PWk: Prod, Tlk: GS2, Datacash: Live
At the point where Italy meets Switzerland and Austria are the Dolomites. A dramatic, UNESCO-protected chain of peaks and valleys, the region is interspersed with vivid green fields and the most atmospheric towns Italy has to offer.
South Tyrol is the region’s most accessible section. Sitting on the Talfer River beneath some of Tyrol’s biggest peaks, is the capital, Bolzano. The town combines the cultures of Italy and Austria to form somewhere entirely unique. Road signs feature both languages, and the food is a fusion of the two nations’ cuisines.
In nearby Merano, more than half the population speak German, and the Alpine setting couldn’t be further from Tuscany’s rolling hills or Amalfi’s dramatic coastline. But with the famed Trauttmansdorff Castle Gardens and sophisticated thermal baths, it’s definitely a highlight of the region. Thanks to the spectacular geology, there’s also a well-established wine industry in the Dolomites, and there are plenty of vineyards and wineries dotted around. The spectacular landscape has helped the region become one of Italy’s prime ski locations, with two main resorts – Dolomiti Superski and Skirama Dolomiti – providing hundreds of ski runs and lifts.
The Dolomites are a unique blend of Alpine splendour and rural Italian charm. The top pick for most is the glorious Trauttmansdorff Castle in Merano, where the spectacular landscaped gardens play centre stage. The town’s thermal baths come a close second, boasting dozens of temperature-controlled pools surrounded by peaceful gardens.
The closest airport to the Dolomites is Verona airport (VRN). Transfers take around 90 minutes. Direct flights to Verona airport are available from Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Glasgow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle and Southampton. Journey times come in at approximately 2 hours long.
Despite perhaps being best-known for skiing, the Dolomites are a year-round destination – and the towns in South Tyrol are often at their best in the summer. Merano and Bolzano tuck into mountain valleys, which makes for a pleasant summer climate. In fact, temperatures can reach 30°C in July and August. Both towns are also known for the glittering Christmas markets usually held from November to January.
The Dolomites’ spot near the northern Italian border lends local fare hints of Eastern European, Mediterranean and Austrian cuisine.
This little area also has more than a dozen Michelin-star restaurants. The sophisticated palate is largely fuelled by the ski towns, where deep-pocketed foodies search out après-ski that looks less like fondue and more like haute cuisine. Some of the oldest recipes in the Dolomites come from the Roman Ladin communities, who have kept family recipes going for hundreds of years.
Green alpine pastures are ideal for grazing dairy cattle, while the hilly landscape is ripe with game animals like deer and mountain goats. Meanwhile, the suntrap valleys pave the way for vineyards and apple orchards.
There are plenty of tasting tours on offer, where you can try native grapes like Trollinger, Lagrein and Gewurztraminer. Keep an eye out for the burgeoning craft cider scene, too – flavours tend to be winter-crisp. As for desserts, locals will tell you that there’s only one sweet worth trying – their beloved apple strudel.
Comfort food reigns supreme in the Dolomites. Expect to see menus with ravioli and wild mushroom risotto, while soups, sauerkraut and dumplings (canederli) warm up the winter months.
Polenta is almost synonymous with Northern Italy – and it’s especially popular in the Dolomites, where locals serve it as a stew, pat it into pancakes, or toss it into a bowl with diced spiced sausage. Tyrolean speck – a pine-flavoured smoked ham – is a local speciality, too. It can come on antipasti boards along with local goat’s cheese