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Many visitors try to squeeze a trip to the Dolomites and South Tyrol region into a day trip from Venice, but that is only going to give you the tiniest taster of what this incredible region has to offer. Most of us have limited time, so we look at some itinerary ideas from a local, to spend 5 amazing days in this magical region during your trip to Italy.
We talk to South Tyrol local Franziska Weingut Donà, whose family run the Donà Winery a gorgeous idyll set amidst jaw-dropping scenery with stunning views of the Dolomites, where you can stay as well as enjoy a wine tasting of their exceptional wines. As well as the incredibly stunning mountains, lakes, and pastures this area has to offer, we talk castles and sunken towns, apple strudel and edible flowers, and amazing alpine wine and cider.
What you’ll learn this episode
- The Donà winery is in Appiano which is close to the South Tyrol capital Bolzano and in the backyard of the Dolomites. As well as the extraordinary mountain views they are also next door to a beautiful castle (there are many castles in Appiano)
- Appiano is a very small region and the northern-most region of the province of South Tyrol, crossing the border to Switzerland and Austria
- Franziska’s mother tongue is German. Before the First World War, they were part of Austria and after became part of Italy. Her grandfather, for instance, was called Franz, and after the move to becoming Italy, his name was changed to Francesco – so a huge life change. Then for more than 70 years, they were able to speak their mother tongue German, and also speak Italian. The South Tyroleans are a great mixture – a mixture of the German straightness and the Italian Dolce Vita
- South Tyrol has great public transport. The trains and buses are very timely and organized and you can access Bolzano quite quickly from Venice or Milan. But visiting the South Tyrol it really is best to have a car as so there are so many more places around and up the mountains that if you have a car, it’s so much easier to get to
- Although it is on the border to Switzerland and Austria, the landscape of South Tyrol is not quite what you would see there – the Alps you might imagine – the Dolomites are very different and unique. They are mountains that are like giant stones standing tall in the landscape
- Franziska believes (as do we) that everyone should see the Dolomites at least once – as it’s such a unique and epic experience
- In the Dolomites, you have the Seiser Alm/Alpe di Siusi – a green plateau 2000 meters up, and is just pure nature. There’s just nothing much up there apart from the meadow, the mountains, some cows, and a few huts. And because it’s so huge, you feel quite free and so powerful when you are up there
- There is a huge number of churches in the region. For instance, in Lana a small town of only 10K people, there are 24 churches. The farmers are very important for South Tyrol and many farms built their own little churches, so you’ll find many scattered around the region
- A lot of people want to go on a day trip from Venice to the Dolomites, which is great but there are so many places to see you barely touch the sides. If you can take any longer it is well worth it. We’ve chosen 5 days for an example itinerary because sometimes people have maybe two weeks to travel through Italy and if they’re focusing on Northern Italy, they can take in maybe Venice, Milan, and some of the lakes – and then include some time to explore this exceptional area
Franziska’s Recommended 5 Day South Tyrol Itinerary
First of all, she suggests checking out the south of South Tyrol, which is where her family winery Weingut Doná is based, in Appiano, and is home to the 3 castle tour. The tour starts behind the Winery Weingut Doná. It’s a two hours walk and when you reach the top, where Castel Hocheppan is situated, you are rewarded by a beautiful 360° view and a castle with a fascinating history. You can see Bolzano, the Dolomites, and the surrounding countryside and vineyards. The castle is fairytale-like, with its turrets, set in a square over-looking the valley. As well as the castle there is a church with paintings and a wonderful herb garden. If you are up there with the children, there are farm animals and you can see how the farmers live. There’s also a Tavern up there so you can grab some lunch or a glass of beer or wine. It’s a pretty easy walk but you can also go up by car and get a little bit nearer to have a small walk and enjoy lunch up there. To continue on the 3 castles tour, you can then you can go to the other castles Boymont and Korb with more amazing views, farms, and history along the way.
In the afternoon you can then head to Kalterer (Caldaro) Lake, which is just 10 minutes by car. It’s a natural bathing lake, surrounded by vineyards. The South of South Tyrol is very Mediterranean and sunny so it’s not as cold as you might expect. Appiano, it’s just 270 meters up – so not so high – so you have mountains in the South Tyrol but the valleys and the foods grown there are not so high and so are pretty warm. If you come in summer, when it gets really hot – then you can head to the lake to cool off in the water after you’ve done your hike up to the castle – or just go into the mountains to enjoy the cooler temperatures up. there!
Spend a whole day at the Seiser Alm/Alpe di Siusi – the highest Plateau in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site. At 2000 meters above sea level, you will find this green, lush paradise sourrounded by the Dolomite stone mountains and find yourself deep in nature, peace, and an unforgettable landscape. You cannot go up there by car – you need to go up on the cable car, which you can get from Seis am Schlern (Siusi allo Sciliar). It’s beautiful and so silent and you can walk up to the mountains some more – to higher peaks or you can just walk around – meaning it’s accessible to almost everyone.
Gostner Schwaige is an alpine hut (refugio) just a 20 minute (easy) walk from the cable car. It is an incredible alpine hut where you can stay or get food – – the term Schwaige has been used to denote a mountain hut and it is used in the alpine territory since the middle ages. Franz produces dishes only from the local area, using a huge variety of edible flowers from the garden tended by his mother. They are also famous for their hay soup served in a bowl made of bread and their dumplings which are large (tennis balls size) served with different things depending on seasons etc – it can be made with cheese, with ham, with spinach, with fruit and served with butter, gorgonzola, salad, in a soup – a huge variety ot things. It also has incredible views of one of the Dolomites – the Schlern (Sciliar Massif). It’s pretty small with around 10 tables outside so in high season you should probably book, though out of season – June for example, you could just turn up or maybe wait 5/10 minutes.
Franziska suggests spending the whole day up on the plateau to make the most of it – so go up at 9 am and come down when the sun is going down.
A day to spend in Bolzano – the capital of South Tyrol. When you are in South Tyrol you simply have to go to Bolzano – an amazing city with a special flair – charming, beautiful, and innovative, and full of interesting history. Here you can see clearly the South Tyrolean mixture of German and Italian living together, interweaving the cultures.
It is around 3 hours to Venice and also 3 to 4 hours to Milan by car. Milan to Bolzano is also under 4 hours by train.
At Bolzano, you can have interesting shopping, and unusual and pretty architecture to admire – particularly the churches. As well as the weekly farmers market at Bolzano, there is a fruit market every day with flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
It is also home to the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology which is dedicated to one of the most famous and most important mummies in the world: Oetzi (Ötze ), the Iceman. In 1991, a partly revealed and partly ice-covered human body was found by a couple from Nuremberg (Germany) at the Similaun Glacier in the Oetztal Alps. The place of recovery is located at more than 3,000 meters above sea level and only 92.55 meters from the Austrian border, on Italian territory. After decades of research, we now know that Oetzi was 1.58 meters tall, lived around 3300 BC, and was fatally injured by an arrow when he was about 46 years old. You can see what he was wearing and even eating.
Close to Bolzano is the Messner Mountain Museum Firmian, one of the museums in the region dedicated to Reinhold Messner, the famous mountaineer, explorer, and author from South Tyrol – and the centerpiece museum. Messner made the first solo ascent of Mount Everest and was the first climber to ascend all fourteen Himalayan peaks over 8,000 meters above sea level. He was also the first to cross Antarctica and Greenland with neither snowmobiles nor dog sled and crossed the Gobi Desert alone (for a change of scenery no doubt). Not only is this museum set in a castle taking back to the middle ages (Sigmundskron Castle), but it also houses a fascinating and vast collection, and sometimes he even appears at the museum, so if you’re lucky enough you might see him.
Fransizka suggests heading to one of her favorite spots, enjoying some wonderful food, and doing a bit of exploring on this day. A couple of her favorite places to head to for amazing sites and views are Corvara and Renon.
From the town of Corvara, you can access the three peaks in the Dolomites – Tre Cime. These are Cima Piccola (“little peak”), Cima Grande (“big peak”), and Cima Ovest (“western peak”). You can head up there the whole year, for quite easy hiking and as it’s in the middle of the Dolomites, you’re always surrounded by spectacular views.
Renon, a town above Bolzano, is home to a unique natural phenomenon – its earth pyramids. They are naturally made, very tall pyramids of earth, like shards, with a rock atop. A truly unique sight, special to South Tyrol – They originate from glacial rocks, and the higher they are, the thinner they get, ending usually with a stone topper. They are constantly evolving and eroding, and each may collapse and make way for new formations.
Now it’s time to try some of the local specialties!!
South Tyrol, like all of Italy, has a strong food culture. They have great cow cheeses, speck ( a ham unique to the region, knödel (dumplings), wine, apples, and gorgeous Apple Strudel.
You will find many local restaurants and especially small local restaurants as you explore the region and they are all likely very good.
The knödels are dumplings made of bread which can be made in a huge variety of ways. Make them with spinach, so they are green, make with speck ham, make them with cheese or cover with a cheese sauce (maybe gorgonzola) or with butter. You can even make them sweet, like with apricots and fresh cheese like ricotta
Wine is an important part of South Tyrol and they have many vineyards. They have three autochthone vines, the Gewürztraminer, Vernatsch and Lagrein. These are the three that originate from the area bu they also have many other wine grapes growing there. They do have a special terroir for Pinot Noir, for example, because they like cold nights and hot days as well as Merlots, and Cabernet Sauvignon. They produce around 50% red wine and 50% white wine – like Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris). The rest of Italy tends to grow more red than white, while it’s evenly split here and the red wines they do grow are more light red – not heavy wines, but strong.
Along with the wine, they grow a lot of apples in the region and make not only cider but their famous apple strudel. Theirs uses their unique locally grown apples, cinnamon, and raisins.
Merano is beautiful and is a very important food city also for South Tyrol, with a very mild climate and many flowers and plants growing there that you would not expect – like kiwis, lemons, oranges, and even bananas.
The South Tyrolean don’t eat a lot of meat but when they do, they prefer the best and will have local and high-quality beef, veal, pork and lamb. The meat will come from animals grazing in the local areas which adds to the exceptional quality. South Tyrol is a nice place to have a car because you can just drive around and you will stumble across beautiful places everywhere. Many enchanting small towns – towns with just a thousand or two thousand people living there. Some places with people just living up in the mountains or down in the valleys – and you can find incredible food to try wherever you go from the huge range of produce that is grown and farmed there.
Spend a day at Resia Lake, which is in the north of the region, in the Curon district, near the border of Switzerland and Austria.
The man-made Resia Lake and is huge – with a surface area of 10 km is and has a circumference of 15.3 km, with a maximum depth of 45 meters when full, and containing 120 million cubic meters of water. During its construction in 1950, the entire town of Curon and most of Resia/Reschen were flooded, which destroyed 163 houses and 523 hectares of land. Today, there is only the protruding church steeple from the water’s surface that is left as a reminder of the old town of Curon. It’s a beautiful, eery and fascinating place to visit. It’s very much a mountain town and you can feel like you’ve stepped back 50 years when you visit Resia.
The water itself can often be quite turquoise. Franziska loves to go there in September as Fall/Autumn has begun, so you have the contrast of the reds, oranges, and yellows against the turquoise water.
There are many activities going on around the lake – water skiing, kit surfing, you can hire bikes or go hiking, or you can just sit back and enjoy the quiet and the natural environment.
About our guests – Franziska Weingut Doná
Franziska Doná is from Southtyrol (South Tyrol) – a magical, little region in the very north of Italy.
She is the daughter of a Winemakers Family and has a sister and two brothers. When she was young she loved traveling around the world, then 10 years settled back down in South Tyrol.
She loves nature, hiking, the mountains, the grapes, as well as good food and wine, She loves to work with people and enjoys her role renting holiday apartments in South Tyrol.
The Donà Winery property, along with its own private winery, also offers wonderful accommodation. It is located on the South Tyrolean Wine Road close to the new Eppan golf course. The winery provides an idyll of quietness amidst vineyards with a view of the fascinating mountain world of the Dolomites.
You can find the Donà Winery on these channels:
Places mentioned in the show
- Appiano – also known as Eppan an der Weinstraße, an area of South Tyrol in northern Italy, southwest of Bolzano
- Hocheppan Castle – also known as Appiano Castle, gorgeous place to visit, with amazing views
- Three Castles Walk – Appiano Castle, Castel Boymont (Schloss Boymont) and Castel Corba (Schloss Korb)
- Bolzano – the main city in South Tyrol and one of our 35 of the best cities to visit in Italy
- Seis am Schlern/Siusi allo Sciliar – alpine village where you can get the cable car to Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm
- Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm – a Dolomite plateau and the largest high-altitude Alpine meadow in Europe. Located in Italy’s South Tyrol province in the Dolomites mountain range, it is a major tourist attraction, notably for skiing and hiking
- Corvara – where tourism visit began in the Alta Badia (High Badia) at the foot of the Sassongher mountain
- Tre Cime (the three peaks of the Dolomites) – the three peaks, from east to west, are Cima Piccola (“little peak”), Cima Grande (“big peak”) and Cima Ovest (“western peak”)
- Marmolada – the highest mountain of the Dolomites
- Gostner Schwaige – alpine hut on Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm, producing dishes only from the local area with a huge variety of edible flowers
- Schlern – one of the Dolomites also known as Sciliar Massif, which looks like a rhino horn
- South Tyrolean Museum of Archeology – a museum all about Otzi (Oetze) the iceman
- Lana – town in the Etschtal (Etsch Valley) with over 24 churches known as the California of the Alps
- Castle Firmian & Messner Museum – a medieval castle that houses a museum dedicated to Reinhold Messner
- Corvara – great place to go hiking the 3 peaks
- Renon – famous for its natural earth pyramids
- Lake Resia – also known as Reschensee – a man-made lake near the border of Austria and Switzerland in the Curon district
Food & Drink
- Vernatsch – an important grape variety to South Tyrol
- Gewürztraminer – a grape variety used in white wines, and performs best in cooler climates
- Lagrein – a red wine grape variety native to the valleys of South Tyrol
- knödel – a local kind of dumpling made with white bread and eggs
- terroir – a French term used to describe the environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype, including unique environment contexts, farming practices, and a crop’s specific growth habitat
- speck – a dry-cured, lightly smoked ham produced in South Tyrol
- apple strudel – known as an Austrian dish, the South Tyrolean apple strudel is special due to their apples and made with cinnamon and raisons
- rifugios – a mountain hut where you can stop for a break and some food
- Ötzi the Iceman – the natural mummy of a man who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE, discovered locally in 1991 – and to which the South Tyrolean Museum of Archeology in Bolzano is fully dedicated
- autochthon – from ancient Greek, the concept of autochthones means the indigenous inhabitants of a country
Resources from Untold Italy
- Find many more about Bolzano and other Northern Cities in Best cities to visit in Italy and more interesting destinations to discover in Hidden gems in Italy – off the beaten path from north to south
- Listen: to previous episode on South Tyrol and the Dolomites – Episode #085 Hiking the Dolomites and Episode 64 Stunning South Tyrol and the Dolomites and to discover more fantastic destinations in Northern Italy in Episode #114: Welcome to Emilia Romagna, Episode #055: Picturesque Piedmont – lesser known region of wine and truffles! and Episode #032: A love letter to Brescia
- Join our exclusive Untold Italy Insiders to help plan your trips, come together with fellow travelers, to share travel finds and inspiration, and learn more about bella Italia!
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can plan an amazing trip full of memories you’ll cherish forever
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.