When it comes to Italy vacation ideas there’s no shortage of breathtaking destinations to consider. But none will stir a deep sense of wonder and awe inside of you quite like South Tyrol.
Also known as Südtirol or Alto Adige, this hidden gem tucked between the Italian Alps and the Dolomites continues to draw more “wows” from our breath than any other part of Italy. Whether you crave heavenly outdoor excursions, long to unwind in pure sun-drenched bliss or wish to revel in cultural adventures teeming with culinary delights and historic sights, South Tyrol lays it all at your feet.
In this post, we share why South Tyrol should become your next travel obsession…and even better, how to plan your own escape to “Italy’s best-kept secret”.
Where is South Tyrol?
Before we highlight what awaits you in South Tyrol, you may be wondering where exactly is this fabled land. South Tyrol crowns northern Italy, right beneath Austria, in an area lovingly referred to as the “sunny side of the Alps”.
It’s worth noting you will also see the region referred to as South Tirol, Suedtirol and Trentino-Alto Adige.
Like its many names suggests, South Tyrol is a land of striking contrasts. Where Alpine wonders thunder over serene Mediterranean beauty and authentic Austrian charm mingles with stylish Italian flair.
The outcome of such unlikely bedfellows? Utterly jaw-dropping. You’ll encounter an enchanting medley of culture, cuisine, climate and scenery unlike anywhere else in the world.
7 Reasons to Visit South Tyrol
Whether you end up lured by the luster of its snow-dusted mountains or its sun-soaked valleys or the heart-warming traditions of its festive people, this mountainous jewel will shoot an arrow into your wanderlust heart. Guaranteed.
One of the great writers of the 20th century, Franz Kafka, described South Tyrol as “the most beautiful landscape” he had ever seen. Take a look at the video above then our reasons to visit below. We think you’ll agree.
1. The Italian Alps & Dolomites: Mountains Like No Other
The only proper way to introduce South Tyrol is to begin with its most lofty characteristic. So captivating are its mountains in all seasons, that it is hard to say when they inspire most. They weave influence throughout the land lancing the sky with their silvery summits and stone-tipped spears. Some seem to caress the heavens while others look as if they wish to tear it asunder.
Beautified by arbored vineyards, crenelated castles, storied steeples and romantic ruins, the various mountain ranges of South Tyrol paint the land in remarkably diverse ways. While all of its peaks technically belong to the Italian Alps, two people could visit South Tyrol and leave with completely different experiences.
The mountain ranges around the Merano valley, for example, flourish with tropical-like flora and trees that gradually unfurls into classic Alpine as you ascend the slopes. With 300 days of sunshine each year, these mountains practically soar with a permanently sunny disposition.
The Dolomites, on the other hand, redefine Alpine. Entirely. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dolomites appear born out of some prehistoric fury — tectonic ravages forever suspended in time. In reality, its jarring, serrated crags were once a coral reef millions of years ago before being cast out of the sea. Now, the Dolomites comprise 18 peaks spread across 350,000 heavenly acres.
All that terrain is not only ripe for hiking and biking, it also translates into the world’s largest ski resort. Nearly 1,200 square miles spread throughout 12 snow-blanketed valleys await winter recreation lovers.
As wondrous as the Dolomites are they make up only part of South Tyrol’s mountain story. The region mocks the idea of a flat earth with another 332 peaks storming into the sky.
For example, the Ortles Alps in the Stelvio National Park includes nearly 100 glaciers and the highest mountain in South Tyrol — King Ortles. According to age-old legends, this mountain was once a giant that became stone. Easy to believe once you see it.
To the northeast of the Ortles Alps lies another majestic mountain range containing one of mankind’s most historic discoveries. The Ötztal Alps is where two hikers in 1991 found a man lost in ice for 5,300 years. The naturally mummified body of Ötzi the Iceman has shed immense insight into life during the Copper Age. His body and astonishingly well-preserved belongings can now be studied by all at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano — the capital of South Tyrol.
2. A Bounty of Outdoor Adventure At Your Speed
What does having the Italian Alps and Dolomites so close together mean for you as a traveler? Pure Alpine-Mediterannean bliss. Every turn in South Tyrol reveals your next adrenaline rush or moment of zen. With 8,000 miles of trails calling you, deciding how to spend your time is the biggest challenge.
On any given day you can breezily roam vast prairies and forests, trek skyward to spy stone titans and shimmering lakes or hike palm-punctuated promenades furrowing through vineyards and orchards. Or you can do nothing at all. And simply let the breathtaking scenery be its own adventure.
The variety of landscapes in South Tyrol allows you to practically experience two different vacations in one. It’s impossible to say which aspect of the region we love most. The Alpine and Mediterranean sides provide equal amounts of wonder, adventure, romance and relaxation.
We have split many days with walking carefree amid sun-graced vineyards and orchards and trekking grueling mountain trails that seem to never level.
A hiking outing every mountain lover should embark on is along South Tyrol’s ancient irrigation canals called Waalwegs. Carved into mountainsides, these ancient pathways ascend easily and wind through miles of meadows, forests, vineyards and orchards.
With each step, you’ll bounce along to the soothing song of running mountain-born water. And you’ll encounter everything from castles to churches to the curious calls of cuckoo birds and the comforting clangs of cowbells. Around 5,000 traditional Alpine farms still adorn South Tyrol’s slopes.
Thanks to South Tyrol’s state-of-the-art lift systems, outdoor adventure in its mountains is available to every age and experience level. On every outing, we meet travelers in their 70s and 80s vigorously enjoying the hiking trails. Mountain air enlivens the adventurous spirit no matter your age.
Beyond wild thrills and wilder views, the mountains of South Tyrol also offer riveting peeks into Alpine life and culture. As an example, you can witness the traditional woodcarving craftsmanship of Val Gardena or partake in age-old folklore by hiking to the Witches’ Benches near Schlern Mountain.
3. The Wonders of Alpine Wellness & Relaxation
With 80 percent of South Tyrol mantled by mountains that roar and whisper all at once, it’s no surprise the region is a celebrated spa and wellness destination. The natural splendor alone is enough to elevate your wellbeing.
But South Tyrol offers you much more. Nestled amidst the summits are wellness resorts where you can experience the curative powers of pure Alpine air, mineral-rich water, fresh herbs, and sun-kissed scenery in truly novel ways.
These resorts masterfully harness their natural surroundings fusing contemporary design ingeniously with rustic charm. The deep relaxation we attain at South Tyrol’s wellness resorts restores a calm that stays long after we depart. They can do the same for you.
You can choose to reap the health benefits of ancient and modern treatments or simply let worries wash away while floating effortlessly in a salt-water infinity pool. Either way, you will come to relish how the wellness resorts in South Tyrol detoxify the body and pacify the mind.
Discover more about the invigorating blessings Alpine wellness gives you in our reviews of Preidlhof Hotel & Spa, Hotel Quelle Nature Spa Resort and Romantik Hotel Turm. Each of these resorts has won multiple hospitality awards. While distinctly different in ambiance and character, they are equally splendid.
4. The Medieval Heart of Europe
For thousands of years, South Tyrol culturally bridged northern and southern Europe. Ancient history continues to echo between the mountains.
In fact, the Alps’ smallest city, Glurns, sits like a medieval pearl in South Tyrol. Practically preserving the town in the 16th century, a stone wall encircles Glurns forever keeping its historic charm intact.
But for the purpose of this post, we will focus on the medieval sight that impresses most in South Tyrol: castles. Few sights steal your attention like an imposing fortress looking down from an even more imposing mountainside. South Tyrol has no shortage of them.
The region swells with 800 castles — more than any other area of Europe. If fire-breathing dragons ever flew surely it was over South Tyrol.
South Tyrol’s strongholds provide a jaw-dropping way to plunge yourself into the Middle Ages. The hiking trails winding through the land allow you to enjoy many of them from up close or afar. In addition, several of South Tyrol’s castles are open to visitors.
Touring them always leave us awestruck. For us, a walk through age-old halls where royalty of long ago once roamed is a spellbinding glimpse into Europe’s past.
One of our favorite mountain haunts is Castle Tirol. Perhaps the most historically-significant castle in South Tyrol, Castle Tirol stands on a rocky spur in the village of Dorf Tirol. It was once the ruling seat of the Counts of Tyrol whose iron-throned influence gave the entire region its name.
A formidable fortress in its day, the castle sees all with the Etschtal and Val Venosta valleys sprawled out far below its walls. Sacking it would have been next to impossible.
After visiting Castle Tirol, we like to sip on a refreshment at Biergarten am Schlossweg — a beer garden perched under a grape canopy offering castle views through the vines. On our last visit here, we devoured a savory plate of South Tyrolean bacon dumplings officially called Speckknödel. If a castle walk doesn’t whisk you back to medieval times, this hearty dish will. It dates back to at least the 13th century.
⇒ Read More: The Can’t-Miss Castles of South Tyrol
5. The Culinary Star of Italy
Foodies will uncover plenty to savor in South Tyrol. It is Italy after all. But then again it is so much more. The region is considered Italy’s culinary star — boasting more Michelin-starred restaurants in one place than anywhere else in the country.
Quality reigns supreme at the table in South Tyrol. It was the first region in Europe to establish a trademark for regional food. This emphasis on absolute quality has not gone unnoticed by the top-rated chef in the world, Massimo Bottura. He visits South Tyrol frequently to dine.
Thanks to the eclectic mix of northern and southern European cultures, each bite in South Tyrol can launch you on a distinctive journey. Firmly rooted farm-to-table traditions tantalize the taste buds with a fusion of Italian, Tyrolean, German and mountain-grown flavors.
But if you’re only longing for generous helpings of traditional Italian, you don’t need to venture further south. We’ve enjoyed some of the finest authentic pasta and pizza dishes in South Tyrol. That said, we think a visit to South Tyrol is not complete without dining on the region’s specialties. Culinary delights like smoked speck, knödel, apple strudel, white asparagus, krapfen and South Tyrolean cheeses and breads just to name a few are must-have delectable treasures.
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the authentic cuisine and culture of South Tyrol is to dine at member restaurants of the “Sudtiroler Gasthaus” group. This association of gastronomic establishments brings to life South Tyrol’s traditional down-to-earth hospitality and ambiance paired with the best local ingredients.
The aim is to preserve the authentic culture and quality that sets South Tyrol apart. An independent panel of judges makes sure member restaurants adhere to strict quality control standards promised by the Südtiroler Gasthaus brand.
Beyond flavorful dishes available morning, noon and night, the dining settings in South Tyrol are as picturesque as a fairy tale. Under the watchful eye of many South Tyrolean castles, lie quaint villages seemingly lost in time.
These precious jewels spring up from fertile valleys and hillsides nearly as much as the area’s vineyards and orchards. Each one provides its own medieval charm to get lost in farm-to-table pleasures.
For us, villages in South Tyrol strike the perfect balance between adventure and relaxation. Strolling crooked cobblestone streets unspoiled by the grip of modern life is a welcome reprieve from rigorous hiking. The rustic restaurants, taverns and cafes will encourage you to slow down, take a seat and chat with a local or two. There’s no better way to get a feel for South Tyrolean culture.
If sleepy mountain villages are not your speed, South Tyrol’s capital, Bolzano, offers plenty of vibrancy with lively streets, open-air food markets, bistros, pubs and shops all wrapped in old-world beauty. The dining scene in Bolzano teems with a rich culinary heritage. Some of the region’s most renowned chefs work in the kitchens of Bolzano. Even Hollywood celebrities have taken note. South Tyrol chefs like Manuel Astuto, head chef at the Parkhotel Laurin, have been flown around the world to cook at private affairs.
Even without eating, the city itself is a treat worth consuming. It revels in centuries of influences and offers a history rivaling Rome with the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. Within lies Ötzi the Iceman — an ancient warrior on display whose corpse was remarkably preserved in a South Tyrol glacier for more than 5,000 years. Read our post about visiting Bolzano to learn more about what there is to see and do in South Tyrol’s most cosmopolitan city.
6. Delicious Alpine Wine, Scenery & Culture
Since we touched on South Tyrol’s renowned cuisine, it’s only natural we tell you about its wines next. The wine gods have been blessedly kind to South Tyrol. But that hasn’t come without a lot of work.
Over the last 3,000 years, South Tyrol’s wine artisans perfected techniques to grow and tend to vines on steep slopes. The result? Scenery that is a living, breathing masterpiece. High elevation vineyards flow down sun-kissed mountainsides producing some of the highest regarded wines in the world.
Crisp, mineral-dominate whites such as Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are among the region’s most popular wines, but you’ll also discover heavenly reds such as Lagrein and Pinot Noir. In fact, Italy’s top three rated Pinot Noir wines come from Alto Adige (South Tyrol wine estates use the Italian name for the region on their wine labels).
The best way to get to know South Tyrol’s wines is by visiting its winemakers. Many of the region’s 150+ producers have tasting rooms in their cantinas allowing you to sip among some of the most enthralling architecture in the Alps. From modern, forward-looking structures to stately manors rooted in the past, these wineries impress from within the glass and without.
⇒ READ MORE: Divinely Alpine – Exploring the Wines of Elena Walch
Italy’s oldest wine road, the South Tyrolean Wine Road, leads you through 16 wine villages set along slopes draped with vines and valleys blanketed in apple orchards. South Tyrol is, in fact, Europe’s apple basket — more apples come from its fertile orchards than any other region. Every time we take the wine road the lovely sips and sights we encounter end up consuming our day.
If you’re a biking enthusiast, consider pedaling and sipping your way from wine village to wine village. With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, you won’t consider the ride just scenic, but heart-pounding spectacular.
In 2009, the Roma Wine Festival declared the South Tyrolean Wine Road the most beautiful of Italy’s 140 wine routes thanks to its perfect interplay of wine, scenery and culture.
If wine isn’t your beverage of choice when dining or unwinding, do not fret. South Tyrol has a craft brewing tradition that goes back more than 1,000 years. Alpine water fresh from mountain springs serves as the foundation for producing beers with distinct character and flavor. The perfect frosty partner to any meal or thirst-induced adventure.
A popular brewery we like to visit is Forst in Algund. Set in the shadow of a lush mountainside, Forst offers a variety of high-quality beers. You can kick back and sample them in the brewery’s restaurant or beer garden.
While Forst is the largest local brewer, you can also visit microbreweries such as Pfefferlechnerkeller (yes, that is the real name) in Lana or Gassl Bräu in Chiusa. Both produce remarkably tasty craft beers and offer a full menu of well-paired South Tyrolean dishes.
7. Mountains of Steepled History
The only structures sprouting from the South Tyrolean countryside more than castles are churches, chapels, monasteries and shrines. South Tyrol possesses an astonishing number of fascinating historic religious sites to explore and photograph. Faith here is celebrated in immensely grand ways as well as with the most subtle expressions.
Taking the time to discover and admire the unique architectural, artistic and historic importance of religion to South Tyrol through the centuries is one of the more rewarding activities we’ve enjoyed on our visits. The achievements of the artists, architects and masons from long ago amidst the lofty crags of South Tyrol’s mountains is nothing short of spectacular.
From sky-piercing spires to interiors flourishing with centuries-old frescoes and intricately crafted wood carvings, the beauty offered by South Tyrol’s largest cathedrals and its smallest chapels always instills a sense of wonder. Walking through them reveals remarkable attention to detail that never fails to mesmerize.
A historic treasure we recommend all to see is the Abbey of Novacella (also known as Neustift Monastery) near the edge of Brixen. This monastery astounds with architectural styles spanning centuries. The Baroque interior of its church will leave you breathless.
But perhaps the best part of visiting Novacella is that after studying all its glory you can sip its delightful wines. It is one of the oldest wineries in the world.
One of the qualities we find most endearing about South Tyrol is how for more than a thousand years the people of this area took care to harmonize spirituality with the natural surroundings. Wayside shrines have a rich history in South Tyrol. These tender creations abundantly appear along hiking paths with many also elegantly nestled in nooks throughout village neighborhoods.
On our treks, we’ve always found them an inviting surprise. They seem to welcome you out of nowhere — gracefully watching over all those who wander by.
A place for weary travelers to rest and pray, even the oldest shrines are still carefully attended to by local residents. The wide array of sizes, shapes and materials used to construct shrines touchingly showcases the talents and devotion of the community.
Many of these religious markers hold candles, rosaries, photographs and thoughtfully-crafted carvings. Quite often native flowers encircle a shrine intimately blending them in with the natural beauty of the landscape.
The Best Time to Visit South Tyrol
No matter the season you choose to visit, your time in South Tyrol will create fiercely enduring memories. The kind that will call you back. The busiest season is summer as tourists mainly from Germany, Italy and the U.K. arrive in large numbers. But winter is also plenty popular for the snow-bound adventurer. South Tyrol boasts 30 ski resorts with 750 miles of ski trails crisscrossing the land.
If you’re going to South Tyrol to hit the slopes, consider taking advantage of Dolomiti Superski. It gives you access to 12 ski areas all on one ski pass. There’s no better way to get your fix of snow-filled bliss, as well as your fill of gourmet food and exquisite Alpine wine.
While summer in South Tyrol is spectacular, we think the best time to visit is in the spring and fall. Specifically, late May and early June or September through October. You’ll have much more of the Alpine-Mediterranean wonderland to yourself. And you’ll still have nearly every opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors on foot or bike.
Plus, you’ll save money on your trip as prices tend to come down. Just be prepared for a bit more unpredictable weather if you’re venturing into the higher altitudes. Spring and late fall can still bring snowfall to the mountain peaks. You’ll also want to know the lift system operating dates if spending the bulk of your time in the Dolomites or plan to do high-altitude hikes elsewhere.
Wine lovers may find autumn most appealing as a number of festivals take place celebrating the season’s harvest. A must-have experience is Törggelen, a centuries-old tradition involving a hearty feast and sampling of the new wine.
Another reason to visit in autumn is to roam through vineyards and orchards flush with autumn colors not to mention ever enticing aromas. It’s an experience unlike any other.
If you visit during December you can treat yourself to a postcard-perfect setting for the holidays. Traditional Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt) abound this time of year, allowing you to discover an abundance of handmade creations that will take your holiday decorating to a whole new level.
How to Reach South Tyrol
Getting to South Tyrol, Italy is relatively easy even though the region does not have a major international airport. The closest major airport is located in Innsbruck, Austria an hour north of South Tyrol.
Nearby major cities where we’ve found the best airfare deals include Munich, Milan and Venice. From each of these cities, it takes under 3 hours to reach South Tyrol. Other major cities nearby include Salzburg (2.5 hours), Zurich (4 hours) and Verona (1.5 hours).
After landing you can make the trip to South Tyrol by car, train or shuttle bus. Regardless of your starting point, the journey is pleasant and scenic. We recommend renting a car. The freedom to hop around South Tyrol at your own pace is ideal.
It’s worth noting that parking in South Tyrol and navigating its roads and highways is fairly straightforward. And with today’s modern GPS units you can get step-by-step voice directions to take you anywhere without any hassle.
If you’re planning to rent a car be sure to check out our article on driving in Italy. It is full of helpful tips that will make sure you’re ready for stress-free driving in Italy.
If you prefer to use public transportation while in South Tyrol, you can pick up a Mobilcard at your hotel, transportation hubs or tourist offices. This affordable card provides quick access to South Tyrol’s stellar public bus and rail networks for 1, 3 or 7 consecutive days.
Begin Planning Your South Tyrol Adventure
The abundance of culture, activities and sights in South Tyrol runs as high as its summits. One could never cover it in a single blog post or even a lifetime of blog posts. However, it’s our hope as you explore Italy vacation ideas that you stamp South Tyrol on your travel wish list…preferably at the top. A hidden treasure of wows awaits you.
We developed our FREE South Tyrol Travel Resource Library to make planning your escape to South Tyrol easy. It’s jam-packed with:
- Insider Tips
- Planning Checklists
- How-to Guides
- Key Phrases to Know
- Transportation Options
- and Much More!
Our resources are based on personal experience and are designed to save you time and money to ensure a vacation of a lifetime in South Tyrol.
To discover more about South Tyrol, Italy and our adventures, follow us on your favorite social media channel at the bottom of this page. We live and breathe South Tyrol and you’ll find it shows in the stories we tell.
Through Throne & Vine, you’ll fall in love with the region and find the resources necessary to plan an unforgettable trip to Italy’s best-kept secret. We look forward to seeing you on the trails and poolside!
If you have a South Tyrolean adventure or tip you would like to share, please comment below. We’d love to hear from you!