South Tyrol brims with boutique Christmas markets plucked from a fairytale. Here are a few favorites not to miss.
If you’re visiting South Tyrol during the season of tinsel and tidings, chances are the traditional Christmas markets of Bolzano, Merano, Brixen and Sterzing are on your holiday wish list.
But as lovely as each of those markets are, it pays to also stroll the boutique markets decorating South Tyrol. Taking time to wander these “off-the-beaten” path gems begifts a heart-warming experience you will cherish long after the season ends.
Christmas by Candlelight at Lake Carezza
When a remote Alpine lake tells of a wizard long ago shattering a rainbow into its pristine waters, there may be no better place for an event as magical as a Christmas market. The Christmas Market at Lake Carezza takes place in the ancient forest surrounding its fabled shore. Stalls shaped like wooden lanterns line a trail that winds from one side of the lake to the other.
If you’re longing to experience a Christmas market within a winter wonderland, Lake Carezza can almost guarantee it. Thanks to the higher altitude it is one of the most picturesque markets.
The market sits within the Dolomites with the Latemar and Rosengarten massifs looming as backdrops. When we wandered the market, countless evergreen boughs held fresh puffs of snow and the mountains wore icy crowns.
For anyone worried about enduring a wintry chill, wood stoves dot the market offering comfort and the enchanting aroma of a crackling wood fire. Standing over flames in the mountains and listening to Christmas tunes from a trio of trumpets will leave you merry long after you have taken your last sip of Glühwein.
Beyond enjoying freshly-baked sweets and delicious drinks sold at the stalls, you can also find a variety of handmade crafts that harken back to a simpler time. Visiting in the evening is especially enchanting as the market is lit by candle lanterns that cast a soft glow all along the trail.
When to Go
We timed our visit to the market when the Krampus was set loose upon the trail. This was our first encounter with the less-than-jolly beasts of lore and we were blown away by the experience.
If you can make it during the weekend that lures the Krampus out of their caves, we highly recommend it. To learn more about the Krampus tradition, be sure to read about our Krampus encounter in Margreid.
The Lake Carezza Christmas market occurs each weekend in December from 10 am to 8 pm. It is just 20 minutes from Bolzano by car. For specific details on the event go to the official website for Eggental Valley, which is where Lake Carezza is located.
A Christmas Forest at FORST Brewery
Since 1857, the Forst brewery in Algund has been spreading cheer well beyond the holiday season. One cannot trek in South Tyrol at any time of year without encountering an opportunity to relax with a refreshing Forst beer at a mountain hut. It’s an invitation we always accept.
But the brewery’s cheerful tidings rise to new heights each year with the opening of its enchanted Christmas Forest (Forster Weihnactswald / Foresta Natalizia). Dining and drinking at FORST is always a joy, however, our first visit to the Christmas Forest was one of the most relaxing evenings of the holidays.
Out of all of the Christmas markets in South Tyrol, it is the one we would return to multiple times during the season. Admiring the tasteful holiday splendor FORST adorns throughout the brewery is worth the trip alone.
The Christmas Forest at FORST conjures a cozy atmosphere that the traditional Christmas markets simply cannot match.
Aglow with crackling fires throughout, the Christmas Forest includes a spectacular ice-skating rink softly lit by sparkling lights, a bakery offering culinary wonders such as traditional South Tyrolean Zelten (Christmas Cake), specialty stalls brimming with local crafts and of course a festive beer garden where liters upon liters of FORST beer swirl with holiday magic beneath countless ornaments.
Each year, FORST also opens its gourmet restaurant called “Felsenkeller” for the duration of the market. Guests enjoy a magnificent feast in an ancient stone cellar furnished with exquisite decor including the largest Christmas ball in the world. The dining experience at Felsenkeller is what Christmas dreams are made of.
When to Go
The FORST Christmas Forest begins enchanting holiday revelers from November 20 through January 6. It is open from 10 am to midnight.
We recommend visiting the Christmas Forest after you have strolled the traditional Christmas market in Merano. FORST is located less than 10 minutes away.
In addition to the market festivities, guided tours of the brewery are also available each day. If you wish to experience the Felsenkeller gourmet restaurant, reservations must be made in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those not wanting to splurge on a gourmet feast, you can also dine in the brewery’s traditional restaurant, Bräustüberl Forst, which is delicious and adorned with ornate woodwork that fosters a heart-warming ambiance.
Medieval Merriment at Castle Tirol
What was it like to celebrate Christmas at a time when lands were ruled from thrones and candles were for more than setting the mood? The Christmas market at Castle Tirol gives revelers a charming glimpse.
Arguably the most celebrated castle in South Tyrol, Castle Tirol makes one’s jaw drop long before reaching its gates. The castle’s imposing presence atop a craggy glacial moraine in Dorf Tirol leaves us spellbound every time we lay eyes on it. Without a doubt, it is among the top medieval sights in all of Europe. Built in the 1100s, Castle Tirol was home to the Counts of Tyrol who wielded enough power to name an entire region.
We reached the castle by parking in a public lot located in Dorf Tirol. From here, we walked along the Falknerweg (Falconers’ Path). This paved path edges along a deep ravine.
Beyond are splendid views of tumbling vineyards and the Texel mountain group of the Oetztal Alps. In addition to fawning over Castle Tirol during the walk, plenty of vantage points reveal the stunning Brunnenburg Castle, which sits on a crag below the stronghold.
A 260-foot stone-walled tunnel carved out in the 17th century leads visitors through the final stretch to the castle. The entire trek takes roughly 20-30 minutes, but if you’re like us, you’ll linger longer. The path ascends easily, but if you prefer to roll your way to Castle Tirol, a horse-drawn carriage ride is available.
The market entices with food and refreshment stands within the castle’s courtyard. While we were there a gentleman roasted chestnuts on the spot and a brass band filled the air with notes of cheer. We, in turn, filled ourselves with cheer by sipping on mulled wine. Afterward, we wandered inside the castle to browse crafts and other South Tyrolean specialties for sales. A woodcarver wowed us with his artisanship on the lathe at one of the exhibits.
Upon finishing touring the market we ventured into the castle’s Hall of Knights. The portal leading to the chapel captivated us with remarkable Romanesque marble sculptures from the 12th century. Studying the faces and figures in the marble makes a trip to the castle worth it on their own.
Meandering around the chapel is a moving experience as the haunting expressions of faded frescoes follow your every step. A life-size crucifixion scene looms overhead. Erected in 1330, it reveals the emotions of Jesus, Mary and John with striking realism. On the wall across the chapel is the first known depiction of the South Tyrol’s coat of arms.
When to Go
The Castle Tirol Christmas market only occurs the first two weekends in December. It takes place from 10 am to 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Throughout each day different activities take place and a variety of music groups entertain in the courtyard.
For a full list of the special events scheduled be sure to review the event program by going to the official tourist site for Dorf Tirol.