The “Three Castles Walk”, featuring the historic Hocheppan Castle ruin, is a sight-seeing adventure not to miss while exploring the South Tyrolean Wine Road.
THREE CASTLES, ONE HIKE? Every castle hunter should be so lucky. That was our first thought after hearing about a trio of castles looming over the wine village of Eppan (Appiano) in South Tyrol.
We had just arrived at Weingut Donà for a multi-day romantic getaway along the South Tyrolean Wine Road. The Hocheppan Castle perched high above our villa apartment caught our eye immediately. How could it not? It thundered with medieval intrigue atop a rocky ledge along a sheer mountain wall. From where we stood far below, this 12th-century fortress looked as if it once commanded all of South Tyrol’s wine country.
Over the Hills and Far Away
We considered setting out on the Three Castles Walk from Weingut Donà, but opted to drive up the mountain a bit to a nearby village called Missiano. Starting from here gave us the best chance of visiting all three castles. Plus, from the parking lot, we could follow well-marked signs pointing the way up to our first castle stop.
On a steep hill above the parking lot sat an enticing looking church. We made a mental note to visit it if we had time after consuming the three castles. South Tyrol can be joyfully exhausting for curious souls like us. It teems with such intriguing sights making it a land where one could explore endlessly.
We began the Three Castles Walk along a paved road, but were soon enveloped by vineyards as we ascended the foothills of Mondelo mountain range. Hocheppan Castle teased us from afar. But each step offered us an ever-widening view of the valley below.
Jagged peaks of the Dolomites soared from the horizon beyond Bolzano. The infamous Witches Mountain (Sciliar / Schlern) cut into the sky like a gravestone just above the molten gold of leaves still clinging to the vines. It was a sight of pure South Tyrolean splendor.
All Along the Watchtower
Eventually, the vineyards became woodland and we found ourselves in a thicket of trees. The path steepened in the forest, but we came across several benches to catch our breath.
We were about to turn a final corner to Hocheppan Castle when we happened to glance behind us. A stone tower poked through the treetops on a small hill slightly to the north of us. It looked wretchedly old. As if it could crumble any minute. We had to check this mystery out.
Veering off the main path, we hopped through the woods until finding another trail to the tower. Within 5 minutes we were at the foot of a sign reading “Kreideturm” (Chalk Tower).
We darted up to the hillcrest where the tower stood. Its appearance was rather austere. The tower looked like a poor man’s skyscraper.
We discovered it was erected in the late 12th century as a watchtower for Hocheppan Castle. The king’s guard would ignite a chalk fire at the top of the tower to signal incoming danger.
We were not able to find a way into the tower so we moved on after thoroughly exploring the area. Walking through the forest back to the castle path, we came across a ghostly white face staring at us between the trees.
We stood frozen. The face moved. Two horns flashed. Then the figure turned revealing a body much like a deer except it wasn’t. We watched with fascination as two chamois lightly floated over the forest floor seemingly without a care.
At the Gate of Hocheppan
Twenty minutes later we finally came to the crumbling walls of Hocheppan Castle. Below us was a sweeping view that cemented why this fortress was built at this height.
The castle itself is a remarkable ruin. At once romantic, menacing and unique. A bergfried (tall tower) rises from the castle’s heart, a medieval architectural relic that is rare in the Alps.
Once the mightiest stronghold in South Tyrol, Hocheppan began crowning the mountain around the year 1130. It sits at more than 2,000 feet and was the ancestral seat of the Counts of Eppan — sworn enemies to the Counts of Tyrol to the north. Given the name of the region you can guess who ultimately won.
Since the castle was closed for the season we were not able to wander whatever was left of its once kingly halls. Nor were we able to admire its famous chapel, which contains priceless ancient frescoes that paint a vivid picture of life during the Middle Ages.
As we were alone at the castle, we sat silently on a bench admiring its form against the autumn sky. But we were not as alone as we thought.
A cat crept up to our feet. She purred loudly nuzzling against our legs…clearly longing to be held. Who were we to argue? After coddling the cuddly furball, we set her free. She led us to the other side of the castle. No doubt its throne belonged to her as she was not in any way lost.
A sign on the path pointed us toward the second castle on our hike: Boymont. The trail took us down on a rocky ravine that we feared meant a steep climb at some point.
Sure enough. Stairs built along the sheer cliff edge scaled the other side of the ravine. We sweated our way up the steps. The trail then snaked up a bit further before dropping us off at the door of Boymont Castle.
Boymont Castle is another ruin from centuries past. Its stone facade is quite different from Hocheppan. Boymont Castle wears a more reddish hue rather than gray and its decorative windows, with their arches and stone pillars, speak to an early Gothic style.
The Counts of Eppan built Boymont Castle in the 13th century. But they were not the first to reside on this castle hill. Archaeologists have found remnants from prehistoric times.
Boymont was not of military importance — serving as a luxurious residential manor instead. This is quite evident by its uncommon medieval form.
Even though abandoned for more than 500 years after an arsonist set fire, the walls still boldly hint at what a majestic sight Boymont must have been. We peeked at the castle’s courtyard through an iron gate. It was magnificent. Definitely a place we will be returning to enjoy a South Tyrolean gem at its wine tavern.
We found the castle’s windows particularly fascinating. Peering through them long ago must have been exhilarating. Despite the fortress being in ruin, it was easy to picture its storybook past.
After exploring all four corners of Boymont, we soaked in the panorama from the mountain’s edge. Steeples and tiled roofs colored the valley floor between sweeping swaths of vineyards and orchards. The sun was beginning to sit low in the sky.
The third castle on the walk tempted us from some far-off crag, but we saved conquering Castel Korb for another day. Being caught in the dark in a land haunted by legends was not how either one of us sought to spend the night. Besides we knew there was a bottle of wine waiting for us at Weingut Donà.
Once back at the villa apartment, we cleaned up and enjoyed a couple of glasses of Vernatsch before venturing to Bolzano for a feast at The Laurin Restaurant. Dining at a venue named after a royal legend seemed like the only appropriate way to end a day among regal ruins.
When to Visit Hocheppan & Boymont Castles
The best time to embark on the Three Castles Walk is obviously when the castles are open. However, we found having the trails and ruins to ourselves during the off-season especially memorable. Surprisingly, we lingered longer around each castle longer than we may if they had been open. The serenity one finds amidst the quietude of antiquity in South Tyrol is sublime.
If you are visiting South Tyrol during summer and much of spring or fall you will be able to experience everything Hocheppan Castle and Boymont Castle offer. Hocheppan is open from early April to early November. It can be visited daily from 10 am to 6 pm excluding Wednesdays. Tours are available in English.
Boymont Castle is typically open from late March to early November. Hours are from 11 am to 5 pm every day except when shuttered on Mondays.
Both castles serve traditional South Tyrolean food and drink if you wish to sip and eat among the same stones as knights and kings.