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Episode #165: Trip Consultation: Dolomites and South Tyrol

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South Tyrol, in Northern Italy, is a unique and varied region. Along the mighty Dolomites mountains, you can explore castles, vineyards, lakes, and alpine meadows. It can be difficult to work out the logistics of the area, partly due to a lack of information available online. Even if you are a well-seasoned Italy traveler, like Untold founder Katy, sometimes reaching out for some specialist advice proves invaluable, especially if you have any particular requirements or challenges. Vin and Kate from Throne and Vine, experts on South Tyrol, did a consult with Katy for the September trip she is taking with her family, including both her young children and older parents. They came up with both useful and unexpected solutions, as well as some wonderful ideas and tips for exploring the area.

Show notes
In this episode, we welcome back Kate and Vin, who run Throne and Vine – a fabulous resource for information on exploring the South Tyrol and Dolomites area (which can be pretty hard to find anywhere else on the internet!). They first stumbled on the area on a quick detour from their main itinerary, they fell in love with the region and have been traveling to the area for many years now. They offer trip consultations and help with your itinerary if you’re heading to this region. Even if you love planning, it can be hard work and sometimes, in regions that are less visited – downright difficult. When you’re talking about areas that involve hills, mountains, and where certain access is available only seasonally, it can really make sense to speak to someone who knows the lay of the land about what will work best for you. Don’t forget that somewhere that shoes a mile or 2 away could be a mostly vertical ascent! On her own consult, Katy gets tips on where to base her family group of 6, what type of accommodation, what to do and how to get about.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. The name of the website run by Kate and Vin on the South Tyrol and Dolomites is Throne & Vine. Throne because there are over 800 castles in the region and Vine, because of the incredible wine there
  2. Throne and Vine started as a blog focusing on South Tyrol, and it’s now since expanded into a travel advisory business where Kate and Vin help people who may not be familiar with South Tyrol. It’s such a hidden gem and there’s not as much information available about it compared to other parts of Italy. The geography of South Tyrol and the Dolomites is very complex and they aim to help people explore it and have the best possible experiences. Almost weekly they get a question from someone who is are simply confused
  3. Untold founder Katy and her family are going to Italy in September on a trip that covers a few regions, including South Tyrol – which is where she had become stuck with her planning. Katy has of course done a lot of travel in Italy over many years, her Italian is okay, her husbands’ is excellent (his parents were originally from Italy) and they are very comfortable driving in Italy, but planning this part of her trip she was really frustrated
  4. If you’re going into one of the regions of Italy that’s not so well known or well documented in English, it can really be worth finding someone to help. Everyone’s got a limited amount of time and everyone’s got different needs and requirements for their trip. If you are trying to plan based on what’s on Google, you can really find yourself running into a few challenges – as Katy did – despite her experience and years of traveling to Italy
  5. Katy’s trip in September is for a party of 6 – with her husband, their 9-year-old twins, and her parents who are in their 70s. They will be renting a van and driving up from their first stop in Tuscany. (Note – van rental is pricey and they are limited so if you are wanting to rent one, get it booked as soon as you can!). They will spend about 8 days in the region and have two bases – as it’s such a large region
  6. They are keen to see some epic scenery with incredible mountains, lakes, vineyards, and castles – with plenty of history, food, and wine thrown in. Katy’s dad has a few mobility challenges – he can walk quite long distances, but he’s fairly slow and it’s best to avoid uneven ground and steep paths. They really want him to have an amazing time on this trip in particular because it might be his last trip to Europe from Australia. He’s a keen photographer. so it will be ideal to be surrounded by beautiful scenery and not have to go too far to see it
  7. The original plan was to stay in Bolzano because it’s a city and seemed to be good for a base
  8. Kate and Vin’s advice, given that they have mobility issues that is to be based in Val Gardena where there are three villages – Ortisei, Santa Cristina, and Sëlva. Ortisei is the biggest town and the beautiful thing about Ortisei is that after you arrive you can then walk everywhere. You can take lifts up to virtually any place where it’s easy to hike. You have the Alpe di Siusi on one side of the valley and Seceda on the other. Staying in other places could make it quite complicated to dive in and out of valleys so it makes sense to base on Alpe di Siusi itself – the area surrounded by Sassolungo, Schlern, and Rosengarten mountains with some of the major peaks of the Dolomites right outside the door
  9. It had never occurred to Katy to stay right on top of the mountain and realized it was a fantastic idea. As well as being immersed in the beautiful surroundings and you can also do day trips from there easily too
  10. Alpe di Siusi itself is 20 square miles – if you can picture an area the size of Manhattan but 5,000 feet up off the valley floor. There are countless trails and it is rolling alpine meadows, so no steep inclines to deal with. You can just wander around – you can’t get lost. There’s also the added bonus that you’re eventually going to run into a mountainside tavern where you can stop and have a drink or a meal
  11. Accommodation wise you can stay at a local bed and breakfast in a tavern or a farm stay – somewhere where you really get to know the locals and experience something authentic. You can stay with a family that has a farm which you can help out with if you want, or you can just observe and be immersed in the environment
  12. The other really amazing option in South Tyrol is a wellness resort where you can experience various different treatments where there are all sorts of different treatments – including pine oil baths and hay baths. After you’ve been hiking or biking all day, you come back to the resort and just let them pamper you
  13. They have something known as Kneipp Paths. Kneipp therapy is basically walking on ice-cold water along a trail, on an uneven surface as a therapy
  14. When staying in a place that’s a little bit more secluded like Alpe di Siusi, you’re going to want to stay half board. Half board is very commonly offered in Europe and means they offer you two meals a day – breakfast and usually dinner. There are mountain taverns all around you but after a day of hiking, when you’ve possibly been wandering around for quite a few hours – 6 hours even, so you’re likely not going to have to go out again walking down the road to get something to eat
  15. Kate and Vin often like to stay a little closer to the towns because that way they can walk into town and get a little bit more variety with the restaurants, but this is after many years and trips in the area. The problem when you stay in one of the towns is that you don’t get the sunrise and the sunset over the Dolomites. For those new to visiting the area, staying in the midst of the Alpe di Siusi will mean you’ll get these amazing experiences
  16. The Dolomites are unlike any other mountain range – formed of jagged rocks and really dramatic. The way that they formed is almost like pedestal. You can walk around the entire massif and take it in from all these different vantage points. Even if you walk the same trail out and back again, everything will look different
  17. Understanding Alpe di Siusi can be a bit confusing because you have the plateau itself, which is called Alpe di Siusi but you also have a holiday region called Alpe di Siusi. There’s also Val Gardena – so there are two separate holiday regions
  18. You cannot drive up to the plateau from Val Gardena. The only way you can get to the plateau is by taking the lift or hiking up
  19. You can only access the plateau by road from Castelrotto. You can take a lift up from Seis, which is a suburb of Castelrotto, or you can take the road up to Campeche – a small village up on Alpe di Siusi, where there’s parking which costs around 20 Euros, similar to the cost of a lift ticket. If you drive then don’t have to deal with waiting in line for the lifts and it’s a pretty easy drive. There are a couple of hairpin corners, but if you’re used to driving in mountainous areas, it’s fine
  20. The roads in the South Tyrol are immaculate –  they really take good care of them. You’ll find the locals know the roads really well and zip around the roads but if they come up behind you, which can make you feel a bit nervous, there are always pull-off areas. So you can just pull off to the side and let cars behind you go by
  21. Unlike some areas in Italy, where you really need a paper map (at least as backup), the area is covered really well by Google Maps. Kate and Vin rely on it all the time. Vin usually does the driving and Kate navigates. It can be handy for the navigator to keep an eye on the map so you can warn the driver when a hairpin or a sharp turn is coming up (especially at night) – it just adds a little bit more confidence on those roads
  22. You do have good cell reception generally but it can sometimes get spotty, but it has really improved over recent years. You can rely on Google Maps, but it’s worth downloading them so you can have them offline as a backup but also as maps can use up a lot of your data allowance
  23. Katy was set to stay up on the mountain – to have those beautiful sunrises, have their dinners up there, have access to everything on her doorstep – but she was concerned if it would be difficult to go somewhere else – like visiting one of the lakes or the castles. Kate and Vin reassured her that it’s actually very easy to get around, especially if you have your own transportation
  24. Some of the more popular sites can get really busy so it’s really worth getting up a little bit earlier to beat the worst of the crowds. Another reason why it’s great to have your own vehicle – it gives you that flexibility
  25. Lago di Braies is a stunning lake that is probably the most popular lake in the Dolomites. It’s a little over an hour to drive there
  26. It’s so popular that it will get so busy that they shut the main parking area/close down the road from about the end of May through the end of September. It’s not the end of the world if you show up and it’s closed –  there is a tavern on the side where you can park and they shuttle you in. If you’re being shuttled in, you’re probably the number 3,000th person getting in there so it is at peak. Katy has pledged to be up and out really early to avoid this
  27. Around Lago di Braies and most of the natural attractions you can hike to – there are various restaurants so you don’t have to worry about taking food with you for the day. On Lago di Braies, there’s Hotel Lago di Braies, which is a stunning, historic property with a high-end, elegant restaurant. What Kate and Vin like to do is to hike halfway around the lake and about half an hour in, head down another trail where there’s a gorgeous mountain tavern, surrounded by these sheer cliffs. They have a little farm and desserts to die for. Plan on at least half a day exploring there – take your time
  28. The name of Lago di Braies in German is Pragser Wildsee. 70% of South Tyrol speaks German and there are certain destinations that just go by their German name more commonly than the Italian name
  29. In Val Gardena, not only do you have German and Italian, you have Ladin, which is an ancient language spoken in around 5 valleys in the Dolomites. So you can see signs and menus in three different languages. It’s fascinating to experience this different culture
  30. Val di Funes(Villnöß) in German, is the valley to the east of Alpi di Siusi with some places worth visiting. There is the Saint Magdalena church, which is a church famous for its setting/backdrop – you’ll see amazing images of it on Instagram and websites. There are jagged peaks, the lush, green valley, and this little church in the middle. A couple of miles from there is another tiny chapel – Saint Johann where you get to see the mountains from a different perspective
  31. You can go to just the main viewpoints and be in and out of the valley in a couple of hours but Kate and Vin recommend spending a bit more time – check out the churches, get great photos, and then hike the Adolf Munkel Trail. You could spend a whole day – but would allow at least 5 hours to do the churches and a part of the trail. There are some incredible places to eat around there
  32. The trail brings you right beneath the peaks of Seceda. It is on the Odle Mountain and Seceda is on the other side. You see the mountains from an entirely different perspective, so much so that you would never guess it’s at the same peaks
  33. None of these hikes are hardcore – anyone reasonably fit can do them. Kate and Vin always tell people is if they’re hiking in the Dolomites (or anywhere), and if they’re constantly stopping to catch their breath, then they’re going too fast. You’re not in a rush – slow down and take it easy. A mistake many people make when they first arrive in the Dolomites is to think that the next day they can go off and hike some difficult paths, but they can’t because they’re not adjusted to the altitude. It’s best to take easy hikes first to acclimatize
  34. Bolzano is where Katy was originally thinking of being based – it’s a historic city and there’s a historic zone so parking issues and although there is a lift to get up the mountains – it’s quite far away from the center of town
  35. Kate and Vin’s advice is that while Bolzano is great, it’s very city-like, so they like to recommend staying somewhere a little bit different and the Dorf Tirol area is ideal. This is 30-40 minutes north of Bolzano, in an area where you’re elevated and you’re overlooking so much. You have beautiful views of castles, it’s all really quaint, rustic and quite a charming experience
  36. Nearby Merano is a beautiful resort town and could also be somewhere great to stay, but what is great about Dorf Tirol is that it’s part way up the mountainside so you’re looking back towards Adige Valley and Bolzano. It’s a wide valley with mountains on both sides and you can’t really get quite the same perspective by staying in Merano
  37. Some of Vin and Kate’s favorite hikes are right outside the village. There is the Algunder Waalweg, a trail that runs along an irrigation channel where you’ll be walking through vineyards, orchards, and forests with chapels and castles all over. Or you can take the Tappeiner promenade from Dorf Tirol, which runs above Merano. There’s another promenade where you can walk all the way down into Merano itself
  38. The incredible Castle Tyrol is located right next to Dorf Tirol too. This castle is stunning and is surrounded by vineyards
  39. The Merano area is a very different terrain compared to the area around Alpe di Siusi. It’s very Mediterranean in the valley – you have palm trees, cypress trees, and orchards, of apples and pears but you then have the snow-capped mountains above all around 
  40. In South Tyrol, as well as having the experience of Germany and Italy in one place, you also get the mix of Mediterranean and Alpine in one place. You have a vast variety of things to experience from a cultural standpoint as well as contrasting landscapes
  41. The gardens of Trauttmansdorff are gorgeous botanical gardens just outside of Merano. They change continually throughout the seasons and the whole thing is on different levels circling a castle. From Bolzano, you can be to the gardens of Trauttmansdorff, in around half an hour. From Merano – you could even walk from downtown to the gardens or it’s a 10 minute drive
  42. The driving is pretty easy in this area too. Once you get higher up, the roads are not marked quite as well. There’s been a few times where Kate and Vin have gotten lost in that part of South Tyrol – but when they get lost, they usually find something new and interesting anyhow, so it’s part of the adventure
  43. Dorf Tirol, despite being surrounded by mountains is flat – so easy to walk everywhere which is great when you have someone in the party with mobility issues
  44. Bolzano is now going to be a stop-off for Katy rather than a base. Both Merano and Bolzano both have historic and vibrant centers with great sights, shopping, and eating
  45. Katy has gone from being stressed about this part of the trip – as despite having lost count of how many times she’s been to Italy, this area and the logistics were a real challenge. The terrain is different, the language is different, there’s so little information available out there and so getting input and advice from Kate and Vin has been absolutely invaluable for her trip
  46. On the Throne & Vine website, they have a page outlining their different itinerary planning services. They really try to make it as simple as possible for people to explore their favorite region. Some people like to plan everything themselves and just need a few pointers whilst others want to have somebody else do most of the planning. They find whatever would work best for each individual situation. Their options include:
    • Consult Calls – They can just do a consultation call they did with Katy – it’s 45 minutes and you can ask them questions, you can pull up a map and be guided by them to help you understand where things are located – how far away, how to get around etc
    • Personalized Itinerary – They can also develop a personalized itinerary for how many days you would like. They send over a travel questionnaire and start from there
    • Useful Resources – If you’re a do-it-yourself planner, they have some great resources on their website to download – from hiking guides to how to find the best airfare

About our guests – Kate and Vin

Kate and Vin, award-winning storytellers, run Throne & Vine, a website dedicated to helping explore the South Tyrol. The site is their way to reveal all of the beauty, adventure, history and culture South Tyrol offers travelers. They dive deep, sharing the best South Tyrol experiences from wine getaways, hiking excursions, wellness retreats, culinary discoveries and much more. 

Throne & Vine has become a go-to resource for travelers around the world looking to plan an adventure unlike any other in this region.

Kate and Vin were several days into their first Italian adventure – like most tourists, they were seeking to explore some of Italy’s most popular destinations and after consuming the wonders of Venice and Verona, they rented a car venturing north into what we then knew only as the “Italian Alps”. And then it happened. Almost instantly.

The splendor they encountered in South Tyrol shot an arrow straight through their wanderlust hearts. Travel would never be the same again. Their bucket list of countries to visit became meaningless clutter and the seed for Throne & Vine was planted on that first trip, as they felt like they had stumbled on Italy’s best-kept secret. When family and friends began questioning why they kept returning to the same place in Italy, they knew keeping the lid on South Tyrol forever was just not possible and Throne & Vine was born.

You can find Kate and Vin on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Bolzano – the capital city of South Tyrol and one of our 35 best cities to visit in Italy
  • Val Gardena – a valley in the Dolomites, great bases for staying in the area 
  • Ortisei – the largest of Val Gardena’s three towns and arguably the prettiest
  • Sëlva and Santa Cristina Gherdëina – the other 2 towns in Val Gardena
  • 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.
  • Seceda – one of the most iconic/popular peaks of the Dolomites. located on the sunny side of Val Gardena, at the foot of the Parco Naturale Cisles-Odle nature reserve
  • Sassolungo – (and Saslonch) mean “long stone” is a huge mountain 
  • Schlern– is a mountain which looks like rhino horm – with the Schlernboden inn and on the summit plateau is the Schlernhaus inn 2,457 metres (8,061 ft), both open from 1 June to 15 October
  • Rosengarten group – another massif in the Dolomites
  • Castelrotto – town near Alpe di Siusi
  • Campeche – hamlet in the area
  • Lago di Braies – a bright blue mountain lake in the heart of the Dolomites
  • Val di Funes (Villnöß) – Valley in the heart of the South Tyrol
  • Dorf Tirol – great town to base yourself for lots of hikes and great views
  • Odle (Odlegruppa) – mountains range in the Dolomites
  • Merano – city surrounded by mountains known for its spa resorts
  • Algunder Waalweg – trail through the vineyards of Algund and St. Peter
  • Tappeiner promenade – an easy trail above Merano with great views to the town and Val d’Adig
  • Castle Tyrol/Tirol – was the ancestral seat of the Counts of Tyrol and gave the whole Tyrol region its name
  • Gardens of Trauttmansdorff – botanical gardens located on the grounds of Trauttmansdorff Castle 

Resources

  • Kneipp Path – Kneipp therapy involves putting your feet into very cold water on an uneven surface (like a river bed) – in the case of the Kneipp Paths they are natural and free trails can be found around South Tyrol
  • Ladin – a language mainly spoken in the Dolomite Mountains. A Rhaeto-Romance language related to Swiss Romansh and Friulian

Resources from Untold Italy

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