Wow, is it really the beginning of October already? Somehow I feel like it was only last week that i put on a flowery dress and cycled to the lake for the first time this year. The truth is though that I spent only fragments of this summer in my hometown of Berlin and instead traveled some really incredible places on four different continents. I owe you stories about dolphin-spotting in the Maldives, desert drives in Oman, stand-up paddling in Australia, running from spirits in Senegal and road-tripping through Iceland.
So many countries and such great distances, not one falling short of being absolutely incredible. But one does not always have to cross oceans to visit amazing destinations. In fact, I’d love to tell you more about a trip to South Tyrol, in the north of Italy that I did not too long ago. I went there with Frank, my good friend and co-blogger with full intentions that the two of us would spend four days stuffing our faces with amazing food (there are few cuisines I worship more than Bavarian and Italian, so the prospect of trying a mix of the two was all too appealing), lying lazy in the grass by a beautiful lake, cycling past gorgeous vineyards and occasionally getting spa-pampered. I wanted to live the cliché of the ultimate South Tyrolean getaway and guess what – I got just that!
Our South Tyrolean experience did not start with a common check-in at the hotel. Instead Judith, who came to pick us up from the airport, took out the luxury to stop at the Kalterer See, a gorgeous lake, which, despite common popularity with young and old, did not at all feel overcrowded or dirty. Instead the water was perfect in temperature and cleaner than any lake I have been to. We rented a paddling boat with a small slide on it, paddled to the middle of the lake and then slid into the water screaming like school children – a super fun start to what would turn out a chilled-out and wonderful few days.
Frank and I could have easily spent the entire time by the lake, but there were too many things waiting for us to see. And eat, more importantly. On our first night in Merano we therefore stopped at Sissi, a fusion-cuisine restaurant run by the rather amusing star-chef Andrea Fenoglio (check out his website and you’ll immediately understand what makes him so funny) who has a habit of greeting all his guests himself, ensuring everyone is having a good time. There are daily changing specials, so be sure to ask what the maestro’s recommendations are.
We really did spend a whole lot of time eating, but that is not to say that we didn’t work some of it off! In fact, this part of Northern Italy is perfect to explore by bike. If you like to be mobile on two wheels, rent one (here for example) and set off to a tour past luscious apple plantations, tiny villages and sparkling rivers.
You’ll probably be tempted to steal at least one apple, because they really are looking just too good, but there is only a short period each year when they are actually ripe to be eaten. Chances are any apple you will pick won’t be all that tasty just yet so you might as well leave it hanging – I learned that the hard way, obviously.
Cycling across pretty landscape for hours is great fun but the time comes when you need a break and the best spot for that is a traditional café where you can relax, order an Apfelstrudel, one of the area’s specialties or a fresh apple juice – a great way of tasting the apples you just rode past, not breaking any laws in the meantime.
Another good tip for all friends of the outdoors is to grab a sturdy pair of shoes and hike up the winding road to the Zmailer Hof in Schenna, where you can get the best dumplings in town. If you’re keen, you might even enquire about a cooking class like we did and impress the folks back home with your new skills.
There really is nothing better after walking up the hill than a cool Hugo and a hot plate of homemade dumplings on the sundeck terrace of the Zmailer Hof.
If you want to find out about more about traditional alms like Zmailer Hof, whether you want to spend the night or just grab a drink, have a look at the Red Rooster website as they list all the relevant houses in the area, complete with description of what each one features. You can choose alms based on criteria like animals, views, city proximity etc. In order to be listed in the directory each alm needs to produce something or otherwise contribute to the area, so whether you’re interested in farms growing fruits, producing wine or farming animals – there is something to be found for everyone.
If you’re looking for more of an adrenaline rush than cruising downhill on a bike or hiking up a hill there is only one option: paragliding. I went with the guys from Fly 2 Meran and loved the experience. Truth be told I was a little nervous going up there, handling heights is not my forte (even after hundreds of planes flown across the world I still get nervous at every tiny turbulence) but once I was up there, it felt pretty cool. It helps to have a handsome former European Paragliding champion strapped to your back.
After all the swimming, hiking, cycling and paragliding it was time to unwind. There was only one place for us to get a class A spa treatment (at reasonable prices): the Terme Merano. This gigantic wellness center boasts an incredible 13 indoor and 12 outdoor pools and treatment pools. There are various sauna facilities including a Finnish sauna, sanarium, aroma bath, steam bath and snow room (no idea what a snow room is, but it sounds cool). Of course there is an array of treatments available, from a simple manicure to a clever seaweed body pack that will make your skin feel brand new. I tried the apple foam peeling and absolutely loved it.
What you might not realise – South Tyrol boasts some incredibly romantic little towns. My favorite was Bolzano, complete with charming cobbled streets, cute shops and some excellent restaurants. About 100.000 people live here making it big enough to provide a number of daytime and nightlife options but still small enough to maintain an intimate feel. Be sure to stroll along the Arcades, the city’s main shopping street during the early evening as you will walk straight towards the setting sun. By the time you hit the Talvera Bridge you can relax on one of the benches and study the many locks, proofs of love left by couples from around the world.
If all the romance has made you hungry again, I highly recommend a visit to Batzenhäusl (Via Andreas Hofer, 30), a recently renovated restaurant that manages to perfectly combine modern and traditional South Thyrolian characteristics in both food and decor. Special highlight is the ultra modern beer brewery that can be admired through the window from outside. There is plenty of beergarden-like outdoor seating and heavy benches with wooden tables inside, for cooler days.
Frank and I expected to spend a nice weekend in South Tyrol but instead we got an amazing one. I look forward to going back soon (maybe next time to try out the winter season?) because there is lots left to discover, river to raft down, trails to hike and mountains to climb. Ok, I’m getting carried away, I have no intention of climbing up anything.
Thanks to South Tyrol tourism for inviting us out and treating us to such a fun-filled, action-packed, relaxing, culinary and romantic weekend.