In a land with more castles scattered before you 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 steep climb to one of South Tyrol’s most imposing mountainside fortresses.
The cobbled road leading to Trostburg Castle snakes up from the village of Ponte Gardena (Waidbruck in German) in the lower Valle Isarco (Eisack Valley). Trekking to this medieval gem gives you new appreciation for how people hundreds of years ago managed buns of steel without cheesy 30-minute workout DVDs. By the time you reach the entrance of Trostburg Castle you nearly expect to be greeted by a knight named Sir Gluteus Maximus.
Even though the journey to Trostburg Castle is a tad tiring, the walk is quite enjoyable. You’ll pass through meadows and forests with plenty of places to take a breather, snap photos and admire the winding Isarco river below and the stronghold towering over it.
Just above the village off the castle road also sits a farm overlooking the valley. Here, we made some new friends of the hoofed kind. We’re normally not envious of jackasses, but the view these guys soak in every day makes one conclude that being a jackass in South Tyrol isn’t such a bad thing.
Further along the road you’ll come across a sign that tells the story of Trostburg Castle. Of course it’s spelled out in German and Italian and, fortunately for all of us, also English.
Of Stone & Mountain
Trostburg Castle began its commanding presence over the Valle Isarco in the 12th century. Stone and rubble left behind by ancient glaciers and rivers in the area became Trostburg’s building blocks. For us, the mastery of stone and chisel by medieval masons is always awe-inspiring to witness.
The castle exchanged overlords numerous times over the centuries. Around 1290, the Counts of Tyrol took possession of Trostburg from the Lords of Velturno and eventually sold it to the Lords of Villanders and Wolkenstein, one of the most prominent Tyrolean nobilities.
For nearly 600 years, it enthroned the ancestral seat of the Wolkensteins. In fact, the castle was the early home of the last great medieval poet, Oswald von Wolkenstein. But that’s a tale we’ll tell another day.
In the late 1970s, after Lord Tyrol bravely fell the last dragon over the skies of South Tyrol, Trostburg Castle was open to the public. Okay, not all of that last sentence is true. Dragons died out in the 1950s, but the castle did indeed begin welcoming public tours in 1977.
Inside Trostburg’s Walls
Wandering Trostburg’s majestic halls and grounds you’ll view several historically fascinating artifacts, artwork and architecture. Take time to admire the keen craftsmanship on display in its various rooms exhibiting Renaissance and Gothic influences.
The castle chapel of St. Anthony is curiously small and depicts moody religious scenes on its ceiling that are intriguing to ponder.
Hunters will want to linger in the castle’s large guest chamber and gaze at the murals with hunting motifs imparting clues to what a medieval hunt must have been like.
An item 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 must be an ancient torture device meant to contort wretched souls in the most medieval way.
We were relieved to learn that its only victims were plucked grapes. Torturing grapes to give up their sweetness for South Tyrolean wine is just fine in our book. The wine press is the largest in South Tyrol and features a 36-foot long lumber pressing level that juts across the castle’s bastion.
As home to the South Tyrolean Institute of Castles (Südtiroler Burgeninstitut), three rooms in the castle house the South Tyrolean Museum of Castles. Here, you can walk through a historical tour of South Tyrolean castles with 86 true-to-scale models.
A Must-See for Castle Lovers
Fitting in a visit to Trostburg Castle is easy to do on your way into or out of Val Gardena. Just note that if you’re venturing into the Dolomites for an Alpine winter adventure you’ll have to skip Trostburg. It’s only open from the end of March to the end of October.
Admission is reasonable: €8 Euros for adults, €5 Euros for kids from 6 to 14 years old and free for youngsters 6 years old and under. However, the smart way to visit the castle, as well as a host of other amazing sights in South Tyrol, is to obtain the Museumobil card. The card is just €15-€34 Euros depending on duration and age. It gives you free access to 90+ museums and historical sights.
If you love all things medieval, Trostburg Castle is a MUST SEE while in South Tyrol. With 800 castles to pick from in the area, it is one of our favorites.
When you’re done visiting, we suggest crossing the Isarco River into the village of Chiusa (Klausen). One of South Tyrol’s finest craft breweries and taverns, Gassl Bräu, will welcome your weary legs with a comfy seat.
Walking into the brewery is slightly surreal as you step on a glass floor revealing a stream running beneath your feet with trout darting back and forth.
While here we recommend enjoying a hearty homemade South Tyrolean meal or lighter Mediterranean fare if you prefer. We chose both and they were equally delicious.
Of course no visit is complete without drinking ample pours of Gassl Bräu’s beer — a perfect reflection of the region’s centuries-old craft brew tradition. The street-side tables offer just the right medieval setting to plan out how to claim your next throne!
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