What is it about castles? Whether in a perpetual state of crumble or masterfully preserved to reveal life in the Middle Ages, they endlessly fascinate us. We get lost in their haunting beauty as much as we do in the history and legends spun from within their ramparts of stone.
With 800 castles littering South Tyrol’s mountainous landscape, it’s hard to nail down one that impresses the most. But there is one whose ability to captivate us never fails no matter how many times we let it grace our eyes: Castle Tirol (also known as “Schloss Tirol” in German and “Castel Tirolo” in Italian)
Its imposing position 2,000 feet above the valley floor demands your attention from even miles away. Bearing such a commanding presence, it’s no wonder Castle Tirol named an entire region and its people. The word “Tirol / Tyrol” can be traced back to when the Roman Empire occupied the area. “Teriolis” was the given name of a Roman stronghold near Merano.
Erected in the 1100s by the Counts of Vinschgau, who later took title as the Counts of Tyrol, its storied walls hold some of the most important historical relics and artwork in South Tyrol. In fact, the faded frescoes of its chapel include the oldest painting of the Red Eagle, South Tyrol’s coat of arms.
The Many Moods of Castle Tirol
A unique quality of Castle Tirol is that depending on the temperament of the mountains or the hour of the season, the castle’s ancient majesty transforms before your eyes. Its seemingly ever-changing character is perhaps why we find Castle Tirol so alluring.
See for yourself. Plunge into the Middle Ages with the following images. We hope they inspire you to etch the castle on your bucket list. Chisel not included.
Within the Storied Walls of Castle Tirol
As much as Castle Tirol enchants from the outside it is equally enchanting from within. The grandeur of the sweeping panorama awaiting visitors illustrates why the fortress was founded on its lofty, rocky spur.
Situated to the north of Merano, Castle Tirol peers deep into the valley basin that stretches southward to Bolzano. On its western flank, the castle watches over the Vinschgau Valley, which runs toward Switzerland.
Inside the castle lies a treasure of archaeological finds including religious and pagan figures encircling the marble portals of the castle’s chapel. These are sculpted in Romanesque-style from the 12th century. Their meaning is still not entirely clear. Nevertheless, they are fascinating to study. Their ornate detail speaks to the superb craftsmanship of long ago.
The castle is also home to the South Tyrolean Museum of History and Culture offering an intriguing walk through the history of the land from its earliest beginnings to the modern era. The exhibit signs are in German and Italian, but visitors can check out an audio guide that is in English. The museum tour lasts about 50 minutes.
Reaching Castle Tirol
The only way to reach Castle Tirol is on foot. Trust us, this is a good thing. The hike to its gates is unforgettable. If views of the castle and vineyards riddled around it do not steal your breath away then the Texel mountain group in the distance certainly will.
When arriving at the area by car, we suggest parking in one of two public lots located in Dorf Tirol. From there, cross the street walking uphill along the sidewalk until coming to a sign designating the Falknerweg (Falconers’ Path). This beautiful path takes you past hotels, restaurants and vineyards eventually winding along the edge of a deep ravine where you can admire the picturesque Brunnenburg Castle — once home to the famous poet Ezra Pound.
Before rounding a corner to the castle you will pass through a 260-foot stone tunnel built in the 17th century. The entire walk takes 20-30 minutes depending on how much you pause to snap pictures or simply savor the historical and natural beauty all around.
TIP: The castle can also be reached from Merano by walking the Tappeiner Promenade. This route takes 2-3 hours but is what we consider the most enchanting walk in Italy. It is our favorite way to reach Castle Tirol.
When to Visit Castle Tirol
Castle Tirol is open to the public from mid-March to early-December. Visit the castle’s official website to confirm dates and hours. Admission fees are € 7 per adult. Children and senior citizens receive discounted rates.
If you visit the castle during one of the weekends in December when it is hosting its traditional Christmas market, you can enjoy the castle at no charge. Seeing it at this time of year is especially charming.
Autumn is also a special time to visit as a wine-stand off the Falknerweg offers the season’s new wine, which you can sip under a canopy of grape vines while gazing at the castle and beyond. Sounds a touch romantic doesn’t it? Afterward, treat yourself to a hearty South Tyrolean meal at Biergarten am Schlossweg — a panoramic beer garden nearby.