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This Forgotten Alpine Region Of Italy Is The Perfect Alternative To The Scorching Hot Coast

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Home to pastel-colored Mediterranean towns, world-renowned Roman monuments, and some of the most pristine beaches in Europe, Italy is one of the most sought-after destinations this year, with one slight caveat: much of the coastal areas will be flaming hot throughout the season.

Young Woman Sat In A Viewpoint Overlooking The Dolomites In South Tyrol, Italy

With temperatures rising dramatically from July, it looks as if the country's sun-scorched south could soon be off-limits to heat-intolerant visitors––luckily, not all of Italy will be registering record temperatures over summer, and certainly not the alpine north

A typically-overlooked region bounded by the European Alps and with a distinct Germanic culture, South Tyrol enjoys a far more temperate climate:

Italy's ‘Mini Germany'

Young Woman Sat In A Viewpoint Overlooking The Dolomites In South Tyrol, Italy

Italy is best associated with seaside villages where narrow buildings come in varied muted colors (and classic green shutters), alfresco restaurants spilling onto cobbled lanes, and winding roads lined by cypress trees.

As accurate a representation that is, as it is indeed representative of the bulk of Italy, we mustn't forget there are parts of the country where that dolce vita way of life and Southern European aesthetics feel every bit as foreign as they do in Austria, Switzerland and the like.

If you're keen on experiencing Italian culture but a different flavor of it, perhaps you should skip overtouristed, overpriced Amalfi altogether and head north instead to South Tyrol, which, despite the misleading name, is, in fact, the northernmost point of Italy.

Young Woman Sat In A Viewpoint Overlooking The Dolomites In South Tyrol, Italy

Contrary to Tuscany, Umbria and the like, which have historically been part of Italian kingdoms and republics, South Tyrol was part of Austria up until World War II: annexed by Italy following the conflict, it is arguably the country's most culturally distinctive region.

1948 isn't that long ago, and though Italicization was effective to a certain degree, and South Tyrol is indisputably (part) Italian in character today, it's stayed true to its roots: out of the region's 520,000-some inhabitants, nearly 70% still speak German as their mother tongue.

Young Woman Sat In A Viewpoint Overlooking The Dolomites In South Tyrol, Italy

South Tyroleans may hold Italian passports, but they generally feel more strongly linked to their Germanic origins, and were it not for the tricolor flag denouncing its status, one might easily say they're still somewhere in Austria.

An Elegant Capital City

The capital is Bolzano (or Bozen), and it is where a majority of South Tyrolean institutions are centered, including the Free University of Bolzano, the historic Palais Widmann, where the Government convenes, and the Italian Army's alpine branch.

Panoramic View Of Bolzano Or Bozen In South Tyrol, Alpine North Of Italy, Southern Europe

A major cultural and financial center, Bolzano is a wealthy mid-size city over 106,000 call home, with a rich medieval heritage and an impressive number of historical landmarks, from the typically-Austrian, glazed-roof Bolzano Cathedral, to the 13th-century Mareccio Castle.

On top of that, Bolzano is famous for its surprising range of Italian and German restaurants, including Wirtshaus Vögele, where you can find both homemade pasta and Tyrolean dumplings, and Franziskanerstuben, an upscale Austrian-style diner serving traditional arrosto tirolese.

Delectable Germanic Food

Young Man Sitting By An Alpine Lake In South Tyrol, Italy, Alpine Europe

Italy's culinary delights are well-documented, but if you're coming to South Tyrol, don't expect to find your usual selection of spaghetti alla carbonara, Margherita pizza and crunchy arancini––well, there's plenty of those to go round still, but you should know Southern European delicacies are not native.

South Tyrolean cuisine is best represented by cheese and bacon dumplings, goulash, barley soup, funnel cakes (locally known as strauben), apple strudel, and fine cuts of meat with sour sauerkraut for a side (you know, the usual German diet).

Young Man Sitting By An Alpine Lake In South Tyrol, Italy, Alpine Europe

As stated above, you will find an abundance of Italian trattorie, especially in Bolzano––at the end of the day, this is an integral part of Italy––but choosing Lazio-originating cacio e pepe over locally-curated speck ham, in staunchly-German South Tyrol of all places, feels unbefitting in the very least.

Charming Alpine Castles And Towns

South Tyrol's cultural gems are among Italy's most underrated, with countless historic towns and imposing fortresses yet to be discovered by the masses: one of them is Ritten, a postcardy territory with a storybook-like Runkelstein Castle perched atop a rugged hill.

Aerial View Of Runkelstein Castle In South Tyrol, Italy, Alpine Europe

The charming Merano, dubbed ‘City of Gardens' due to the lush nature that surrounds it, is sure to make your heart flutter, with its majestic Belle époque buildings and narrow streets lined by Tyrolean eateries, and let's not forget Bressanone:

This quaint comune nestled amid verdant hills is easily recognized for its Baroque architecture and picturesque Stufels district, an Old Town traversed by two crystalline rivers (it's also one of the oldest settlements in all of South Tyrol).

Young Woman Sat In A Viewpoint Overlooking The Dolomites In South Tyrol, Italy

Outstanding Natural Beauty

Aside from the Italian-German dualities and the gastronomy, South Tyrol is widely-known for its breathtaking nature: as it is bounded by the Alps, the natural border between Italy and its Austrian and Swiss neighbors, you should expect spearing mountaintops and crystal-clear alpine lakes.

The most beautiful mountain range in South Tyrol is undoubtedly the UNESCO-listed Dolomites, a rural highland specked with sleepy German-speaking villages, and dominated by a series of jagged peaks it shares with six other Italian provinces.

Young Woman Sat In A Viewpoint Overlooking The Dolomites In South Tyrol, Italy

As impressive as they might be, the Dolomites are not the highest point in South Tyrol: that title is claimed by the snow-dusted, aptly-named King Ortler, in the Öztal Alps, where epic vistas await, and where the perfectly-preserved body of Ötzi, a mummified Copper Age male was found.

South Tyrol is a mountain getaway first and foremost, but that's not to say you can't go for a refreshing swim in Lago di Carezza, a sparkling-blue lake bordered by rustic cabin retreats, or the natural pools forming around the cascading Parcines Waterfall.

Young Man Sitting By An Alpine Lake In South Tyrol, Italy, Alpine Europe

The Perfect Chill Outdoorsy Destination

If you love hiking, camping, or just being outdoors in general, but the oppressive Italian heat puts you off visiting the ancient Roman heartland, South Tyrol is a great alternative:

Summers up here are lovely and warm, with long, sunny days reaching highs of 86°F during the day and limited rainfall, but the higher altitude, the dense forestation, and proximity to the snowy alps keep it from overheating like other arid zones in the Mediterranean.

Ortenstein Castle In South Tyrol, Italy

If you've been to Switzerland this time of year before, you know exactly what to bring; for the newcomers, you can bring plenty of shorts and your customary July attire, while saving packing a light jacket or long-sleeve shirt for the more chill evenings, when temperatures drop to 57.2 °F.

At the same time, you can rest assured the dangerous heatwaves plaguing large swathes of Tuscany and Campania are unlikely to find their way here.

How To Get To South Tyrol

A train of Trenitalia in an Italian train station at sunset. Asti, Piedmont, Italy.

There are no nonstop flights between the United States and South Tyrol, and flight options are limited if you're arriving via air.

The only major international airport in the region is Bolzano Airport, where only a handful of airlines are licensed to operate; most flights will be operated by SkyAlps, serving secondary hubs in Croatia, Denmark, Germany, and England over the peak travel season.

For Americans coming straight from the States, the best option is to fly first into Milan, than take a train north to Bolzano or Bressanone, from where they can explore other destinations in South Tyrol, either driving or taking local buses.

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Sunday 7th of July 2024

It was annexed to Italy in 1918, after first world war. You talk about it like if it's the only place in Italy with mountains to escape the heat, but the whole alpine arch, stretching 800km from west to east, has similar feeling and climate. The highest (and coldest) spots are actually on the opposite side, in Val d'Aosta


Thursday 4th of July 2024

The lake picture is a lake in Austria not Carezza