Trentino & South Tyrol
Home to the spectacular sawtoothed Dolomites, the semi-autonomous provinces of Trentino and South Tyrol are packed with stunning landscapes. The region has long enticed hikers, climbers, poets and fresh-air fanciers, with the scenic Sella Ronda remaining one of the world's most iconic skiing and cycling circuits.
Alpine influences abound here. Many residents speak German or the ancient Ladin language, trains run with Swiss precision, and pristine recreation paths wind through vine- and orchard-covered hillsides. The region's cities – Trento, Bolzano and Merano – are alluringly cultured and dynamic, while accommodation – be it a humble mountain hut or a five-star spa – is unfailingly welcoming and well run.
Nowhere are the region’s multicultural roots more evident than on the plate. From Austrian-style knödel (dumplings) to casunziei (beet-filled pasta with poppy seeds), prepare for a unique feast, always accompanied by fabulous regional wines like sparkling Trentino DOC or ruby-red Lagrein.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Trentino & South Tyrol.
This four-storey, 12,000-sq-metre steel, glass and marble behemoth, designed by Ticinese architect Mario Botta, is both imposing and human in scale, with mountain light gently filling a central atrium from a soaring cupola. On either side are the museum's monumental galleries of modern and contemporary art. Among the collections (though not always on display) are some huge 20th-century works, including Warhol's Four Marilyns, several Picassos, and a clutch of others, including Bill Viola, Kara Walker, Arnulf Rainer and Anselm Kiefer.
Northwest of Pinzolo is the entrance to the Val di Genova, renowned as one of the Alps' most beautiful valleys. It's great walking country, lined with a series of spectacular waterfalls along the 16km Sentiero delle Cascate (Waterfalls Trail). Four mountain huts strung out along the valley floor – from east to west, Chalet da Gino (www.chaletdagino.com), Rifugio Fontana Bona (www.rifugiofontanabona.it), Rifugio Stella Alpina (www.facebook.com/StellaAlpinaValGenova) and Rifugio Bedole (www.sites.google.com/site/rifugiobedole) – offer food and accommodation en route; Pinzolo's tourist office has full details.
You could give an entire day to these beautiful botanical gardens a little outside Merano (and they do suggest it). Exotic cacti and palms, fruit trees and vines, beds of lilies, irises and tulips all cascade down the hillside surrounding a mid-19th-century castle where Sissi – Empress Elisabeth – spent the odd summer. Inside, Touriseum charts two centuries of travel in the region, exploring the changing nature of our yearning for the mountains. There's also a restaurant and a cafe by the lily pond.
Guarded by hulking fortifications, this massive edifice was home to Trento's bishop-princes until Napoleon's arrival in 1801. Enclosed within is the original 13th-century castle, the Castelvecchio, along with the residential rooms of the Renaissance-era Magno Palazzo, and the upstairs loggia with its lovely Adige valley views. Pay separate admission to visit the Torre Aquila, the castle's showpiece tower, adorned with a 14th-century 'months of the year' fresco cycle depicting May garden parties, the October wine harvest and a medieval snowball fight.
The star of the Museo Archeologico dell’Alto Adige is Ötzi, the Iceman, with almost the entire museum being given over to the Copper Age mummy. Kept in a temperature-controlled 'igloo' room, he can be viewed through a small window (peer closely enough and you can make out faintly visible tattoos on his legs). Ötzi's clothing – a wonderful get-up of patchwork leggings, rush-matting cloak and fur cap – and other belongings are also displayed.
A stunning modernist architectural work, courtesy of Renzo Piano, houses this 21st-century science museum and cleverly echoes the local landscape. Curatorially, the museum typifies the city's brainy inquisitiveness, with highly interactive exhibitions that explore the Alpine environment, biodiversity and sustainability, society and technology. Highlights are a truly amazing collection of taxidermy, much of it suspended in a multistorey atrium, along with the fabulous Maxi Ooh! experiential kids area for three- to five-year-olds.
Bolzano's four-storey contemporary art space is housed in a huge multifaceted glass cube, a brave architectural surprise that beautifully vignettes the old-town rooftops and surrounding mountains from within. There's an impressive permanent collection of Italian and international artwork; temporary shows are a testament to the local art scene's vibrancy, or often highlight an ongoing dialogue with artists and institutions from around the world. The river-facing cafe has a terrace perfect for a post-viewing spritz.
Atmospherically set in a castle 15km south of Brunico and full of folk treasures, this is the best of three museums in this region devoted to Ladin history and culture. The wide-ranging exhibits cover everything from Ladin language, geology and winter sports to rituals of everyday life, with reconstructed rooms from traditional homes and a treasure trove of touch-screen displays through which you can glean background information on a variety of topics.
Anyone passionate about the mountains should make a beeline for this captivating museum, opened in 2018 at the summit of Kronplatz ski resort. The architecturally bold re-rendering of a former funicular station houses four floors of stunning mountain imagery from a rotating cast of international photographers. The setting alone is worth the trip, with swoon-inducing perspectives on the surrounding mountains.