FEW SIGHTS CAPTURE the imagination quite like an imposing medieval castle towering from an even more imposing mountainside. South Tyrol has no shortage of them. The region swells with 800 castles and mansions spread over a variety of Alpine and Mediterranean landscapes.
In fact, more castles loom from this corner of northern Italy than in any other area of Europe.
Surrounded by vineyards, orchards, forests and hiking trails not to mention some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the world, South Tyrol’s castles provide a truly breathtaking way to plunge yourself into the Middle Ages.
You don’t have to be a kid at heart or a fanatic of Games of Thrones to find these fortresses fascinating. Here are some celebrated South Tyrolean medieval haunts you’ll want to visit.
Perhaps the most important castle in South Tyrol, Tyrol Castle rises over a deep ravine in the village of Dorf Tirol. This riveting fortress was such a force in medieval times that it cast its name upon an entire land. From its ramparts, you’ll cast your eyes over sweeping views of apple orchards, terraced vineyards and the unfurling rich greenery of the Etschtal valley.
Built in the 1100s, Tyrol Castle was home to the Counts of Tyrol and wielded enough influence throughout Europe to earn ink in Dante’s Inferno, the epic poem first published in 1321.
The Tappeiner Promenade, Algunder Waalweg (a path along an ancient water channel) and Falconers’ Path (Falknerweg) wind around the castle presenting countless photo opportunities. Plus, a perfectly positioned beer garden nearby entices you to sit and savor the sights with a refreshing beverage in hand.
The castle is the perfect place to discover the history of South Tyrol as it also contains the South Tyrolean Museum of History. Spread out through several floors in the castle’s chief tower, the museum reveals a new era of South Tyrol as you walk up. Taking the time to soak in the marvelous past of the region is a must when visiting the castle.
During the holiday season, Tyrol Castle also hosts a cozy Christmas market within its courtyard. Visiting it at this time of year is especially endearing as the castle imbues all who enter with an undeniable Christmas spirit.
⇒ READ MORE: Visiting Tyrol Castle: Ancient Might of the Alps
Perched below Tyrol Castle is another fortress of equal majesty. The Counts of Tyrol constructed Brunnenberg Castle as a line of defense against an attack on Tyrol Castle. It was erected in 1250, but fell like so many historic haunts fell into ruin over the centuries.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a wealthy German gave Brunnenberg new life by resurrecting it to its former medieval glory. Unfortunately, it was abandoned again after his death in 1925.
The castle sat empty until 1948 when the daughter of troubled American poet, Erza Pound, restored it once again. Ten years later Erza Pound joined his daughter at Brunnenberg after his release from a mental institution.
Today, the castle is open for visitors from early April through October. In addition to revealing fascinating medieval history, Brunnenberg also allows enriches your historical understanding of traditional farming methods at the South Tyrolean Agricultural Museum, which is located on the castle grounds.
⇒ READ MORE: Brunnenburg Castle: Enchantment Set in Stone
Castle Taufers is one of the largest castles in South Tyrol. Staring up at its stone walls chiseled with medieval brawn, it’s hard not to conjure up thoughts of Ned Stark boldly commanding from the castle’s throne room. Fortunately, you don’t have to be on the set of Game of Thrones to walk through its knightly halls. Castle Taufers attracts around 75,000 visitors each year.
Castle Taufers was the residence of some of South Tyrol’s most powerful aristocrats of the 13th century. History abounds within. The castle boasts 64 rooms many of which are ornately decorated with paintings, chandeliers, intricate woodwork and weapons.
Among the most fascinating rooms are the torture chamber, the hall of knights, the baroque library and the weapons hall. The castle’s Romanesque chapel captivates crucifix from around the year 1200. The chapel also showcases striking Gothic frescoes from 1482.
With its formidable appearance, it’s no surprise the Taufers Castle has found its way onto the silver screen. The castle served as the haunting backdrop to Roman Polanski’s 1967 horror classic: The Fearless Vampires, which starred Sharon Tate.
Enthroned on a thundering mountainside above the Isarco river, the Trostburg Castle was the stalwart gatekeeper to the Val Gardena for centuries. The fortress, forged from stone around 1150, offers admirers a deep glimpse into life during the Middle Ages.
It was the childhood home to Oswald von Wolkenstein, an esteemed poet celebrated as the last Minnesinger of the Medieval Age. Interestingly enough, the person often regarded as the first Minnesinger also came from South Tyrol: Walther von der Vogelweide.
Trostburg Castle houses the South Tyrolean Museum of Castles where you can view 86 true-to-scale models of castles throughout South Tyrol. This makes Trostburg an ideal castle to visit first so you can get a better idea of which South Tyrolean castles pique your interest the most.
Reaching Trostburg Castle requires a long hike up a cobbled path, but all who make it are rewarded with awe-inspiring sights stretching across the Valle Isarco.
⇒ READ MORE: A Mountain Enthroned: Trekking to Trostburg Castle
When walking along an ancient water channel carved into the steep mountainside, it’s easy to lose your breath at the sight of Castle Lebenberg. The castle suddenly greets you from its perch after rounding a corner shrouded in grapevines. It vigilantly stands guard amidst rolling vineyards over the valley below.
The Lords of Marlengo constructed this elegant fortress in the 13th century. Castle Lebenberg fascinates visitors with its late Gothic chapel adorned in precious frescoes from the 14th century. The castle’s walls also hold a Hall of Mirrors and a Hall of Knights that is complete with a collection of medieval weapons worth marveling at. Visitors can also explore an ornate French flower garden and inner courtyards straight out of a fable.
The most picturesque way to reach Castle Lebenberg is by hiking the Marlengo waalweg. From this trail, you’ll wander through forests, vineyards and orchards all while consuming the lushness of Merano and the surrounding mountains. A perfect way to spend a day in South Tyrol.
Erected more than 800 years ago, the Prösels Castle is a magnificent fortress with a haunting history. The castle sits in the shadow of Schlern mountain and in the 16th century was the site of witch trials, which resulted in the burning of dozens of women at the stake.
Despite its tragic past, the castle now serves as a place of celebration hosting many events and concerts. Its stark beauty against the rolling countryside leaves an impression you will not be quick to forget no matter the season you visit.
READ MORE: Spellbound in the Dolomites: Hiking Where Witches Once Roamed
As much as Castle Taufers looks like it belongs in Game of Thrones, it’s Churburg Castle that could be the inspiration for the swords, lances and armor of Westeros. For the last 500 years, Churburg Castle has remained within the same family and holds the largest collection of medieval armor in the world.
With 50 authentic suits of armor and accompanying weapons, one can only imagine the intense battles that were once fought to keep its arcaded courtyard with its two stories of frescoes fully protected and remarkably preserved to this day. The Churburg Castle is a feast for those drawn to the military history of Europe.
South Tyrol Castles – See the Medieval Heart of Europe
With 800-plus castles to pick from on any given visit to South Tyrol, you’re sure to find one you would love to call home. Even South Tyrol’s castle ruins look enticing to live in amidst the expansive romantic backdrop of mountains, vineyards and orchards.
This list of castles to see in South Tyrol is obviously by no means exhaustive. But we hope you now have a sense for the medieval splendor awaiting your exploration. Too many travelers are not aware of the striking architecture and history lying in the far north of Italy.
We’ll leave with a word of caution to those that favor the couch over a trail. Getting to many of these magnificent structures can be challenging. Many cling to mountainsides requiring hikes up steep trails and rugged paths. By the time you get to the top, you’ll know if you were cut out to be a knight. But worry not. The view from a mountain-born castle always quickly washes away any memory of the trek up. Always. We guarantee it.