How does one find the most enchanting walk in Italy — a country blessed from mountain to sea with so much rich history and natural splendor you could wander a lifetime and never cover it all? It starts with a glass of wine. What good story doesn’t really?
Our Italian vacation began in Milan with us wandering over the course of a week through Venice and Verona until arriving for our final chapter in South Tyrol. Venice and Verona were postcard perfect, but we didn’t develop a serious case of jaw-dropping wonder until rolling into Italy’s best kept secret.
As we drove north, South Tyrol’s dramatic Alpine scenery unfolded into lush blessings of vineyards and orchards flourishing among towering castles, Gothic spires, Roman ruins and the wooing Italian sun.
Vino with a View
A late afternoon mist welcomed our arrival at Hotel Partaneshof. The sight of the hotel did not disappoint. Its chalet-style design charmed us immediately. The hotel’s rich wooden adornments warmly complemented its setting among terraced grape vines tumbling into an orchard. We were smitten.
Located just north of Merano’s medieval center, the hotel offers an ample dose of seclusion with the town’s vibrancy just a short jaunt away. A perfect respite for us after mingling among the pulsating crowds of Venice and Verona.
We checked in and ordered a bottle of wine from the Partaneshof cellar. After hustling a better part of the day, unwinding with a South Tyrolean vino was too enticing to pass up. Our room came with a balcony facing a wide open view of the Texel Mountains and valley. We lounged back in chairs and savored the view over a glass of white wine. If there was better place to sit and ponder how we were going spend the following day, we didn’t care. The Partaneshof was was too perfect.
Prior to coming, we had read about Merano’s Tappeiner Promenade — a popular 2.5 mile path offering expansive views of Merano and beyond. The reviews touted it as a walk not to miss. By the pictures shared, we agreed. A long walk in the morning along the promenade sounded good to us both.
With our Merano itinerary made, we sat in silence watching the burning embers of dusk magically light the mountain crests. Our wine bottle went dry. Did we order another? You better believe it.
We had no idea where to find the Tappeiner Promenade so we spoke with Mrs. Ladurner at the front desk. Her family has operated the Partaneshof for 14 generations.
She ran her finger across a map showing the promenade running above Merano along the slope of the Küchelberg mountain to the village of Gratsch. Little did we know it was several hundred feet above our hotel.
The map designated multiple places to enter the promenade. Mrs. Ladurner encouraged us to hop on from the southern side of town by roaming the Winter Promenade and crossing the Passer River. From there, Merano’s Summer Promenade connects to the Gilf Promenade and then Tappeiner. Taking this route would allow us to see more than one promenade with the option to venture on various walks beyond.
Merano By Morning Light
The walk into Merano wound through a quiet tree-lined residential neighborhood. Within 15 minutes we met its historical center and crossed over Laubengasse (Via Portici), an arcaded street dotted with shops and quaint cafes, noting to stroll down its cobbled stone goodness later.
Soon we were near the banks of the Passer River meandering down the Winter Promenade. This walkway is popular at all times of year, but is especially delightful in the winter when its sunny exposure washes away the chill. It carried us past rows of palm trees crowning flower beds, bustling riverside cafes and Merano’s celebrated Kurhaus — an Art Nouveau masterpiece from the 1800s that now hosts concerts.
Just beyond, we found two massive antique ivory light posts supported by an elaborate base with the South Tyrolean eagle emblazoned in shimmering tiles of crimson and gold. This is the entrance to the Ponte della Posta, an elegant bridge with a wrought iron balustrade beautified by sunlit fleur de lis and grape vine motifs.
We crossed over the bridge and saw the Summer Promenade beginning to our left. But the curiously austere exterior of the 14th century Gothic Church of Santo Spirito next to it lured us in for a quick visit. Inside a solemn silence welcomed us. We were alone. Three dimly lit naves revealed masterful wood carvings and frescoes reverently conceived more than 700 years ago. These precious historical treasures lit by candle flame hauntingly held our eyes. Such places have an alluring energy — where past and present harmonize in a timeless stillness.
Following in the Footsteps of an Empress
Leaving the church we re-awoke to the liveliness of the morning and found Elisabeth Park where Merano’s Summer Promenade begins. The park is named after Empress Elisabeth of Austria also affectionately known as “Sissi”. She was the Princess Diana of her time; a beloved royal member in the 19th century with a rare independent spirit rivaled by even rarer natural beauty.
Sissi frequently visited Merano to unwind. Her devotion to wellness and beauty helped establish the town as a destination for rejuvenation and relaxation. A pioneer in maintaining a fit lifestyle and a youthful appearance she once remarked: “Children are the curse of a woman, for when they come, they drive away beauty, which is the best gift of the gods”.
Embarking on long strolls around Merano was a favorite activity of Sissi’s. Thus it’s fitting a remarkable marble statue of her graces a park along Italy’s most enchanting walk. Quite often we have seen Merano roses placed within her hands by an unknown admirer.
While the Winter Promenade bathed us in heavenly sunlight the Summer Promenade’s towering sequoia, cedar, pine and poplar trees blessed us with shade. We followed the promenade deeper into the tree cover. Here, nature bestowed on us a bedazzling light show as the sun’s rays danced through the leafy canopy above. Walking along, the path gently sloped closer to the rushing river splashing soothing notes to various birds lost in song.
A Bridge Back in Time
The Summer Promenade is not very long and we were soon at the foot of a sweeping stone arched footbridge called the Ponte Romano (Steinerner Steg in German, which means Stony Plank). It’s the oldest bridge spanning the Passer.
Antiquity rang as we moved on. We were treading upon historic ground…well actually stone. The Ponte Romano has ushered travelers safely over thundering waters for more than 400 years. By the looks of the mighty stonework, it will do so for at least 400 more.
We ambled on the bridge stopping midway to admire the river roaring underneath. On the right side a medieval spire rose from a rocky spur jutting above the river’s Gilf Gorge. Built in Roman times, the Zenoburg Castle served as a strategic fortification to control entry to the region. It later became one of the first residences of the Lords of Tyrol before falling into ruin.
The castle has been partially restored and is now privately owned. But don’t fret. With 800 castles in South Tyrol, finding another throne to claim is not difficult.
Awash in Lushness
The Gilf Promenade begins after stepping off the bridge. Unlike the Winter and Summer promenades, much of the Gilf Promenade carves upward. Once on the cliff of the gorge, we stepped into another world. The lushness around us was like an open-air conservatory.