Every trip to South Tyrol should include a wild excursion into its storied past. We share why the mountain-enthroned Trostburg Castle is one historic haunt not to miss.
IN A LAND teeming with more castles than anywhere else in Europe, it’s impossible not to wonder what the world was like when ruled from a throne. Especially when sweat begins beading on your forehead only 5 minutes into a grueling climb to one of South Tyrol’s most imposing mountainside fortresses.
The stone shackled road leading to Trostburg Castle snakes up from the village of Ponte Gardena (Waidbruck) in the lower Valle Isarco (Eisack Valley). It’s only a 15-minute hike, but the trudge to this mighty haunt of medieval prowess gives you real appreciation for how people ages ago managed buns of steel without cheesy workout videos.
By the time you reach the entrance of Trostburg Castle, you nearly expect to be greeted by a knight named Sir Gluteus Maximus. Instead, what does greet you is pure awe. The utter grandness of the fortress up close is as breathtaking as the hike that leads you here.
Of Wildflowers & Cobblestones
Looking up from the trailhead in Ponte Gardena, it’s tempting to become transfixed on reaching Trostburg Castle as quickly as possible. This is a mistake. The hike to the fortress is a gem all its own.
The old castle road inspiring you onward gifts hikers numerous swoon-worthy sights. You wander pass Alpine meadows painted by the season, as well as through shade-friendly forests dotted with benches offering a chance for a contemplative rest.
At the bends of the sloping road, sweeping vistas materialize before you like theater curtains parting for a show. Pausing to inhale the views of the roaring Isarco River below are all you need to press on.
Of course, if you are a photography enthusiast, these viewpoints are where you can do much more than take a brief break. The number of opportunities to capture Trostburg Castle framed in romance is countless. In fact, you may find this trek one of the most rewarding short adventures in South Tyrol.
Farm lovers are equally thrilled with the journey to Trostburg. Lying above the village of Ponte Gardena, directly off the castle road, is a charming farmstead that poetically illustrates the meaning of quaint.
Here, you can make some new friends of the hoofed kind while whistling by. The panorama these animals enjoy might even make you wonder if being a jackass in South Tyrol isn’t such a bad thing.
As you continue hiking up the road, the imposing mystery of Trostburg Castle becomes less mysterious. A sign posted on the roadside tells the story of the stronghold. It is written in German, Italian and English.
The Tale of Mountainside Empire
Trostburg Castle began towering over the Valle Isarco in the 12th century. Its building blocks were born from the boulders left behind by ancient glaciers and rivers once ravaging the land.
Exactly how long it took medieval masons to chisel these stones into castle-ready form, lift to lofty heights and mortar them into eternal rest on the mountain is not known.
Trostburg Castle exchanged overlords multiple times over the centuries. However, its most famous resident was Oswald von Wolkenstein — a beloved medieval poet and composer who penned odes about travel, sex and God long before Led Zeppelin did.
Trostburg was purportedly Oswald’s childhood home. Why he left such a majestic residence is beyond us, but Oswald eventually lodged his poetic soul at the Abbey of Novacella, an ancient monastery in Brixen that is today one of the oldest wineries in the world.
The castle served as the ancestral seat of the Wolkenstein family for nearly 600 years. Prior to their possession, Trostburg belonged to many prominent nobles including the Lords of Velturno, the Counts of Tyrol and the Lords of Villanders.
Roaming the Castle Grounds
Upon reaching Trostburg Castle, we suggest walking about its grounds to see the fortress in all its grandeur. Admiring the castle from multiple vantage points allows you to peer into the past.
The aged stonework tells of the castle’s modifications, additions and fortifications over the centuries. Portions of Trostburg’s walls appear gray like an overcast sky while others seem burned by sun with tints of gold and red.
Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance architectural contours and details are visible with every step as you wander by the stronghold itself and the other structures forging the castle complex. Indeed, the only sights you may encounter betraying the castle’s glorious past are the occasional tourist snapping a selfie or an automobile racing on a road in the valley far below.
Behind the Walls of Trostburg Castle
In classic castle fashion, entering Trostburg Castle demands walking through a massive arched door that makes you wonder if only the hand of God can open it.
Once inside the castle, you can marvel at faded frescoes gracing its courtyard walls. They appear almost graffitti-like in their randomness and subject matter.
Walking through the castle’s historic rooms and halls is where you can truly get lost in the craftsmanship of centuries past. They display artifacts and works of art spanning nearly a millennia.
The castle chapel of St. Anthony is curiously small and depicts moody religious scenes on its ceiling that are intriguing to ponder.
If you are a hunter, plan to linger in the castle’s large guest chamber. Here, murals showcasing hunting motifs impart clues to what a medieval hunt must have been like.
Especially impressive in the castle is the wood clad walls and ceilings. These rustic adornments display elaborate details that compel you to strain your neck in study. The rich stucco art in the grand Knight’s Hall leaves you wishing royalty was in your blood.
A castle artifact we found particularly mind-blowing was the immense medieval wine press located in the castle tower. When we first saw the wine press we thought it to be a crude torture concoction meant to contort wretched souls in the most medieval way.
Alas, we were relieved to learn its only victims were plucked grapes. Torturing fruit to give up its sweetness for South Tyrolean wine is fine by us. The wine press is the largest in South Tyrol and employs a 36-foot long wood pressing level. This mass of lumber projects like a missile across the castle tower.
In addition to being home to a number of nobles over the centuries, Trostburg Castle is also the official home to the South Tyrolean Institute of Castles (Südtiroler Burgeninstitut). A section of the castle is dedicated to hosting the South Tyrolean Museum of Castles. Here, you can study remarkable creations of true-to-scale models of 86 South Tyrolean castles.
How to Visit Trostburg Castle
Fitting in a visit to Trostburg Castle is easy to do on your way into or out of Val Gardena. It’s impossible to miss looming above the A22 Autostrada.
If you are driving from Bolzano or Brixen, take the Val Gardena exit and head to Ponte Gardena. You will find plenty of public parking available near the castle trailhead in the heart of the village.
However, if you’re venturing into the Dolomites for a winter excursion, you will have to skip Trostburg. The castle is only open from the end of March to the end of October.
From your parking spot, follow signs pointing to Trostburg Castle. Take trail no. 1 as show in the picture below.
Admission to Trostburg Castle is very reasonable: €8 for adults, €5 for kids from 6 to 14 years old and free for youngsters 6 years old and under. But the smart way to visit the castle, as well as a host of other sights in South Tyrol, is to obtain the Museumobil card. The card is €15-€34 depending on the duration of your stay and age. It gives you free access to 90+ museums and historical sights.
If you have worked up a thirst or appetite Trostburg Castle, consider making a 15-minute drive to the artist village of Chiusa (Klausen) located across the Isarco River. Tucked within this postcard-pretty town is one of South Tyrol’s finest craft breweries and taverns: Gassl Bräu.
Here, you can enjoy a hearty South Tyrolean meal or Italian fare if you prefer. We chose both and they each made our mouths sing with praise.
But no visit to Gassl Bräu’s is complete without drinking a pint of Gassl Bräu’s beer — a fine, frosty reflection of South Tyrol’s centuries-old brewing tradition. Before ordering one too many, though, be sure to walk into the tavern’s brewery. It’s a slightly surreal experience. A glass floor lays beneath your feet revealing a rushing stream with trout darting back and forth.
Whether you dine or simply savor a refreshment, the street-side tables at Gassl Bräu’s offer the idyllic medieval setting to plan a hike to another historic wonder. Allow us to suggest the Sabiona Monastery.
This striking destination clings to a clifftop high above the village. See our post for details on how to get there. #MakeAdventureHappen 😍