Words & Photographs by Betty Ried
There’s something otherworldly about the snow-dusted, wildflower-adorned peaks of South Tyrol. Found in Italy's far north, just shy of the Austrian border, South Tyrol is an area of staggering natural beauty, a place full of the unexpected, a melting pot of cultures, histories and landscapes - and yet, thankfully really, it remains largely unexplored. And, while there is pasta, wine and sun in abundance, you’ll also find dumplings, snow, alpine forests, breathtaking mountain passes and wooden refuges that feel worlds away from the villas of Tuscany or waterways of Venice. This is an entirely different Italy - a place of magic and wonder where travellers can embrace all things adventurous or simply unwind in a singular, spectacular setting.
While South Tyrol has long been synonymous with wintery escapades - it had 1,200 kilometres of ski slops after all - this alpine wonderland proves glorious year round. With 350 mountains over 3,000 metres, seven nature parks and what feels like only a handful of visitors, how could it not be? Here the setting - think chocolate box villages found amongst soaring, time-ravened peaks, the terrain a collage of greens and greys - comes with a rather liberating sense of space.
With each passing season South Tyrol has been adding attractions to its tourism programme. A cable car takes early-risers skywards to watch the summer sunrise, mountaincarts speed down winding dirt tracks and the Plose Looping will leave you equal parts exhilarated and euphoric. Thanks also to a collection of rustic mountain lodges scattered throughout the region, everything remains accessible; Rossalm will delight youngsters after a morning tramping along the ‘WoodyWalk’, while Maurerberg Lodge, which sits at 2157 metres, serves up typical Tyrollean dishes and views you can get utterly lost in. Here you will also find around 16,000 marked hiking trails, mountain bike routes, spa towns, healing waters and mountain lakes - like Caldaro, Dobbiaco and Carezza - that are among the warmest in the alps, making them ideal destinations for wild swimmers. It's no surprise to discover that locals have long made a habit of heading into the wild the moment work finishes. Spend a few days surrounded by such beauty and you'll find that this local pride is infectious.
My base for South Tyrollean exploration was the newly-opened My Arbor, a modern and open, nature-inspired boutique abode found on the mountains above Bressanone. Bathed in light, the design is elegant and innovative, full of earthy tones and organic textures that make the space feel like an extension of the surrounding forest. Rooms are expansive, the view impossible to ignore and forest bathing de rigueur - as is lounging by the pool, feeling kinks loosen in the spa, indulging in a restorative multi-course meal, or letting time slip away in a mediative massage.
Best of all though, South Tyrol is home to the Italy’s most northerly wineries and, thanks in part to the cooler climes, their wines are clean, smooth and distinctive. Known more for their white varieties, entire days can be spent visiting wineries like Novacella, which is found in an old monastery and is famed as much for its library as its coveted tipples. But whatever draws you to this mountain-filled paradise - be it wine, calm or daring do - know that a few days here will leave you breathing deeper and thinking clearer and that you’ll depart utterly in awe of all South Tyrol has to offer.
To learn more about South Tyrol, click here.