Is your wanderlust heart pulling you to the sunny side of the Alps? In case you haven’t heard, South Tyrol is beyond a doubt Italy’s best kept secret. This mountainous haven crowning the far north offers more cultural diversity and contrasting natural beauty than anywhere else in Europe.
If you’re one of the lucky few jetting off to this hidden gem, you’ve come to the right place. Our goal is to make it easy to plan your escape! Below are 12 things worth knowing before visiting South Tyrol.
1. Buongiorno or Guten Morgen?
Right about now you may be wondering why there is a German phrase in an article about visiting Italy.
Nearly 70% of South Tyroleans speak German as their first language while 25% speak Italian and 5% speak Ladin. The result of this linguistic plate of spaghetti is that you’ll encounter road signs, menus and more featuring both German and Italian. Additionally, you’ll see and hear an ancient language called Ladin while frolicking through the Dolomites. Sound confusing? It’s not if you prepare a bit before arriving.
While you really don’t need to know much German or Italian to enjoy your visit in South Tyrol, you’ll get more out of your trip if you familiarize yourself with key words and phrases. Most locals are bilingual so they will appreciate you making the effort. We recommend picking the language that comes easiest to you and sticking to it throughout your trip. This will simplify everything from navigating roadways to ordering vino or wein if you prefer!
2. Adventure Tailor-Made For You
We’ve spoken with several travelers longing to experience South Tyrol, but worry the lofty beauty of the Alps and the Dolomites is beyond their reach given their older age or fitness level. Nothing could be further from the truth.
South Tyrol ingeniously makes its breathtaking scenery available to everyone. Thanks to state-of-the-art lift systems set across the region, the young and old, skilled and unskilled, can partake in a multitude of activities among the peaks in every season. The degree of heart-pounding adventure is up to you.
And if you’re worried about getting lost because your only sense of direction is up or down, South Tyrol even takes care of that for you. Trails are clearly marked with abundant sign posts directing your next step.
Not all travelers like the idea of a cable car swiftly whisking them up several thousand feet. If that’s you, don’t despair. In many areas, you can hop in a funicular to roll up and down the mountainside.
You could visit South Tyrol and no doubt spend all of your time in the heights of the Dolomites, but you’d be missing out on the charm of wandering along South Tyrol’s Waalwegs. We absolutely recommend hiking these paths. They follow ancient water channels that gently ease upward through countless orchards, vineyards, forests and meadows in the Merano area and the Venosta/Vinschgau Valley.
While meandering you’ll enjoy the melody of snow-born water flowing at your feet and encounter crumbling castles, wayside shrines, quaint churches and every other storybook scene you can imagine…minus the trolls! Waalwegs offer one of the best ways to immerse yourself in South Tyrol’s colliding Alpine and Mediterranean climates.
3. Encounter Wines of Another Kind
South Tyrol, known by many as the “land of wines”, could also be known for elevating wine making into an art form. Over the last 3,000 years South Tyrol’s wine artisans perfected practices to help vines flourish on the mountainsides. Vineyards now cascade along sun-kissed slopes producing award-winning wine and scenery ripe for a Monet masterpiece.
While you should no doubt indulge in the well-known classics of this region such as Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, broaden your wine horizons by uncorking lesser known Alpine gems native to South Tyrol. This includes Lagrein, Vernatsch (also commonly referred to as Schiava) and Gewürztraminer.
Gewürztraminer, originally from Tramin, a sleepy wine village in southern South Tyrol, is an aromatic and expressive white wine unlike any other. Be sure to try a glass or bottle of Gewürztraminer from the “Queen of Gewürztraminer”, Elena Walch. It is unforgettable.
Another white you may not be familiar with, but you should definitely seek out while visiting South Tyrol is Pinot Bianco (also known as Weissburgunder). A close relative to Pinot Grigio, South Tyrol (Alto Adige if you prefer the official Italian designation for the region) produces the best Pinot Bianco in the world.
You can read more about our encounter with this delightful wine during our visit at Nals Margreid Winery.
4. Roam Where Your Heart Tells You
South Tyrol’s public transportation system is affordable and world class; however, your best option for freely exploring South Tyrol is renting a car. This allows you to discover the countryside at your own pace and explore off-the-beaten path gems others miss.
South Tyrol’s roadways are immaculate and navigating them is fairly straightforward. And with today’s modern GPS units you can get step-by-step voice directions to take you anywhere without any hassle.
If you’re concerned about whether you can handle driving in Italy, don’t be. Anyone with a bit of common sense and some pre-trip planning can easily handle Italian roads. We put together a comprehensive Driving in Italy Checklist to ensure you’re ready along with cheatsheets you can quickly reference while on Italy’s roadways.
5. Slow Down, Way Down
One of the most charming aspects of South Tyrol is how it detoxifies the mind, body and soul. The immense natural beauty and joyful celebration of cultural traditions invites you to slow down and soak in your immediate surroundings.
Embrace this invitation. You will not regret it. We’ve always found South Tyrol’s slow travel and slow food appeal hard to resist even when we’re pining for the view over the next mountain top.
6. Farm to Table is a Way of Life Not a Movement
With more castles than any other part of Europe, South Tyrol undoubtedly draws from centuries of serving royalty to wow travelers at the table. In fact, the region is the culinary star of Italy — possessing more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else.
South Tyrol’s delicious blend of Tyrolean, German and Italian cultures, launches your palate on a delectable journey through a myriad of influences. The cuisine is strongly rooted in a farm-to-table mindset that is much more a way of life than a movement. With every bite and sip it’s clear South Tyrloeans cherish their land.
A trip to South Tyrol is not complete without devouring hearty Alpine culinary delights like smoked speck and dumplings, called canederli or knödel. Combined they make a savory dish known as speckknödel, which is also served as a soup and may just be the best forking meal in South Tyrol!
Speck is one of South Tyrol’s most revered foods and is integral to countless Alpine recipes not to mention a favorite companion to pizza. So what the heck is speck? Speck is a smoked, cured ham that is born from blending traditional Northern European smoking methods with the outdoor curing practices of the Mediterranean.
Of course no one should visit South Tyrol without satisfying their sweet tooth. A tasty dessert you’ll come to crave is Buchteln — a traditional South Tyrolean marmalade-filled pastry served in vanilla cream.
Another delight you won’t be able to ignore are the delectable wafers and snacks from Loacker.
Founded in 1925 in Bolzano, Loacker’s mountain-size goodness isn’t a surprise considering the Dolomites sit in their backyard. Their products honor classic family traditions using only the best natural ingredients without any artificial colors or flavors. We love loading up our backpacks with Loacker goodies before hitting the trails!
Want to try them before visiting South Tyrol? You’re in luck! Go to the Loacker website to find out where they are sold near you.
Numerous farmers’ markets take place throughout South Tyrol offering the ideal introduction to local specialties. Taking the time to browse these markets is a must. You’ll discover a variety of homemade breads and rolls, fragrant herbs, honeys, jams, as well as exceptional Alpine craftsmanship with unique items such as hand-woven baskets, wood carvings, traditional attire, religious artifacts and holiday decor.
Beyond the streetside markets, plan to visit a PUR Südtirol store. With multiple locations throughout South Tyrol, these stores showcase a treasure trove of South Tyrolean goods. Inside you can browse more than 1,800 products from local farms.
7. Venture Beyond the Vino
While it will be tempting to complement all your meals with South Tyrolean wine, we’d be doing you a disservice if we didn’t tell you about South Tyrol’s milk. It is the Alpine nectar of the gods! Another must-try while visiting South Tyrol. If you’re not wowed after your first sip, modern life may have permanently dulled your taste buds.
Of course when the milk is out of this world, it’s only natural that the cheese would follow suit. With over 200 varieties to savor, here’s a list of celebrated South Tyrol cheeses to get you started.
Your culinary journey doesn’t end with milk and cheese however. South Tyrol is Europe’s apple orchard. Be sure to get your fill on the deliciousness South Tyrol’s apple-tree filled valleys drop to the earth. While you’re at it pour yourself a glass of the region’s apple juice (called apfelsaft). The smooth sweetness it imparts on your lips will call to you long after you’ve left South Tyrol.
8. A Sun-Drenched Paradise with Mountain-size Mood Swings
South Tyrol bathes in 300 days of sunshine per year. All that heavenly light bestows on travelers an Alpine-Mediterranean oasis ripe for adventure and relaxation.
But even with its sunny disposition, South Tyrol’s weather can be a bit unpredictable. This should be no surprise considering majestic Alpine peaks punctuate nearly every corner. Travelers simply need to be mindful of this when embarking on outdoor adventures. It’s best to pack rain gear or snow gear depending on when you’re visiting.
We were once caught in a spring rain storm while hiking along a Waalweg. When we set out on the trail, it was a picture perfect day with a just a few clouds lingering above us. Two hours later that all changed. Rain came out of nowhere. An ungodly amount of it. We were forced to sprint for 15 minutes to a hut set off the trail.
Fortunately, the host at the hut removed the chill from our bones with ample amounts of Schnapps. That of course led to another unanticipated adventure: hiking back to the trail head on liquor-challenged legs.
Don’t be like us. At a minimum, we recommend tossing an umbrella in your backpack when visiting in the spring, summer and fall.
9. Matters of Money
The currency in South Tyrol is the Euro. We recommend obtaining Euros from an ATM (called Bancomat) or bank when in Italy. ATMs are abundant. Even in South Tyrol’s most quaint villages. The majority of shops, restaurants and hotels accept ATM cards and credit cards. Don’t bother exchanging your cash at an exchange booth in an airport as you will not receive the best deal.
If you’re ever not clear on the true cost of an item when looking at its price, download a money converting app onto your smartphone. There are plenty of free ones in your app store.
South Tyrol is incredibly credit card friendly. In most cases, you can get by at all times by using a credit card with a chip. However, we recommend carrying some cash as it’s much easier when making a purchase at a street or trail side food stand or at any of the many open air markets you’ll no doubt want to explore.
When selecting a credit card for your trip be sure to understand if it charges international transaction fees. We recommend using a card that doesn’t charge any, but you may have a card that offers other perks which outweigh any fees incurred while visiting South Tyrol.
Since we’re talking about money you may be wondering how expensive it is to visit South Tyrol. The region is surprisingly affordable. Prices are only slightly higher than Italy on average. You can find a wealth of accommodations fitting a wide range of budgets and tastes. If you want to save money easily, simply stay off-the-beaten path in the less touristy areas.
Tipping is not expected in South Tyrol; however, it is common to round up the bill if you had a pleasant experience.
10. Stay Safe – Respect the Mountains
When talking about safety, we’re not addressing anything related to crime. South Tyrol is very safe in that respect. Unlike other destinations in Europe and Italy, we never feel compelled to wear a money belt or avoid certain areas. That is simply not an issue here. The safety concerns we want you to be aware of pertain to enjoying South Tyrol’s vast outdoor playground.
Much of South Tyrol’s beauty stems from opposing forces of nature. It’s important to wear the proper gear and be mindful of weather conditions as we noted above. That means hiking in sandals isn’t wise and venturing onto questionable cliffs or unmarked areas is just plain stupid. You don’t need to risk injury or your life to capture that next rock star Instagram photo.
Our South Tyrol Resource Library includes a hiking checklist that helps ensure you stay safe while consuming South Tyrol’s great outdoors. We genuinely want you to have the adventure of a lifetime and that means using common sense and respecting nature.
11. South Tyrol’s 5th Season
Since we’re talking about nature, let’s discuss seasons. South Tyrol has five of them. All are immeasurably enjoyable in their own way, but there is one that stands apart from the others: Törggelen. Törggelen is an age-old tradition that celebrates South Tyrol’s wine harvest. It begins in October and ends around the start of the Christmas season.
During Törggelen, South Tyrol’s farmers introduce their new wines. These festive celebrations include pairings with roasted chestnuts and traditional South Tyrolean dishes. And best of all, live music inspires a jovial atmosphere that is as infectious as the wine being poured.
If you can time your visit during Törggelen, you’ll get to experience an historic cultural treasure that rivals the scenery around you.
12. A Land So Fiercely Enchanting You’ll Be Back
The final thing we’d like to share with you is a friendly word of caution. After visiting South Tyrol, you may just fall in love. Hard. South Tyrol is a place where the land, the people and their passions capture your heart. Forever.
If you’re like us, you may toss out your travel wish list and put South Tyrol at the center of all your adventures.
Creating a list of things to see and do while visiting South Tyrol could swallow up all the pages on the Internet, but it’s our hope our brief list gives you a good start. Subscribe to our email updates and follow us on social media to discover more of the wonders of South Tyrol.
If you have any questions on something we didn’t cover, please leave them in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our free South Tyrol Travel Resource Library. Inside you’ll find useful tips and checklists to help save time and money while you plan your trip to South Tyrol.