Church of San Giovanni in Ranui in the Funes Valley
Yes, you’ve heard about the Dolomites, but do you know they’re part of South Tyrol? Probably not, but you will soon, after reading this blog!
Tucked between Austria and Switzerland in the north, the neighboring region of Veneto in the east, South Tyrol is an autonomous province in the Trentino Alto-Adige region and covers an area of 5,258 mi², just a little smaller than Connecticut.
An absolute paradise for adventures, hikers and outdoor fanatics, South Tyrol offers a variety of activities and sights that range from art, culture, gastronomy and many one-of-the-kind experiences, as well as numerous natural spots for the serial and serious Instagrammer!
Here are 10 reasons (and we can assure you that there are more) to pack your bags and head to South Tyrol right now.
1. Lake Braies
Praised by all major international travel magazines as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world – to be honest, who can’t deny it? – is also the setting of important historical events. It was here that in April 1945, during the last weeks of WWII, large numbers of high-profile prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp were moved in order to escape the advancing of the Allies Forces. And in case of capture by the Allies, the SS guards escorting the prisoners, had orders to kill all of them. However, once in South Tyrol, local German forces took the prisoners under their protective custody and the group was then freed by the U.S. Seventh Army.
2. Ezra Pound and Brunnenburg Castle
Brunnenburg Castle - photo courtesy of Brunnenburg Castle
The both acclaimed and controversial American poet had a strong connection with South Tyrol. His daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz, who he had with violinist Olga Rudge while married to Dorothy Shakespear, was raised by a peasant couple in Gais, a small village in the Val Pusteria-Pustertal Valley. Later in life she married Egyptologist , Boris de Rachewiltz, an Italian-Russian prince, and together bought and renovated the Castle of Brunnenburg for them to live at, located in the town of Tirol, close to Merano. It is here that Pound spent some time from 1958 to 1964 and wrote the last 6 of his Cantos.
3. Bilingual and Trilingual region
Typical street signs in South Tyrol - photo by Provincia di Bolzano
South Tyrol was annexed to Italy in 1918 at the end of WWI, with the armistice between the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and Italy. Before that it had been under the Austrian Empire for almost five centuries. Its particular historical background and the events during both wars created the basis for a multi-ethnic region where the two ethnic groups could coexist peaceful, maintaining their traditions and speaking their respective native languages. Every street sign and all official legal documents are bilingual - Italian and German - and trilingual in the Dolomites valleys of Val Gardena and Val Badia, where a third “minor” language, Ladino, a Reto romanica language, is spoken.
With 69.41% German speakers, 26.06% Italian speakers, and 4.6% Ladino speakers in an area of 2872 sq mi, South Tyrol is Europe’s smallest region to encompass such language diversity.
4. Lasa-Laas marble
Ground Zero metro station in New York - photo courtesy of Lasa Marmo
One of the most precious and expensive white marbles you can find in Italy is not from Tuscany, as you might think, but from the little town of Lasa-Laas, in the Val Venosta-Vinschgau Valley. Already appreciated by the Romans, the systematic quarrying started only in the 19th century. Thanks to its beauty, pureness and characteristics - resistance to frost and cold temperatures - the Lasa Marble, has reached worldwide fame and has been used for many important artworks and architectural buildings, for example the Queen Victoria statue in front of Buckingham Palace in London, or the monumental Pallas Athena fountain in Vienna.
Also USA has shown a lot of appreciation for this marvelous stone to the point that commissioned 90,000 crosses for the graves of WWII fallen soldiers and distributed them between the military cemeteries located in the four continents. Another example is the Statue of the Lorelei-Heinrich Heine in the Bronx and the last and most significative, the metro station of Ground Zero. Here more than 344,445 sq. ft of marble have been used to cover the floors, walls, pedestals, columns and staircases.
5. Concentration Camp
Memorial remembering the camp prisoners used as forced labor in a ball bearings factory in Bolzano
In 1943, after the armistice between Italy and the Allies, to retaliate against Italy, Germany occupied South Tyrol and started the process of annexing the territory to the Third Reich. A network of lagers (internment camps) were built to transfer prisoners over to the Alps and to Nazi concentration camps. One of them was built in Bolzano and from here in a time spam of 10 months, 13 transports of men and women left to Mauthausen, Dachau, Flossenbuerg and Auschwitz.
Today there are almost no remaining traces of the Bolzano camp and where it once was. In an effort to remember the victims, the city placed informational panels in front of the camp’s outer wall. Throughout the city of Bolzano many memorials where built to commemorate those that perished in the human atrocity that was the Nazi occupation.
6. Lake Resia
In winter the lake freezes and you can walk out to the bell tower
Located in Curon-Graun, at the border of Austria and Switzerland, a lonely bell tower sticks out from the perfectly calm emerald green water. Don’t worry, there’s no creepy or disaster-like story behind this bizarre view. Lake Resia is an artificial lake that was created in 1950 by a power company by joining two natural lakes. The XIII century bell tower is the only remaining building of what was the original location of the town of Curos-Graun. After the not-so-happy residents were evacuated, the town was blasted and flooded.
Although the lake is beautiful all year round and offers many outdoor activities, winter offers not only a fairy tale-like setting, but also a very unique experience, due to the fact that the lake freezes. Once this happens, it’s possible to actually walk up to the bell tower. To add charm to the place, rumors say that during the freezing winter nights you can still hear the bells ring.
7. Avelignesi-Haflinger Horses
Haflinger horses have a very distinctive look: blonde mane and brown coat
Another pride of South Tyrol are its beautiful horses, Haflinger- Avelignesi, a crossbreed created between a small mountain horse and an Arab stallion. Named after the town of Avelengo-Hafling near Merano, these horses were started being bred in the 19th century, and the combination its strength and elegance got the attention of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire who decided to buy all the foals. Haflinger were also used during during both wars. Their unique look - blonde mane and brown coat - can hardly be missed.
You’ll be able to spot these beautiful “blondies” roaming on idyllic mountain meadows everywhere in South Tyrol. Thanks to their gentle nature and disposition, they are the perfect companions for horse rides on the endless alpine pastures, shady woods and colorful fields of South Tyrol. And who doesn’t like a blonde?
Brettljause or Marende is the typical traditional South Tyrolean snack
The intriguing region of South Tyrol, besides having breathtaking nature and all year-round activities, it offers a diverse and unique gastronomical tradition: a mix of Mediterranean and Austrian culinary traditions found nowhere else. From spaghetti to Knödeln (bread dumplings), to osso-buco (marrow-bone) and Gröstl (beef cooked in saucepan with potatoes), the choice is endless! Even though the region covers an area of only 2872 sq. miles, it scores more Michelin stars than any other regions of Italy. And did we mention the 350,000 hectoliters of wine production a year of the most highly awarded wines in the world? Gewuerztraminer, Schiava and Lagrein are just some of the local wines.
9. Roncolo-Runkelstein Castle
Photo by Citta' Bolzano Redazione - Stadt Bozen Redaktion
If you thought that the Rhein region in Germany has the highest concentration of medieval castles you’ve ever experienced, you’ll need to think again. With a total of 800 castles, ancient mansions and towers, more than any other area of Europe, South Tyrol rightfully hold the top position. These majestic and glorious buildings hold fascinating stories and legends that will bring you back to medieval times. But they’re also keepers of artistic and historical treasures. Like Castle Roncolo-Runkelstein, located just outside the historical center of Bolzano. Perched on the edge of a rock, enjoying a panoramic position over the Sarentino Valley, the castles contains the world most comprehensive cycle of secular frescoes representing blasphemous subjects of the Middle Ages.
10. San Procolo - St. Prokulus
St. Prokulus escaping from Verona
The tiny church of San Procolo-St, Prokulus in Val Venosta-Vinschgau, located only 32 miles away from the Swiss border, might seems just like any other churches in the area: small, simple and surrounded by apple orchards. But you couldn’t be more far from the truth. For art lovers, this is something you don’t want to miss! San Procolo-St. Prokulus is one of the most ancient churches in South Tyrol, with origins dating back to the VII century.
What makes this church so unique and one of Europe’s most precious and rare artistic treasure are the pre-Carolingian frescoes discovered in 1923. At the end of the XIV century the interior of the church was decorated with frescoes following the new art style in fashion, which sadly resulted in the ancient artwork being covered over.
If you are interested in discover more of beautiful South Tyrol, its culture, history and tradition or need help to plan your accommodation and activities, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to share our experience and knowledge of the territory with you and welcome you in our land.