When you hear “rekindle the romance” what comes to mind? A candlelight dinner? A moonlit stroll? How about sipping delicious wines amid crumbling castles and breathstealing mountain views? Such a place exists — and best of all you do not have to suffer a romance novel to experience it.
IF YOU ARE not familiar with the wine country of South Tyrol, spending a day cruising along its famous Wine Road makes for an excellent introduction. This mellow road unfurls with pure Mediterranean bliss — winding gently from one vine-drenched hill to the next.
Stately manors in regal poses pop amid the fruited scape — painting a romantic scene that would make even Casanova gush. But as nice as it is to drive along the Wine Road, we discovered that to really immerse oneself in the unique culture of South Tyrol’s Alpine wines, nothing tops staying at a boutique winery perched beneath the peaks.
In this post, we introduce you to the lovely Donà Winery (officially Weingut Donà in German) — a charming family-owned wine estate situated near the historic wine village of Eppan. Beyond caressing grapes until they become mouth-dazzling wines, the estate also possesses a villa offering guests a chance to relax in the heart of vineyards while enjoying the commanding company of the Dolomites and Alps all around. As you’ll see, staying amid such beauty is an experience unlike any other.
A Heavenly Haven in the Vines
Thanks to a canceled flight and the inevitable outcome of lost luggage, it was evening by the time we turned up the road toward Donà Winery. Since night had fallen, we were grateful to have rows of grapevines guiding us in the headlights until reaching the villa parking lot. Without these leafy blessings of Bacchus who knows where we would have wound up.
While getting out of our car, we spotted a stone ruin softly bathed in amber lighting high up on the mountain behind Donà Winery. What ancient wonder loomed overhead we wondered?
As we arrived later than our scheduled check-in time, Martina Waldner Donà, the owner of Weingut Donà, gave us instructions to locate the keys to our villa apartment. Walking in to the rental was immediately pleasing to our travel-weary legs and eyes.
Warm alpine wood accents greeted us. These rustic adornments were complemented by contemporary touches — perfectly marrying Tyrolean charm with Italian flair. The thoughtfully curated decor and furnishings gave the apartment a spacious yet cozy look.
We fell in love with a dining nook tucked into the corner of the kitchen by a window. The thought of awakening there in the morning with a cup of coffee while admiring mountain-born treasures out the window was enticing.
But first, we needed some serious rest. We both fell into bed and let the weight of the day’s travel troubles sink us into a deep sleep.
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Ringed by Mountains
The following morning arrived in a blink. We awoke to the dawning sun pouring through the apartment’s windows. Back home, we would have pulled the covers over our head to catch another wink. But while in South Tyrol, we welcome every single ray.
A balcony off the living room provided the first daylight peek of our surroundings. Grapevines encircled us. In the western horizon, just beyond the rooftops of Bolzano, stood the snow-blessed peaks of the Dolomites.
But the majestic mountain views did not end with the Pale Mountains. The Texel Group of the Italian Alps beamed with morning splendor to the north of Lana and Merano. To the east and south, rose the sandy-hued ridges and crags of the Mendola mountain range.
We stepped outside to get a sunlit view of the winery. Its stucco facade gleamed amid the vines. As if the setting wasn’t already swooning with enough romance, a castle gripped the mountainside above us. The mystery from the night before fully revealed.
The look of awe on our faces must have been rather obvious as we were soon greeted with a knowing smile by Martina Donà. She warmly introduced herself while sharing that the castle was called “Hocheppan”.
We were somewhat familiar with this medieval fortress as we knew its 13th-century chapel held the earliest known fresco depicting a man eating one of our favorite Tyrolean dishes: knödel (dumplings).
As self-proclaimed castle hunters, we immediately asked Martina if it was possible to reach Hocheppan. She said it certainly was by foot, but that the interior was closed for the season. That did not matter to us. A good trek is always on our mind in South Tyrol. Hiking to Castle Hocheppan became a must-do while staying at Weingut Donà.
Martina shared a bit more about possible sights of interest near her winery. Her passion for South Tyrol was only rivaled by her enthusiasm for wowing guests. She made us feel right at home immediately.
Before heading back inside to get ready for a day trip to Bolzano, we scheduled a winery tour and tasting with her the day after our castle hike. Hiking up a mountain the same day as a wine tasting did not seem wise. Castle hunting in South Tyrol demands steady legs.
Sharing South Tyrol’s Wine Culture
The morning after our castle hike was just as gorgeous as the previous two. We savored the sunlight pouring in again while nibbling on fresh Schüttelbrot that Martina graciously left us the day before. Schüttelbrot is an Alpine-spiced rye flatbread that is a crispy treat common in South Tyrol.
Afterward, a stroll through the vineyard just outside our door was too tempting to pass up. If you have never walked through a vineyard in the early morning light, make a point to add it to your South Tyrol bucket list. Watching the evening’s mist lift off a canopy of vines as the sunlight streaks across the mountain tops is a sight you will not forget.
Martina eventually greeted us with a bag of freshly picked apples from one of Weingut Donà’s orchards. Their juiciness looked enticing, but sinking our teeth in one had to wait as we were anxious to sip some wine. She led us below the villa to a boutique wine operation and cellar.
As we walked the winery, Martina shared that Weingut Donà is a family-run wine estate founded by her and husband, Hansjörg Donà (both pictured above). Hansjörg spent several years working as a winemaker for other respected wineries in the region — eventually heeding the call to make his own distinct wine mark in South Tyrol .
Bringing together skills, passions and a savvy for recognizing opportunity, Martina and Hansjörg set out to produce exceptional wines that reflect the spirit of the Alps. What’s more, by offering accommodations on the estate, they realized a life-long dream of intimately sharing South Tyrol’s unique wine culture with guests.
When asked what differentiates Weingut Donà from other wineries in South Tyrol, Martina stressed the family’s ability to keep a long-term perspective. From their highly-regarded wines to their guests’ raving reviews, Weingut Donà pays sharp attention to the details that matter in the barrel, bottle and glass.
The estate delicately balances the right touch of leading-edge technology with careful cultivation by hand. This progressive yet traditional approach ensures Weingut Donà produces only the best wines year after year.
From the fermentation area, Martina led us to an enchanting tasting room lined with French oak barrels, which the winery uses to mature its wines. She informed us nearly 4 hectares of vineyards surround the winery. Donà also relies on grapes from a vineyard in Dorf Tirol to produce its award-winning Sauvignon Blanc. Other Donà varietals include Chardonnay, Vernatsch, Lagrein and Merlot. Hotels and restaurants in South Tyrol purchase the majority of its wines, but guests can purchase them as well.
Swirling With Donà Wines
We began our tasting with Weingut Donà’s Terlaner Chardonnay. Typically, we skip over Chardonnays when at a wine shop, but the Chardonnay from Weingut Donà was a masterpiece. It was nicely balanced. Both crisp and lush imparting hints of green-apple flavors.
Next, Martina poured their Vernatsch (also known as Schiava). This varietal has really grown on us during our time in South Tyrol. The Vernatsch was as delicious as any we have tried. Martina indicated that after 5 years of producing it, Weingut Donà won the top award for Vernatsch in Italy. We could easily see ourselves drinking it at any time of year.
We followed the Vernatsch with Weingut Donà’s Lagrein. Staring deep into Lagrein is almost as hypnotic as sipping it. In the glass, Donà’s Lagrein dazzled with a dark ruby color. In the mouth, it tantalized with notes of black cherry. Lagrein always pleasantly surprises as it is lighter than its color would indicate.
Our final wine was a Lagrein Merlot blend. This beauty was new to us. Martina paired the wine with a hard Parmesan-like cheese from Mila — a local dairy producer that creates authentic Alpine flavors by using milk only from South Tyrol cows. We consider South Tyrolean milk the best in the world so naturally, every bite was a delight.
The Lagrein Merlot itself was excellent. The Merlot lent a more bold character that danced with subtle fruit flavors. With a big smile, Martina made our sample a full pour and we all toasted to an exquisite tasting. It was a true joy to spend time with her and learn more about the family business and South Tyrolean wines.
Beyond All Expectations
After the tasting, Martina gave us a tour of the largest apartment at Weingut Donà. The villa apartment sleeps 6 making it an ideal escape for a family or group of friends. A bachelorette weekend or girls getaway here would be one to remember. Weingut Donà offers the perfect mix of world wine adventure with the cosmopolitan charm of Bolzano just minutes away.
Before moving onto our next day trip to Merano, Martina gave us a restaurant recommendation in nearby Lana, a charming town filled with sights and adventures under the forested summit of Mt. Vigiljoch. She even called the owner to make sure a table would be available. Then she invited us to park our car at the family’s additional holiday apartments in town where we connected with her daughter, Franziska. This level of service was not expected but was also not surprising given her kind nature.
After a 15-minute car ride, we arrived in Lana and met Franziska. She was just as gracious as her mother, spending time with us to make sure we had a good understanding of how to find the restaurant and other key sights in Lana. We learned the Donà family offers 12 apartments located in the heart of this mountainside town.
Before darting off to the restaurant, we strolled the cobblestone streets of Lana for a bit. A shop called LAiMER caught our eye. Its window display showcased watches and glasses unlike any we had ever seen. We popped in for a quick visit and discovered this South Tyrolean company crafts all of its products with wood. The designs were exquisite. Forty euros later Kate walked out with a sleek wood bracelet.
By the time we arrived at the restaurant, 1477 Reichhalter, we were craving a serious meal. Funny how wine before lunch tends to do that. We sat in a small dining room resembling an old farmhouse inn. Despite the traditional country ambiance, our hunger talked us into splitting the meals between Italian and South Tyrolean. Both were more than satisfying. If it wasn’t for being full, we just might have immediately reordered a second round of the dishes.
Staying at Weingut Donà
The following morning we departed the winery for our stay right below the Schlern / Sciliar massif — the Dolomite giant known as Witches’ Mountain which we long admired from our balcony. We could not imagine a better way to ease into our adventures in the Dolomites than staying at Weingut Donà. Even for those not fans of wine, the villa’s location is among the best to embark on the Three Castles Walk, as well as explore much of South Tyrol’s diverse landscapes and cultural offerings.
And in case you’re still wondering if we ever received our 2nd bag from the airline. The answer is a resounding yes. The bag magically showed up a couple of days into our stay. Martina kindly placed it inside the apartment for us.
If you’re interested in staying in Eppan along the South Tyrolean Wine Road, explore availability at Weingut Donà. The value you will receive at the rates they charge is exceptional.
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Additional photos of Weingut Donà credited to Florian Andergassen.