Are you longing to explore the sunny side of the Alps? In case you haven’t heard, South Tyrol is beyond a doubt Italy’s best-kept secret. This Alpine-Mediterranean jewel crowning the far north teems with more fascinating cultural diversity and contrasting natural beauty than anywhere else in Europe.
If you’re one of the lucky few jetting off to this hidden gem, you’ve come to the right place. Below are 12 things to know before visiting South Tyrol (with plenty more travel tips tucked in).
1. Buongiorno or Guten Morgen?
If you’re in the early stages of planning a visit to South Tyrol, you may be wondering why there is a German phrase in an article about a region in Italy.
Nearly 70% of South Tyroleans speak German as their first language while 25% speak Italian and 5% speak Ladin. The result of this linguistic plate of spaghetti is that you’ll encounter road signs, menus and more featuring both German and Italian.
Additionally, you’ll see and hear an ancient language called Ladin while venturing through the Dolomites. As an example:
- St. Ulrich (German)
- Ortisei (Italian)
- Urtijëi (Ladin)
All are the name of the same town. Signs posted in the Dolomites feature all three languages.
Sound confusing? It’s not if you prepare a bit before arriving.
While you really don’t need to know much German or Italian to enjoy your visit in South Tyrol, you’ll get more out of your trip if you familiarize yourself with keywords and phrases. Most locals are bilingual so they will appreciate you making the effort. We recommend picking the language that comes easiest to you and sticking to it throughout your trip. This will simplify everything from navigating roadways to ordering “vino” or “wein”.
2. Adventure in South Tyrol is Tailor-Made For You
We’ve spoken with several travelers wishing to vacation in South Tyrol, but worry the lofty beauty of the Alps and Dolomites is beyond their reach given their older age or fitness level. Nothing could be further from the truth.
South Tyrol ingeniously makes its breathtaking scenery available to everyone. Thanks to state-of-the-art lift systems set across the region, the young and old, skilled and unskilled, can partake in a multitude of activities among the peaks in every season. The degree of heart-pounding adventure is up to you. And with nearly 10,000 miles of trails, you will not run out of places to roam. Maximize your time on the mountains. Take advantage of the lifts whenever you can.
Not all travelers like the idea of a cable car swiftly whisking them up several thousand feet. If that’s you, don’t despair. In many areas, you can hop in a funicular to carry you up and down the mountainside without ever leaving the Earth.
For those worried about possibly becoming lost trekking in the vast mountainous landscapes. Don’t be. South Tyrol even takes care of that for you. Maps are readily available in tourist offices and near trailheads. Furthermore, trails are clearly marked with abundant signposts directing your next step. We have never had any kind of issue finding a destination, but before venturing into South Tyrol’s vast wilderness you should clearly understand how to properly read trail signage.
⇒ LEARN MORE: Understanding South Tyrol Trail Signs & Markers
We have had cell phone reception in most places, but do not count on it in the remote mountainous areas. That said, we strongly recommend only pulling out your phone for the occasional photo. A holiday outing in South Tyrol is a time to reconnect with nature. Office emails can wait.
3. Hike the Waalwegs & Promenades
When visiting South Tyrol, you could easily spend all of your time in the heights of the Dolomites, but the natural splendor South Tyrol offers goes well beyond the famous jutting peaks. Wandering along South Tyrol’s Waalwegs is a must. We adore hiking these paths. They follow ancient water channels that gently ease up the Alps through countless orchards, vineyards, forests and meadows.
While meandering, you’ll enjoy the melody of snow-born water flowing at your feet and encounter crumbling castles, wayside shrines, quaint churches and farms and every other storybook scene you can imagine. Waalwegs offer the ideal way to immerse yourself in South Tyrol’s colliding Alpine and Mediterranean landscapes. You can find them throughout the mountains and valleys around Merano and the Venosta/Vinschgau region.
South Tyrol also possesses some of the most beautiful promenades in all of Italy. A few of our favorites are located in Merano and Bolzano. They expose walkers to an indelible blend of natural beauty and architectural marvels dating to the Middle Ages and beyond.
⇒ READ MORE: The Most Enchanting Walk in Italy
4. Sip Wines of the Alpine Kind
South Tyrol, known by many as the “land of wines”, could also be known for elevating winemaking into an art form. Over the last 3,000 years, South Tyrol’s wine artisans perfected practices to help vines flourish on the mountainsides. Arbored vineyards now tumble along sun-kissed slopes producing award-winning wine and scenery ripe for a Monet masterpiece.
While you should no doubt indulge in the well-known classics of this region such as Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, broaden your wine horizons by uncorking lesser known Alpine wines native to South Tyrol. This includes Lagrein, Vernatsch (also commonly referred to as Schiava) and Gewürztraminer.
Gewürztraminer, originally from Tramin, a sleepy wine village in southern South Tyrol, is an aromatic and expressive white wine unlike any other. Be sure to try a glass or bottle of Gewürztraminer from the “Queen of Gewürztraminer”, Elena Walch. It is one you will remember.
Another white you may not be familiar with, but you should definitely seek out while visiting South Tyrol is Pinot Bianco (also known as Weissburgunder). A close relative to Pinot Grigio, South Tyrol (Alto Adige if you prefer the official Italian designation for the region) produces the best Pinot Bianco in the world. You can read more about our encounter with this delightful wine during our visit at Nals Margreid Winery.
If you’re like us and are looking to do more than simply sip wine with your meals, make sure to schedule the time to venture along the South Tyrolean Wine Road. This picturesque road winds through several wine villages where you can embark on tastings at some of the finest wineries in the world.
⇒ READ ABOUT OUR STAY ALONG THE WINE ROAD: Romancing the Vine at Donà Winery
5. If You Want to Explore Freely…Rent a Car
South Tyrol’s public transportation system is affordable and world class. Buses and trains can take you throughout much of South Tyrol. During South Tyrol’s busiest seasons public transit is the most convenient way to travel not mention budget and eco-friendly. However, if your heart is set on freely exploring South Tyrol, we recommend renting a car. This allows you to discover the countryside at your own pace and explore off-the-beaten-path gems others miss.
Navigating the roads in South Tyrol 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.
Driving in the Alps and Dolomites for those not used to mountain roads may seem scary at first thought. But thanks to South Tyrol’s safety-focused roadway designs, one can become comfortable with mountain driving rather quickly. The mountain roads will naturally require greater concentration; however, several waysides exist along the roads allowing you to pull over to take a break or let others pass.
Anyone with a bit of common sense and some pre-trip planning can easily handle Italian roads. To help out, we put together Driving in Italy Cheatsheets you can quickly reference while on Italy’s roadways.
6. Embrace the Alpine Wellness Culture
One of the more alluring aspects of South Tyrol is how it mends the mind, body and soul. The immense natural beauty, joyful celebration of cultural traditions and Alpine lifestyle invites you to slow down and soak in your immediate surroundings.
Embrace this invitation. You will not regret it. We’ve always found South Tyrol’s slow travel and slow food appeal hard to resist even when we’re pining for the view over the next mountain top.
South Tyrol is a haven for health and fitness enthusiasts. Beautiful spas and resorts, both rustic and contemporary in style, dot the landscape allowing you to reap the benefits of Alpine wellness.
If staying at a spa and resort is not your speed or in your budget, you can still take advantage of South Tyrol’s curative powers at places such as Terme Merano.
Additionally, South Tyrol offers an experience unlike anywhere else with its farm stays. More than 1,600 farms, under the ‘Red Rooster’ seal of quality, allow you to connect with rural life in South Tyrol. You can stay in charming guest houses and partake in the joyful rigors of farming or simply sit back and admire the idyllic scenery from your balcony.
Few things do more to restore your wellbeing than waking up at an Alpine farm to the distant clang of cowbells and church bells echoing across a mountain valley.
7. Farm to Table is a Way of Life Not a Movement
With more castles than any other part of Europe, South Tyrol undoubtedly draws from centuries of serving royalty to wow travelers at the table. In fact, the region is the culinary star of Italy — possessing more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other part of the country.
South Tyrol’s delicious blend of Tyrolean, German and Italian cultures, launches you on a delectable dining journey brimming with tradition and creativity. Much of South Tyrol’s cuisine is strongly rooted in a farm-to-table custom thanks to the predominance of small scale farms throughout the region. It’s not uncommon for a South Tyrolean to personally know the farm behind her every meal.
With each bite and sip you take in South Tyrol it’s clear they cherish high quality over high quantity. This culinary edict is born from a deep cultural connection to the land and old traditions. South Tyrolean farmers symbolize the unbreakable bond to the past by adorning a traditional blue apron as they work.
A vacation in South Tyrol is not complete without devouring hearty Alpine culinary delights like smoked speck and dumplings, called canederli or knödel. Combined they make a savory dish known as speckknödel, which is also served as a soup.
Speck is one of South Tyrol’s most revered foods and is integral to countless Alpine recipes, not to mention one of our favorite companions to pizza. Not familiar with speck? It is a smoked, cured ham born from blending traditional Northern European smoking methods with the outdoor curing practices of the Mediterranean. We enjoy speck with breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between.
Of course, no one should visit South Tyrol without satisfying their sweet tooth. A tasty dessert you’ll come to crave is Buchteln — a traditional South Tyrolean marmalade-filled pastry served in vanilla cream.
Since we are on the topic of sweets, another delight you must try from South Tyrol is the crisp wafers and snacks from Loacker.
Founded in 1925 in Bolzano, Loacker’s mountain-size goodness isn’t a surprise considering the Dolomites sit in their backyard. Their products honor classic family traditions using only the best natural ingredients without any artificial colors or flavors. Adding some Loacker goodies to your backpack before hitting a trail is always a sweet move.
Want to try them before visiting South Tyrol? You’re in luck. Go to the Loacker website to find out where they are sold near you.
Numerous farmers’ markets take place throughout South Tyrol offering the ideal introduction to local specialties. Take the time to browse these markets. You’ll discover a variety of homemade breads and rolls, fragrant herbs, honeys, jams, as well as exceptional Alpine craftsmanship with unique items such as hand-woven baskets, wood carvings, traditional attire, religious artifacts and holiday decor.
Beyond the streetside markets, plan to visit a Pur Südtirol store. With locations in Bolzano, Merano, Brunico and Lana, these stores showcase a treasure trove of South Tyrolean goods. Inside you can browse more than 1,800 products from local farms.
8. South Tyrol is Europe’s Apple Basket
Any discussion about the wonders of South Tyrol without mentioning apples would be reckless. They are everywhere. The delicious fruit has been grown in South Tyrol for more than 1,300 years. Today, more apples come from South Tyrol than any other region in Europe. They are celebrated for their intense flavors and colors.
Rambling through South Tyrol’s apple orchards is an aromatic journey filled with scenery made to steal your breath. You’ll be tempted to steal a bite too, but keep your hands to yourself. You can visit any market to load up the deliciousness the apple trees drop to the valley floor.
While you’re in South Tyrol make sure to pour yourself a glass of the region’s apple juice (called apfelsaft). The smooth sweetness it imparts on your lips will call to you long after you’ve left. It is a worthy alternative to wine any day.
Another apple-born gem you must try is traditional apple strudel (apfelstrudel). South Tyroleans typically enjoy this treat in the afternoon or after dinner as a dessert. However, we enjoy it whenever we can get our hands on it.
9. Venture Beyond the Vino
While it will be tempting to complement all your meals with South Tyrolean wine, we’d be doing you a disservice if we didn’t tell you about South Tyrol’s milk. It is the Alpine nectar of the gods. Another must-try while visiting South Tyrol. If you’re not wowed after your first sip, modern life may have permanently dulled your taste buds.
Of course when the milk is out of this world, it’s only natural that the cheese would follow suit. With over 200 varieties to savor, here’s a list of celebrated South Tyrol cheeses to get you started.
Be sure to order a Hugo cocktail while relaxing on the slopes of South Tyrol. This world-famous drink was invented by a South Tyrolean in Naturns. It is a refreshing must-sip no matter when you visit.
Those looking for a libation that packs a bit more punch than wine or a cocktail should definitely order a spirit called “Grappa”. Distilleries in South Tyrol produce grappa from the pomace of grapes (stems, skins, etc. left over after pressing). Many South Tyroleans enjoy grappa after meals to promote digestion. A dash of it is also commonly added to espressos.
When it comes to quenching your thirst after a grueling outdoor excursion, the precious water from South Tyrol’s pristine mountain springs is a godsend. We consider it the best in the world.
Before heading out on hikes, we fill up our water bottles with water from Plose or Meraner Minerlwasser. The purity of South Tyrol’s water elevates the sensation of refreshing to a new level. If you forget to add a bottle to your backpack, you can order the water at any of the mountain huts along the trails.
10. A Sun-Drenched Paradise with Mountain-size Mood Swings
South Tyrol bathes in 300 days of sunshine per year. All that heavenly light bestows on travelers an Alpine-Mediterranean oasis ripe for adventure and relaxation.
But even with its sunny disposition, South Tyrol’s weather can be a bit unpredictable. This should be no surprise considering majestic Alpine peaks punctuate nearly every corner. Travelers simply need to be mindful of this when embarking on outdoor adventures. It’s best to pack rain gear or snow gear depending on when you’re visiting. Rain can occur anytime during the spring, summer and fall. Snow is less predictable. However, if you are visiting anytime from October through May there’s a chance you’ll be encountering old man winter.
We were once caught in a spring rainstorm while hiking along a Waalweg. When we set out on the trail, it was a picture perfect day with just a few clouds lingering above us. Two hours later that all changed. The rain came out of nowhere. An ungodly amount of it. We were forced to sprint for 15 minutes to a hut set off the trail.
Fortunately, the host at the hut removed the chill from our bones with ample amounts of Schnapps. That, of course, led to another unanticipated adventure: hiking back to the trailhead on liquor-challenged legs.
Much of South Tyrol’s beauty stems from opposing forces of nature. It’s important to wear the proper gear and be mindful of weather conditions as we noted above. That means hiking in sandals isn’t wise and venturing onto questionable cliffs or unmarked areas is just plain stupid. You don’t need to risk injury or your life to capture that next rock star Instagram photo.
Our South Tyrol Resource Library includes a hiking checklist that helps ensure you stay safe while consuming South Tyrol’s great outdoors. At a minimum, we recommend tossing an umbrella in your backpack when visiting in the spring, summer and fall. We genuinely want you to have the adventure of a lifetime and that means using common sense and respecting nature.
11. Matters of Money
The currency in South Tyrol is the Euro. We recommend obtaining Euros from an ATM (called Bancomat) or bank when in Italy. ATMs are abundant. Even in South Tyrol’s most quaint villages. The majority of shops, restaurants and hotels accept ATM cards and credit cards. Don’t bother exchanging your cash at an exchange booth in an airport as you will not receive the best deal.
If you’re ever not clear on the true cost of an item when looking at its price, download a money converting app onto your smartphone. There are plenty of free ones in your app store.
South Tyrol is incredibly credit card friendly. In most cases, you can get by at all times by using a credit card with a chip. However, we recommend carrying some cash as it’s much easier when making a purchase at a street or trailside food stand or at any of the many open-air markets you’ll no doubt want to explore.
If you’re visiting during the holiday season, bring cash to South Tyrol’s Christmas markets. None of the stalls accept credit cards from our experience.
When selecting a credit card for your trip be sure to understand if it charges international transaction fees. We recommend using a card that doesn’t charge any, but you may have a card that offers other perks which outweigh any fees incurred while visiting South Tyrol.
Since we’re talking about money you may be wondering how expensive it is to visit South Tyrol. The region is surprisingly affordable. Prices are only slightly higher than Italy on average. You can find a wealth of accommodations fitting a wide range of budgets and tastes. If you want to save money easily, simply stay off-the-beaten-path in the less touristy areas.
Tipping is not expected in South Tyrol; however, it is common to round up the bill if you had a pleasant experience.
12. South Tyrol’s 5th Season
Since we’re talking about nature, let’s discuss seasons. South Tyrol has five of them. All are immeasurably enjoyable in their own way, but there is one that stands apart from the others: Törggelen. Törggelen is an age-old tradition that celebrates South Tyrol’s wine harvest. It begins in October and ends around the start of the Christmas season.
During Törggelen, South Tyrol’s farmers introduce their new wines. These festive celebrations include pairings with roasted chestnuts and traditional South Tyrolean dishes. And best of all, live music inspires a jovial atmosphere that is as infectious as the wine being poured.
If you can time your South Tyrol vacation during Törggelen, you’ll get to experience a historic cultural treasure that rivals the scenery around you. Hotels and inns book up fast during the Törggelen season so be sure to secure your accommodations well in advance.
A Land So Fiercely Enchanting You’ll Be Back
The final thing we’d like to share with you is a friendly word of caution. After visiting South Tyrol, you may just fall in love. Hard. South Tyrol is a place where the land, the people and their passions capture your heart. Forever.
If you’re like us, you may toss out your travel wish list and put South Tyrol at the center of all your adventures.
Don’t fret trying to see all of South Tyrol during your visit. You won’t be able to. Pick 2 to 3 main areas to explore and trust that you will be back.
Creating a list of things to see and do while vacationing in South Tyrol could swallow up all the pages on the Internet, but we hope the insight above helps you embark on an unforgettable trip. Subscribe to our email updates and follow us on social media to discover more of the wonders of South Tyrol.
If you have any questions on something we didn’t cover, please leave them in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our free South Tyrol Travel Resource Library. Inside you’ll find useful tips and checklists to help save time and money while you plan your escape to South Tyrol.
Ensure a Positively Awesome Trip to South Tyrol
Finally, if you have crafted a South Tyrol itinerary, but are not positive it’s the best it could be, we can help. We know how overwhelming it is to make an itinerary with second- and third-hand sources.
If you’re concerned about missing key destinations, experiences and hidden gems, our itinerary review service will better align your interests and smooth out logistics to maximize your time and money during your travels in South Tyrol. Click here to learn more about our South Tyrol Itinerary Review Service.