South Tyrol: natural beauty and joie de vivre
South Tyrol cultivates a distinctive liaison of contradictions which smoothly and elegantly intertwine in its nature and culture. The result is a scenic picture of the South, with the juxtaposition of palm and olive trees under snow-covered peaks. Let's cycle or hike along trails following beautiful streams, allowing ourselves to be led through valleys and meadows, where a sea of pleasantly ripe apples welcomes our souls and our senses. Further on, the trails meander past plump hanging grapevines, nestling into the picturesque hillside. The legendary Dolomites, a UNESCO natural heritage site, loom immediately behind these hills, glistening in the morning sun. The imagery continues, showing us deep green fields of Alpine herbs with a rugged mountain backdrop or idyllic mountain villages covered by the deep snow of the winter landscape.
"It's hard to talk about South Tyrol without gushing!" our reporter asserts, travelling through the country for the anniversary issue of YourLife. Of course, she is also on the lookout for great gluten-free places to stay and eat, as well as interesting facts about South Tyrol's favourite autumn food, the chestnut.
Törggelen: a great South Tyrolean tradition
Ever heard of Törggelen? Chances are that you haven't, unless you know South Tyrol well. Törggelen is the autumn tradition of rambling through South Tyrol’s valleys and tasting the young wine along with roasted chestnuts and seasonal dishes. "Törggelen takes its name from the word 'Tiorggl', which is a South Tyrolean word for the screw presses used to make wine. So this tradition centres around young wine, straight from the press. Obviously quite an enjoyable experience, as you can imagine!" Spoken from a man who has first-hand knowledge: Sebastian Fauster's farmhouse tavern is located just off the "Keschtnweg", or Sweet Chestnut Trail, in the beautiful Eisack Valley, a popular hiking region. He produces organic wine and quince schnapps, and is famous for his brandy made from sweet chestnuts.
The valley stretches approximately 80 km from Brenner to Bolzano in the south, and is considered the birthplace of the Törggelen tradition, which has since become popular throughout the entire state of South Tyrol. On this mild, pleasantly warm autumn day, the entire valley seems to be filled with lovers of the young wine. But Törggelen is really about much more than just tasting the young wine, known as "Nuien", which connoisseurs particularly look forward to each year. The wine and the relaxing break associated with it, known as "Marende" in South Tyrol, must be earned. Before sitting down and enjoying the fare, it is traditional to go for at least a short hike, usually in small groups, to enjoy the mild autumn day, watching the swallows migrate south and the mountains glistening in the distance, and to feel the light breeze as it refreshes your soul. Autumn in South Tyrol is considered the most beautiful and enjoyable time of year, particularly in the wine-producing regions of the south. When the forest adorns itself in bright colours and the vineyard rows seem to glow in the setting sun, Mother Nature bursts out a last great hurrah with all of her beauty — and people come from all over Europe to see it!
Culinary temptations centred around chestnuts
But enough about the mild light of the October sun, the golden landscape and the pleasant hiking and cycling trails! What should we expect in our glasses and on our plates during the Törggelen tradition? This enjoyable tradition gives a special focus to its culinary specialities. In the sociable and relaxed atmosphere, we get a taste of what South Tyrol in general and what our host in particular has to offer: potatoes tossed with butter, nuts, cured ham, sausage, smoked meats and ribs with sauerkraut and polenta are classic Törggelen dishes. Dessert is always "Keschtn", sweet chestnuts, roasted over an open fire. It's a treat that only the seasonal South Tyrolean gastronomic culture does well! The traditional drink to accompany the food is fresh grape juice that has not yet been fermented into wine, or very young wine, a direct link to the Törggelen traditions of the past.
Health or hiking? We'll take both!
The Eisack Valley to the north of Bolzano is where the tradition of Törggelen was born, but is not the only location where it takes place today. The western part of South Tyrol, which has numerous beautiful hiking trails, also plays an important role in this autumn tradition. The Vigilius Mountain Resort can be found here, which always has seasonal gluten-free foods on offer from its excellent kitchen. The talented chef's polenta and chestnuts are not the only things that draw you to the Vigilius, however. Situated at 1,500 metres above sea level and only accessible by cable car, this resort opens up a world of relaxation and refreshing mountain air that helps you forget the hectic goings-on of life below. The five-star boutique hotel blends in seamlessly with the surrounding scenic landscape. This mountain paradise is located just a few minutes away from the small town of Lana in Etschtal, high above the everyday happenings below. A modernist lodge, the Vigilius Mountain Resort has a connection with nature that it breathes out of every pore. Wood, clay and linen are dominating features, lending a classy atmosphere and creating a feeling of safety and security. Nothing is finer on a cool day or after a long mountain hike than revitalising with the wide range of treatments available at the hotel spa, be that relaxing in a hay bath, walking barefoot on fir cones.
Falling in love with Bolzano
In addition to breathtaking Alpine views, crisp mountain air, marmots, wine and cured ham, South Tyrol also has a lot to offer in its cities, especially Bolzano and Meran. These sophisticated cities have something that simply cannot be found anywhere else: they have a distinctive character that comes from their roles as cultural meeting points. Over the decades a Mediterranean influence in the form of cypress and lemon trees, lively markets and southern elegance has intertwined itself with the ruggedly picturesque Alps, their crisp charm and comfortable, homely atmosphere. The gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle in Meran are a prime example of this cultural diversity as they capture nature's beauty from all of the gardens and parks in South Tyrol in a wide range of varied garden landscapes.
Visitors from the north find Bolzano in particular to be a favourite stop on the way south, not because they have just left Brenner and the narrow Eisack Valley, but because as they always say when they arrive in the widespread, mostly sunny Etschtal, with its orchards and vineyards, the South Tyrolean air has a trace of the Mediterranean to it. Visiting Bolzano proves to be an absolute highlight. The wonderfully mild Mediterranean climate is noticeable in every corner and alley of the city's picturesque historic district, even in autumn. The atmosphere is characterised by high-end business, luxury and an altogether enviable quality of life. Alpine trout and octopus find their ways onto the same tables here, along with the typical wine of the south made from the unique Vernatsch grape. Alpine delicacies alongside Mediterranean treats create a delicious combination. Likewise, South Tyrol's cities typically enjoy the hum of German and Italian, in the alleys and alcoves, arcades and cafés, around the Neptune fountain and the city's market square, which seems to play host to all of delis of Italy. Right around the corner from the market square, by the way, is the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, which houses Ötzi the Iceman and attracts numerous visitors.
A wealth of contradictions
Bolzano is perhaps the best example of what makes South Tyrol so special and exciting. The capital city of Italy's most northern province is alive with contradictions. The city's Mediterranean vibrancy enveloped by its Alpine surroundings casts every visitor under its spell — soak up the atmosphere by taking a walk along the Wassermauer Promenade with views through palm trees of the Maretsch Castle and over the vineyards and roofs to the rose gardens beyond.
Alternatively, you can take a tour of the historic city centre, along the famous Laubengasse with its old shops — this is the heart and soul of the city, even if a dark raincloud appears over the old market city every once in a while. It is only in winter, when the Advent season sweeps over the city like magic, that northern traditions come to the foreground. Perhaps this is because in 1989, Bolzano adopted Nuremberg's Christmas market tradition and now holds its own increasingly popular market at Walther Square every year.
When the Törggelen tradition has passed (it starts in mid-October and lasts until Advent begins), a new season of enjoyment and delight begins in the mountains. As in autumn, South Tyrol has much to offer in winter as well. If you are looking to hibernate for the cold season, thankfully there are still remote, peaceful towns in the various regions of South Tyrol. However, it is more common to find active holidaymakers in the snowy mountain world of South Tyrol in winter. The country features attractive landscapes and exciting slopes throughout all of its main and tributary valleys, making for a varied holiday in the snow. Several large and small skiing regions offering excellent facilities welcome the whole family, skiers and snowboarders alike. The two largest ski circuits are Dolomiti Superski and the Ortler Skiarena. The Dolomiti super ski pass alone provides access to 450 lifts and 1200 kilometres of pistes.
This is where you can experience the chic, fun and modern side of winter — and thanks to the high altitude, you can enjoy the snow well into the spring season.
Active in ice and snow: pure winter fun!
The largest connected ski area in South Tyrol is situated in the eastern half of the country. On the mountainsides of the Grödnertal and Gadertal valleys, extensive lifts form a star shape, the centre of which forms the Sella massif, which sits atop the mountains like a saddle. Riding the Sellaronda ski lift carousel all the way around would take an entire day and the forty kilometres of pistes make it possible to ski the whole day without going over even one metre twice.
Our tip for well-equipped and experienced skiers is to go to the Porta Vescovo resort in Arabba or the Piz Boe resort in Corvara, both of which offer skiing at its best!
Skiing pleasure in the heart of the Dolomites
When it comes to preferring one winter sport region over the other, South Tyroleans are spoilt for choice every time, but Ahrntal, Val Gardena, the Furkelpass and Sexten spring to mind first. The Furkelpass is a mountain pass in the heart of the Dolomites, almost 1,800 metres high. It crosses the Kronplatz ski resort, South Tyrol's number one skiing destination with fantastic après-ski. There are 40 chalets available, offering rustic living rooms, trendy bars and grand terraces.
Two small, family-friendly ski areas are located in the Tauferer Ahrntal. They may sound unassuming, but looking up at the beautiful sun-drenched plateau, you cannot fail to appreciate their magnitude.
Peaceful winter enjoyment
If you are not looking to hit the slopes, South Tyrol has numerous other winter activities on offer. The country is full of cross-country ski trails, toboggan runs, sleigh paths as well as frozen natural lakes, and remote forests and peaks which invite nature lovers to go snowshoeing or to do some off-piste skiing. Even the small winter sport areas offer a wide range of winter activities. It is also worth mentioning that there are a few small, but high-quality winter sport centres near the cities, making it possible to insert cultural activities such as going to the theatre, concerts, the cinema, museums and exhibitions into your holiday in addition to healthy outdoor sport and mountain magic. Meran 2000 and the winter sport area of Schwemmalm are situated close to Meran, and the Reinswald resort in Sarntal is located about half an hour's drive away from Bolzano. All this makes South Tyrol a fantastic holiday destination even and especially in winter!
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