I’ve been to South Tyrol quite a few times and it’s one of those places that just never disappoints. Maybe it’s because it’s in Italy, which to me is one of those countries I just can’t help but love. The food, the people, the culture – there just is nothing I don’t like about it. Take all those things about Italy and add a humble mountain range (the Alps) to the mix and the locals’ ability to speak at least 2 languages – German and Italian – perfectly, and you have one of the best holiday destinations in the world.

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited by Visit South Tyrol to experience a side of the region which only comes out one time a year: the pre-Christmas period. Even the smaller cities all feature enchanting Christmas markets where children can ride carousels and grown-ups can shop traditional Christmas decor, handmade goods and delicious food and drink. My four days here flew by and not only filled my batteries like few places in the world can but also really got my Christmas fever started. To share some of the magic with you, here come my top 5 places to get the best of the holiday spirit when in South Tyrol.

1. Brixen

Upon arrival in South Tyrol, we checked into the Pacherhof hotel which not only boasts stunning views overlooking a valley and its very own handsome vineyard, there is also a heated outdoor pool and a great traditional restaurant dishing up tasty local fare. Starting the day with views like this is guaranteed to get your blood pumping from the get go. Add in that morning swim and you’ll feel that sense of rejuvenation coming on strong.

A mere 7 minute drive from the hotel is the center of Brixen, where one can not only find adorable shops lined along cobbled streets in a very walkable town core, this is also where you’ll come across one of the most captivating Christmas markets in Europe. Horse carriages, the smell of apple cider and mulled wine filling the air and an adorable array of little wooden stalls selling all the things that your Christmas-loving heart wants. There is an entire house made to look like an advent calendar with windows being calendar doors, and each day a new image is revealed.

Just next to the market is an ice rink where kids can put on those skates and have a giggle while sliding around. Parents are welcome to join them (even without skates) for moral or physical support but just watching everyone else have a good time is rewarding enough for some (aka scaredy cats like myself). While everyone else was skating my little guy and I had fun taking photos of ourselves in the little head in hole park right next door.

After our Christmas market fun we ended the day on a special note, attending the Natalie musical – a special sort of light show featuring a talking house, a beautiful maid turned party hostess called Natalie and a bunch of little open mouth marvelling at the show. If you get to catch it – it comes highly recommended! More info here.

2. Bolzano

Bolzano is a staple when visiting South Tyrol, not just during Christmas. It’s an adorable city, extremely liveable and reminiscent of places like Bordeaux in France or Freiburg in Germany – just a place that feels like an instant home. I’ve come here a few times before, and have always enjoyed the leisurely stroll around the city centre as well as the many great restaurants (Restaurant 37 and Batzenbräu come highly recommended) and now I can add the Christmas market to the list of things to love about Bolzano. The setting alone is a sight for sore eyes – an epic mountain backdrop and a huge Christmas tree make for postcard worthy picture to woo your relatives back home with. Come here hungry and get snacking, for there are so many delicious things waiting to be tried. Most of them will especially please your sweet tooth!

3. Val Senales

A different side to a full Christmas experience but no less special is a visit to Val Senales, hands down my favorite part of our 5 day adventure. We checked into Tonzhaus, which is a wonderful place, if you enjoy intimate and well maintained spa hotels with epic views. From here it’s only a 10 minute drive to the ski lifts that will transport you to the top of the Sal Venales Glacier. Not only is there snow and ski fun all year here but it is home to the coolest ski hut I have come across so far: the Schutzhütte Schöne Aussicht.

What’s so special about this place you may wonder? Well, what isn’t! First of all, just to get here you either have to hike over with snowshoes or you can call in for a pick up on a ski mobile by the deeply charismatic owner Paul Grüner, a true Renaissance man who is reinventing the meaning of ski hut and the possibilities that come with it. Only here can you visit a sauna over 3000m above sea level, just before or after spending the night in an igloo. Only here can you enjoy a 5-course bread dumpling tasting menu with serious Michelin potential. Only here could you house yourself and your entire wedding party, because above the restaurant there are 3 storeys full of beds and bedrooms, all adorably dressed in wooden walls and checkered bed sheets.

4. Sarntal

As our next stop we checked into Bad Schörgau, a hotel that has been around since the 70s and been run by several generations of the same family. Bad Schörgau is well known for its lovely outdoor spa, with 2 saunas and a heated outdoor pool luring guests to live their best lives. There is a unique vibe here and the hosts are always around to chat to guests and make sure everyone feels right at home. It was here that we got to bake our own Christmas cookies which was not only a success with little people.

A visit to the small but enchanting Christmas market in nearby Sarntal is highly recommended. Maybe you’ll do it like me and buy yourself a pair of the traditional felted house shoes that are made locally by some lovely old ladies (like Clara in the photo below) who spend up to 8 hours on a single pair of shoes. To meet those ladies and to see how the shoes are made, we headed to Rohrerhaus, an old farm house where time has stood still. The place now doubles as a museum and the different rooms display original furniture and photos from back in the days. It offers great insight to what life was like back in the days!

5. Merano

Merano is a highlight on any South Tyrol trip – it just has so much to offer. The mid-sized town of 40.000 really knows how to bring the Christmas spirit and must have hired a bunch of fairies to decorate even the biggest trees with an infinite number of lights. It’s breath-taking just to walk through the market, and I especially loved crossing the many bridges here because there is always another “lit” surprise waiting at the end of it.

A unique experience for all Christmas lovers awaits just outside the Terme in Merano – a restaurant in the shape of a Christmas ball. That’s right, you can now dine inside giant Christmas tree decor – if this doesn’t get your holiday spirit on, what will?

Despite many very good hotel options in Merano itself, we decided to get to know the adjacent town of Lana instead, a small place just a 15 minute drive away. It was here where we checked into an adorable and brand new hotel called 1477 Reichhalter that impressed with modern mid-century furniture and unusually large rooms. We were so comfortable here I would have quite happily moved in for a week and only left to eat at their very good downstairs restaurant. The Ravioli come highly recommended.

We had such a beautiful and inspiring time in South Tyrol and our 5 days here felt like 2 weeks. While I do love the summers in South Tyrol but I will most certainly be back here in December to get into the right spirit for the holidays and shop some local loveliness.

 

*Thank you Visit South Tyrol for inviting us and sponsoring this article.                                                               We certainly had “the most wonderful time of the year!”

 

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