Merano, Italy is a walker’s paradise. Discover why you will adore strolling the many scenic promenades winding through and around this 700-year-old jewel of South Tyrol.
IMAGINE MEANDERING PAST dramatic Alpine scenery that tumbles into lush Mediterranean landscapes ripe with vineyards, orchards and palms — all held under the spell of mountain-hung castles, spiring steeples and the wooing Italian sun.
Sound entrancing? Welcome to the promenades of Merano.
These soul-soothing walks are blessed from mountain peak to mountain peak with so much rich history and natural splendor you could wander them from dusk to dawn never tiring of its beauty. That’s why we return to them on nearly every visit to South Tyrol.
In this post, we show you how to enjoy Merano’s Passer, Summer, Gilf and Tappeiner Promenade (also known as Tappeinerweg) from beginning to end. As you’ll see, whether visiting in spring, summer or fall, Merano ravishes your senses no matter the season.
Mountainside in Merano
Merano famously basks in 300-days of sunshine a year, but a rainy mist greeted us on our first visit. October clouds hung stubbornly low in the afternoon sky.
However, this unexpected gloom did not dampen the sight of Hotel Partaneshof, our home for the next few days. Its inviting chalet-like character would have charmed us even in a storm.
Located just north of Merano’s medieval center, the hotel offered us an ample dose of seclusion with the town’s vibrancy just a short jaunt away. A perfect respite after mingling among the pulsating crowds of Venice and Verona earlier in the week.
We checked in and ordered a bottle of Weissburgunder from the Partaneshof cellar. After traveling a better part of the day, unwinding with a glass of vino sounded better than unpacking.
Our room came with a balcony bestowing a wide-open view of South Tyrol’s Texel Mountains. We lounged back in chairs and savored the panorama. The sun arrived right on cue. If there was a better place to sit and ponder how to spend the following day, we didn’t care. The Partaneshof was perfect.
Prior to arriving, we read about Merano’s Tappeiner Promenade (also called Tappeinerweg and Passeggiata Tappeiner) — a popular 3+ mile footpath offering sweeping views of Merano and beyond. The reviews touted it as a walk not to miss. By the pictures posted, we agreed. Besides, a long, carefree walk amid the Italian Alps was a natural remedy after a day hunkered in a car.
The next morning we woke up early anxious to discover Merano. We ate a delicious South Tyrolean breakfast comprising mountain-smoked speck, freshly baked bread and Alpine yogurt topped with local berries. While it was tempting to linger in the heavenly sunlight pouring over the terrace, the desire to explore kept us moving.
We were uncertain how to begin our walk on the Tappeiner Promenade so we spoke with Mrs. Ladurner at the front desk. Her family has operated the Partaneshof for 14 generations.
She ran her finger across a map showing the promenade running north above Merano along the face of the Küchelberg mountain to the village of Gratsch. Little did we know the path loomed several hundred feet up the mountainside hugging the hotel.
The map noted multiple places to enter the promenade, but Mrs. Ladurner encouraged us to hop on from the southern side of town. Taking this route would allow us to experience nearly all of Merano’s promenades. She suggested first roaming the Passer Promenade then crossing the Passer River to the Summer Promenade. From there, connecting with the Gilf Promenade and finally Tappeiner.
The Passer Promenade
The walk into Merano wound through a quiet tree-lined residential neighborhood. Within 15 minutes we met its historical center and crossed over Laubengasse (Via Portici), an arcaded street dotted with shops and quaint cafes.
Soon we were near the banks of the Passer River reveling along the Passer Promenade. This walkway is popular at all times of the year but is especially delightful in the winter when it bathes in sunlight.
The first architectural marvel we came across was the Evangelical Church of Christ. Built in 1883, its spire strikes the sky like a mountain peak all its own. But even more impressive than its steeple was the grove of giant birch trees parading in front of the church. Their grand canopy swooped over the promenade as if wishing to cradle passersby.
We continued on past processions of radiant palm trees, jubilant flower beds and bustling riverside cafes and gelato shops until encountering another masterpiece of Merano — the Kurhaus. The largest Art Nouveau building in the Alps, the Kurhaus was constructed in the 1800s initially as a venue for aristocratic mingling.
Today, it hosts concerts in addition to an array of cultural events from wine tastings to conventions. The ornate details and tall portico columns paint a vivid picture of what Merano must have been like when royals held sway over the land.
Just beyond the Kurhaus, we found two massive antique ivory light posts supported by an elaborate base with the South Tyrolean eagle emblazoned in shimmering tiles of crimson and gold. Together, the light posts mark the entrance to the Ponte della Posta, a bridge beautified with a wrought-iron balustrade showcasing sunlit fleur de lis and grapevine motifs.
We crossed the bridge, pausing to appreciate the roaring river from both sides. Once across, we spotted the Summer Promenade beginning to our left.
But before venturing down it, the austere face of the 15th century Gothic Church of Santo Spirito caught our curiosity. Its bleak exterior amid the spectacle of Merano lured us in for a brief visit.
Inside, three dimly lit naves revealed masterful wood carvings and frescoes conceived more than 700 years ago. These historical treasures, lit by candle flames, hauntingly held our gaze. We always find such places possessing alluring energy — where past and present seemingly harmonize in stillness.
The church was first built in 1271 by the will of Count Mainardo II, a ruler often regarded as the true founder of Tyrol. A flooding Passer river destroyed it in 1419, but the church was rebuilt in 1483 in its present form.
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The Summer Promenade
Leaving the church we re-awoke to the liveliness of the morning and found Elisabeth Park where Merano’s Summer Promenade begins. The park is named after Empress Elisabeth of Austria also affectionately known as “Sissi”.
Empress Elisabeth was the Princess Diana of her time; a beloved royal member in the 19th century with a rare independent spirit rivaled by even rarer natural beauty.
Sissi adored Merano. Her devotion to wellness and beauty helped establish the town as a destination for rejuvenation and relaxation. An early pioneer in maintaining a fit lifestyle and a youthful appearance she once remarked: “Children are the curse of a woman, for when they come, they drive away beauty, which is the best gift of the gods”.
Embarking on long strolls around Merano was cherished by Sissi. Thus it’s rather fitting a remarkable marble statue of her graces a park along Italy’s most enchanting walk. You can often find fresh flowers placed in her hands, a lovely adornment we are certain magically appear.
While the Passer Promenade bathed us in warm sunlight the Summer Promenade’s soaring sequoia, cedar, pine and poplar trees blessed us with shade. We followed the promenade deeper into what appeared to be a forest found only in storybooks.
Under the canopy, nature put on a bedazzling light show as the sun’s rays danced through the leaves. As we walked, the path gently sloped closer to the Passer. The river splashed rhythmically over rocks joining a choir of birds.
The Summer Promenade is not long and we were soon at the foot of a sweeping stone arched footbridge called the Ponte Romano (Steinerner Steg in German, which means Stony Plank). It’s the oldest bridge spanning the Passer.
Antiquity rang as we moved on. We were treading upon historic ground…well actually stone. The Ponte Romano has ushered travelers safely over thundering waters for more than 400 years. By the looks of the hefty stonework, it will do so for at least 400 more.
We paused midway to again admire the river running underneath us. On the right side, a medieval spire rose from a rocky spur jutting above the river’s Gilf Gorge. Built in Roman times, the Zenoburg Castle served as a strategic fortification to control entry to the region. It later became one of the first residences of the Lords of Tyrol before falling into ruin.
The castle has been partially restored and is now privately owned so is not open to visitors. But do not despair. With 800 castles in South Tyrol, finding another fortress to visit is far from difficult.
The Gilf Promenade
The Gilf Promenade begins after stepping off the bridge. Unlike the Passer and Summer promenades, much of the Gilf Promenade carves upward.
But before making the ascent, we took time to watch kayakers brave the icy waters below. Their deftness in negotiating the torrent of boulders bordered on mystifying.
Once on the cliff of the gorge, we stepped into another world. The abundance of greenery around us was like walking into an open-air conservatory.
The sun sprinkled in illuminating untold luxuriant subtropical plants, sweetly-scented shrubs and even exotic cacti. Looking around it was quite clear: the much-lauded Mediterranean side of South Tyrol sings loudest from the Gilf Promenade.
We paused on a bench off the path and glanced over the gorge to the other side of the river. Tangled tapestries of ivy foliage burned bright from the opposite cliffside. The amount of color kaleidoscoping all over was overwhelming.
After soaking in the sight, we walked on encountering sculptures crafted from moss, ferns and other fauna. This intriguing artwork which included an eagle, woodpecker, snake and Atlas holding the world imparted a fun quirkiness to the trail. Further up, we entered the “Walk of Poets”. Verses from poets historically bound to South Tyrol in some way graced the walk’s benches.
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The Tappeiner Promenade
The Gilf Promenade levels out high above the Passer River where it runs into the Tappeiner Promenade. A path with a gentle grade, sun-loving wanderers come for its epic vistas of Merano and chain of snow-kissed mountains walling in the valley.
The promenade was named in honor of its creator Dr. Franz Tappeiner. An advocate of fresh-air therapy for his patients, in 1891 he proposed creating a footpath above Merano. City officials enthusiastically embraced his idea and commissioned the trail’s development. Franz’s vision became reality on November 18, 1893, with the official opening of the “Tappeinerweg.” A statue of his bust now watches from the promenade’s summit.
In addition to the trail’s breathtaking panoramas, the Tappeiner Promenade is riddled with immaculately manicured flower gardens bedded amid stands of towering magnolias, cypresses, palmettos and other fantastical trees that look almost otherwordly.
The first historic sight we encountered on the Tappeinerweg was a crenelated medieval tower called the Pulverturm or Powder Tower. Once the keep of the Ortenstein Castle, the tower is now the only surviving remnant. In the 1800s, it held gun powder hence its name.
While it was fascinating to gaze at the stout tower from below, the unforgettable thrill came when we circled its stairs to the top. Through its battlements, commanding views of all of Merano’s majestic old town and natural wonders were ours to consume.
We continued along the promenade passing through groves of trees flanked to the right by the glacially-sheared walls of Küchelberg mountain. We then came to one of those iconic sights that forever steal a bit of your heart. Rising between palm trees like a bolt of sunlight stood the ornate steeple of St. Nicholas Church.
This Gothic beauty was admired at many points throughout our walk, but from here its bell tower was now at eye level. It seemed as if one could almost reach out and touch it. From this vantage point, we could discern all the details of its intricate clock and sundial.
Many medieval church towers throughout Europe often look nearly identical to one another; almost as if they were somehow bricked and stoned into existence by the same mason. The Church of St. Nicholas truly stands apart. It has a gorgeous character all its own. Whoever designed and oversaw its construction in the 13th and 14th centuries, should have their own page in the annals of great architects.
After several snap-happy moments with our camera, we marched on passing a few boutique hotels, stately villas and restaurants tempting us with outdoor seating overlooking Merano. We soon came to a side path leading us into the Kräutergarten (herb garden).
On many occasions along the promenades of Merano, we encountered sweet scents ranging from roses to grapes to pine, but the Kräutergarten dazzled our nose as much as our eyes. Tucked just below the Tappeiner Promenade, the garden is flush with 200+ native and exotic herbs and plants weaved right into the landscape.
We floated through inhaling rosemary, thyme and a plentitude of other pleasant aromas. The fragrant beds were calming; slowing our already leisurely pace on the promenade.
This was just fine with us. If there’s one place where you should linger longer in South Tyrol, it is on the Tappeinwerweg.
Eventually, the promenade began to curve north and we gradually lost sight of Merano’s medieval heart. Grapevines now surrounded us from above and below.
Unlike the vineyards that stiffly dot rolling hills in Tuscany, South Tyrolean vineyards ascend mountainsides in vast arcades. Trained on wood porticos, the foliage sweeps over over the landscape as if painted on with a brush.
South Tyrol’s vine-rivered slopes beneath snowy summits make its vineyards one of the region’s most spectacular sights. Especially in autumn.
As the season flirts with frost, the vines radiate a riot of brilliant colors. The vineyards transform into leafy labyrinths gilded with ruby and gold. More so than any other time of year, they become a gift from Bacchus for hikers and wine enthusiasts alike.
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Paradise by Foot
As we approached the end of the Tappeiner Promenade, South Tyrol’s most revered medieval stronghold, Tyrol Castle tempted from the crest of a distant ravine. Below it, the Brunnenburg Castle romanced us with its multi-turreted tower. Both castles looked as if a fairytale came to life on the mountainside.
But before adventuring to their gates, we came across an ivy-clad restaurant perched off the promenade’s edge. It looked straight out of the Shire. We could not resist. Besides we were thirsty.
We took a seat in Cafe Unterweger’s patio, which was hung like an ornate shelf on the face of the mountain. Below us, the bountiful Merano basin held our eyes. Here, we fell heart first into relaxation.
We looked over the map given to us at our hotel. Our legs made the decision for us. The castle trek could wait. Now that we were seated, the thought of indulging in another South Tyrolean meal held greater enchantment. And by the looks of the menu and view, we had found just the right place for it.
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Ready to be Enchanted?
The promenades of Merano are a gift for every age and skill level. The paths ascend easily with plenty of places to take a seat and rest.
We have made this walk multiple times, encountering everyone from hardcore runners to babies in strollers to the elderly walking their dogs. As you can tell in this post, our favorite time to stroll the promenades is in the fall, but rest assured you will find them lovely any time of year. If you are visiting in autumn, consider timing your trip during the Merano Grape Festival.
If you are ready for an enchanting escape to Merano, discover our South Tyrol Travel Resources. You’ll receive comprehensive guides on how to get the most out of your adventures in South Tyrol and the Dolomites.