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With a combination of a unique culture and spectacular Dolomites mountain scenery, South Tyrol might just be Italy’s best-kept secret.
“The region is the perfect melting pot between Austrian and Italian cultures,” said Claudia Rier, who works in tourism sales for Sudtirol/Alto Adige. “With a Mediterranean landscape and alpine peaks, as well as a deeply rooted tradition and cosmopolitan curiosity, the allure of South Tyrol lies in the harmony of opposites.”
Here are four must-visit attractions and sites in South Tyrol, as well as where to stay near each one.
Castle TyrolThe destination is named for the town of Merano’s Castle Tyrol, with the first known written reference to Tyrol in 1141.
“Two counts constructed the castle,” said Tanja Cassitti, an archeologist and guide for The South Tyrolean Museum of History and Culture at Castle Tyrol. “Tyrol means dry hill, so the castle took the name of the hill, the counts took the name of the castle and then all their territory took this name.”
Eventually there were no remaining Tyrolean heirs, so the castle was given to the Hapsburgs (House of Austria), and Tyrol became part of Austria. Cassitti notes that the castle was no longer politically important, so it fell into ruin — but that was lucky for archeologists, because its medieval attributes were preserved rather than replaced during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Two of those medieval attributes — considered the castle’s “jewels” because of their age and artistic significance — are intricately carved doorways (one dating back to 1141).
Where to Stay: Designed by renowned Italian architect Matteo Thun, the stylish Hotel Terme Merano has a luxurious rooftop pool and access via private tunnel to the treatment baths at the Terme Merano wellness spa. www.hoteltermemerano.itBressanone The medieval city of Bressanone, or Brixen, is the oldest town in South Tyrol, dating back to 901. Its position on the route between Italy and Germany made Bressanone a wealthy city, but, like all of South Tyrol, the location also created a “crossway of cultures,” according to Stefan Jocher, a Brassanone guide.
The city’s cathedral dates to the mid-18th century, but the cloister’s well-preserved frescos painted between 1380 and 1550 are Bressanone’s most important pieces of art. Also worth visiting is the Bishop’s Palace, which contains artwork collected over the centuries, including The Crib Collection (thousands of hand-carved wooden figurines recounting biblical stories).
www.brixen.orgWhere to Stay: My Arbor is set in the treetops that overlook the picturesque valley below. The 92 guestrooms, with names such as “Nest” and “Hangout,” place clients about 115 feet high, providing spectacular bird’s-eye views. www.my-arbor.com
The DolomitesThe Dolomites mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is named after a particular type of white stone (dolomite) that was first discovered in 1789 by French mineralogist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu. The destination’s magnificent “pale mountains” provide endless opportunities for outdoor activities year-round, including hiking, biking, mountain climbing and world-class skiing.
“For people who love nature and outside activities, this is paradise,” said Diego Zanesco, a mountain guide and co-founder of Enrosadira with his wife Franzi Taferner.
“The thing that makes the Dolomites so unique is that you can combine wilderness with luxury,” she said.
Where to Stay: The five-star Hotel & Spa Rosa Alpina provides a luxurious experience in Alta Badia, complete with Restaurant St. Hubertus, the region’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant.
“The crowning point of Rosa Alpina is not just the spacious and unique rooms and amenities; it’s the level of service and attention to details in regard to every client,” said Irina Yuzhakova, an international travel advisor for Travel Edge.
Alpe di Siusi At about 22 square miles, Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm) is one of the biggest mountain plateaus in Europe, but it’s still easily accessible by a scenic ride in a cable car (gondola).
There are many ways to explore these mountain trails, but one fun option is via e-bike. While the motors make uphill riding easier, e-bike adventures can still involve challenging mountain terrain, so agents should be aware that an intermediate fitness level is recommended.
Yuzhakova says that South Tyrol is perfect for clients with active lifestyles, but also notes that less active clients shouldn’t be discouraged from visiting, as walking paths also offer spectacular vantage points.
Biking or hiking would give anyone a hearty appetite, but a meal at any of the quaint small restaurants — aka huts — scattered across the picturesque landscape is the perfect reward.
“The area offers great opportunities to veer off the beaten path,” said Brenda MacKellar, Italy product manager for Tauck. “And the charming huts offer authentic South Tyrolian food (a mixture of Austrian and Italian specialties).”
www.dolomitemountains.comWhere to Stay: The brand-new, chic Hotel Lamm opened in May at the foot of Alpe di Siusi in Castelrotto. The stylish decor and gourmet dining make this a perfect place to relax after a day of exploring the mountains.www.lamm-hotel.it