Burg Taufers is a beast of a fortress brooding between two forested mountains dividing the Aurina and Tures Valleys of South Tyrol. Find out why this 13th-century embodiment of bewitching beauty and unbridled brawn should be on your bucket list.
The mountains were full of mist and mood when we approached Campo Tures (Sand in Taufers in German) — the storybook alpine town that lies in the shadow of Burg Taufers (also known as Taufers Castle and Castel Tures). Etched along the banks of the Ahr River, Campo Tures inked its name in the annals of history somewhere in the late 1000s, courtesy of the Bishops of Brixen, scribes of the past who made sure the hamlet wouldn’t just be a whisper lost in the mountain wind.
As we neared the town, the ghostly haze grudgingly lifted, allowing the contours of Campo Tures to gradually come into focus. But Burg Taufers? It continued hiding in the fog. It was only when the surrounding peaks seemingly shifted their stance that we caught a glimpse of a stern tower, abruptly followed by a hefty keep that looked to be at rest upon the hulking shoulders of a wall chiseled from the mountain itself.
As the full glory of Burg Taufers was revealed, Campo Tures, was simply bulldozed off the spotlight. Whatever unseen charm the town had left to give, it was not enough to unlock our gaze from the castle. Our eyes were entranced, and our imaginations spellbound. We could almost hear the blare of trumpets from the castle’s battlements and the earth-rumbling thunder of hooves charging out of its gate. Now, if that’s not a sight worth every mile traveled, we don’t know what is.
The History of Burg Taufers
Admiring Burg Taufers from afar, with the soaring snow-kissed summits of the Venediger Alps forming its striking backdrop, it’s tempting to spin a tale of how this fortress was constructed in such a lofty place to dazzle the fairest maiden of medieval Tyrol. But to truly understand why it was perched at a height of 3,000+ feet atop a precarious promontory, we need to peel away the romantic veneer for a moment and step into the battle-worn boots of a feudal lord from the dawn of the 13th century.
That view, that altitude, was certainly not about making some damsel’s heart flutter. No, it was all about strategy, power, and the art of survival in a world where danger could strike at any moment. Maintaining rule in the Middle Ages was a game of chess often played with mountains and stone. That’s why the Lords of Taufers wisely enthroned the castle on a rocky outcrop where the slope falls steeply on three sides, making it practically impossible to storm from below. They knew whoever possessed the castle, would forever hold the keys to the valleys and passages flowing to and forth.
The exact year Burg Taufers was built is not known, but the castle made its debut in the historical narrative of the land in 1224. The Lords of Taufers did not hold it long. When the Taufers bloodline met its untimely demise in 1336 with the death of Ulrich IV von Taufers — who by the way is buried at one of the oldest wineries in the world — the castle then passed to the Counts of Gorizia.
After the Counts of Gorizia died out in 1500, Burg Taufers fell to the Lords of Fieger. They accented its Romanesque personality with late-Gothic architectural soul and expanded the fortress considerably. In 1603, the Lords of Wolkenstein, the nobles of the impressive Trostburg Castle in Valle Isarco, took ownership and continued fortifying Burg Taufers — including laying a formidable drawbridge over the castle’s moat.
By the mid-1800s the castle began to fall into ruin. It wasn’t until the early 1900s, when a wealthy Austrian named Ludwig Lobmay actually sought to impress his sweetheart with a fairytale castle, that the first restoration attempts were made. These efforts were short-lived.
But in 1953, Burg Taufers found a friend that would ultimately halt the castle’s crumble. Hieronymus Gassner, a Benedictine Abbot who fled to America in 1938 to avoid Nazi persecution, became lost in South Tyrol while searching for the house where the outlaw hero of Tyrol, Andreas Hofer, was born. As if guided by the hands of fate, he stumbled upon Campo Tures. There, he fell in love with Burg Taufers and launched a funding campaign to restore the castle to its former glory. With his passing, the ownership shifted to the Südtiroler Burgeninstitut (South Tyrolean Castle Institute) in 1977, which finished realizing his dream, and still owns it today.
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Hiking to Burg Taufers
There’s something hauntingly beautiful about visiting a medieval fortress after a morning rain…especially in autumn and especially in South Tyrol. As we ambled towards the gate of Burg Taufers, the mist hung like a spectral shroud transforming the landscape with impressionist brush strokes that blurred the lines between reality and fantasy.
The fortress emerged and receded in the vaporous swirls. At times, it seemed we were being drawn into a game of hide and seek with the ghost of history itself. The only sound we heard in the hush of dawn was the dewy foliage crunching under our feet. The only smell. Damp earth. A primordial scent that instantly bonds you to ages past.
When we found ourselves beneath the castle’s mountainous curtain wall, we glanced skyward half expecting the tower to be lost in the clouds. But there it was, staring down at us as if weighing whether we were friend or foe. Whether we were worthy to step into the story that is Burg Taufers.
We wandered across a wooden bridge to the entrance, where we met a guardian of the gate who assured us that our worth could, in fact, be easily quantified. It appears that in this respect, little has changed over the castle’s 800-year legacy. We happily shelled out for the entry fee and joined a guided tour, eager to discover the history immortalized in the stones of this mighty fortress.
Inside the Fortress
Walking through the narrow passage into Burg Taufers one can’t help but ponder the countless seasons and storms its walls have endured, yet still stand resolute. Touching the weathered stone you feel the centuries-old cold seep into your fingers, imparting a chilly connection to the lives that unfolded here.
Soon, we are under grey skies again and spot a faded fresco of St. George slaying a dragon, surely it once burned with vibrant hues as colorful as a mountain meadow flush with wildflowers, but now it only whispers of the legend. The complex opens into a courtyard where a lone aspen tree stands. Its branches stretch out waiting to drop its leaves, which from afar look like heaps of golden coins. Their brilliance paints a vivid contrast against the time-worn walls of the castle. The symbolism isn’t lost on us — resilience in the face of adversity, a story even more ancient than the masonry fortifying Burg Taufers.
We climb a set of stairs and join our tour group inside the castle. The tour is less than an hour, but during that time we consume centuries.
As we follow the tour guide, we learn the rich history of Burg Taufers and visit a number of its 64 rooms. Each harboring a story in its stone-clad bones.
As we ascend higher in the castle, we pass over a timbered walkway that reveals the portions of the fortress below and the peaks hunkering the horizon. The views from up here are worth the ticket price alone. We then enter the castle’s 4,000+ volume library, which leaves us wanting to slide into one of the cozy nooks by a window and sink into a good book. Its oil-painted coffered ceiling and tiled stove, adorned with motifs from the Turkish period are an undeniable feast for the eyes. It’s reputed to be one of the region’s finest — and it’s not hard to see why.
Walking away from the castle’s trove of bound wisdom, we find ourselves within Burg Taufer’s Romanesque chapel. It welcomes us with humble grandeur, its walls narrating a divine tale via the frescoes of Michael Parcher, an illustrious 15th-century painter and sculptor from Brixen. Adding to the profoundness is a crucifix from the cusp of the 13th century. The tour guide informs us it dates to the year 1200.
From the divine, we turn to the martial as we cross the threshold into Burg Taufers’ armory. The space is a rich tapestry of history, bristling with remnants of war that chart a living timeline of five centuries’ worth of battle and defense. Each artifact is a potent reminder of a bloody past that could cut through time itself.
While the armory doesn’t exactly leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside, it is actually the castle’s “Ghost Room” that fires an unexpected chill down your spine. After all, what is a castle without a good ghost story?
The tale goes that Margarethe von Taufers, a daughter of the Lord of Taufers, shattered by the loss of her lover, plunged herself from her room’s window in despair. It is said her restless spirit still wanders the castle’s halls, and if you listen closely, you can still hear her weep. The legend is heart-wrenching, and even now, centuries later, leaves a haunting imprint when you hear it.
But you might wonder, amid the myriad of rooms, does Burg Taufers have a dungeon? You better believe it. A castle of this scale had its fair share of wretched souls to torment. When we descended to the prison, it was not hard to imagine its damp floors festering with flesh-hungry rats and the types of wails that echo all the way to the streets of Bolzano — reminding everyone within earshot to always bend the knee.
After finishing the tour, we didn’t quite rush to retreat from the castle’s imposing shadow. Instead, we let ourselves wander and idle in the vine-sprawled outdoor expanses of Burg Taufers. Here, we fell in rhythm with the hum of history and soaked in the mesmerizing panorama of the South Tyrolean landscape beneath us.
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How to Visit Burg Taufers
You can reach Burg Taufers easily by hoofing it from the heart of Campo Tures, or take the more leisurely route and drive right up to the castle, parking your steel stallion next to the gate. But be warned, the parking lot isn’t exactly a sprawling meadow. It has room for a handful of cars, but in the frenzy of peak season, it might not have room for you.
Our advice? Park in Campo Tures. Let the cool, crisp Tyrolean air invigorate your senses as you undertake a brief pilgrimage on foot to the fortress. Besides, a walk in this unspoiled corner of South Tyrol is the perfect appetizer for the feast of history awaiting you at Burg Taufers. Let the anticipation build, let the old-world charm seep into your soul before you even set foot in the castle. Trust us, it adds to the whole experience.
The castle is open all year. If you are looking to add a dose of medieval history to your adventures in the Dolomites, consider heading to Burg Taufers after visiting Lago di Braies. It is less than 50 minutes north by car.
Castle tours are available in German and Italian; however, handouts in English are also provided making it easy to follow along as you visit each room. The tour times vary by season so we suggest visiting the Burg Taufers information page on the South Tyrolean Castle Institute’s website to see what times work with your travel schedule. Entry fees also vary by age and group size, but in general, you can expect to pay no more than 13 EUROs to visit the castle.
By the way, if you want to get a taste of Burg Taufers before setting foot in South Tyrol, consider watching one of the many movies that have prominently featured the fortress. The two most well-known are The Red Violin, starring Samuel L. Jackson, and the comedy-horror flick, Dance of the Vampires, directed by Roman Polanski.