What is your idea of romance? A candlelight dinner? A moonlit stroll? How about sipping delicious wines amongst crumbling castles and breath-stealing 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 roadway 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 seductive scene that would make even Casanova blush. But as nice as it is to drive along the Wine Road, we discovered that to really appreciate 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. In addition to romancing grapevines into mouth-dazzling wines, the estate also offers guests a chance to relax amid vineyards while enjoying the lofty company of the Dolomites and Alps. As you’ll see, staying in a place surrounded by such beauty is an experience unlike any other.
Escape to 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 Weingut Donà. 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 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 sipping a cup of coffee there in the morning while spying 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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A Ring of 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 was 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 minds 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 joy in sharing 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.
Savoring 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. If you are not familiar with Schüttelbrot, it 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 meandered 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 sunlight streaks across the mountain is a sight you will not forget.
Shortly after our walk, Martina arrived greeting us with a bag of freshly picked apples from one of Weingut Donà’s orchards. Immediately sinking into their juiciness was tempting, but we had another fruit to tango with first. She led us below the villa to a boutique wine operation and cellar.
As we toured 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 her winery from others in South Tyrol, Martina stressed the family’s ability to keep a long-term perspective in all that they do. Weingut Donà pays sharp attention to the details that matter in the vine, barrel, bottle and glass.
The estate delicately balances the right touch of leading-edge technology with age-old techniques including careful cultivation by hand. This progressive yet traditional approach ensures Weingut Donà produces only the best wines year after year. The industry has taken notice — granting several coveted awards across the winery’s portfolio.
After admiring the stainless steel tanks in Weingut Donà’s fermentation cellar, Martina led us to an enchanting tasting room lined with French oak barrels. These classic “barriques” do far more than impart a romantic ambiance. The winery also uses them to mature its wines.
While lingering to enjoy the sweet aroma of grapes swirling about the room, Martina shared with us that almost 4 hectares (roughly 10 acres) of vineyards surround the winery. Furthermore, Weingut Donà vinifies grapes from another vineyard near the village of Dorf Tirol to the north. This mountainside plot is the source of the winery’s award-winning Sauvignon Blanc.
In the bottle cellar, Martina pointed out Weingut Donà’s full portfolio. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, other Donà varietals include Chardonnay, Vernatsch, Lagrein and Merlot. Sold mostly to hotels and restaurants in South Tyrol, consumers can also purchase the wines the estate’s wine shop.
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 suggest.
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’s not every day we sip wine in the morning, but Martina was such fun to be around we would uncork a bottle anytime with her.
We highly recommend all who stay at Weingut Donà to embark on a guided tour and tasting if the opportunity allows it. You will come away with a heartfelt appreciation for the hard work, passion and pure joy the Donàs put into winemaking.
Familylike Hospitality You Will Cherish
After the wine tasting, Martina gave us a tour of the largest apartment at Weingut Donà. It was even more enamoring than our own.
Gorgeously decorated throughout and offering sweeping balcony views to die for, this spacious rental sleeps up to 6 guests. Wine lovers looking for a getaway with friends or family should definitely consider booking here.
Before leaving Martina to enjoy a visit to Merano, she gave us a restaurant recommendation in nearby Lana — an alluring town known as the California of the Alps. She even took the time to call the owner ensuring a table would be available.
Martina then made another call to her daughter, Franziska, informing her we would be parking our car at their other holiday apartments across from the restaurant. Such over-the-top hospitality made us feel like family.
After a brief car ride, we arrived in Lana and met Franziska. She was just as gracious as her mother. Franziska made sure we understood how to find the alley-side restaurant, as well as spent time sharing key sights in Lana we might want to explore.
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.
We returned to Weingut Donà in the early evening picking up where we left off with Martina. With a bottle of Donà’s award-winning Vernatsch and two glasses in hand, we took a seat on the terrace to watch the setting sun gild the vines in gold. Ending the day this way was the only choice.
How to Experience Weingut Donà
BOOKING OPTIONS FOR WEINGUT DONÀ: The winery offers apartments for up to 4 guests. The two larger villa options can sleep up to 6 guests. Dogs are permitted in the apartments for an additional charge, but not allowed in the villas. Rates are very affordable and vary by season. Explore Weingut Donà booking options and availability for the dates of your holiday travel.
REACHING WEINGUT DONÀ: Getting to Donà is easy. The winery is conveniently accessible via the Autostrada whether arriving in South Tyrol from the south or north. It is located along the South Tyrolean Wine Road within minutes of Eppan (Appiano). Guests can check-in beginning at 2 p.m.
WHEN TO VISIT WEINGUT DONÀ: The winery’s apartments and villas are available to guests year-round. Deciding on when to visit is a personal choice. We stayed in late fall and loved seeing the winery transitioning between autumn and winter. However, experiencing Weingut Donà in spring or summer would be equally beautiful.
SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES AROUND WEINGUT DONÀ: Plenty of adventure and history lies right outside the winery — making the estate the ideal “choose your own adventure” destination. We highly recommend trekking the Three Castles Walk which carries you through vineyards and forests to the gates of three mountainside medieval gems. In addition, you can explore other remarkable wineries along the Wine Road, as well as visit the chic capital of Bolzano (a 15-minute drive).
If you’re willing to go a bit further north, you can also take in the natural and historic wonders of Lana and Merano. Both are less than 30 minutes from the estate.
And if you are aching to go hiking in the Dolomites, you can be among the stony giants in just 30-40 minutes. From the winery, you can admire the spires of the Rosengarten and Schlern so don’t be surprised if the mountains call!
Additional photos of Weingut Donà credited to Florian Andergassen.