Our top ten guide to off-peak Alto Adige

Rachael Martin visits Alto Adige and picks out ten highlights to embrace in the months between the ski seasons.

Image by Andreas Mierswa

Alto Adige is the northern part of Trentino-Alto Adige and is famous for its Dolomite mountains. The 18th-century French mineralogist Déodat de Dolomieu first described and gave his name to both pale-coloured rock and mineral, and to the Dolomite mountains shaped by millions of years of major geological processes including volcanoes, ocean, mass extinction and ice ages. A visit to Alto Adige gives you the chance to enjoy natural beauty that contains the history of the evolution of our earth.

While southern Trentino is very clearly Italian, Alto Adige is characterised by its Austrian heritage. It became part of Italy in the 1919 Treaty of Saint Germain, which dissolved the Austro-Hungarian Empire to which it previously belonged. This Austrian heritage is very present. Whether you’re into climbing mountains, dining out, or just want to enjoy the scenery, this is a region with something for everyone, year-round.

1 Experience another world at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo

Stand outside Rifugio Locatelli on a cloudy day, with ravens circling above you, and the atmosphere really is that of being in another world. The Tre Cime (Three Peaks) di Lavaredo, part of the Sexten Dolomites in the Val Pusteria, are Alto Adige’s most famous and widely-known symbol. Do the giro delle Tre Cime, the Three Peaks Tour, to see them close up. The three-hour, medium-difficulty walk starts at Rifugio Auronzo and you can stop for lunch at Rifugio Locatelli.

If you don’t want to do the whole walk, you can always walk up just to the side of the peaks to enjoy views over to Rifugio Locatelli and then go back down. Access to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo is up a toll road, open 6am-8pm every day between May and November; the cost for a private car is €30.

2 Slow it all down up a mountain plateau

Alto Adige’s mountain meadows are the perfect places to relax. Alpe di Suisi, or Seiser Alm, is the highest Alpine meadow in Europe, at a height of 1,700m; the southern part is in the Sciliar-Catinaccio Natural Park. This offers 450km of walking trails and blooms into colour in spring with flowers that include Alpine crocuses, snowbells and gentians. In Val Badia you can go up to the Pralongiá plateau. Get the chairlift just outside Corvara going towards the Campolongo Pass.

Walk for half an hour and you’ll reach the Movimënt Spaghettino Park Pralongià with its many insects and other creatures who live there up on the plateau. Prato Piazza is the mountain plateau in Valle di Braies in the Fanes-Senes-Braies Natural Park. It’s another beautiful mountain plateau that offers plenty of walks from which to enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Image by Harald Wisthaler

3 Take a gastronomic tour

Go on the Alweg 2000, a gastronomic tour of the malghe in the beautiful Val di Casies. A malga is a wooden hut where animals lived when they were taken up to the pastures, and Val di Casies has many. Nowadays a lot of them are rustic-style restaurants where you can eat local cheeses, hams and salami, and typical dishes such as canederli, polenta, thick soups and strudels and other cakes. Val di Casies is one of the valleys that lead off Val Pusteria, and if the most famous mountains of the Dolomites are rocky and imposing, here you’ll find a more gentle landscape. To get there you need to go to the end of the valley in Santa Maddalena, park your car in one of the two big car parks, and then set off and walk. Signposts and maps help you on your way and indicate durations of walks.

4 Explore the Ladin valley of Val Badia

Trentino-Alto Adige has three official languages: Italian, German and Ladin. The Rhaetian people lived in the Dolomites, and when the Romans arrived they learned a form of vulgar Latin which mixed with their own language and became the Ladin language, and it was spoken from above Lake Garda as far as the Danube. Beautiful Val Badia, part of which is in the Fanes-Senes-Braies Natural Park, is one of the valleys where Ladin is spoken today.

Val Badia takes pride in its culture and traditions, which are linked to the religious calendar, while its stories tell of the good people of the forest, and its meadows flower with gentians, orchids, bistort and golden hawksbeard. Visit pretty San Cassiano, and head to the Museum Ladin in the Ciastel de Tor for the history of the Ladin valleys and their culture. Ladin cuisine includes Schlutzkrapfen (ravioli with spinach) and turtres (fried spinach or Sauerkraut turnovers).

5 Sit by a fairytale lake or three

Lago di Carezza is ‘Lec de Ergobando’ in the Ladin language, which means Rainbow Lake. The legend says that there was a beautiful nymph, Ondina. A local fell in love with her and wanted to kidnap her, and to do so he created a beautiful rainbow to attract her attention. Unfortunately for him, he forgot to disguise himself. Ondina fled and was never seen again, while the sorcerer smashed his rainbow and threw it into the lake, which is why the lake has such intense colours today.

Head also to Lago di Braies, where you can hire a rowing boat and set out across the water. Lago di Anterselva, in the Valle di Anterselva, just before Passo Stalle and the Austrian border, is also worth visiting.

Image by Harald Wisthaler

6 Head out along the wine route

The Stada del Vino, or Südtiroler Weinstraße, starts in Nalles, passes Bolzano and goes up to Salorno. The route has a high proportion of the area’s vineyards and is a great way not only to sample the wine but also to explore the villages, vineyards and castles along the way. Both Lagrein and Schiava are wines from this area. Also look out for whites made with Gewürztraminer, which takes its name from the village of Tremino (Tremin in German), Sylvaner and Müller-Thurgau. The area has a strong history of wine-making. Wine has been made here since the 16th century, and so some of the vineyards have buildings from the period, which are an interesting mix of German Gothic and Italian Renaissance styles. The route’s wine festival, Vino in Festa, normally takes place from the end of April to early June.

7 Chestnuts in the fifth season

The Vendemmia takes place every September, when grapes are harvested and the winemaking season begins. Towards the end, there’s the Törggelen: the fifth season, when roasted chestnuts are eaten alongside traditional dishes, all accompanied by wine. The Sentiero delle Castagne, Keschtnweg, or Chestnut Path, is the popular 63km chestnut trail through Valle Isarco. It starts at the Abbazia di Novicella near Bressanone, goes up to the high mountain plateau of Renon, and then to Castel Roncolo, north of Bolzano. The valley is famous for its 2,000-year-old chestnut groves which were planted when the area belonged to the Roman Empire and was on the main route across the Alps. Families, friends and colleagues come together in restaurants to celebrate this time of year. The traditional dish is the Schlachtplatte, freshly slaughtered sausages, pork knuckle, cutlet and ribs, 7 Chestnuts in the fifth season accompanied by Sauerkraut.

8 Get active with kids

ALTO ADIGE is a great family destination. There’s plenty of walking, hiking and biking routes of various levels of difficulty, and lots of activities and places to visit. Take the kids rafting along the River Adige with Italian Rafting Federation guides, there’s a 3D archery course at Castel d’Appiano, or head for the longest mountain rollercoasters in Italy at the L’Alpine Coaster Klausberg-Flitzer. Ötzi the Iceman is the mummy that was found in Val Senales in 1991 and who lived between 3400 and 3100 BC (the late Stone Age). He’s preserved in the Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano . Val Senales has the Ötzi High-Rope Park for rope adventures up in the trees. Alternatively, head to Family Park Klausberg Valle Aurina for the water park, dinosaur park, climbing walls and more.

9 Take a stroll around town 

Head for Bolzano, whose historical town centre, and in particular its porticoes, was once a place for trade between Germany and Italy. Nearby Castel Firmiano houses the main site of the MMM, the Messner Mountain Museum, which explores man’s relationship with mountains in all its forms. Merano is famous for Liberty-style palazzi, spas, and its historical centre. See the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff, also known as the Gardens of Princess Sissi, the 19th-century Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary.

Bressanone is the Tyrol’s oldest town, with a marble cathedral and cloister with Gothic frescoes. Brunico’s town gates hold artistic treasures, shopping, cafés and a Friday farmer’s market. Vipiteno was once a refuge for kings and emperors, while San Candido has a cycle path to Lienz in nearby Austria. Glorenza in Val Venosta is still enclosed by its original walls.

10 Drive over Italy’s highest mountain pass

Image by Rachael Martin

The Giro dei Quattro Passi is the classic mountain pass route between Alto Adige and Trentino, with four mountain passes – Pordoi, Sella, Gardena and Campolongo – and is a fantastic drive for scenery. Passo dello Stelvio is the highest mountain pass accessible by car in Italy and the second highest in Europe. It links Alto Adige with Lombardy and was originally a medieval footpath; then, at the beginning of the 19th century, Francis I of Austria had a road built to link Val Venosta with the Valtellina, and with Milan, which was under Austrian rule.

Famous for summer skiing, it has incredible views over the Ortles mountains. This is the long way back to Milan if you’re flying from there but you could combine it with a stopover in the smart mountain resort of Bormio, or a stop at Lake Como to finish your holiday in lakeside style.

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