South Tyrol off-season

5 April 2024
Written by
Chiara Todesco

Five unmissable experiences in the Dolomites

Little traffic, few people, great silences, lots of nature: going into the South Tyrolean valleys in the less crowded seasons means getting even more in touch and in harmony with these places and with the people who live there. Thus quietly discovering unexpected things and places.

sleep in the home of ski-champion Gustav Thöni

In Vinschgau you can even shake hands with the ski champion Gustav Thöni, considered the legend of the Blue Avalanche. Here we are in his land, in the Stelvio National Park, among his mountains: high peaks still white with snow even in late spring, glaciers where you can ski until summer. At the end of the valley you begin to climb along 46 hairpin bends leading to the Stelvio Pass. There it is, Gustav’s home: it is the Hotel Bella Vista in Trafoi, sheltered by the peaks of the Ortler Alps.

You only have to cross the threshold to know immediately where we are: for five generations, the Thöni family has been welcoming guests with such friendliness. The hotel was founded in 1875 by the blue champion’s great-grandfather and is now run by his daughter Petra Maria and her husband. Gustav is almost always at the hotel and gladly accompanies guests either on skiing or hiking in the woods, telling them amusing anecdotes. He also guides you to the gallery-museum inside the hotel, with his World Cups and a lot of other memorabilia from his brilliant sports career.

At 2,267 metres, in the idyllic Vallelunga, visit the Maseben Astronomical Observatory: the two telescopes offer a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of the night sky and the sun. Also unique and special is the Puni whiskey distillery: its brick-red checkerboard walls rise next to the mediaeval walls of Glorenza. A high-quality whiskey is produced here thanks to the mix of pure water from the glacier and grain from the valley: the distillery can be visited and the whiskey can be tasted.

The Puni Distillery

explore the natural wonders

From the green valley floor to the glaciers, from 500 metres to 3,200 metres above sea level: peaks and altitude differences are also protagonists in Val Senales. It was here that in 1991 on the glacier some mountaineers found a 5,300-year-old mummy in an excellent state of preservation: Ötzi, is now at the archeological museum in Bolzano, but in Val Senales you can visit the archeoParc interactive museum, where Ötzi’s habitat has been reproduced, or join the ‘Ötzi Glacier Tour’ to follow his tracks to the Tisa Pass where he was found.

Still on the glacier, one can also linger over the work of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson: ‘Our Glacial Perspectives’ is a permanent installation that invites silent reflection on climate change. At 2,845 metres, immersed in silence, you can indulge in a top wellness moment: the Bella Vista Refuge has Europe’s highest outdoor sauna.

Experience relaxation and silence – a religious silence indeed  – in the village of Certosa, which owes its origin to a Carthusian monastery. Silence reigned among the monks, and it still reigns in the hamlet. The project called “Silentium” makes it clear that this is still a rule of the valley. “Silentium” is also the name of a 2-hour-hike connecting the villages of Madonna and Monte Santa Caterina to Certosa. Quotes along the path remind the philosophical meaning of silence.

Alpine roads and museums

Curves and ups and downs, like on a merry-go-round: off season is the best moment to ride or drive on the roads of the Val Passiria: no traffic and surprises at every corner. Passo Rombo and Passo Giovo connect the village of St. Leonhard in Passeier with the Ötz Valley in Austria and the Upper Eisack Valley near Sterzing. 

The fascinating Timmelsjoch Alpine Road is celebrated by the ‘The Emotion of the Timmelsjoch Pass’ museum project: five sculptures set up along the road pay a tribute to the pioneers of this route (once a mule track). The museum building on the other hand, at the top of the Pass, juts out as if it were an erratic boulder from the Tyrolean side to the South Tyrolean side, to emphasise its cross-border character.

Texelgruppe nature park

On the other hand, the Passeier Museum, in St. Leonhard, at the Sandhof farmstead, isthe birthplace of Andreas Hofer, the hero for the liberation of the Tyrol. A piece of history.

authentic craftsmanship

There are those who work peacock rachides, there is the basket maker, the hand weaver, the pipe maker, and there is the woodworker. Wandering around Val Sarentino you always meet some craftsmen: you chat with them, admire them at work, maybe buy some typical pieces of handcrafts home. Such as a beautiful inlaid and decorated piece of Tyrolean furniture or a Sarentino pipe (they call it Reggl).

One of the oldest arts, however, is embroidery on leather: if you stop by the church on Sundays and holidays, when the valley people go to mass in their colourful costumes, you can admire the typical decorated leather belts (Fatsch). It takes around 150-200 hours of labour to make each piece. 

wine tours

From workshops to wineries, from handcrafted invoices to fine wines: here we are in the Eisack Valley, one of South Tyrol’s main valleys. Here we take the time to wander into the vineyards, stop at a winery and make a toast. White wines are particularly renowned for their subtle, fruity aroma and elegant, firm body. You can taste these wines at the Röckhof farm in Villandro where all production is done naturally, or to the ancient cellar of the Novacella Abbey, or even to the Cantina Sociale in Chiusa.

Novacella Abbey

It is worth lingering a little in the mediaeval town of Klausen, just a few kilometres from Brixen: it is part of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy, a real jewel of art with its romantic facades, Gothic churches and the beautiful Benedictine Monastery of Sabiona.

Explore the “Mountain Pine Trail” at Alpe di Villandro, a plateau that from spring to autumn is coloured an even dazzling green. Several signs along the ‘Apple Trail’ in Naz-Sciaves offer information and interesting facts about apple cultivation, another of South Tyrol’s top products.

Discover the wonders of Alto Adige with Dolomite Mountains, a dmc agency specialised on outdoor activities throughout the Eastern Alps, Lake Garda and Sardinia. 

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