Like so many travelers from all over the world, I can’t get enough of Italy.
I’ve been to the country more than two dozen times over the years and visited many regions, from southern Sicily to Gargano in Puglia to the relatively unknown city of Bergamo, north of Milan. Of course, touristy places like Rome, Florence, Tuscany and Milan are part of my trips too, but I’ve aimed to tap into the undiscovered and write on spots that the masses have yet to hit.
Just when I thought I was running out of options, I stumbled upon the province of South Tyrol- a captivating destination with so much to offer travelers and ripe for exploration with its gem after gem after gem. In fact, there is so much to see and do here that it would take multiple trips to experience the full breadth.
But before I tell you what you need to fit into your itinerary, let me share a bit of backstory: Originally part of Austria, South Tyrol is located a two-hour drive north of Venice and is home to the Dolomite mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The province is the northernmost of Italy and the second largest with a size of 2,857 square miles. Despite how expansive it is, there are only 531,200 inhabitants. Its capital and largest city is Bolzano, and the landscape is dotted with picturesque historic villages.
South Tyrol became a part of Italy in 1919, when the area south of Brenner was separated from Austria and awarded to Italy. Today, the region has a mix of Austrian and Italian influences, along with German, given its proximity to Germany. This amalgamation of cultures is what makes South Tyrol so unique.
Your typical Italian getaway this isn’t, but that’s exactly why South Tyrol warrants a visit.
Below, five reasons why South Tyrol needs to be your next vacation destination.
The Sheer Beauty of the Landscape
If there’s a place in the world with scenery as spectacular and as diverse as what beholds you in South Tyrol, I challenge you to find it.
Alpine peaks, rolling hills with terraced vineyards, deep blue lakes, forests and pastures create a visual feast which only becomes more pleasurable as your days unfold here. Then there are the Dolomite mountains: these wonders of nature leave you awestruck with their craggy tops and towering heights.
The numerous deep valleys- Val Gardena, Pustertal Valley and Passeiertal Valley among the bunch- up the dramatic effect.
Snow blankets the landscape in the winter while fall is a confetti of vivid oranges, reds and yellows. Summer is a swath of emerald greens interspersed with colorful flowers such as purple edelweiss and black vanilla orchids.
All other attractions aside, you can have a satisfying getaway in South Tyrol with a driving trip alone.
The Endless Opportunities for Active Pursuits
Fitness fanatics heads up: South Tyrol was designed for you.
What active pursuits can you partake in here? I think the more fitting (no pun intended) question is: what can’t you enjoy?
Let’s start with winter: The Dolomites are one of the largest ski areas in the world and have 750 miles of slopes and 12 resorts- all under one ski pass! In fact, the city of Cortina will be hosting the Olympics in 2026.
Advanced skiers will find plenty of options to give them the thrill they’re seeking including endless off-piste runs while beginners can learn the sport on plenty of gentle hills.
Seriously calorie-burning cross-country skiing, snow hiking and snowshoeing are also on the menu.
True adventurers need to try ice climbing but should only do so with the help of a private guide (more on that in a bit).
Warm weather months in South Tyrol mean hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. You can even hike on the largest Alpine pasture in Europe, Alpe di Siusi, and try the Via Ferrata or protected climbing paths with iron steps and ladders.
Luxury seekers and those who want handholding when they’re hitting the mountains, no matter the time of year, should book a private guide to show them the ropes. Enrosadira is the very best company in the area and plans your perfect day based on your interests. Their knowledge and passion for the region make every penny worth it.
The Incredible Food and Wine
Who doesn’t love an amazing meal? Better still, who doesn’t love an amazing meal that’s relatively affordable and paired with fantastic and equally accessible local wine?
Fine food lovers will appreciate South Tyrol’s 20 Michelin-starred restaurants that command 25 stars in total.
St. Hubertus at Rosa Alpina, An Aman Partner Hotel in the village of San Cassiano, is the food darling with its three stars. It’s under the helm of Norbert Niederkofler, who was born in South Tyrol and believes in showing off his region’s native ingredients.
On the opposite end of the spectrum but equally compelling, South Tyrol is full of family-owned and run rifugios or mountain huts- they’re a refuge- literally- when you need a rest in between hiking, skiing or biking. Some even have overnight accommodations. The food they serve is simply prepared with the best local ingredients and beyond delicious.
Rifugio Scotoni, for one, is known for its sausages, ribs, polenta with cheese and mixed grill platter loaded with meats and vegetables. Grass-fed meat is par for the course here and comes straight from the animals that roam freely through the valleys.
Now to imbibing: South Tyrol produces excellent wines. The whites are notable- I’m personally a fan of the chardonnays and pinot grigios while the reds including the merlots and cabernet francs would more than satisfy any oenophile.
Yes, this really is a land of fairytales with more than 800 castles dotted all over the valley. Many are open for visitors to see and a historical treasure that offer a glimpse into how the locals once lived. Most are near the capital city of Bolzano.
Our favorites include Castle Tyrol, the ancestral seat of the Counts of Tyrol and home to the South Tyrol Museum of Culture and Provincial History. This is where you come to learn everything about the region from the past to current events.
At nearly 700,000 square feet The Fortress Franzensfeste has a grand presence and is the largest historical complex in South Tyrol. It’s an example of Austrian military architecture and dates back to the early 19th century. Catch exhibitions here, both permanent and rotating. The contemporary art and architecture shows are particularly impressive.
Churburg Castle, built around 1259, was initially a medieval fortress and then become a Renaissance castle. Travelers can see artifacts such as original weapons used by the army and also tour the dungeon and the chapel.
Sometimes, hotels are purely functional and nothing more than places to hang your hat in between sightseeing or on the way to the next stop on your trip. On other occasions, they’re destinations in their own right.
The properties in South Tyrol fit the bill for the latter. They’re family-run enterprises that ooze charm and personality. Chains need not apply.
I would need to write an entire book to name them all so I’m only mentioning three, all distinctive from one another.
Hotel Villa Eden, part of Small Luxury Hotels, is in the city of Merano.
Proprietor Angelika Schmid takes guests into her fold as soon as they check-in and shows them the way to wellness, which is what a stay is all about.
The property offers doctor-led health and nutrition programs, a medical spa, a traditional spa, cosmetic surgery and a host of fitness classes from water aerobics to yoga. It’s also a beautiful property with sumptuous décor, and although the cuisine is healthy and geared toward mindfulness, it’s flavorful and satisfying.
Rosalpina, which just became an Aman Partner Hotel, is a stunner with its setting in the mountain-framed village of San Cassiano. It’s run by the Pizzinini family, who treat you like their family every moment of your stay.
Interacting with co-owner and your affable host Hugo Pizzinini is part of the experience, whether it’s over breakfast when he helps you plan your day or during post-dinner drinks in the lounge when the live piano player keeps guests in a celebratory mood.
The facials in the spa are divine, the staff is exceptionally warm and on their game, and, as home to the three Michelin-starred St. Hubertus, the culinary lineup is second to none
And then there’s Bad Schorgau, near Bolzano, which is a surprisingly affordable option in the majestic Sarentino Valley on the outskirts of a forest.
Come here for the spa, food, hospitality and commitment to sustainability. And also for owner Gregor Wenter’s conviviality.
The rooms have been recently restored with local woods, and the three-story spa is among the most impressive I’ve come across.
Look for Kneipp water-treading basins, two saunas, one of which is heated with wood from the surrounding forests, two outdoor heated tubs, an outdoor relaxation room and much more. Being here is a true immersion in nature and wellness.
On the culinary front, Mattia Baroni is the brilliant young chef who sources all of his ingredients sustainably and firmly believes that food should be fresh, come from local producers and pleasurable all at once- wine, thankfully, isn’t excluded from this philosophy.
If you can help it, don’t miss booking La Fuga, a culinary play of sorts that transpires in different venues around the property and surprises and delights diners every step of the way.
Very much how South Tyrol does as a whole. Now, are you ready to start planning your trip Yet? Come on, let’s go.