Many tourists from the United States do not think of Italy as a winter wonderland, but remember, the regions and provinces of the country extend up to the Italian Alps, bordering France, Switzerland and Austria at its northern edge. In fact, St. Moritz, the famous winter resort town of the rich and famous, is only about ten miles from the Italian border. This week, the Italian Tribune explores the northern provinces of Trentino and South Tyrol, in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige, home to Italy’s most spectacular mountains, the Dolomites and the Italian Alps. The area offers a number of stunning wilderness areas, including seven national parks, where adventure and comfort can be found in equal measure. The region is aptly named based upon its two provinces – Trentino and Alto Adige, which is also known as South Tyrol. The beauty of the region is breathtaking. Wooden farmhouses dot orchard-covered valleys and the region’s cities – Trento, Bolzano and Merano are easy to navigate, cultured and fascinating. From five-star spa resorts to the humblest mountain cabin, many of the hotels have been run by families for generations and combine genuine warmth with extreme professionalism.
The region has been popular for nature lovers for centuries and in the last several decades, has seen enormous growth in the ski and snowboard facilities. The incredibly scenic Sella Ronda is one of the world’s most iconic ski circuits. It is found in the Dolomites in northeastern Italy. The mountain range, technically part of the Alps, have 18 peaks which rise above 10,000 feet. The range features some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes anywhere in the world – with vertical walls, sheer cliffs and a high density of narrow, deep and long valleys.
The city of Trento lies in a wide glacial valley known as the Adige Valley, just south of the Dolomite range. It is the educational, scientific, financial and political center of the region. The University of Trento ranks as one of the top five colleges in Italy and the city typically ranks as one of the top ten in the country for its quality of life. It contains a picturesque Medieval and Renaissance historic center and part of the Medieval city walls are still visible in Piazza Fiera. Sites include ancient buildings such as Trento Duomo, dating from the 12th century and the Castello del Buonconsiglio, which includes a museum and several fine Gothic frescoes. For aviation buffs, visit the Museo dell’Aeronautica Gianni Caproni, located in Mattarello, near the Trento Airport.
Merano is one of the most unusual cities in this northern region. Called the “City of Flowers,” Merano is completely surrounded by snowy peaks that can reach 8,000 feet or more above the city. It sits in a lush valley only 1,000 feet above sea level – and for that reason might also be called the “Italian Shangri-La.” You will enter the old town through one of three 13th century gates. These are all that remain of the original city walls, but you’ll find that in the city’s center, the sidewalks are sheltered by 900-year-old porticos. While there, visit the 15th century Castello Principesco, one of the best-preserved castles in Alto Adige. The rustic fortress looks exactly as it would have 500 years ago
Situated near Merano, Tyrol Castle is formerly the home of the Counts of Tyrol and is now the South Tyrol Museum of History. Dating back to the 11th century, the castle was so important that it gave its name to the province. Its lovely courtyard, intricate Romanesque portals and frescoes in the chapel, make it a one of the must-see attractions for tourists.
Brixen is the third largest city and oldest town in the province. Set in a broad valley of the Alps, in addition to its lovely and attractive setting, Brixen is the artistic and cultural capital of the valley. The most popular spot for tourists is the Medieval quarter of Brixen, particularly around Piazza del Duomo.
Hidden away in the Italian Alps of the South Tyrol province is lovely the city of Bolzano. With a population of just over 105,000, the city is rated as having one of the highest qualities of life in Italy. The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology is an absolute must for any visit to Bolzano. The main attraction is undoubtedly Otzi, the 5,300 year-old man found frozen in the Alps. A series of displays and exhibitions are centered on the phenomenon and detail how this region of the Alps would have looked thousands of years ago. The museum is within walking distance of the main sites of the city. Piazza Walther is the main square and is one of the most beautiful areas.
Aside from the stunning architecture and historical buildings, the square also has several lively cafes and excellent restaurants. Rising high above the city sits the imposing Castel Roncolo which has stood as a sentinel over the city since the 13th century. A tour of the castle is fascinating and provides a wealth of historical information. There is no better way to see Bolzano and the stunning Alpine countryside than by taking the Renon Cable Car from the center of the city up to the mountain town of Soprabolzano. There is also a light rail that can take you to other mountain towns. The views are absolutely amazing.
For those who enjoy a thrilling drive, the Stelvio Pass, built in the early 19th century, is likely the most challenging road in Europe. It contains 48 hairpin turns and at its highest point reaches 9,000 feet above sea level. It is about 50 miles from Bolzano, but less than a mile from the Swiss border. Alfa Romeo named its Stelvio Crossover SUV after this famous pass.
While in the general area, visit Lago Carezza, a stunning Alpine lake in the Val d’Ega, less than 20 miles from Bolzano. The lake’s name means “Rainbow Lake” in local dialect, due to its beautiful shades of colors. The beauty of nature really sets these provinces apart from most of what many tourists think of when planning a trip to Italy – yet another example of the wonder and majesty of Italy.