Pristine lakes, soaring mountain peaks and little villages bursting with culture are but a few marvels that await when you visit South Tyrol. The aim of this guide is to aid your travels through South Tyrol to be as low-impact (i.e. sustainable) as possible and to help you discover a few lesser-known spots in the region.
I have been lucky enough to visit South Tyrol in northern Italy a handful of times. What strikes me each time is the focus and continuous drive for improvement when it comes to sustainability. So much so that the region organized a conference aptly named sustainability days in 2022, bringing climate activists from across the globe.
It, therefore, felt only apt to write a guide to South Tyrol through the lens of sustainability. Restaurants serving farm-to-table, seasonal ingredients; hotels that are mindful of their energy & water consumption and locals with a deep respect for nature are part and parcel of life in South Tyrol, not because it is “fashionable” but rather because it is a way of life.
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Visiting South Tyrol: A brief summary
- $: Hotel Panda Cortina
- $$: Hotel Leitlhof
- $$$: Hotel Pfösl
- Learn More: 1-2 week northern Italy guide
- Info: Various regions in South Tyrol
- Tours: Daytour from Venice
HOW TO GET AROUND: The Mobilcard allows you to take busses, trains and a select number of cable cars. Purchase for 1,3 or 7 days.
WHAT TO PACK: Hiking boots & a rainjacket for the mountains, if you come in winter think about adding in thermal underwear, a reusable drinking bottle, sunscreen, a daypack for hikes, and one or two outfits for visiting museums, and cities.
Where is South Tyrol?
South Tyrol is located in northern Italy on the border with Switzerland and Austria. It is not to be confused with Tyrol in Austria. The region was once part of the vast Austro-Hungarian empire but was annexed to Italy after WWI. The capital of the region is Bolzano (155 km from Verona & 270 km from Venice).
You have undoubtedly heard of the famous Dolomites. To clarify, the Dolomites are a mountain range in the northern Italian Alps. They can be found in three different regions of Italy: Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol and Friuli Venezia Giulia.
Practical details to know before your visit South Tyrol
Languages spoken in South Tyrol
The history of South Tyrol is evident from the languages spoken in the region. Officially there are three languages spoken in South Tyrol: German, Italian and Ladino. While German and Italian are widely spoken, Ladino is limited to Val Gardena and Val Badia.
Good to know: Places will be indicated with both their German and Italian name, which can sometimes be very different. The most famous lake in the Dolomites goes by Lago di Braies (Italian) and Pragser Wildsee (German).
Best time to travel to South Tyrol
A visit to South Tyrol is great throughout the year, it really depends on what you are looking for in a holiday. Winter is great for skiing, snowshoeing and a host of other winter sports while spring, summer and autumn are great for hiking, exploring little villages & the various lakes.
- Average summer temperatures in Bolzano: 25°C / 77°F
- Average winter temperatures in Bolzano: 5°C/ 41°F
Good to know: The first snowfall of the year in the region can be as early as the beginning of October. The snow is usually limited to the Dolomites mountain range. If you are heading out in autumn, triple-check the weather forecast before leaving.
Ecotourism in South Tyrol
South Tyrol is a model region within Italy (and to some extent Europe) for green mobility. It relies heavily on energy production from renewable sources (both water and sun) and the vast majority of hotels & restaurants will serve you regional products.
A few practical pointers to reduce your carbon footprint when visiting South Tyrol:
- Soft mobility: The region has a great public transport infrastructure and some killer biking routes. Rely on these to get around.
- Tapwater: Tap water is drinkable (and delicious) throughout all of South Tyrol, bring a reusable water bottle with you when you come
- Offset your carbon footprint: Last time I traveled to South Tyrol for work, the region offset part of my carbon footprint through wownature.
Sustainable things to do in South Tyrol
There are a ton of things to do in South Tyrol and the good news is that most of them have a relatively low impact on the environment. Think tons of nature, hiking, diving into mountainous lakes and filling your bellies with fragrant meals cooked with locally sourced ingredients.
That being said, with the rise of social media certain places have become extraordinarily popular (think Lake Braies, Alpi di Suisi). There is not getting around the fact that these places are pure magic, yet that magic is ebbing away due to overtourism. Below you will find a few alternative spots to visit during your South Tyrol vacation.
Visit one of the many lakes in South Tyrol
No South Tyrol travel guide is complete without the mention of at least one glacial lake. Some of the offer the opportunity for swimming and sunbathing while others are more geared towards hiking. Here are a few lakes in South Tyrol you might not have heard about but are well worth a visit.
Lake Dobbiaco (Lago Dobbiaco, Toblacher See): A stones throw from the famous Braies Lake, in the Upper Val Pusteria, lies a picture perfect mountain lake. Rent a little rowboat or walk the 4.5 km (2.8 mi) trail that loops around the lake.
Lake Resia (Lago di Resia, Reschensee): Set in the Val Venosta valley, what makes this lake famous is the churchtower protruding from the water. Swimming is possible (though water tends to be chilly), walking around the make (6km), and kitesurfing are also popular activities.
Lake Landro (Lago di Landro, Dürrensee): Located in Upper Val Pusteria in the Three Peaks National Park. Lake Landro is one of the largest lakes in the region and accessible for swimming in summer. It has a little pebble beach (bring a picnic) and is the starting point for plenty of hikes in summer. Can easily be combined with Lake Dobbiaco.
Lake Caldaro (Lago di Lando, Kalterer See): Lake Caldaro is – as the name might suggest- located in the Caldaro municipality. Surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye can see, great for swimming and windsurfing. For a delicious meal on the make head to the Seehotel Ambach (book in advance!)
Read More: Prettiest lakes in South Tyrol and the neighboring regions of Veneto and Trentino.
Go hiking in the Dolomites
Some of the best places to visit in South Tyrol require a little hike to get there. With over 16.000 kilometers (10.000 miles) of hiking trails spread out across the entirety of the Dolomites, it baffles me that many visitors stick to the very well-trodden trails around Tre Cime, Seceda and Val di Funes.
It seems this is a phenomenon that traverses borders when visiting northern Tenerife I found the vast majority of tourists sticking to the south, while the beautiful north was almost empty. I divulge… There are plenty of hiking trails in South Tyrol suitable for every type of hiker (beginner to advanced). The apps Komoot and Alltrails are a great inspiration to find lesser-known hikes.
Latemar Massive: A maze of different trails run in and around Obereggen. Stop at the beautiful Oberholz hut for a typical South Tyrolian lunch. The hut is 100% climate-neutral and winner of numerous architectural prizes.
Rosengarden Massive: The hike around Lake Carezza is one of the most popular day hikes in South Tyrol. Did you know you can also hike to the lake itself. A 10 km (6.2 mi) hike leaves from Novo Levante and ends at the lake (check map). Find inspiration for plenty of other trails here.
Support local producers
What I love about the region is the omnipresence of mom and pop stores that have been around for many years. Selling everything from wooden handicrafts to locally cured cheeses, usually manned by a friendly local who will do nothing regale you with stories about his/her beautiful region.
Wine tasting: Book a wine tasting with one of the local wine producers. We went to the biodynamic wine estate of Loacker in the hills above Bolzano to learn how the estate uses homeopathy to increase vitality of the crops. Wine tasting starts at €30/$30 and lasts 1.5 hour. Simply show up, no prior booking needed.
Buy local handicraft: Rural handicraft is a tradition passed down through generations. Wood sculpting, weaving as well as crafting jewelry are still being practices today. Head to Val Gardena for woodcarvings, Merano for handmade jewelry and the Taufer Ahrntal valley for exquisite lace.
Explore the cultural heritage of South Tyrol
Some of the best places to visit in South Tyrol to get a real feel for local culture are not located in the mountains, but rather in the cities & plentiful museums.
Bolzano/Bozen: Bolzano is the capital of South Tyrol. With a little over 100.000 inhabitants it is by far the largest city of the region. Wonderfully walkable and brimming with cute shops and little squares. Spend a day exploring Bolzano.
Bressanone/Brixen: With a mere 20.000 inhabitants, Bressanone is much smaller than Bolzano. The little city has a very quant historic center which is well worth a visit. Find out everywhere there is to do in Bressanone.
Castles & museums to visit: Prösels Castel, Castle Rodenegg, LUMEN, Star observatory “Max Valier”, Runkelstein Castle, Messner Mountain Museum Corones.
Where to stay in South Tyrol
My golden rule is always to stay local, this ensures the pennies you spend go towards supporting the local economy. The region has a few spectacular examples of eco-friendly hotels on offer for a variety of budgets.
Reading Tip: Traveling around the Dolomites? Find out where to stay and the best eco-friendly hotels.
PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION: Pfoesl ($$$)
Pricy, but oh-so worth it! This is a hotel unlike any other I have ever stayed in. A beautiful setting, an orchard & herb garden which is used for all the meals, a traditional wood baking oven, a heated infinity pool and a large wellness area. The attention to detail and strong commitment to sustainability is unprecedented in the region.
TOP LOCATION: Leitlehof ($$)
I stayed in Leitlehof a few years back and absolutely fell in love with it. This Green Hotel is heavily rooted in the area with local employees, locally sourced food, and a common passion for sustainable tourism. Located 10 minutes away from Lago di Braies.
What to eat and drink in South Tyrol Italy
South Tyrolian cuisine is an interesting mix of flavors borrowing from both Austrian and Italian cuisine. Relying on fresh (often seasonal) ingredients, it is wonderfully fragrant and very vegetarian-friendly. These dishes are best tried in a local restaurant or restaurants with a Green Michelin Star.
KAISERSCHMARRN: The queen of all desserts. A caramelized pancake coated with icing sugar and often served with berries (fresh or in jam)
ANYTHING WITH APPLES: Apple strudel, apple cake, apple juice or even just plain apples.
DUMPLINGS: Also known as knödel or canederli. These bread dumplings come in a number of varieties (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian).
WINE: The region grows a lot of wine. Schiava, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Moscato Rosa, Pinot Noir and Lagrein are the main wine varieties of South Tyrol.
Read More: Learn about all the regional vegetarian specialties in Italy.
How to get around the various places to visit in South Tyrol
- Electric Car: The easiest way to get around is without a doubt by having your own wheels. Charging points are being set up left and right. Find your charging point before you head out.
- Public Transportation: Unlike some other parts of Italy, the public transport system in South Tyrol works really well and gets you pretty much anywhere. Südtirol Pass is one card that allows you to take buses, trains and a select number of cable cars. Available for 1,3 and 7 days. Find a point of purchase close to you.
How to get to South Tyrol
Getting to South Tyrol from inside Italy.
- COACH: €18/$18 (single fair) will get you on the bus from Venice airport or Mestre railway station to Cortina.
- MINI SHUTTLE: Südtirol Bus leaves from Innsbruck, Munich, Verona, Bergamo, Milan Linate and Milan Malpensa and drops you off at one of the 1000 stops in South Tyrol
Tip: Alternatively book a day tour from Venice if you are short on time.
Getting to South Tyrol from outside of Italy
- MINI SHUTTLE: Südtirol Bus leaves from Innsbruck & Munich airport and drops you off in one of the 1000 stops in South Tyrol.
- FLIGHT: The closest airport is technically Bolzano airport, however this airport is tiny and services mainly domestic flights within Italy. You will most likely fly into Venice, Verona or Innsbruck as they are the closest cities with international airports.
Visiting South Tyrol: More than just the Dolomites
If you do plan to visit South Tyrol, spend some time looking into the many different activities the region offers. The Dolomites are an absolutely spectacular part of the region and worth spending time exploring. However they tend to get a lot of foot traffic, some would argue too much even.
Take some time to delve into the cultural heritage of the region through its many museums and little villages. Try apple picking or – even better in my personal opinion – spend an afternoon with a local wine producer tasting the local produce.
South Tyrol is the perfect place to reconnect with nature and our environment and to enjoy true slow travel. One electric bus ride at a time.
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING ITALY
Dolomites: Most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites
Northern Italy: One to two-week guide to Northern Italy
Umbria: 12 Medieval villages in Umbria you do not want to miss
Italian Food: The most delicious vegetarian Italian food
Italy: Natural Landmarks in Italy
Sicily: A local’s guide to visiting Palermo