G and I just got back from from a short trip to the Dolomites. Ever heard of them? Or South Tyrol?
Neither had I, before this trip.
The Dolomites are a mountain range in northern Italy, so named for the mineral that was discovered there, and which gives the mountains their pale color.
South Tyrol is an area that I can only describe as “unique.” It is Italy, but everyone speaks German!
It was the perfect place to visit with G’s youngest kids, who live in northern Germany and pretty much speak only German.
We booked a hotel in Merano, a charming city nestled in a beautiful valley. It had an almost Mediterranean feel to it, with palm trees and colorful plants that thrive there, sheltered as they are by the tall mountains. The mountainsides surrounding the city are planted with apples and grapes. The apple orchards are part of the largest combined orchard in Italy, and South Tyrol is also known to be one of the best wine producing regions.
I wonder if you could live off apples and wine?
The Windsor Hotel was lovely – it is family owned and directly on the river which you can walk along for a few blocks to get to the center of town.
We took that walk almost every day… to look for pizza. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that G’s son wanted pizza for every meal. And his daughter wanted ‘spaghetti mit tomaten sauce.’ Every. Single. Day.
Let me stop right here and say, The Little Ninja asked me not too long ago what I would eat if I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life. I said,
I take that back. After a week in Merano, where every other restaurant serves pizza and/or pasta, I got tired of it pretty damn quick!
But we did eat a fantastic pizza at Gaston, a little restaurant we found in a side alley. And I had an incredible lunch of gnocchi with arugula, truffle and prosciutto at a place called Flora.
Lucky for G and me, Relax Pizzeria (near the Palace Hotel) didn’t serve pizza for lunch. I had a scrumptious spaghetti carbonara (though not as good as G’s of course) and he had puttanesca (which was the spiciest dish we had during our stay). They also had a fantastic wine list – and wine for sale. G bought two nice bottles… but only one made it back to the States. If you look closely, you can see me in between all the wine bottles.
There is a lot to do around Merano. The people are very active and there are many walking and biking paths. There are lots of castles, too. We went to Trauttmansdorff Castle, which was a favorite place of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth (fondly known as Sissi). I was intrigued by her story … she was very unhappy as Empress and preferred to be alone, often walking or riding in the surrounding area.
It is also home to the Touriseum, a museum of tourism that is full of lots of interesting items and history of the last hundred years of the tourist industry. There were tons of great quotes in English, French, German and Italian.
We rode the longest toboggan in Italy – down a 1-kilometer track. It was great fun…we did it three times… faster each time, of course!
We also found a labyrinth a few kilometers out of town. To our surprise and delight, it was formed out of grapevines, planted with all different varieties of grapes. They aren’t sprayed, and visitors to the labyrinth are encouraged to taste them. That made me very happy, since I have a horrible sense of direction and thought I might starve to death trying to find my way out. Bonus: there is a wine tasting room there, and we bought a nice bottle of red.
You had to find 32 wooden figures in the maze, and there were lots of interesting sculptures as well.
Our last day there it rained, so we took the kids to Therme Merano, a spa in the middle of town. It has multiple indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a sauna. My favorite was the salt water pool, which played soothing instrumental music underwater! Very cool.
That last night, when we were walking back to the hotel after dinner, a big storm blew in. There was thunder and strong winds, and we literally ran the last couple of blocks to get back. When we woke up the next morning we found out that 52 centimeters of snow had fallen in the mountains, the biggest snowfall on record in one day. We were afraid we wouldn’t get over the Brenner Pass – it was so strange driving through the mountains that had been green only a few days before, and now they were covered in piles of snow. We made it, although the traffic was horrendous.
South Tyrol is really beautiful, and the people are warm and friendly. I would recommend it wholeheartedly as a travel destination! G and I both hope to go back and explore some more.