Discover what gives this little-known Italian Alpine star its northern soul
Tiny villages perched on the crowning, spiky glory of the Dolomites. World-class skiing, mountain biking and hiking across flower-strewn wilderness. Historic relics and modern luxury hotels. South Tyrol is the beautiful heart and soul of northernmost Italy. Here's an idea of what else makes the region (you may never have heard of) so extraordinary...
GO WILD IN VAL GARDENA
While you'll be tempted to get straight out there when staying in South Tyrol, mountain-fringed Hotel Montchalet makes a beautiful base. A short stroll from the contemporary luxury of this all-suite Alpine lodge takes you into the forests and meadows of Puez-Odle Nature Park in Val Gardena. During the winter months, skiers flock here to fly down some of the best runs and cross-country trails in Italy, such as the Sellaronda circuit. Boasting 1,200km of slopes it's easy to see why. But when the warmer days of spring arrive, the valleys transform into a hiking haven of wild flora and fauna.
As far away from traffic or noise as it's possible to get, the Prato Piazza plateau in the Fanes-Senes-Braies national park is nature at its purest. Serene, spruce-filled forests are the protected home to European pine martens and red foxes. While the magnificent Lake Braies is where to watch Alpine ibexes grazing among beautiful plants and flowers such as gentiana and mountain arnica. Or, if you prefer two wheels to two legs, Montchalet can set you up with mountain bikes and recommended routes through epic landscapes.
PEAKS OF PERFECTION
If you're up for a higher-altitude challenge, there's exhilarating rock climbing in the Alpe di Siusi, Sella and Sassolungo – all reachable from Montchalet. Or follow well-marked trails to find a peaceful picnic spot as eagle owls and rock ptarmigans soar overhead. And keep your camera ready for the goat-like chamois and grazing roe deer wandering by. If you're lucky you might even come across endearing marmots gathered on the rocks.
As the sun sets, if you're not back at Hotel Montchalet relaxing in your private steam bath or the state-of-the-art spa, go on a short walk. Close to the hotel you may see the famous 'Enrosadira' phenomenon casting its fiery, rosy glow over the Dolomites peaks.
MEET THE LOCALS
For centuries, South Tyrol has been home to ancient Rhaeto-Romanic people known as the Ladins. To get a sense of how they used to live and work, visit the more remote mountain hamlets and weave your way around ancient churches, elegant town squares and houses built in typical Tyrolese style.
Turn another page of the Ladin history books in nearby Ortisei. Here, the Museum Gherdëina displays fossils, art, wood carvings and ephemera collected by mountain film pioneer, actor and local, Luis Trenker. You could also drop by the Museo Archeologico dell'Alto Adige to meet Ötzi, the Iceman – a Copper Age mummy. Preserved in his 'igloo' room, beside his patchwork leggings and rush-matting cloak fur cap, see if you can make out the faint tattoos on his legs.
If you're here in early September, hike your way over to the Suoni delle Dolomiti Festival. This three-day event of open air concerts celebrates the culture and sounds of the Dolomites, along with international acts and world music performances.
WALK UP AN ALPINE APPETITE
Six Michelin starred restaurants. Cheeses flavoured with mountain-grown herbs. Vineyards producing some of Italy's best wines. South Tyrol is firmly on the foodie map. But for a typical taste of the region, don't expect typical Italian. Being right on the border of Austria and Switzerland, this area is a true melting pot of culinary influences.
South Tyrol food specialises in hearty dishes that suit living in a cold climate. The restaurants, cafes and markets in the main town of Bolzano Bozen let you feast on popular Bavarian style snacks such as Weissbier. These white, veal sausages are sliced in half and filled like a sandwich with cuts of meat and salad. To hit the sweet spot, buy a slice (or whole cake – so easily done) of the Viennese speciality, Sachertorte.
Polenta, made from finely ground corn, is common in Italy and in this region is often paired with beef or veal goulash. Try it too with sautéed wild mushrooms and a melting slab of gorgonzola on top. Another South Tyrol staple are Canederli – boiled dumplings made from milk-softened bread, often with a cube of cheese in the middle, and served in a hot, meaty broth
A boutique hotel base in South Tyrol
Blending the restful, muted tones of nature with contemporary elegance and state-of-the-art luxury. Montchalet turns the classic Alpine chalet experience into modern bliss.