Castle Juval – Is situated high above the entrance to Val Senales (Schnalstal Valley), close to the village of Naturns (Naturno). In 1983, it was bought by the world-famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner, who holds two Mount Everest ‘firsts’: he climbed it solo and he climbed it without additional oxygen. The 13th century castle now houses a mountaineering and Tibetan art museum, a winery, an organic farm and a charming traditional inn. Castle Juval can either be reached from Juval carpark (by shuttle bus only) or on foot along a traditional Waalweg from the nearby hamlet of Tschars (Ciardes).
Meran (Merano) – The Italian spirit of the area shines in the lovely old spa resort of Meran (Merano) on the river Passirio. Meran (Merano) is where glistening glaciers form a majestic background for exotic palm trees and sub-tropical flowers. The fascinating medieval town centre bustles with everyday life, picturesque historic buildings, beautifully laid-out parks, elegant promenades, and colourful fruit and vegetable markets stacked high with garlic and other delights of the region.
Castle Trauttmansdorff – Don’t miss the magnificent Castle Trauttmansdorff with its most amazing gardens! Located just outside of Meran (Merano) the castle has gained historical significance through the wife of Franz Joseph I, Elisabeth of Bavaria, who was also Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Queen of Bohemia. Friends and family called her Sissi from an early age. Empress Sissi, who inspired filmmakers and theatrical producers alike, was considered a free spirit who found it difficult to comply with conventional court protocol. Sissi arrived at Trauttmansdorff Castle in October 1870 with her two daughters, Gisela and Marie Valerie, in order to pass the winter months in the healthy climate of the Southern Alps. They occupied the splendidly furnished rooms on the top floor of the castle, living under ornate, frescoed wooden ceilings. In September of 1889, Empress Elisabeth returned to Trauttmansdorff Castle a second time. Eight months before, her son Crown Prince Rudolf had taken his own life in Mayerling, Austria. Sissi – now the ‘Woman in Black’ – remained sequestered during her stay, rarely showing herself beyond the castle walls.
Apple Blossoms – Throughout summer the mountains are full of beautiful colourful alpine flowers and the lower valleys are rich with lush vegetation. Blessed with an extremely temperate climate, this part of the Alps is also well known for apples, accounting for one tenth of Europe’s total apple production. In springtime, when the snow still lingers picturesquely on the distant mountain peaks, the valleys are thick with pale pink apple blossom.
Food & Drink – With a world-renowned reputation for wine, and its blend of Austrian-German, Italian and Ladin dishes, you can expect to sample the most delicious natural fare – all cooked and lovingly prepared from scratch. Try regional specialities like ‘Speck’ (a type of cured ham), or how does light-as-air spinach dumplings with a creamy walnut sauce sound? Then there is the wine: high altitude, warm days and cold nights make for white wines with intense, fragrant aromas, bursting with flavour. The region also produces some exciting reds – rich, ruby, full of body and delicious.
Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio (Stilfserjoch Nationalpark/Stelvio National Park) – Italy’s largest National Park, with one third on South Tyrolean territory. The park covers a total area of 134,620 hectares (332,646 acres) and is divided amongst the Italian provinces of South Tyrol, Trento, Brescia and Sondrio. It borders onto the Swiss National Park and the Italian Adamello-Brenta National Park. General information, guided tours and exhibitions are offered in the park’s South Tyrol visitor centres of Trafoi, Prad and Martell:
Ötzi the Iceman – The superb Museo Archeologico dell’ Alto Adige (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology) in Bolzano features the actual corpse of Ötzi the Iceman. His frozen body was discovered high in the Alps on the Austrian/Italian border by a group of German walkers in 1991. Assuming the corpse was that of a lost climber, officials literally hacked him out of the glacier, unfortunately damaging his left side in the process. Only on discovering his pre-Bronze axe did they realise what they had found: a perfectly preserved 5,300-year-old Neolithic hunter, complete with clothing, weapons and personal belongings, all in excellent condition.
Waalwege – Are an extensive network of pathways alongside ancient irrigation channels leading across Alpine meadows, through orchards, vineyards and chestnut woods. They are unique to parts of South Tyrol, mainly the Vinschgau region in Western South Tyrol. The Vinschgau has a very dry climate with less rainfall than any other region of the Alps. A so-called ‘Waaler’ managed these irrigation channels and assigned the respective farmers their quantity of water. The ‘Waalschelle’, a bell which was fastened to a small water wheel, let the Waaler hear from a distance whether the water was flowing or not. Some Waalschellen are still working in some areas. Many irrigation channels are no longer needed as a result of modern sprinkler systems; however, there are some which still fulfil their original function today, and people are anxious to preserve them for future generations. These Waalwege are much loved by walkers today.
History & Culture
Scattered remains of pre-historic civilisation, dating as far back as 6000 BC, have been discovered in the region of current Trentino-Alto Adige. Since then, the area has had a turbulent history. In more recent times, in 15 BC, the Romans advanced from the south bringing with them a new culture and new sophistication.
Around the year 400, Rome withdrew its legions from the area and three other tribes moved in to take control: the Lombards, the Alemanni and the Bavarians. However, an ethnic minority of the dominion of Rome, the Ladini, still survives today in some valleys. During the medieval period the Habsburg broadened their feudal possessions and the area became part of the Habsburg empire. In 1810 it was incorporated into Napoleonic Italy, although, after the defeat of Napoleon, the entire area was returned to Austria.
At the end of Word War I, Italian troops penetrated deep into Tyrol, annexing the southern part of Tyrol, and the name South Tyrol was born. This territorial arrangement was confirmed by the Treaty of Saint Germain in 1919. In a second phase, South Tyrol was settled with ‘native’ Italians from the south in an attempt to adjust the ethnic balance. Modern Trentino-Alto Adige is divided into two sections: Alto Adige (Südtirol in German) in the north, which has retained much of its Austrian heritage, and Italian-speaking Trentino in the south. Trentino-Alto Adige stretches from the panoramic views of South Tyrol, with its soaring Alps, apple plantations, emerald vineyards and historic castles, to the awe-inspiring Dolomites.
Geography, Flora & Fauna
Flowers and wildlife thrive in the mountains of South Tyrol – most notably the alpine ibex (Steinbock in German). The ibex has, for a long time, been regarded as a mystical animal; almost all its body parts were sought after as an ingredient for “magical” potions. As a result, the ibex had disappeared from much of the Alps at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1816, thanks to the efforts of a small group of people, the last remaining animals in Italy were protected. Today, after extensive and ongoing introduction programmes, the population in the wild is estimated to be about 30,000.
The steppe-like slopes of Mt. Sonnenberg in the Vinschgau Valley are home to three quarters of all the butterfly species found in South Tyrol. Red deer, red fox, badgers, pine martens and squirrels live in the forests. Secluded Alpine pastures give refuge to chamois and marmots. Protected bird species include the golden eagle, and the alpine salamander has perfectly adapted to the short summers in these high mountains.
The range of plants found in South Tyrol is enormous, as one might expect in an area whose climate and altitude varies from Mediterranean to the eternal ice. Throughout summer the mountains are full of beautiful colourful alpine flowers and the lower valleys are rich with lush vegetation. Blessed with an extremely temperate climate, this part of the Alps is also well known for apples, accounting for one tenth of Europe’s total apple production. In springtime, when the snow still lingers picturesquely on the distant mountain peaks, the valleys are thick with pale pink apple blossom.