Bolzano Cathedral or Duomo di Bolzano aerial panoramic view, located in Bolzano city in South Tyrol, Italy

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Merano (Meran)

With its leafy boulevards, birdsong, oleanders and cacti, Merano feels like a northern Italian Shangri-La. Long lauded for its sunny microclimate, this poignantly pretty town (and one-time Tyrolean capital) was a Habsburg-era spa and the hot destination of its day, favoured by the Austrian royals plus Freud, Kafka and Pound. The Jugendstil (art nouveau) villas, recuperative walks and grand riverside Kurhaus fan out from its intact medieval core. The city's therapeutic traditions have served it well in the new millennium, with spa hotels drawing a new generation of health-conscious visitors and bolstering the region's booming organics movement. German is spoken more widely than Italian here, sausage and beer stalls dot the streets and an annual open-air play celebrates Napoleonic-era Tyrolean freedom fighter Andreas Hofer. Despite the palm trees, you're closer to Vienna than Rome. Apart from its old-fashioned charms, Merano also makes an attractive urban base for skiing, cycling or hiking nearby.


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