where to go in italy

South Tyrol Travel Guide

SOUTH TYROL

Happy Tuesday! It's been another week full of travel adventures (I just made it to Reims, France for a few days of champagne tasting, and I'm so pumped). I'm falling more in love with Europe everyday that I'm here and can't believe how much I've already seen in 3 weeks. But one destination at a time. Today's post is all about my second stop in northern Italy: Merano.

 

When I first conceptualized this Europe trip, I had a long list of places I knew that I wanted to go- but I also wanted to leave some room open to discover new places that I’d never heard about. In researching the best places to visit in Italy, I stumbled upon a small boutique hotel in Merano. I had never even heard of Merano before, so I started to do a little digging. It didn’t take me long to decide I had to visit. 

South Tyrol, the region where Merano sits, didn’t actually become part of Italy until after the first World War- which means not even 100 years ago it was part of Austria. Needless to say, over the years it’s experienced  it's fair share of changes: Mussolini tried to impose Italian as the official language, although today, the official languages (yes, two) are Italian AND German. They’ve also separated from the Italian government in Rome and are their own provence with separate leaders.

As if this region wasn’t already compelling enough with such a unique and diverse blend of cultures, did I mention it’s nestled right in the Dolomites- arguably the most scenic mountain range in the Alps? 

Merano is not a popular location to visit if you’re from the United States, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a bustling tourist destination. Given it’s geographic positioning, it’s incredibly close to Austria, Switzerland, Germany and obviously other surrounding areas of it’s home country, Italy- so you’ll find lots of visitors from all the above. Travelers flock here because it's a “wellness destination”: lots of hiking, bikers, spa-goers, scenery lovers, etc. 

By now it should be obvious why I made arrangements to pay Merano a visit, and why you should make plans to do the same. If you read my last post on Lake Como (another must see), this is a great destination to pair with it. It only took us about 5 hours by train to get there from Lake Como/ Milan, and it was one of the most beautiful trips I’ve ever taken (although be prepared to make a few connections and be aware how much time you have in between each- we ended up missing one and it set us back a few hours). When planning your trip, here's what I recommend: 

 

 

STAY

 

 

 

 

IMPERIAL ART HOTEL

imperial art hotel merano south tyrol italy

Imperial Art Hotel was the boutique hotel I stumbled upon that made me ask “Where is Merano?” No two of the 12 elegant rooms are alike. Three South Tyrolean artists created them to be unique in terms of style, materials, colors, features and flair. 

We spent 2 nights in the white crystal room, which I loved because it was bright and airy and had an awesome terrace overlooking the street in front the hotel (which was bustling with energy and pretty views of Merano’s unique architecture).

merano south tyrol italy imperial art hotel crystal room

 

The next two nights we moved upstairs to the Penthouse Thermae room (that had an incredible rooftop view of the mountains and city, along with a hot tub where we loved relaxing). It was great experiencing a variety of rooms and seeing how each one was unique from the other.

imperial art hotel merano south tyrol italy

The hotel exceeded all the expectations I had. Barbara, the concierge was so helpful and went above and beyond to provide us with directions, bus time tables, dinner recommendations and anything else we needed during our stay. Our rooms came with complimentary breakfast (croissants, yogurt, fruit, eggs, cereal, juices, coffee and plenty of other options) so we were well-fueled and well-served on the quaint terrace every morning. 

Rooms are fairly priced (include range), extremely clean, and in an amazing location (4 minute cab or 15 minute walk from the train station and walking distance to just about everything you can do in town.) Staying here made our time in Merano that much more wonderful and I highly recommend them to anyone visiting the area! If you have any questions, send them a note at info@imperialart.it or inquire below:

Boutique & Design Hotel ImperialArt
Freiheitsstraße/Corso della libertà 110 | I-39012 Meran/Merano (BZ) | Italien/Italia
T +39 0473 23 71 72

 

 

 

EAT

 

CASTEL FRAGSBURG

castel fragsburg south tyrol merano italy
castel fragsburg merano south tyrol italy
castel fragsburg south tyrol merano italy

Castel Fragsburg was easily one of the top moments of my trip so far. If you’re staying in Merano it’s a bit of a drive compared to the other dinner options (15-20 minutes by car) but it is WELL worth the effort to get there. From the moment we arrived, I knew it was going to be an amazing experience. We had an aperitif on the terrace to soak up the view (which was seriously one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen in my entire life). When we sat at our table, I didn’t even look at a men- we just agreed to the chef’s tasting which meant course after course after course of tastings: quail eggs, seared tuna with avocado sauce, quail breast with orange carrot pistachio and cilantro, green apple risotto with beet, venison with cherry + potato, and so many more I can’t even begin to describe (and I even took notes). Everything was mind-blowing. As if it wasn’t already great enough, there was a wine pairing for every course. Our sommelier Riky wasn’t just any somm- he’s one of the 147 level 3 masters in the world. He did an incredible job pairing the perfect wine to compliment each course that the chef prepared. 

If there is ever a time in your life to make the drive, spend the money, and splurge on a meal, it is without a doubt Castel Fragsburg. You won’t regret a second or a penny of it. 

There are lots of great restaurants in Merano that we tried and loved, and lots more I wanted to try that we didn’t have time to explore.  

 

 

SIGMUND

sigmund south tyrol merano restaurant

Sigmund had a beautiful outdoor patio that drew us in for dinner one night as we were aimlessly wandering around. It's an awesome spot if you're looking for high quality food and wonderful ambiance. 

 

 

RISTORANTE KALLMÜNZ

RISTORANTE KALLMUNZ MERANO SOUTH TYROL

Ristorante Kallmünz was a recommendation of Barbara's (from Imperial Art Hotel) and we were so pleased with it. Both the patio and indoor spaces are stunning and create the perfect dining atmosphere. The food  (I loved their salmon risotto) was delicious- even the bread basket! 

 

DO

MERAN BURGGRÄFLER WINERY

meran winery south tyrol merano italy
meran winery south tyrol italy

One of my favorite things we did in Merano was wine tasting at Meran Burggräfler Winery. First, the property is stunning and has the best view I've ever seen at a winery (those mountains!). Valentino, our guide, took us on a tour of grounds and lead our tasting. He did a great job educating us (and spoke great english, which was helpful in an area that's predominately German + Italian!) They had some great wines that I loved drinking throughout the week at other restaurants in town. Be sure to add it to your itinerary while planning if you love wine or incredible views (how could anyone not love both of those!?)

 

TERME MERANO

therme merano south tyrol

To get a true Merano experience, we had to partake in a wellness activity! So we we spent an afternoon at Terme Merano in the heart of town. They offer the townspeople and visitors to South Tyrol an oasis of health and wellbeing, and constitute a new interpretation of Merano’s long tradition as a health resort and spa.  Since the 1960s thermal water containing radon has been pumped from Monte San Vigilio near Merano and used for a variety of therapeutic applications. In the new Terme Merano, thermal water has always been employed for inhalations, individual baths and it is also used to fill the pools.

A variety of therapeutic properties are ascribed to these mineral waters they use (soothing and pain-relieving effects on the central and peripheral nervous systems, positive effects on the respiratory system, improvements for allergy sufferers and  treating chronic disorders of the veins to name a few.) We loved relaxing at the pools and saunas (although PSA: several saunas strictly prohibit wearing any kind of bathing suit and are mixed gender - so if you're not quite comfortable with that you see a lot more than you hope for!) 

Similar to health clubs in the states, you can either attain a membership or if you're just visiting, you're able to buy a visitor day pass. Rain or shine, there's tons to experience here and help you relax.

 

GARDENS AT TRAUTTMANSDORFF CASTLE

traus gardens merano south tyrol italy

The gardens at Trauttmansdorff Castle are stunning. So stunning in fact, they were named the International Garden of the Year in 2013

We were taken on a tour of the grounds by our fantastic guide, Hans. He was so kind and I couldn't believe how much he knew about the hundreds of plants (and that he could tell you in 3 languages!) We loved our time with him and everything he taught us. After our tour, we went to one of their restaurants to have lunch with Ms. Patuzzi (who works in the Castle's marketing department). She was a delight and told us so much helpful information about the property.

The Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle, located on the eastern outskirts of Merano in the Italian province of South Tyrol, are multifaceted and visually stunning. South Tyrol’s most popular tourist attraction is simply enchanting: this twelve-hectare botanical paradise features more than eighty garden landscapes and plants from all over the globe. Gardens based on historical models, colorful collections of plants, and a variety of Experience Stations round out the offering. 

The contemporary and stylish feel of the botanical gardens, a mix of new and old architecture, and the historical role that Trauttmansdorff Castle played as a retreat for Empress Elisabeth of Austria have all been important factors in Trauttmansdorff’s success. 

There's literally so much information I could throw at you about the gardens, but the important part is that they are beautiful and you don't want to miss visiting them during your time in South Tyrol.

 

MERAN 2000

MERAN 2000 SOUTH TYROL ITALY

We originally were set to do a Via Ferratta (which I was so excited about!) but unfortunately due to rain in the Dolomites we had to cancel (but I still recommend looking into it!) Fortunately for us, we still got our fair share of time on top of the world thanks to Meran 2000- a hiking and recreation area up in the mountain terrace overlooking Merano. Take a short 7 minute cable car to the top and before you know it, you have a breathtaking view of the Ortles range and the Dolmites. There is a playground area for kids and families, or if you're like me- a terrace at Panorama Bistro for lunch and some wine.  We did a little bit of hiking but because of time I didn't even scratch the surface of all I hoped to see. Regardless of how long you stay, you're sure to love the views and experience for an alternate perspective of Merano. 

 

I'm so glad I ventured to this "hidden gem" of a town in South Tyrol!  I adore big cities and lots of destinations that are full of tourists, but there was something special about going someplace that felt like a well kept secret that you don't experience everyday. I would go back in a heartbeat and advise anyone else to visit as well! As always, if you have any questions, give me a shout: theblondeatlas@gmail.com.

 

SOUTH TYROL TRAVEL GUIDE

 

That's all for today! I'm off to drink some champagne right at the source here in Reims, France. Au revoir until next time!

xo, 

Whitney

Lake Como Travel Guide

lake como travel guide

Buongiorno from Italy! I can't believe I’m already a couple weeks into my 3 months in Europe- time has flown by. Today I’m catching up on work at a cafe in Milan before I swap out travel buddies and head to my next country, but I’ve spent the last 14 days roaming around northern Italy with my friend Tillie. Our first stop? Lake Como. 

I flew into Milan and the plan was to meet Tillie (we had different flights) at a health food store we found directly across from Milano Centrale station before hopping on our train to Como.  When I turned on my new international phone, it alerted me that I was roaming - so I spent my first hour in Europe on the phone with my provider to sort out the miscommunication and get put on the correct plan (glamorous, right?) Don’t get me wrong-I was never naive to the fact that spending three months in Europe was going to present me with some complications (I mean, just five days in I had already missed a train and had a wonky wheel on my suitcase). But I sure did hit the ground running with some stress upon arrival. So needless to say, I was extremely relieved to finally arrive- I truly can’t think of a better place to have kicked off my three month adventure (sure to come with many more speed bumps).

I’ve heard people talk about Lake Como for years now, and it’s always sounded magical. In case you’ve never heard much about it, let me paint the picture for you: take all the architecture and cuisine that you love about Italy, add the scenic mountain majesty of Switzerland that makes you drool (because it’s only a 10 minute drive across the ridge) and top it all off with the fact that George Clooney has a place there. 

It's only an hour train ride from Milan, so it's super easy to add to the front or back end of a trip if you're already flying out of that airport. But even if you don't have any vacation plans already in the works, just go ahead and add this dreamy destination to your list of places to visit. And once you start planning? Here are some things to do in Lake Como (and things to know in general) you simply can't miss. 

 

STAY

VILLA MATILDA

villa matilda lake como torno italy
villa matilda torno lake como italy
villa matilda lake como torno

First if you're wondering where to stay in Lake Como, I have you covered. There’s no question that my trip was as great as it was because of Tony and Shirley at Villa Matilda, in Torno. I write a lot of hotel reviews on here and try to provide the best recommendations that I can for when you book your travels. But I want to be sure that the volume of reviews that I’ve done doesn’t water down my sincerity when I say how much I advise you stay here. 

 

For starters, most accommodations in the area will either be “budget” lodges or will cost at least €600 a night. Villa Matilda is a perfect combination of the two, offering affordable rates (rooms start at just €200) but offer amenities even beyond luxury competitors (like a full functioning kitchen, terraces with views, a heated pool, secured gated protection, free parking, etc.) In addition to the price point, I adored the location (Torno). It’s pretty common for tourists to stay in larger or “more popular” towns like Como or Bellagio, but I wouldn’t have traded our experience in Torno for anything. I loved getting a more "local" experience and having a more peaceful ambiance, but still having everything we needed with equal convenience. 

 

But beyond the extremely competitive pricing and ideal location, what Tony and Shirley offer in hospitality is invaluable.  

villa matilda lake como torno italy

Tony picked us up from the ferry and helped us with all our luggage, provided us with dozens and dozens of fantastic recommendations for food, and because he and Shirley have lived there for so many years, they are a wealth of knowledge about the entire area. Additional bonus: they have another house in the states and are fluent in English. I can’t tell you what a luxury it was to have someone who knew the area so well that spoke the same language. But aside from how willing he and Shirley were to help point us in the right direction and enjoy our time in Torno, they were wonderful humans and so fun to get to know.

I’ll never forget the very first night of my three months abroad, we sat with Tony and Shirley and some other guests that were on holiday at the Villa's pool for an aperitif (Aperol Spritz of course). Our new friends from Cornwall talked to us all about what it’s been like in the UK since the “Brexit” decision. They picked our brains about the upcoming election in the states. We laughed and shared stories (while drinking more aperitifs and eating lots of prosciutto and cheese). It’s moments like that night that I hoped for when I decided to book this trip. I’m so thankful that I had not only such a beautiful place to stay, but such great company to spend our time with.

I could literally write an entire blog post just dedicated to Villa Matilda: our breathtaking view of the Lake that we would admire every morning while drinking coffee in the kitchen, our rooftop terrace where we drank Chianti and watched the sun go down, or the pool overlooking Lake Como where we relaxed multiple times during our stay. 

villa matilda lake como torno italy
villa matilda pool lake como torno italy

If you’re interested in taking a trip of your own (which I can’t recommend enough) and have any specific questions that I didn't address, visit www.villamatildatorno.com or go ahead and contact Tony to inquire about a booking (info@villamatildatorno.com). I promise you won't regret it.

VILLA MATILDA TORNO ITALY LAKE COMO

 

 

 

EAT

It's no secret that Italy is brimming with yummy food. So what are the best restaurants in Lake Como? Here are a few of my favorites: 

ORANGERIE RESTAURANT AT CASTADIVA

We spent our first full day on Lake Como visiting CastaDiva (a luxury resort about 10 minutes south of where we were staying in Torno) and it certainly set the bar high for the rest of our trip.  I’ll speak to the spa in the “Do” section, but you don’t want to miss eating outside on the terrace at Orangerie Restaurant.  

Their award-winning Chef Gennaro Esposito (boasting 2 Michelin stars) "knows how to fish the gastronomic treasures of the Lake Como area to build courses that satisfy the senses." Every course we experienced had a blend of ingredients to create a unique dish unlike anything I've ever tried. The wait staff was incredibly knowledgable and friendly, and made a point to explain every course in great detail. And the cherry on top of all the deliciousness was the incredible view. I could have easily sat on that terrace and drank rosé all day. So if you need a break from pasta, pasta, and more pasta and want to experience gourmet dining with sweeping views, be sure to pay them a visit. 

castadiva lake como l'orangerie
villa lario lake como restaurant
villa lario lake como restaurant

The weather in Lake Como was pretty much perfect, although we did have one rainy day. We opted to retreat to Villa Lario, a small luxury hotel about 20 minutes from Torno for lunch. We were greeted by Diego, the manager who welcomed us right away with a glass of prosecco and seated us in their restaurant- which offers modern Italian cuisine. All their pastas are homemade, the fish is caught fresh, and lots the vegetables are grown on the property. Everything was fantastic and had a twist on the traditional Italian dishes you're used to ordering. Not only are they great if you’re looking for a meal with incredible views and a luxurious setting, but their chef also leads Italian cooking classes every week. If I can learn to cook like that, I might never eat out again.

 

 

 

RISTORANTE HOSTERIETTA

ristorante hosterietta como
ristorante hosterietta lake como black truffle

I don't understand how any human couldn't love truffle. After raving about some delicious truffle honey Tony served us during happy hour at Villa Matilda, he told us we had to have dinner at  Ristorante Hosterietta (and because of it I will forever trust him at his word.) They specialize in truffle (but not the diluted truffle oil we're used to in the states- the actual Italian delicacy). The food was incredible, and the setting couldn't have been more idyllic. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone visiting Lake Como. And if there is a wait? No problem. Head around the corner to the roof of COIN Department Store for a spritz overlooking the Duomo (a fun little trick that Shirley from Villa Matilda taught us). 

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HOTEL SUISSE RESTAURANT
hotel suisse restaurant bellagio

For our last night in Lake Como, Tony made a reservation for all of us to eat at Hotel Suisse Restaurant in Bellagio. Guido, Tony’s friend who owns the restaurant, greeted us with a warm welcome, and the entire staff took wonderful care of us throughout the evening. Guido is actually a local from Bellagio (which I found to be surprising in a town that's full of tourists). We sat on their beautiful rooftop patio overlooking the lake and watched the sun go down while we drank aperitifs (you guessed it- more Aperol spritz). Tony ordered a fantastic bottle of wine from Verona for us to have with our meal. All the food that was sent out was delicious and extremely high-quality. Paired with the beautiful atmosphere, it made for such a great evening. I definitely recommend eating here when you visit Bellagio (and I’d suggest making a reservation- it seemed to be a popular place!)

 

DO

SPA AT CASTADIVA RESORT

castadiva spa
castadiva spa lake como water

As previously mentioned, our first full day in Lake Como was spent visiting CastaDiva, and they did not disappoint. Along with our lunch at Orangerie, we spent some time relaxing in their spa, the largest one in the Lake Como area. Their unique treatment rooms mimic various elements: earth, air, fire and water. I got to see all of them (each design unique to it's respective name) and had a massage in the water room (complete with my own aquarium- swoon!) Regardless of what treatment you decide to partake in, you can relax in a variety of incredible areas like their salt bath, sauna, or relaxation room (which happens to be on glass floors on top of Lake Como so you can see the water below you). I recommend spending an afternoon there like we did, so you can relax and enjoy both the spa and restaurant while soaking up views of Lake Como.  

 

 

VARENNA TAXI BOAT + VILLA BALBIANELLO

varenna taxi boat

You'll quickly realize that getting around Lake Como is best by boat, however the water taxi's aren't always the easiest to navigate (see my pro tips below for an easy solve there). I knew while I was there that I wanted to do a smaller boat tour (not crammed on some giant ferry) that would show me some of the towns, and I'm so glad I found Varenna Taxi Boat. We did a small group tour (less than 8 people) that took place on a beautiful open air speed boat. We departed from Varenna but saw several surrounding towns by water (including Bellagio, Tremezzo and San Giovanni). But the highlight of the tour was stopping at Villa Balbianello- a stunning property where a number of movies have been shot (Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, Casino Royale, and A Month by the Lake). Everything about the Villa and the grounds was absolutely breathtaking- arguably the most beautiful thing I saw during my time in the Lake Como area.

villa balbianello lake como

After spending about an hour exploring around the Villa, we got back on the boat for some more exploring on the water. Our tour guide Luca spoke great english, was extremely informative, and had some good jokes too. I loved seeing Lake Como this way, and would definitely recommend them to anyone visiting the area. 

 

As I'm putting these guides together while I'm in Europe, I wanted to include a dedicated section to provide some miscellaneous pieces of advice. Traveling abroad comes with more areas to navigate than traveling domestically, so hopefully you find these "bonus tips" to be beneficial. 

 

BONUS LAKE COMO PRO TIPS:

  • If you want to venture to other towns for meals, do so for lunch. Most water taxis stop running between 6:30 and 8 (and cabs are NOT cheap) so while you may be able to make it to dinner, you may get stuck with a pricy trip home. 
  • Download the Gestione Navigazione Laghi app for seamless water taxi schedules and transfer information to make getting around extremely easy. 

*Shoutout to Tony at Villa Matilda for teaching me both of these!

 

BONUS ITALY PRO TIPS: 

  • As in many parts of Europe, be sure to clarify if you want still or sparkling when you order water (and be prepared to pay either way- it's usually all bottled). Italians prefer the tasted of bottled mineral water over tap water (and just FYI- it contains a small amount of sodium for taste) so don't go jumping to conclusions that they're trying to rip you off when the bill comes. The tap water is safe to drink, so if you're like me and want to stay hydrated at low cost, carry your own bottle in your purse and fill it up at a fountain or from the sink as needed. You can always try asking for "acqua del rubinetto" aka tap water, but don't put up a stink if they don't cooperate. You're the one being difficult in this instance. 
  • Attempt conversational phrases as a common courtesy. Even if you just say "ciao" (it's hello AND goodbye, so you're just plain lazy if you don't) and "grazie" (thank you) it shows you respect their culture and you won't seem like an ignorant American who assumes everyone in the world speaks english. 

 

Long story short, Lake Como is pretty magical and someplace I loved visiting. There's really something for everyone, and I could have easily spent much more time there than I did. If you have questions I didn't address, feel free to ask me! (theblondeatlas@gmail.com). 

 

One final note: starting next week (needed a few weeks over here to get my bearings) I'm going to start posting twice a week on the blog. Tuesdays will be my dedicated travel posts with detailed guides about each destination I'm visiting while abroad. Later in the week (every Thursday or Friday) I'll be sharing more about my experiences while living abroad.

 

There's tons of stories and recommendations coming to life every day that I'm here, so I wanted to find a way to categorize everything so if one interests you more than the other, you'll know when to tune in. Anything specific you want to hear about? Let me know!

 

I have lots more to share, but I'm out of espresso so that's all for today. Thanks for stopping by! 

 

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