From languages to frozen lakes, from museums to natural sculptures, that’s the province of South Tyrol. When I departed to Italy for a winter trip in January 2017, I first passed by Verona and Milan, while my primary destination was this mystical province.Even though my hometown is pretty close to Italy and I have been there many times, it was the first time I visited South Tyrol.
What is South Tyrol?
First of all, what is Tyrol? In German it’s Tirol, and South Tyrol is Sudtirol. Let’s summarize a little bit of history. Tyrol is a historical region covering the westernmost part of the former Austrian Empire. After the First World War, the Treaty of London defined new European borders in accordance with the aftermath of the war. The Austrian Empire ceased to exist, the contemporary Republic of Austria became a much smaller country, and many of its regions were divided between diverse countries, and a Southern portion of Tyrol became a part of Italy, getting the name South Tyrol. Lots of social, cultural, and political issues showed up as consequences of it, but the whole province lives in prosperity nowadays.
South Tyrol is a popular tourist destination, although it doesn’t have any large international airport – the closest significant airports are the ones of Innsbruck, Verona, and Milan-Bergamo. I made an alphabetical list of curiosities and facts to discover, a list of things that made me understand the province and its culture.
What to discover?
1) Agriculture and local food
This is a green province, with fresh air. Agriculture makes a large percentage of its economy. Many hotels and guesthouses are situated in the middle of agricultural properties, allowing their guests to feel the old charm of this province. From fields to the table, South Tyrol cuisine is made of diverse ingredients coming from local lands and farms. From fruit, jams, and juices to sausages, speck, cheeses, and much more.
The main agricultural product are – apples! Next to my host house, in January, I saw some dry apples on the neatly organized little trees, and I decided to ask why they were not taken. The answer I got surprised me – there are more than enough apples, a part of them are simply left on the trees in order to avoid them becoming waste. Many students earn pretty good amounts of money on their seasonal jobs on harvesting apples and the most famous kind of apple is called “pink lady”.
The province of Alto Adige, which is the Italian name for South Tyrol, is autonomous. Along with the province of Trentino, it is a part of the Trentino Alto Adige region. Autonomy was a solution for the questions of language and cultural differences of the province that hadn’t been Italian before. It means that the province has easier decision-making processes for their own issues and some kind of local government with higher responsibilities than it’s the case in other provinces.
Bolzano is the official capital and by far the largest city of South Tyrol whose population is about 125000 inhabitants. The city has a picturesque, bucolic historical centre with a colorful fruit market on the main square. In the winter, when the days are short, it becomes magic when the lights start turning on and highlight the beautiful buildings. Outside the historical streets, there are lovely green zones and interesting examples of architecture.
5) Cable Car
This winter was cold and dry, so although the temperatures were falling to -10 at night, there was no snow on lower altitudes. However, taking a cable car is always a great idea. Going up from Bolzano, you start seeing the perspective of a city located between mountains. We took the cable car at about 9 am, and it’s a perfect time to see the best colors and clarity. After reaching the peak of the first hill, the cable car enters the next valley and you don’t see Bolzano anymore. Instead, there are green fields, forests, and authentic Alpine homes. This cable car ends at a train station on the Ritten Railway, which I describe later in this article.
Huge and lovely natural sculptures, mountains around the world are an endless inspiration. The Dolomites are the nature’s masterpieces. At many viewpoints, lakes, and trails there are views over the Dolomites, each of them completely unique.
Do you know about the Munich’s yearly beer festival called Oktoberfest? There is a particular tradition women’s clothing usually associated with this event. It’s also commonly worn in authentic restaurants in Munich. It’s called Dirndl and it’s typical for Bavaria, South Tyrol, and Austria.
German is spoken in South Tyrol much more than Italian, and it’s the native language of a large majority of inhabitants. Even though most newspapers, TV channels and online contents are based on the standard German, the spoken language is mostly in the dialect. When I first heard people speaking dialect, I did not recognize that it was the German language. Many words are changed in their written and spoken form, so for instance, the word meaning “dear” which is “schatz” in standard German, in dialect it’s “schotz”.
9) Egetmann Umzug Karneval in Termeno
Termeno is one of many small, cute historical towns of South Tyrol. Its German name is Tramin. The town is completely surrounded by vineyards and there is well-known sort of grapes coming from there – it’s called, not surprisingly – tramin. I had known about it because it is also cultivated in the Eastern Croatia. But it’s not only because of wine that Termeno is a must-visit place, particularly if you are in South Tyrol in the winter – carnival season. When we arrived on the site we noticed a group masked people looking like some kind of fairy tale monsters. I didn’t know what it was but my hosts did. These were the children masked in their authentic carnival costumes. Yes, children. They were tall like adults because these masks increase a person’s height by about 60%.
In the evening we went there again to see the adults’ parade. It’s the frightening thing! They are about 3 meters tall and scaaary.
10) Frauen Museum
Located in Merano, the Women’s Museum (Frauen Museum in German) provides a series of stories about the history of women’s lives in South Tyrol and beyond. Many women from all around the world come to this place and find themselves in some of these stories, while it’s also visited by men and couples.
11) Homes of South Tyrol
I haven’t been at many places around the Alps yet, but there is a common view on how the typical Alpine houses and hotels are. There is more variety in this “Alpine” or “South Tyrol” architecture design than I could imagine. These houses are also nice from inside, with something typical for the whole historical region of Tyrol – a kitchen bench fixed to the wall.
The reason I would love to take a hiking tour is in seeing castles and churches located on the mountain slopes. The city of Bolzano fulfill as not so large valley and it’s most immediate surrounding are located at higher altitudes, for instance, Appiano (Eppan) and Caldarro (Kaltern). The public transportation to these zones is well organized but there are walking and hiking options to these zones and further afield.
In this freezing winter time, I could dedicate one whole article to the ice. After walking on the frozen lake and seeing the trees artificially watered in order to make ice sculptures I just asked myself – why there is no such thing as a museum of ice? Winter sports are commonly practiced in the Alps and not only for competition purposes (although there are many famous athletes from South Tyrol in Alpine Skiing) but also for fun, practical purposes etc. After reaching the town of Ritten at the end of the Ritten Railway, we watched a competition of ice skaters.
See also: A room for polar winds
This is a common symbol of South Tyrol on pictures and postcards. At this moment it was frozen, and I could not see its well-known turquoise color. The lake is liste by UNESCO as a natural heritage and it’s not allowed cross the fences of the lake trail. There are many other lakes to swim in the summer and ice skate in the winter 😀
Yummy! Loacker is a chocolate and cookie brand from South Tyrol, famous for its quality far beyond the province borders. The Locaker’s official shop in Bolzano is a place that ruins diets. The shop has also a bar next to it, with excellent coffee and warm atmosphere. Yes, you get a Loacker cookie with any coffee you order. This is so enjoyable!
Merano-Meran is the second largest city of the South Tyrol, with about 30 000 inhabitants, is much smaller than Bolzano. The thermal resort and hospital were founded in the late XIX century and it soon started receiving guests and patients from all Central Europe. A large number of patients who belonged to Protestant religion required construction of a Protestant Church, but the town also have a synagogue, with a Jewish Museum next to it. Sadly, it was closed at the time of my visit. Merano is full of beautiful villas, palaces and castles in the monumental historical styles, similar to buildings which were constructed in Vienna during the same period.
The Bolzano Museum of Contemporary Art is called Museion. The building is completely in line with needs of a museum of that kind, and it hosts numbers of exhibitions and events. The museum tries to make more local people appreciate contemporary arts, and there it has a nice cafeteria which is a popular quiet place to read a book or work.
18) Nature diversity
Although as a blogger I’m focused on culture and heritage discovery, I admire how nature influence the human lives so I try to give the same “attention” to natural wonders. The local culture made this region full of agriculture, particularly apples and wine, but nature is the one who provides such a terrain for this quality. Numerous hills, valleys, and lakes come after each other resulting in an endless series of natural viewpoints.
19) Otzi the Iceman
This is probably the greatest of curiosities of the South Tyrol. When a couple of holiday makers doing mountain hiking found a human corpse stuck deeply in the ice, they thought it was a troubled hiker who went missing for decades. However, the investigations resulted in the discovery of a 5200 years old man who had an intriguing story of life and death. This natural mummy can be seen in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.
20) Pizza & Pasta
Time for something tasty! Don’t forget, we are in Italy, it’s pizza & pasta time! I found pizza relatively cheap in comparison with the rest of Italy when we went to a restaurant in the surroundings of Bolzano.
21) Ritten Railway
After taking the Cable Car from Bolzano (mentioned earlier in the article), the next step after arriving is taking a train. Small, cute historical train of the Ritten Railway, built as one of the infrastructure programs of the Austrian Empire.
See also: 6 Truths about Train Travel
22) Trilingual – German, Italian, Ladin
There is common belief that South Tyrol is bilingual. If you think that German and Italian are the only languages spoken by natives of South Tyrol, you are wrong, as I was before this travel too. There is another language, and it’s called Ladin. Not Latin, Ladin. It’s a minority group of about 31000 people in South Tyrol and neighboring provinces around the Alps. According to some linguists, the Ladin language is one of the first derivation from classical Latin to the Romance languages we know today (Romance languages are, for instance: Italian, French, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese).
23) Urban/Countryside mix
The urban images of South Tyrol have a notable rural feeling. These small historical cities are overlooking the mountains on all sides and many urban structures are spread over the slopes. On the other hand, the villages do not lack elegant historical buildings which remind on urban architecture.
Music time! Get into the atmosphere immediately 🙂
Apart from apples, wine is the other big agricultural product of South Tyrol. A gorgeous masterpiece of contemporary architecture is built surrounded by hectares of wine fields near Termeno. The building is basically a wine shop with tasting center with wonderful views. The wine culture is carefully cultivated in the South Tyrol so the tasting experience is designed to be perfect. This region is perfect for anyone who loves wine.
How to get to South Tyrol?
South Tyrol looks like a bit remote place and difficult to access, but in reality, options are many. If your in either Milan, Venice, Verona, or Munich you have a plenty of choices; Flixbus has several daily lines to Bolzano and Merano, while there are also many regional, intercity and high-speed trains. A bus or train trip from Milan to Bolzano lasts between 4 and 5 hours. There are also Flixbus buses going directly from Milan-Bergamo and Munich airports to Bolzano and Meran. The airports of Verona and Innsbruck have also easy connections to buses and trains.
How to go around South Tyrol?
This is totally easy! The Alto Adige transportation company has a unique card which can be purchased for a number of days. The card is valid for all kind of public transport (including, for instance, the train between Bolzano and Merano, the cable car and the Ritten Railway) in the whole region and it’s incredibly affordable. Some hotels offer a free day of public transports to their guests.
Where to stay?
Would you like to receive a recommendation for a stay in South Tyrol? Contact me and receive ideas picked for you.