Brunnenburg Castle rouses a sense of wonder at first sight. Discover how to visit this vine-drenched medieval marvel in South Tyrol.
How do you defend a castle? If you are a Tyrolean, you build another beneath it. For almost 800 years, Brunnenburg Castle (also known as Castel Fontana) has stood like a stone shield to the most prominent castle in northern Italy: Tyrol Castle
In 1250, the Counts of Tyrol commissioned the fortress as a defensive outpost. It was erected on a glacial crag downslope from Tyrol Castle providing watchmen a focused eye deep into the valley openings of Merano and Vinschgau.
Despite Brunnenburg’s position below Tyrol Castle both in royal command and mountain clinging elevation, this warden of the north is not any less impressive. Its ivy-mantled tower bears stone teeth that bite into the sky conjuring a sight that is one part romance and one part menacing.
The castle isolated on its own is enough to strike fear into an invading army. But seeing it paired with the mother of all castles looming above must have been a sight that sent road-weary raiders racing back to their homelands. Sacking one castle is hard enough. Two? Forget about it.
Sanctuary for a Troubled Poet
Today, instead of inspiring fear, Brunnenburg is more likely to inspire a poem. And in fact, it has. The castle was once home to the literary heavyweight, Ezra Pound. After his release from a mental institution in 1958, Pound joined his daughter and grandchildren at Brunnenburg.
He spent his time tending to the castle grounds and gardens while continuing to pen prose for The Cantos — an epic poem that is comprised of 116 sections known as a “canto”. Given its length and often abstract musicality, The Cantos is viewed by many as a chaotic piece of work. Perhaps the genius of a fragmented mind that like the vines scaling Brunnenburg can only be adored in their entirety.
Pound’s daughter purchased the castle with her spouse 10 years prior to his arrival. Together, they saved Brunnenburg from a second bout of ruin. The first occurred hundreds of years earlier and lasted until 1903 when a wealthy German named Karl Schwickert bought the castle.
Schwickert thoroughly renovated Brunnenburg fashioning the castle into a more romantic form that woos visitors to this day. Yet for all its trappings of fancy, the castle could not escape tragedy. Schwickert’s wife suspiciously fell to her death from one of the balconies in 1904. He remained in the castle until his death in 1925.
As Brunnenburg sat empty for more than 20 years, tales of hauntings arose as they tend to in soulless dwellings. Whether Pound ever encountered a ghost is not known. But by reading some of his poetry, one could say his mind was never far from hauntings of its own.
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A Throne Amid the Vines
Fortunately, you do not have to possess a mind wired for poetry or a heart pumping royal blood to stroll through the halls and terraces of Brunnenburg. Visiting the castle is a pleasant walk downhill from the village of Dorf Tirol along the Falknerweg (Falconers’ Path).
By the way, this is the same path you take to visit Tyrol Castle. Several points along the journey give you sweeping views of both castles with the snow-kissed peaks of the Texel mountain group photobombing it all in the background.
As you walk the path, you’ll notice a deep ravine dividing the two castles. Don’t worry. You don’t need to latch to a zip line to visit both. Look for a signpost directing to a path off-shooting to Brunnenburg. This winding treasure descends through terraced vineyards, orchards and patches of old-growth forest. Be careful as you walk here. The fairytale scenery may just have you whistling an ode to a fair maiden or prince.
Another more adventurous way to reach the castle is by hiking up the mountainside from the Algunder Waalweg or Tappeiner Promenade. Despite being quite a bit more grueling, these two paths are our favorite way to reach Brunnenburg. When the castle’s crenelated walls appear seemingly out of nowhere above a steep vineyard, it is a sight that wins your heart as much as the seductive juice from the vines running up to its gate.
Reaching Brunnenburg by trekking the Tappeiner Promenade from the heart of Merano will make the most enchanting walk in Italy even more enthralling.
To visit the castle from either path, you will eventually depart the trails and walk on a road called Gnaidweg or Via Gnaid. This road will lead you to a rugged path known as Brunnenburgsteig. It leads you up through a forest along an irrigation channel flanked by a vineyard on your left and an orchard on your right. The passage through the forest is rather steep, but not dangerous.
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Visiting Brunnenburg Castle
We have admired Brunnenburg Castle in spring, autumn and winter. Each season imparts its own beauty to the castle. But we have found it the most enchanting in early October when grapes still grace the vines and autumn’s paintbrush is most alive. Hiking along the Brunnenburgsteig then is like opening a gift basket of aromas.
Beyond visiting the castle for a dose of medieval whimsy, it can also whisk you on a cultural odyssey. Brunnenburg is home to the South Tyrolean Agricultural Museum and Ezra Pound Memorial Center. The museum displays age-old equipment that speaks to the traditional methods of South Tyrolean winemakers and farmers once used to cultivate a season’s harvest.
While visiting the museum, take time to stand toe-to-toe with a life-size “Saltner”. These protectors of vineyards long ago wore wild-looking garb to ward off birds and thieves.
In addition to the museum, you can appreciate a collection of historical folk art and a variety of domesticated farm animals trotting outside the castle including goats, sheep, pigs, chickens and geese. Grazing in such a heavenly place makes being a farm animal in South Tyrol look rather posh.
When to Visit Brunnenburg Castle
Brunnenburg Castle is open for visitors from early April through October. Doors open at 10:00 am and close at 5 pm from Sunday-Thursday.
For those driving in South Tyrol, we recommend parking in the center of Dorf Tirol and walking to the castle from the village. Given its close proximity, you will want to also visit Tyrol Castle either before or after Brunnenburg.
If you wander through Brunnenburg and walk away with some lovely prose, be sure to add it in the comments below. You may find yourself a poet and not know it. 🙂
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What a stunning castle to visit in South Tyrol! Even though we’re regularly in the Dolomites each winter, I’d love to visit as you suggest, during October. I bet autumn is a beautiful time of year to see the colours of the region and the castle. Also, that photo and caption of Ezra Pound is brilliant!
Kate & Vin says
Thank you Lisa! Plan to visit in the fall sometime. You will love it!
Linda (LD Holland) says
I love to visit castles. So I am sure I would want to visit Brunnenburg Castle. It looks straight from a fairy tale. I can see why it might inspire a poet. The views alone might make me wax poetic. You shot of the castle from a distance in autumn is simply stunning!
Kate & Vin says
Thank you Linda!
Sarah Wilson says
I’ve never heard of Brunnenberg Castle before but it looks amazing and so does the surrounding scenery. Love the history about Erza Pound, always fascinated to know about people’s stories. Definitely adding this to my bucket list.
Fascinating history and facts , so interesting! I have been to Italy over 30 times so far but I havent been to Brunnenburg castle or even close to the area yet. Your photos are as fantastic as your writing, well done!
Kate & Vin says
Thank you so much Val! 30 times to Italy!? Wow, that is awesome! Hope you get a chance to visit “Italy of the North” on your next trip!
The creeping vines only add to the charm of the castle, which is gorgeous by the way. It is not uncommon for such places to be associated with tragedy and therefore, stories of ghosts and haunting. I can see why it could be a poet’s sanctuary, and how it would have inspired Pound to write his prose. Such a lovely piece of architecture!
Kate & Vin says
Thank you for the comment Medha. Hope you get to experience Brunnenburg Castle with your own eyes one day!