Posted: Aug. 23, 2023 | Last Update: 30. Aug 2023
South Tyrol or 'Alto Adige' - an introduction
If you live in Central Europe, you've surely heard of South Tyrol! Few have not come across this beloved holiday destination nestled between the Alps and the UNESCO-listed Dolomites in Northern Italy.
However, my blog is read all across the globe, and of course I welcome all of those readers who might be entirely unfamiliar with this region. Let me introduce South Tyrol to you :)
Is 'South Tyrol' the same as 'Alto Adige'?
The Italian name for South Tyrol is 'Alto Adige,' meaning 'Upper Adige,' named after the river that springs from the Reschen Pass in Vinschgau and flows over 400 km to the Adriatic Sea.
You may also come across it being called "Südtirol", which is the German word for South Tyrol.
In this article, you'll find general information about South Tyrol: things to do, its history, geography, how to get there and the South Tyrolean cuisine.
For those looking for specific destinations in South Tyrol, I've also penned articles sharing my experiences in MERANO (including the Trauttmansdorff Gardens), BOLZANO, and Curon, the sunken village in the Reschen Lake.
South Tyrol - something for everyone
For some, South Tyrol instantly conjures images of alpine passes perfect for hiking, motorcycling and winter sports amidst the breathtaking beauty of the mountain landscape, making their hearts race with excitement.
Others immediately think of the picturesque towns, diverse cultural offerings and exceptional spa experiences that South Tyrol has to offer.
Few places on Earth boast such a concentration of high-quality spas, hotels, and restaurants.
And the South Tyrolean cuisine entices with renowned culinary delights that captivate food lovers from around the globe.
The cuisine of South Tyrol: regional delicacies and culinary delights
Located in the heart of the Alps, Alto Adige has not only breathtaking landscapes to offer but also a cuisine to enchant your taste buds. South Tyrol's culinary treasure trove is a paradise for food connoisseurs and explorers of gastronomic pleasures!
Join me on a culinary journey – let's delve into the fabulous world of South Tyrolean cuisine, which will captivate you with its variety, authenticity and flavours.
Did you know? Currently, over 20 South Tyrolean restaurants boast one to three Michelin stars.
Here, traditional dishes and modern influences merge in fascinating fusion where centuries-old recipes meet innovative preparation methods, resulting in a truly unique explosion of flavours.
Comfort food - savoury South Tyrolean Specialties:
Hearty delicacies reflecting Alpine tradition await in South Tyrol, ranging from speck and cheese to sausages and dumplings ('Knödel' in German, Südtirolers say 'Knedl' in dialect or 'Canederli' in Italian) – the flavors are robust, and the portions are generous.
Speck (bacon), air-dried and seasoned with herbs, is a delightful delicacy you must try: due to its long shelf life, you can even purchase it in larger quantities to take home.
The "Trio of South Tyrolean Dumplings", offered in many restaurants, features what I would call the 'Trinity of Regional Bread Dumplings': cheese dumplings, speck dumplings, and spinach dumplings. These are so flavourful and delicious, that they require no extra sauce or meat accompaniment; a bit of broth or oil and some Parmesan cheese grated on top make them delicious and satisfying.
South Tyrolean cuisine also offers an enticing array of desserts. The world-renowned apple strudel, topfenstrudel (curd cheese strudel), and schlutzkrapfen (dumplings with various fillings) are just a few of the sweet temptations that will have your taste buds dancing with delight.
And have you heard of South Tyrolean Strauben? These "funnel cakes" are made of deep-fried pancake batter with sweet toppings.
Cheese Lover's Paradise:
Attention, cheese enthusiasts – in South Tyrol, you'll revel in cheese heaven. From pungent mountain cheeses to creamy varieties, there's a diverse selection that pairs perfectly with freshly baked bread and a glass of local wine.
A Feast for Meat Lovers:
Meat indulgence awaits in abundance in South Tyrol. Whether it's crispy pork knuckles, succulent meat-filled schlutzkrapfen, or savory sausages – a meat lover's heart is set to beat faster.
A Touch of Italy:
South Tyrol's connection to Italy is also reflected in its cuisine. You can look forward to delicious pasta dishes, antipasti, and Mediterranean influences that provide a light and fresh alternative to the hearty Alpine fare.
Cook, eat and drink like the locals with the locals
What is the best way to explore the culinary highlights of South Tyrol?
I say, go on a food tour * or, for the wine lovers among you, a sommelier guided wine tour *. My personal highlight of every vacation is of course a cooking class *.
(* Affiliate links)
Meal with a View:
And you know what? The best part of culinary exploration in South Tyrol is that you often get to dine amidst breathtaking mountain panoramas or picturesque regional architecture. Many restaurants do not only offer excellent food but also views of majestic Alpine peaks or the charming towns of South Tyrol.
Hungry yet? :)
Embark on your culinary discovery right away – I'm confident that South Tyrolean cuisine will exceed your expectations. With every bite, you can taste the landscape, history, and love for gastronomy. So, unleash your inner gourmet and get ready for a taste journey that offers delicious aromas all year round.
Geographical Location of South Tyrol:
This Italian Alpine region sits in the heart of the Dolomites, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. To the north, South Tyrol shares a border with the Austrian federal state of Tyrol, while its western edge meets Switzerland, and the southern border meets the Italian province of Trentino.
In Alto Adige, you'll encounter snow-capped peaks, crystal-clear lakes, and endless hiking trails waiting to be explored.
But it's not just for mountaineers, as South Tyrol's elevation ranges from 'quite flat' in the valleys to 'very mountainous' in the soaring peaks:
Bolzano (Bozen): The capital of South Tyrol, Bolzano, sits at an elevation of around 262m (860 ft) above sea level.
Merano (Meran): The beloved spa town in South Tyrol, Merano, is situated at an elevation of about 325m (1'066 ft) above sea level.
Seiser Alm (Alpe di Siusi): Europe's largest high Alpine meadow, Seiser Alm, stretches at an elevation of approximately 1'680 to 2'350m (5'512 ft to 7'710 ft) above sea level.
Timmelsjoch (Passo Rombo): The mountain pass reaches a height of about 2,509m (8'232 ft) above sea level.
Ortler: The highest peak in the Eastern Alps, Ortler, stands at an elevation of 3'905m (12'811 ft) above sea level. Located in Stelvio National Park, it's one of the most iconic mountains in South Tyrol.
Getting to South Tyrol
Adventure awaits – onward to South Tyrol!
Regardless of whether you're travelling to South Tyrol from Germany or Austria, Switzerland or Croatia, the majestic routes offer breathtaking panoramas aplenty.
Travelling to South Tyrol by Car or Motorcycle: Get ready for a spectacular drive!
Option 1: Via the Brenner Pass and the Brenner Autobahn to South Tyrol
The Brenner Autobahn (motorway), also known as A13 or E45, is your gateway to the Alps.
This highway leads you over the majestic Brenner Pass, marking the border between Germany and Austria. The Brenner Pass is a historic Alpine route used by travellers for centuries. The route is full of twists and turns, offering stunning views of the Alpine landscape. With every curve, you'll be greeted by new vistas of picturesque meadows, villages, or breathtaking landscapes, mountains piercing the clouds and forests stretching to the horizon.
Good to know: The Brenner Pass is a toll route!
The Brenner Autobahn (A13/E45) mostly follows the Brenner Pass and has toll charges for usage.
Please be aware that toll rates can vary based on factors like vehicle type, road segment, season, and more. To get the latest overview of toll fees on Italian highways and the cost of the Brenner Pass, I recommend checking out the official websites of relevant toll authorities and highway operators.
Here are some websites where you can find toll information:
Autostrade (Italian highway operators) are responsible for collecting tolls on Italian highways. The largest operator is 'Autostrade per l'Italia'. You can find information on toll rates, payment methods, and road sections on their official website: Autostrade per l'Italia
Autobahn und Schnellstraßen Finanzierungs AG (Austrian Motorways and Expressways Financing Inc) (ASFINAG): For information about toll fees on Austrian highways, including the Brenner Pass, you can visit the ASFINAG website: ASFINAG - Toll & Vignette
Option 2: Getting to South Tyrol Via the Reschen Pass (Toll free!)
For those who find the Brenner Pass too winding (it can trigger motion sickness in some) or wish to avoid highway tolls, the Reschen Pass road (B180) offers an alternative. Travelling over the Reschen Pass is toll-free!
This route takes youover the picturesque Reschen Pass into South Tyrol. The journey through the region called "Vinschgau" is delightful, featuring majestic Alpine peaks, glistening lakes, and lush valleys. Whether you travel in summer or winter, the landscape is always captivating.
A much recommended hidden gem along the route:
Make sure to plan a stop in Graun (Curon) and learn about the tragic story of the submerged village in Lake Reschen. You can't miss it as you pass by. For more information on this excursion, I've compiled details here:
Option 3: Getting to South Tyrol via Ötztal Valley and the Timmelsjoch High Alpine Road
The Timmelsjoch (Passo Rombo in Italian) rises to 2'509m (8'232 ft) and is the highest non-glacial border crossing in the area, connecting the Passeiertal in South Tyrol with the Ötztal in the Austrian state of Tyrol. Paticularly popular among motorcyclists, the high alpine road offers several reasons to draw riders from around the world, witt its challenging and curvy route igniting the hearts of motorcycle enthusiasts. The numerous serpentine turns, hairpin bends, and changes in altitude create an exciting challenge that requires skilled driving.
Yet whether you're in a car, on a motorcycle, or even a bicycle, the scenery is spectacular, with various viewpoints along the route where you can stop to enjoy the breathtaking views and capture your memories and snapshots.
I highly recommend two stops:
1. the summit cross at 2,509 meters at Rasthaus Timmelsjoch
2. the restaurant at Top Mountain Crosspoint, which also houses a fantastic museum. Here, we enjoyed a delicious meal with a fantastic view of the mountains.
For all the important details on tolls, the museum, and more, visit "Timmelsjoch - Tirol's Most Beautiful Experience" and "Mountain Crosspoint Hochgurgl"
Good to know: The Timmelsjoch Pass is a toll route!
Travelling to South Tyrol by Train or Plane
Sometimes, the journey is the destination itself – so why not enjoy the ride to the fullest? Train connections from Germany and Austria to South Tyrol offer a fantastic way to admire the beauty of the landscape without getting stuck in traffic. The famous Brenner Railway takes you from Innsbruck in Austria over the Brenner Pass to Bolzano in South Tyrol. Along the way, you'll pass deep valleys with picturesque villages and towering majestic peaks.
For those living farther away who wish to skip the long drive, flying to South Tyrol is an option. The Innsbruck Airport (INN) in Austria and Bolzano Airport (BZO) in South Tyrol are your gateways. From there, you can easily continue your journey with public transportation or a rental car to explore the beauty of South Tyrol.
Before embarking on your journey, don't forget to check the latest travel advisories, border regulations, and traffic conditions. This way, you can plan your trip optimally and focus on what truly matters:
the unparalleled experience of South Tyrol!
An overview of South Tyrol's History and Politics:
As the name South Tyrol suggests, there's a connection to Tyrol, which is now part of Austria. The region of Tyrol, derived from the Latin 'Teriolis,' was historically a county and later a duchy spanning the Alpine regions of present-day Austria and Italy. Over centuries, boundaries and political structures shifted multiple times.
After World War I and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in 1918, the area that is now South Tyrol became part of the Kingdom of Italy. This occurred under the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which determined the territorial consequences of the war. Following this treaty, South Tyrol was separated from Tyrol and placed under Italian administration.
The separation of South Tyrol and Tyrol wasn't without tensions and problems. Due to ethnic and cultural differences in the region, conflicts arose over the years between the Italian government and the German-speaking population of South Tyrol. This led to tensions and unrest, eventually resulting in the implementation of autonomy and protective measures for the German-speaking population.
Today, South Tyrol is an autonomous province in Italy, enjoying a degree of self-governance and cultural autonomy. The population primarily speaks German, but also Italian, and the region has developed a unique cultural blend of Alpine and Italian influences. Historical, political, and cultural changes have led to South Tyrol having an independent identity today and no longer being part of Austria's Tyrol.
And worry not, my English speaking readers: of course English is widely spoken in this tourist hotspot!
My Tour Recommendation
If you are like us and love to discover your destination's landscape, rich culture, architecture and food and satisfy your wanderlust at the same time, we strongly recommend booking a vacation with TourRadar's 'South Tyrol' trips, including in-depth cultural, explorer and bicycle packages, where you get to immerse yourself in local customs, explore hidden gems, and create unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime. Find a great overview of trips and tours* to get more inspiration or book now and let the adventure begin!
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