Welcome to Merano (Meran)
With its leafy boulevards, birdsong, oleanders and cacti, Merano feels like you've stumbled into a valley 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 the 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 a booming organics movement in the surrounding valleys. German is spoken almost exclusively 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 far closer to Vienna than Rome. Apart from its old-fashioned charms, it also makes an urban base for skiing or hiking nearby Merano 2000.