In every major destination, certain attractions tend to overshadow others. South Tyrol isn’t any different. If you’re visiting during Advent odds are the Christmas markets of Bolzano, Merano, Brixen and Sterzing are on your holiday wish list.
But as lovely as each of those markets are, it pays to stroll the several boutique Christmas markets decorating South Tyrol. Taking time to casually drift through the quaint, “off-the-beaten” path Christmas markets imparts a gift of memories you will cherish long after the season ends. In this post, we highlight three markets you should not miss.
An Evergreen Christmas at Lake Carezza
When a remote Alpine lake tells of a wizard long ago shattering a rainbow into its pristine waters, there may be no better place for an event as magical as a Christmas market. The Christmas Market at Lake Carezza takes place in the ancient forest surrounding its fabled shore. Stalls shaped like wooden lanterns line a trail that winds from one side of the lake to the other.
If you’re longing to experience a Christmas market within a winter wonderland, Lake Carezza can almost guarantee it. Thanks to the higher altitude it is one of the most picturesque markets. The market sits within the Dolomites with the Latemar and Rosengarten massifs looming as backdrops. When we wandered the market, countless evergreen boughs held fresh puffs of snow and the mountains wore icy crowns.
For anyone worried about enduring a wintry chill, wood stoves dot the market offering comfort and the enchanting aroma of a crackling wood fire. Standing over flames in the mountains and listening to Christmas tunes from a trio of trumpets will etch a merry memory into your heart forever.
Beyond enjoying freshly-baked sweets and delicious drinks sold at the stalls, you can also find a variety of handmade crafts that harken back to a simpler time. Visiting in the evening is especially enchanting as the market is lit by candle lanterns that cast a soft glow all along the trail.
When to Go
We timed our visit to the market when the Krampus was set loose upon the trail. This was our first encounter with the less-than-jolly beasts of lore and we were blown away by the experience. If you can make it during the weekend that features Krampus we highly recommend it.
The Lake Carezza Christmas market occurs each weekend in December from 10 am to 8 pm. It is just 20 minutes from Bolzano by car. For specific details on the event go to the official website for Eggental Valley, which is where Lake Carezza is located.
Cheerful Tidings at Castel Rametz
Castel Rametz is a destination that has been on our must-see list ever since first admiring its stately beauty from the mountainside of the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle. The classic crenelated, vine-drenched walls of Castel Rametz amidst sweeping vineyards and soaring mountains makes it one of the most romantic sights in South Tyrol.
While Castel Rametz has seen rulers come and go over the centuries, wine has always reigned as the rightful owner to its throne. The castle was first mentioned in 1227. Glorious casks of wine soon followed. The estate beams from a sun-soaked slope above the heart of Merano. Besides offering breathtaking views, it’s an ideal position to produce reds and whites of exceptional esteem.
When we discovered a Christmas market is held each year within its walls we turned several shades of merry. We were not going to miss it during our visit to Merano.
Walking from the castle’s parking lot to its immense arched doorway we felt like children approaching a Christmas tree on Christmas morning. We tingled with excitement at discovering what lies beyond the tangles of ivy sprawling its hallowed stones. The courtyard greeting us was decorated exquisitely with dazzling holiday class. It was a sanctuary for the season. We doubted the welcoming spirit of Christmas ever leaves Castel Rametz. Even after the holiday fades into the bleakness of winter.
A stand in the courtyard offered traditional delicacies to delight in next to a roaring fire. But since we visited right after lunch, we chose to browse the market exhibits. In the castle, artisans sold favors of the season including handmade decor, candles and even vintage black and white pictures of South Tyrol. These caught our interest. We picked up two mountain scenes to grace our walls.
Next, we followed candles down steps into Castel Rametz’s cellar. The old world ambiance of the 12th-century cellar wrapped around us like a warm Christmas blanket. Flickering flames revealed rows upon rows of wine bottles aging into the treasures of tomorrow. A nook nearby held a carefully carved nativity scene set as if under the night sky.
We could have lingered in the cellar for some time, but there’s something about staring at bottles of wines that makes us want to uncork one. Embarking on a wine tasting in the Castel Rametz enoteca seemed only appropriate. We pulled up two seats to the counter and were met by Florian Lamprecht. He didn’t speak English. However, with our basic understanding of Italian, we spoke wine well enough together to enjoy a remarkable tasting.
We only planned to taste three wines at the start but had such a good time with Florian we ended up enjoying seven. He even kindly brought us a plate of speck to savor during out time with him. The tasting began with a 2017 Gewürztraminer, which was a favorite of Kate’s. We progressed to a Pinot Grigio sipping our way finally to the silky pleasure of a 2012 Pinot Nero (also known as Blauburgunder). Florian pointed out that the first Pinot Nero vine planted in South Tyrol was at Castel Rametz in 1860.
All of the wines were a delight to taste, but the most surprising was the 2011 Césuret Chardonnay and the 2010 Castel Monreale Extra Brut, the latter of which won the gold medal at the “The WineHunter Award 2018”. We tend to shy away from these wine varieties usually; however, both of these gems from Castel Rametz will definitely find a place at our table. The full mouth flavor of the Chardonnay with its slight acidity would make it an excellent companion to dishes such as shrimp linguine.
When to Go
Castel Rametz celebrates the advent season beginning the last weekend of November through the weekend before Christmas Eve. The market takes place on Fridays from 4 pm to 8 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 8 pm. A traditional Tyrolean restaurant is also on site; however, we did not have an opportunity to enjoy dinner. But if the interior is any indication, it appears to serve nothing but hearty goodness perfect for a blustery winter day.
Medieval Merriment at Castle Tirol
What was it like to celebrate Christmas at a time when lands were ruled from thrones and candles were for more than setting the mood? The Christmas market at Castle Tirol gives revelers a charming glimpse.
Arguably the most celebrated castle in South Tyrol, Castle Tirol makes one’s jaw drop long before reaching its gates. The castle’s imposing presence atop a craggy glacial moraine in Dorf Tirol leaves us spellbound every time we lay eyes on it. Without a doubt, it is among the top medieval sights in all of Europe. Built in the 1100s, Castle Tirol was home to the Counts of Tyrol who wielded enough power to name an entire region.
We reached the castle by parking in a public lot located in Dorf Tirol. From here, we walked along the Falknerweg (Falconers’ Path). This paved path edges along a deep ravine. Beyond are splendid views of tumbling vineyards and the Texel mountain group of the Oetztal Alps. In addition to fawning over Castle Tirol during the walk, plenty of vantage points reveal the stunning Brunnenburg Castle, which sits on a crag below the stronghold.
A 260-foot stone-walled tunnel carved out in the 17th century leads visitors through the final stretch to the castle. The entire trek takes roughly 20-30 minutes, but if you’re like us, you’ll linger longer. The path ascends easily, but if you prefer to roll your way to Castle Tirol, a horse-drawn carriage ride is available.
The market entices with food and refreshment stands within the castle’s courtyard. While we were there a gentleman roasted chestnuts on the spot and a brass band filled the air with notes of cheer. We, in turn, filled ourselves with cheer by sipping on mulled wine. Afterward, we wandered inside the castle to browse crafts and other South Tyrolean specialties for sales. A woodcarver wowed us with his artisanship on the lathe at one of the exhibits.
Upon finishing touring the market we ventured into the castle’s Hall of Knights. The portal leading to the chapel captivated us with remarkable Romanesque marble sculptures from the 12th century. Studying the faces and figures in the marble makes a trip to the castle worth it on their own.
Meandering around the chapel is a moving experience as the haunting expressions of faded frescoes follows your every step. A life-size crucifixion scene looms overhead. Erected in 1330, it reveals the emotions of Jesus, Mary and John with striking realism. On the wall across the chapel is the first known depiction of the South Tyrol’s coat of arms.
When to Go
The Castle Tirol Christmas market only occurs the first two weekends in December. It takes place from 10 am to 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Throughout each day different activities take place and a variety of music groups entertain in the courtyard.
For a full list of the special events scheduled be sure to review the event program by going to the official tourist site for Dorf Tirol.
Cherish the Spirit of the Season in South Tyrol
South Tyrol hosts several other boutique Christmas markets throughout the season. From Ortisei to Castelrotto to Lana and many more, all will charm you with the land’s touching holiday traditions. But we consider the markets at Lake Carezza, Castel Rametz and Castel Tirol to be among the most quaint you can experience. And if you’re like us, nothing is more endearing than the quaint, cozy moments only the Christmas season brings.
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