Few things capture the imagination like an imposing medieval castle towering from an even more imposing mountainside. South Tyrol, Italy has no shortage of them. The region swells with around 800 castles and mansions spread over a variety of landscapes — more than any other area of Europe.
Surrounded by vineyards, orchards, forests and hiking trails, South Tyrol’s castles provide a truly breathtaking way to plunge yourself into the Middle Ages. You don’t have to be a kid at heart or a fanatic of Games of Thrones to find these fortresses fascinating. Here are some celebrated South Tyrolean medieval haunts you’ll want to visit.
Perhaps the most important castle in South Tyrol, Castle Tirol rises over a deep ravine in Dorf Tirol and lends its name to the entire region. From its ramparts, you’ll cast your eyes over stunning panoramic views of blooming apple orchards, terraced vineyards and the rich greenery of the Etschtal valley.
Built in the 1100s, Castle Tirol was home to the Counts of Tyrol and wielded enough influence throughout Euorpe to earn ink in Dante’s Inferno in the 14th century.
The Tappeiner Promenade, Algunder Waalweg (a path along an ancient water channel) and Falconers’ Path (Falkernrweg) provide an unforgettable trek to and around the castle presenting plenty of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities. Plus, there is a perfectly positioned beer garden near by to stop in and soak in the view with some suds.
The castle is the perfect place to get a feel for the history of South Tyrol as it also contains the South Tyrolean Museum of History.
Castle Taufers attracts around 75,000 visitors annually and is one of the largest castles in South Tyrol. Glancing up at its brooding stone walls, it’s hard not to conjure up thoughts of Ned Stark boldly commanding from the castle’s throne room. Fortunately, you don’t have to be on the set of Game of Thrones to walk through its knightly halls.
Castle Taufers was residence to some of South Tyrol’s most powerful aristocrats of the 13th century. History abounds within. The castle includes a torture chamber, exhibit on WWI and a Romanesque chapel with striking frescoes.
Walking along an ancient water channel carved into the steep mountainside it’s easy to lose your breath when you round a corner and spot Castle Lebenberg vigilantly standing guard over the valley below. The Lords of Marlengo constructed this elegant fortress in the 13th century.
Its three-story chapel showcases celebrated frescoes from the 14th century and the castle has a Hall of Mirrors and Hall of Knights that is complete with a collection of medieval weapons worth marveling at. You can also explore an ornate French flower garden and inner courtyards straight out of a fable.
Erected more than 800 years ago, the Prösels Castle is a magnificent fortress with a haunting history. The castle sits in the shadow of Schlern mountain and in the 16th century was the site of witch trials, which resulted in the burning of dozens of women at the stake.
Despite its tragic past, the castle now serves as a place of celebration hosting many events and concerts. Its stark beauty against the rolling countryside leaves an impression you will not be quit to forget no matter the season you visit.
As much as Castle Taufers looks it belongs in Game of Thrones, it’s Churburg Castle that could be the inspiration for the swords, lances and armor of Westeros. For the last 500 years, Churburg Castle has remained within the same family and holds the largest collection of medieval armor in the world.
With 50 authentic suits of armor and accompanying weapons, one can only imagine the intense battles that were once fought to keep its arcaded courtyard with its two stories of frescoes fully-protected and remarkably-preserved to this day. The Churburg Castle is a feast for those drawn to the military history of Europe.
Wander the Medieval Heart of Europe
With 800 plus castles to pick from on any given visit to South Tyrol, you’ll have no problem going full medieval while enjoying this historic countryside.
But a word of caution to those that favor the couch over a trail. Getting to many of these magnificent structures can be a challenging walk up steep trails and cobblestone paths. By the time you get to the top you’ll know if you were cut out to be a knight. But worry not. The view from a mountain-born castle always quickly washes away any memory of the hike up. Always.
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