The sign at the station marking the city might catch you by surprise. You will blink hard, thinking maybe that action will clear up your view, but with no prevail. Your ears, so used to hearing the musical intonation of the Italian tongue, will prickle at the coarser utterances escaping the mouths of those bustling through the station around you. With an eyebrow raised, quizzically tilting your head, you’ll start to question yourself…did I get on the wrong train? The answer, simply put, is no. Benvenuto/Wilkommen to Alto Adige/Südtirol.
Visiting this province of Italy is stepping into another world altogether: this is an area in which the majority does not speak Italian; in fact, when asked, many of its citizens will not identify themselves as Italian. As a former southern piece of the Austrian region of Tirol until it was given to Italy in a treaty after WWI, Alto Adige’s citizens cling tight to their Austrian roots. Over the last hundred years, the region has gained autonomy and evolved into its own distinct entity, attracting Italian travelers that are looking for an off-the-beaten-path excursion that is truly unico.
Interested in learning more about the region so that you can be the traveler stepping off the train from Venice the next time you visit Italy? Read below for more facts and highlights of what it has to offer you during your next Italian travels!
The region is officially bilingual, with 69% of its citizens German-speaking, and only 27% Italian-speaking (the remaining 4% goes to speakers of the local Ladin language). Signs are in both languages, there are separate German- and Italian-speaking schools, and all of the cities, including the region itself (Alto Adige/Südtirol), have two names, one German and one Italian.
Much of the land is mountainous, and the province remains a prime destination for ski-loving Europeans. If you are not a skier or prefer to visit in the summer, the mountains (coupled with the German love for hiking and the outdoors) offer countless well-maintained trails and opportunities for natural excursions. If you prefer to sit and sip glühwein rom your hotel balcony in Bolzano, gazing at the spectacular jagged edges of Dolomite Mountains is alone worth the trip.
Grapes grow best in areas where they have to put a little fight, and the terrain of Alto Adige (as well as in neighboring province Trentino) is perfect for grape growing and wine making. Vines line the slopes of the foothills of the Dolomites, dotted with Kellerei/Cantine, or wineries, some large but many small, privately-owned businesses that may offer tours as well as a night’s stay in a cute Tirolean cottage accompanied by a home-cooked Tyrolean meal.
The food of the region is influenced by both Austrian and Italian cuisines. The invisible “bread line,” separating the white bread eaters from the dark bread eaters in Europe, runs straight through Südtirol, and devotees of both types of bread can pick either from the bread basket at a restaurant or the stand at the marketplace. The traditional dishes of the region also exhibit an influence from both cultures, as well as the Slavic and Hungarian cultures, and are laden with hearty meat and starches, but some also exhibit the simple delicacy of Italian cooking.
Tourists visiting Alto Adige can choose to visit any of the several castles and fortresses spread out through the hills, or spend a day in one of the quaint Tyrolean towns of Merano/Meran or Bressanone/Brixen. A day in Bolzano/Bozen is also warranted, where you can wander the vie/Strassen munching on traditional strudel or Sachertorte before visiting one of the world’s best preserved mummies at the Ötzi museum.
You might also want to note that if you plan your visit during Christmastime, you will have a number of Christkindlmärkte to choose from, the largest being in Bolzano!
Have you ever been to or would like to visit Alto Adige – where did you/would you like to go? Tell us about it!
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