiskey aficionados, who flock here to visit the headquarters of Puni, Italy’s first whisky distillery, housed in a grandiose cube just outside the city walls. Local cuisine features the “Pala” pears, a sweet variety of pear that grows in this territory and is renowned for its health properties.