Imagine an unspoilt mountain region that oozes Italian warmth and laid-back Austrian charm. Grand fortresses and castles embedded in orchards and vineyards. Alpine landscape meets Mediterranean climate – 300 sunny days a year.
About this Italy walking region
South Tyrol is an amazing experience! Take in the rich history and picture-book villages, the panorama of wild mountain grandeur and colourful landscapes. Here you will find apple orchards and lush wine-growing valleys, thickly wooded slopes, snow-capped mountains, flowers in abundance, figs and sweet chestnuts. Think the ‘Secret Garden’, only bigger! Castles are a big feature of the area, and walking from castle to castle is a popular activity. There are over 350 of them perched on hilltops and nestling in vineyards.
People of Austrian and Italian origin live side by side in South Tyrol resulting in a fascinating and truly unique combination of cultures, languages, traditions and culinary experiences. This is the only region in Italy where the majority of the population speaks German as their first language. You’ll notice, perhaps with some surprise, that the road signs are bilingual, in both German and Italian. Using two languages is the way of life here and, as part of the population also speaks Ladin, an ancient Rhaeto-Romance language, hearing three spoken is not uncommon.
Walking in South Tyrol
Entirely located in the Alps and straddling the Italian-Austrian border, South Tyrol’s landscape is dominated by mountains. The highest peak is Mt. Ortler (3,905m/12,812ft) in the far west, which is also the highest peak in the Eastern Alps outside the Bernina range. Parts of South Tyrol boast a staggering 315 days of sunshine a year, and especially in the area around Merano where the idyllic landscape is characterised by thickly wooded slopes, chestnut groves and vineyards up to 900m/2,952ft. The fertile valley floor is covered in extensive apple and apricot orchards, and even figs and kiwis flourish here. Good roads, cable car stations, and shuttle buses mean you can roam, walk and ramble the area to your heart’s content.
Scorched by the sun, the land is irrigated by ancient Waalwege. Dug into the ground and carved out of rock, they are reminders of the constant battle against drought that was waged by the local farmers in the Middle Ages. Today, easy walking routes follow these narrow channels, and useful amenities are dotted along the way, making it perfect for walkers of all ages.
The mountains around Merano, namely the Texelgruppe (Giogáia di Tessa), shelter the Texelgruppe Nature Reserve (Parco Naturale di Tessa), 33,430 hectares of protected land where flowers and wildlife thrive. These vibrantly green mountains are backed by distant snow-capped peaks – the highest being Texelspitze at 3,318m/10,885ft – with Mediterranean-style valleys, vineyards tilted towards the sun, and liberally-wooded hillsides; all of which makes for very rewarding walking.