When it comes to Italy vacation ideas there’s no shortage of breathtaking destinations to consider. But none will stir a deep sense of wonder and awe inside of you quite like South Tyrol.
South Tyrol, Italy — also known as Südtirol or Alto Adige — is a true hidden gem tucked between the Italian Alps and the Dolomites. A mountainous haven illuminated by crumbling castles, cascading vineyards and mirror-still lakes, the region continues to draw more “wows” from our breath than any other part of Italy.
Whether you crave heavenly outdoor excursions, long to unwind in sunny bliss or wish to revel in cultural adventures teeming with culinary delights and historic sights, South Tyrol lays it all at your feet.
In this post, we share why South Tyrol should become your next travel obsession…and even better, how to plan your own escape to “Italy’s best-kept secret”.
Where is South Tyrol?
Before we highlight what awaits you in South Tyrol, you may be wondering where exactly is this fabled land. South Tyrol crowns northern Italy, right beneath Austria, in an area lovingly referred to as the “sunny side of the Alps”.
It’s worth noting you will also see the region referred to as South Tirol, Suedtirol and Trentino-Alto Adige.
Like its many names suggests, South Tyrol is a land of striking contrasts. Where Alpine wonders thunder over serene Mediterranean beauty and authentic Austrian charm mingles with stylish Italian flair.
The outcome of such unlikely bedfellows? Utterly jaw-dropping. You’ll encounter an enchanting medley of culture, cuisine, climate and scenery unlike anywhere else in the world.
7 Reasons to Visit South Tyrol
Whether you end up lured by its snow-dusted mountains or its sun-soaked valleys or the heart-warming traditions of its festive people, South Tyrol will shoot an arrow into your wanderlust heart. Guaranteed.
One of the great writers of the 20th century, Franz Kafka, described the land as “the most beautiful” he had ever seen. Take a look at the video above then our reasons to visit below. We think you’ll agree.
1. The Italian Alps & Dolomites: Mountains Like No Other
The only proper way to introduce South Tyrol is to begin with its most lofty characteristic. So captivating are its mountains in all seasons, that it is hard to say when they inspire most. They weave influence throughout the land lancing the sky with their silvery summits and stone-tipped spears. Some seem to caress the heavens while others look as if they wish to tear it asunder.
Beautified by arbored vineyards, crenelated castles, storied steeples and romantic ruins, the various mountain ranges of South Tyrol paint the land in remarkably diverse ways. While all of its peaks technically belong to the Italian Alps, two people could visit South Tyrol and leave with completely different experiences.
The mountain ranges around the Merano valley, for example, flourish with tropical-like flora that gradually unfurls into classic Alpine as you ascend the slopes. And with 300 days of sunshine each year, these mountainsides beam with an almost permanent sunny disposition.
The Dolomites, on the other hand, redefine Alpine. Entirely. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dolomites appear born out of some prehistoric fury — tectonic ravages forever suspended in time. In reality, its serrated crags were a coral reef millions of years ago before thrusting out of the sea. Now, the Dolomites comprise 26 mountain ranges across 350,000 acres.
All that terrain is not only ripe for hiking and biking, it also translates into the world’s largest ski resort. Twelve snow-blanketed valleys covering nearly 1,200 square miles await winter recreation lovers.
But as wondrous as the Dolomites are they make up only part of South Tyrol’s mountain story. The region mocks the idea of a flat earth with an additional 332 peaks storming into the sky.
For example, the Ortles Alps in Stelvio National Park possesses the highest mountain in South Tyrol — King Ortles. According to age-old legends, this mountain was once a giant that became stone. Easy to believe once you see it.
To the northeast of the Ortles Alps lies another majestic mountain range: the Ötztal Alps. Also mighty in size, but even more so in history, its glacier-enthroned peaks was home to an astounding discovery.
In 1991, two hikers found a man lost in ice for 5,300 years. The oldest intact mummy ever uncovered, the body of Ötzi the Iceman has shed immense insight into life during the Copper Age. His body and astonishingly well-preserved belongings can now be studied by all at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano — the capital of South Tyrol.
2. A Bounty of Outdoor Adventure At Your Speed
What does having the Italian Alps and Dolomites so close together mean for you as a traveler? Pure Alpine-Mediterannean bliss. Every turn in South Tyrol reveals your next adrenaline rush or moment of zen. With 8,000 miles of trails calling you, deciding how to spend your time is the biggest challenge.
On any given day you can breezily roam vast prairies and forests, trek skyward to spy stone titans and shimmering lakes or hike palm-blessed promenades furrowing through vineyards and orchards. Or you can do nothing at all. And simply let the breathtaking scenery be its own adventure.
The Alpine and Mediterranean charms of South Tyrol allow you to experience two different vacations in one. We have spent many mornings walking carefree under palm trees and grapevines followed by high-mountain treks in the afternoon.
If you’re like us, it will be impossible to say which activity you enjoyed more after visiting. Both provide equal amounts of adventure, romance and wonder.
A hiking outing you will undoubtedly love is along South Tyrol’s ancient irrigation canals called Waalwegs. Carved into the mountainsides, these ancient pathways ascend easily and wind through miles of meadows, forests, vineyards and orchards.
With each step, you’ll bounce along to the soothing song of water rushing down the peaks. And you’ll encounter everything from castles to churches to the curious calls of cuckoo birds and the cheery clangs of cowbells.
With around 5,000 traditional Alpine farms still adorning South Tyrol’s slopes, cows and other friendly farm animals are common companions during Waalweg hikes.
Thanks to a network of lift systems, mountain adventure in South Tyrol is available to every age and experience level. On every outing, we meet travelers in their 70s and 80s vigorously enjoying the hiking trails. Mountain air enlivens the adventurous spirit no matter your age.
Yet even the fittest among us need breaks while adventuring. South Tyrol solves your need for a breather with mountain huts known as “rifugios”. These rustic restaurants dot the mountainscape inviting you to rest with a hearty meal paired with wine, beer and perhaps a shot of grappa if you need more than a deep breath to get your legs moving again.
Beyond wild thrills and wilder views, the mountains of South Tyrol also offer riveting peeks into Alpine life and culture. As an example, you can discover the woodcarving craftsmanship of Val Gardena or partake in age-old folklore by hiking to the Witches’ Benches near Schlern Mountain.
⇒ READ MORE: Discover the Best Hikes in the Dolomites
3. The Wonders of Alpine Wellness & Relaxation
With 80 percent of South Tyrol mantled by mountains that roar and whisper all at once, it’s no surprise the region is a celebrated spa and wellness destination. The natural splendor alone is enough to elevate your wellbeing.
But South Tyrol offers you much more. Nestled amidst the summits are wellness resorts where you can experience the curative powers of pure Alpine air, mineral-rich water, fresh herbs, and sun-kissed scenery in truly novel ways. These resorts masterfully harness their natural surroundings often fusing contemporary design with rustic charm.
We have been fortunate to enjoy some of the top wellness resorts in South Tyrol. Ensuring a deep sense of relaxation and wellbeing during our stay was always at the center of our experience.
The resorts offer a bevy of ancient and modern treatments from mountain pine oil baths to stone massages to holistic health evaluations. But the best treatment of all may just be letting your worries wash away while floating in a salt-water infinity pool or lying in a steam sauna. Whatever you prefer, you will come to relish how the resorts detoxify the mind, body and soul.
4. The Medieval Heart of Europe
For thousands of years, South Tyrol culturally bridged northern and southern Europe. As a result, ancient history continues to echo between the mountains.
In fact, the Alps’ smallest city, Glurns, sits like a medieval pearl in South Tyrol. A stone wall encircles the town forever keeping its 16th-century appeal intact.
But for this post, we focus on the medieval sight that impresses most in South Tyrol: castles. Few sights steal your attention like an imposing fortress looking down from an even more imposing mountainside. South Tyrol has no shortage of them.
The region swells with 800 castles — more than any other area of Europe. If fire-breathing dragons ever flew surely it was over these relics of chiseled stone.
South Tyrol’s strongholds provide a jaw-dropping way to plunge yourself into the Middle Ages. The hiking trails winding through the land allow you to enjoy many of them from up close or afar. In addition, several of South Tyrol’s castles are open to visitors.
Touring them always leave us awestruck. Walking through age-old halls where royalty of long ago once roamed is a spellbinding glimpse into Europe’s past.
One of our favorite mountain haunts is Castle Tirol. Perhaps the most historically-significant castle in South Tyrol, Castle Tirol stands on a rocky spur in the village of Dorf Tirol. It was once the ruling seat of the Counts of Tyrol whose iron-throned influence gave the entire region its name.
A formidable fortress in its day, the castle sees all with the Etschtal and Val Venosta valleys sprawled out far below its walls. Sacking it would have been next to impossible as it required conquering two castles. The Brunnenburg Castle rises below Castle Tirol forming a brotherhood of strongholds.
After visiting Castle Tirol and Brunnenburg, we recommend dining at Biergarten am Schlossweg — a nearby beer garden perched under a canopy of grapes. The castle views through these vines served as inspiration for the Throne & Vine name.
On our last visit here, we devoured a savory plate of South Tyrolean bacon dumplings officially called Speckknödel. If a castle walk doesn’t whisk you back to medieval times, this hearty dish will. It dates back to at least the 13th century.
⇒ Read More: The Can’t-Miss Castles of South Tyrol
5. The Culinary Star of Italy
Foodies will uncover plenty to savor in South Tyrol. It is Italy after all. But then again it is so much more thanks to its enviable position between northern and southern Europe. The region is unquestionably Italy’s culinary star — boasting more Michelin-starred restaurants in one place than anywhere else in the country.
How did South Tyrol earn such esteem? By placing quality at the heart of your dining experience. Quality is so important to South Tyroleans they officially trademarked South Tyrol food in 1976 — making the region the first in Europe to receive such a designation.
Today, the best chefs in the world look to South Tyrol for inspiration. In fact, top-rated chef, Massimo Bottura, visits South Tyrol frequently to dine.
The eclectic mix of cuisine available means each bite in South Tyrol can launch you on a distinct journey. On any given dining outing you can choose authentic Italian, German, Tyrolean or a novel fusion of all three and more.
We’ve delighted in some of the finest Italian pasta and pizza dishes while sitting on a mountain top in South Tyrol. And while it can be tempting to always fill your table with traditional Italian fare, a visit to South Tyrol is not complete without indulging in the region’s specialties.
One of the best ways to discover the rich culinary traditions of South Tyrol is to dine at member restaurants of the “Sudtiroler Gasthaus” group. This association preserves the unique culture of hospitality and quality that sets South Tyrolean restaurants apart.
Beyond flavorful dishes available morning, noon and night, the dining settings in South Tyrol are as picturesque as a fairy tale. Especially those in its lost-in-time villages.
These precious jewels spring up from the valleys and hillsides as invitations to a simpler time. For us, dining surrounded by their crooked cobblestones is a welcome break from the trappings of modern life.
The alley-side restaurants, taverns and cafes encourage you to slow down, sink into a cozy seat and chat with a local or two. There is no better way to get a feel for South Tyrolean culture than such places.
However, if sleepy mountain villages are not your speed, South Tyrol’s larger towns like Bolzano, Merano and Brixen offer plenty of vibrancy with lively streets, open-air food markets, bistros, pubs and shops all wrapped in old-world beauty.
The dining scene in Bolzano is second to none. Some of Italy’s most talented chefs work in the capital.
Even Hollywood celebrities have taken note. Chefs like Manuel Astuto, head chef at the Parkhotel Laurin, have been flown around the world to cook at private affairs.
But whether you visit Bolzano to dine or not, the city itself is a treat worth consuming. It showcases centuries of dynamic influences and offers history rivaling Rome. Read our post about visiting Bolzano to learn more about what there is to see and do in South Tyrol’s most cosmopolitan city.
6. Delicious Alpine Wine, Scenery & Culture
Since we touched on South Tyrol’s renowned cuisine, it’s only natural we tell you about its wines next. The wine gods have been blessedly kind to South Tyrol. But that hasn’t come without a lot of work.
Over the course of 3,000 years, the techniques to grow and tend to vines on steep mountain slopes have been perfected by South Tyroleans. The result? Truly exquisite wines and scenery that is a living, breathing masterpiece. The high elevation vineyards tumbling over the mountainsides reap the benefits of sun-filled days and cool nights to produce some of the highest regarded wines in the world.
Crisp, mineral-dominate whites such as Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are among the region’s most popular wines, but you’ll also discover heavenly reds such as Lagrein and Pinot Noir. In fact, Italy’s top three rated Pinot Noir wines come from Alto Adige (South Tyrol wine estates use the Italian name for the region on their wine labels).
The best way to explore South Tyrol’s wines is by visiting its winemakers. Many of the region’s 150+ producers have tasting rooms in their cantinas.
If you do not gush over their wines you certainly will over their architecture. Several possess some of the most enthralling designs in the Alps.
⇒ READ MORE: Divinely Alpine – Exploring the Wines of Elena Walch
To immerse yourself in South Tyrol’s wine culture, we suggest touring the South Tyrolean Wine Road — Italy’s oldest wine road. It ferries you through 16 wine villages set along vine-draped slopes that pour into apple orchard after apple orchard.
Wine lovers should consider booking a stay at a boutique winery along the wine road like Weingut Donà. Few things are more romantic than waking up in a vineyard surrounded villa with a castle ruin looming overhead.
If you’re a biking enthusiast, consider renting a bike or booking a cycling tour to pedal from one wine village to the next. With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, you won’t consider the ride just scenic, but heart-pounding spectacular.
The Roma Wine Festival recently declared the South Tyrolean Wine Road the most beautiful of Italy’s 140 wine routes thanks to its “perfect interplay of wine, scenery and culture”. We couldn’t agree more. Every time we take the road the lovely sips and sights we encounter consume our day.
However, if wine isn’t your beverage of choice when on vacation, do not fret. South Tyrol has a craft brewing tradition going back more than 1,000 years. Water fresh from mountain springs serves as the foundation for beers with distinct character and flavor.
A popular brewery we like to visit is Forst in Algund. Set in the shadow of a lush mountainside, Forst offers a variety of high-quality beers. You can kick back and sample them in the brewery’s restaurant or beer garden.
While Forst is the largest local brewer, you can also visit microbreweries such as Pfefferlechnerkeller (yes, that is the real name) in Lana or Gassl Bräu in Chiusa. Both produce tasty craft brews and offer a full menu of well-paired South Tyrolean dishes.
7. Mountains of Steepled History
The only structures gracing the South Tyrol more than castles are churches, chapels, monasteries and shrines. An astonishing number of historic religious sites invite your exploration. Faith here is celebrated in immensely grand ways as well as with the most subtle expressions.
Taking the time to admire the unique historical importance of religion to South Tyrol is one of the more rewarding activities we’ve enjoyed on our visits. The achievements of the artists, architects and masons from long ago amidst the region’s lofty crags are nothing short of spectacular.
From sky-piercing spires to interiors flush with centuries-old frescoes and intricately crafted wood carvings, the beauty of South Tyrol’s largest cathedrals and its smallest chapels always instills a sense of wonder. Walking through them reveals remarkable attention to detail that never fails to mesmerize.
A historic treasure we recommend all to see is the Abbey of Novacella (also known as Neustift Monastery) near Brixen. This monastery astounds with architectural styles spanning centuries. The Baroque interior of its church will leave you breathless.
But perhaps the best part of visiting Novacella is that after studying all its glory you can sip its delightful wines. It is one of the oldest wineries in the world.
For those venturing into the Dolomites, a historic sight not to miss is the St. Valentin Chapel in Alpe di Siusi. This small chapel sits atop a grassy hill beneath the jarring face of Schlern mountain.
Its bulb-tipped steeple set against the backdrop of the mountain is one of the most iconic sights of South Tyrol. Reaching the church is just a short jaunt uphill from the village of Seis.
Another endearing historic sight to admire is South Tyrol’s wayside shrines. For more than a thousand years, South Tyroleans have harmonized spirituality with their natural surroundings by erecting shrines throughout the land.
These tender-hearted creations abundantly appear along hiking paths with many also nestled in nooks throughout village neighborhoods, taverns and restaurants.
On our treks, we’ve always found them an inviting surprise. They seem to welcome you out of nowhere — gracefully watching over all those who wander by.
A place for weary travelers to rest and pray, even the oldest shrines are still carefully attended to by local residents. The wide array of sizes, shapes and materials used to construct shrines reveals the talents and devotion of the community.
Many of these religious markers hold candles, rosaries, photographs and thoughtfully-crafted carvings. Quite often native flowers encircle a shrine adding to the natural beauty of the landscape.
The Best Time to Visit South Tyrol
Regardless of the season you visit, your time in South Tyrol will create fiercely enduring memories. The kind that calls you back.
The busiest season is summer as tourists from Germany, Italy and the U.K. arrive in large numbers. But winter is also popular with snow-loving adventurers. South Tyrol boasts 30 ski resorts with 750 miles of ski trails crisscrossing the land.
If you’re going to South Tyrol to hit the slopes, consider taking advantage of Dolomiti Superski. It gives you access to 12 ski areas all on one ski pass. There’s no better way to carve up fresh snow, as well as get your fill of gourmet food, wine and of course grappa on those extra chilly days.
While summer in South Tyrol is fabulous, we think the best time to visit is in the spring and fall. Specifically, late May and early June or September through October. You’ll have much more of the wonderland to yourself. And you’ll still have nearly every opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors on foot or bike.
Plus, you’ll save money on your trip as prices tend to come down. Just be prepared for a bit more unpredictable weather if you’re venturing into the higher altitudes. Spring and late fall can still bring snowfall to the mountains. You’ll also want to know the lift system operating dates if spending the bulk of your time in the Dolomites or plan on high-altitude hikes elsewhere in the Italian Alps.
Wine lovers may find autumn most appealing as a number of festivals take place celebrating the season’s harvest. For example, a must-have experience in autumn is Törggelen. This centuries-old tradition involves a hearty feast and sampling of the year’s new wine.
Another reason to visit in autumn is to roam through fragrant vineyards and orchards burning with fall colors. It’s an experience unlike any other.
If you visit during late November or anytime in December you can treat yourself to a postcard-perfect setting for the holidays. Traditional Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt) abound this time of year. You’ll savor the season’s smells and flavors and abundance of handmade creations that will take your holiday decorating to a whole new level.
How to Reach South Tyrol
Getting to South Tyrol, Italy is relatively easy even though the region does not have a major international airport. The closest major airport is located in Innsbruck, Austria an hour north of South Tyrol.
Nearby major cities where we’ve found the best airfare deals include Munich, Milan and Venice. From each of these cities, it takes under 3 hours to reach South Tyrol. Other major cities nearby include Salzburg (2.5 hours), Zurich (4 hours) and Verona (1.5 hours).
After landing you can make the trip to South Tyrol by car, train or shuttle bus. Regardless of your starting point, the journey is pleasant and scenic.
We personally prefer renting a car. The freedom to hop around South Tyrol at our own pace is ideal. However, South Tyrol’s public transportation system is exceptional and widespread if that is your preference.
It’s worth noting that parking in South Tyrol and navigating its roads and highways is fairly straightforward. And with today’s modern GPS units you can get step-by-step voice directions to take you anywhere without any hassle.
If you’re planning to rent a car be sure to check out our article on driving in Italy. It is full of helpful tips that will make sure you’re ready for a stress-free journey.
If you decide to use public transportation while in South Tyrol, pick up a Mobilcard at your hotel, transportation hubs or tourist offices. This affordable card provides quick access to South Tyrol’s public bus and rail networks for 1, 3 or 7 consecutive days.
Resources to Plan Your South Tyrol Holidays
The abundance of culture, activities and sights in South Tyrol runs as high as its summits. One could never cover it in a single blog post or even a lifetime of blog posts. However, it’s our hope as you explore Italy vacation ideas that you stamp South Tyrol on your travel wish list…preferably at the top. A hidden treasure of wows awaits you.
We developed our FREE South Tyrol Travel Resource Library to make planning your escape to easy. Like your own personal South Tyrol travel guide, our library helps you determine where to stay in South Tyrol and includes:
- Insider Tips
- Planning Checklists
- How-to Guides
- Key Phrases to Know
- Transportation Options
- and Much More!
These resources are based on our personal experience. They will save you time and money while helping you embark on the vacation of a lifetime in South Tyrol. In addition, we recommend reading our post — 12 Things to Know Before Visiting South Tyrol — for a deeper dive into the tips presented here.
See You on the Sunny Side of the Alps!
To discover more about South Tyrol and our adventures, follow us on your favorite social media channel at the bottom of this page. We live and breathe South Tyrol and you’ll find it shows in the stories we tell.
Through Throne & Vine, you’ll fall in love with the region and find the resources necessary to plan an unforgettable trip. We look forward to seeing you on the trails and poolside!
If you have a South Tyrolean adventure or tip you would like to share, please comment below. We’d love to hear from you!
TAP TO PIN SOUTH TYROL, ITALY!