How do you defend a castle? If you are a Tyrolean, you build another beneath it. For almost 800 years, Brunnenburg Castle (also known as Castel Fontana) has stood like a stone shield to the most prominent castle in northern Italy — Castle Tirol.
In 1250, the Counts of Tyrol commissioned the fortress as a defensive outpost. It was erected on a glacial crag downslope from Castle Tirol providing watchmen a focused eye deep into the valley openings of Merano and Vinschgau.
Despite Brunnenburg’s position below Castle Tirol, both in royal command and mountain clinging elevation, this warden of the north is not any less impressive. Its ivy-mantled tower bears stone teeth that bite into the sky conjuring a sight that is one part romance and one part menacing.
The castle isolated on its own is enough to strike fear into an invading army. But seeing it paired with the mother of all castles looming above must have been a sight that sent road-weary raiders racing back to their homelands. Sacking one castle is hard enough. Two? Forget about it.
Sanctuary for a Troubled Poet
Today, instead of inspiring fear, Brunnenburg is more likely to inspire a poem. And in fact, it has. The castle was once home to the literary heavyweight, Erza Pound. After his release from a mental institution in 1958, Pound joined his daughter and grandchildren at Brunnenburg.
He spent his time tending to the castle grounds and gardens while continuing to pen prose for The Cantos — an epic poem that is comprised of 116 sections known as a “canto”. Given its length and often abstract musicality, The Cantos is viewed by many as a chaotic piece of work. Perhaps the genius of a fragmented mind that like the vines scaling Brunnenburg can only be adored in their entirety.
Pound’s daughter purchased the castle with her spouse 10 years prior to his arrival. Together, they saved Brunnenburg from a second bout of ruin. The first occurring hundreds of years earlier and lasting until 1903 when a wealthy German named Karl Schwickert bought the castle.
Schwickert thoroughly renovated Brunnenburg fashioning the castle into a more romantic form that woos visitors to this day. Yet for all its trappings of fancy, the castle could not escape tragedy. Schwickert’s wife suspiciously fell to her death from one of the balconies in 1904. He remained in the castle until his death in 1925.
As Brunnenburg sat empty for more than 20 years, tales of hauntings arose as they tend to in soulless dwellings. Whether Pound ever encountered a ghost is not known. But by the reading of some of his poetry, one could say his mind was never far from hauntings of its own.
A Throne Amid the Vines
Fortunately, you do not have to possess a mind wired for poetry or a heart pumping royal blood to stroll through the halls and terraces of Brunnenburg. Visiting the castle is a pleasant walk downhill from the village of Dorf Tirol along the Falknerweg (Falconers’ Path).
By the way, this is the same path you take to visit Castle Tirol. Several points along the journey give you sweeping views of both castles with the snow-kissed peaks of the Texel mountain group photobombing it all in the background.
As you walk the path, you’ll notice a deep ravine dividing the two castles. Don’t worry. You don’t need to latch to a zip line to visit both. Look for a signpost directing to a path off-shooting to Brunnenburg. This winding treasure descends through terraced vineyards, orchards and patches of old growth forest. Be careful as you walk here. The fairytale scenery may just have you whistling an ode to a fair maiden or prince.
Another more adventurous way to reach the castle is by hiking up the mountainside from the Algunder Waalweg or Tappeiner Promenade. Despite being quite a bit more grueling, these two paths are our favorite way to reach Brunnenburg. When the castle’s crenelated walls appear seemingly out of nowhere above a steep vineyard, it is a sight that wins your heart as much as the seductive juice from the vines running up to its gate.
Reaching Brunnenburg by trekking the Tappeiner Promenade from the heart of Merano will make the most enchanting walk in Italy even more enthralling.
To visit the castle from either path, you will eventually depart the trails and walk on a road called Gnaidweg or Via Gnaid. This road will lead you to a rugged path known as Brunnenburgsteig. It leads you up through a forest along an irrigation channel flanked by a vineyard on your left and an orchard on your right. The passage through the forest is rather steep, but not dangerous.
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When to Visit Brunnenburg Castle
We have admired Brunnenburg Castle in spring, autumn and winter. Each season imparts its own beauty to the castle.
But we have found it the most enchanting in early October when grapes still grace the vines and autumn’s paintbrush is most alive. Hiking along the Brunnenburgsteig then is like opening gift basket of aromas.
Beyond visiting the castle for a dose of medieval whimsy, it can also whisk you on a cultural odyssey. Brunnenburg is home to the South Tyrolean Agricultural Museum and Erza Pound Memorial Center. The museum displays age-old equipment that speaks to the traditional methods of South Tyrolean winemakers and farmers once used to cultivate a season’s harvest.
In addition to the museum, you can appreciate a collection of historical folk art and a variety of domesticated farm animals trotting outside the castle including goats, sheep, pigs, chickens and geese. Grazing in such a heavenly place makes being a farm animal in South Tyrol look rather posh.
Brunnenburg Castle is open for visitors from early April through October. Doors open at 10:00 am and close at 5 pm from Sunday-Thursday.
For those driving in South Tyrol, we recommend parking in the center of Dorf Tirol and walking to the castle from the village.
If you visit Brunnenburg and walk away with a poem, be sure to add it in the comments below. You may find yourself being a poet without ever knowing it.