Six reasons why South Tyrol will absolutely blow your mind

With valleys, lakes and forests nestled among the summits of the Dolomites, South Tyrol is a breathtaking wonderland.

Six reasons why South Tyrol will absolutely blow your mind
Photo: Luigi Alesi/Flickr

The northern Italian region is an adventure holiday-seekers' paradise: you can hike, bike and ski until your heart’s content.

Alpe di Siusi . Photo: Maurizio/Flickr

But if that all sounds like too much activity, don't worry. You can simply sit outside a mountain hut, while away the time with a glass of (tasty) local wine, and marvel at the pristine landscape.

Photo: The Local Italy

But the northern region is well worth a visit, however you're planning to spend the time there. Here are six reasons it's guaranteed to blow you away.

1) The German-Italian cultural hodge-podge

Photo: The Local Italy

The moment you cross into the region of South Tyrol from another part of Italy, you immediately feel disoriented. Will you be greeted with a 'morgen' or a 'buongiorno'?

The region may have been part of Italy for almost a century, having been ceded by Austria’s North Tyrol at the end of the First World War. But it still feels more Austrian than Italian. German is the main language spoken, and some people aren't comfortable conversing in Italian.

Switch on the TV or radio, and German-language channels dominate, while the newspapers provided in hotels cater mostly for German-speaking guests.

Speck, a type of ham, and schnitzel, are more prevalent on menus than pizza, and the so-called Hugo, a cocktail made up of sparkling wine, elderflower syrup and mint leaves, is the favoured drink at aperitivo time over Aperol Spritz.

The people are, on the whole, friendly and welcoming, but don't expect them to be as exuberant as those in other parts of Italy. South Tyrol is basically a little piece of Austria in Italy. The political history is complex, but this adds to the region’s intrigue.

2) Mountains. Lots of mountains

Photo: Jeff Krause

For those who like to explore the great outdoors, this is paradise. The dramatic peaks of the Dolomites offer some of the best skiing and hiking in Europe. As for snap-happy travellers, get ready for the Instagram likes to come rolling in.

And it's often easy to reach the peaks: from the city of Bolzano, for example, you can take a cable car up to Renon, a plateau made up of 17 villages which offers some of the best hiking trails (and locally-produced wine) in the region. The well-marked trails, as with elsewhere in the region, cater to all levels of fitness so you don’t need to be a hiking pro.

The plateau of Renon. Photo: The Local Italy

3) Take a dip

Whether you want to bathe in the cool, crystal waters of Lake Braies or marvel at the emerald green Lake Carezza, South Tyrol has some of the most stunning lakes in Italy.

Just take a look…

Lake Braies. Photo: Trinchetto/Flickr

Lake Carezza. Photo: Umberto Salvagnini/Flickr

Monteggler See. Photo: Imaginum Faber

4) A famous submerged village

Photo: daninho_ibk

If you're into quirky, bizarre or mysterious sights, what could be better than an underwater village?

The only thing that remains of the once thriving village of Graun, located near the border with Austria and Switzerland, is its bell tower, which stands partially submerged in a lake.

How come? In the mid-19th century, the village was sacrificed to create a new dam so that electricity production could be increased. And so a local power firm joined two small natural lakes to create a larger, artificial one, known today as Lake Resia.

5) Meet Ötzi 

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Bolzano’s South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology is home to the Iceman, also known as Ötzi, a 5,300-year-old mummy found frozen in a European glacier in 1991.

The man was killed by an arrow when he was between 40 and 50 years old and hiking across the Otztal Alps between what is now Italy and Austria. The body was found by German tourists Erika and Helmut Simons while out hiking on September 19th 1991. His exhibition occupies three floors of the building.

6) Unique towns to explore

Whether it’s the cities of Bolzano or Vipiteno, or the smallest village in the region, Glorenza, there are plenty of enchanting towns to explore, each with their own traditions, curiosities and sights to discover.

Vipiteno. Photo: Gianluca Papaccio

But once you’re done with all the activity and are looking for somewhere to wind down, the spa town of Merano is the place to be.  

Merano terme. Photo: Paolo Mazzoleni

A version of this article was first published in June 2016.

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Italy resort lifts alert on melting glacier threat

An Italian Alpine resort on Sunday lifted a state of alert declared last week over fears that a chunk of glacier on the Mont Blanc mountain range might crash down on them.

Italy resort lifts alert on melting glacier threat
The Planpincieux glacier of the Grandes Jorasses, on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif, with the Courmayeur village in the background: Andrea BERNARDI / AFP

Around 15 people who were evacuated can now return to their homes in Courmayeur and traffic in the Cap Ferret valley is permitted again, said a statement from town officials.

Climate change has been increasingly melting the world's glaciers, creating a new danger for the town of Courmayeur, a resort community in Italy's Aosta Valley region, near the French border.

The town was put on high alert on Wednesday as a block of ice estimated at about 500,000 cubic metres — the size of the Milan cathedral, one official said — from the Planpincieux glacier risked falling and threatening homes.

An Italian 'Protezione Civile' (Civil Protection), rescue and search vehicle for aid waiting at the local police checkpoint in the village of La Palud, on August 7, 2020, where several dozen people were evacuated, as a huge chunk of a glacier in the Mont Blanc massif threatened to break off due to high temperatures. Photo: Andrea BERNARDI / AFP

But on Sunday, town officials announced that all security measures had been lifted.

Some locals were dismissive of the closure, and said it further hit a tourism season already affected by the coronavirus measures.

But the mayor's office said again on Sunday: “The evacuation was necessary and inevitable because of the glacier risk.”

While regretting what it said was the alarmist tone of some news coverage, officials insisted that the threat to the town had been real.

During a recent helicopter flypast, an AFP reporter saw a gaping chasm on the lower part of the Planpincieux, from which two cascades of water flowed towards the valley, as it hung from the mountainside like a gigantic block of grey polystyrene.

In September and October last year, the Planpincieux glacier also threatened a partial collapse, after which extra surveillance measures were put in place.

A study last year by Swiss scientists found that Alpine glaciers could shrink between 65 and 90 percent this century, depending on how effectively the world can curb greenhouse gas emissions.