The first visit to Alto Adige (also called Sud Tirol and South Tyrol) might disorient even the savviest of travelers. In Bolzano, the capital city of Alto Adige, frauleins sporting dirndls are as common as donnas decked in Gucci from head to toe. While pale, moon-faced families purposefully cycle through Piazza Walther, tanned fashionistas sip espresso and watch.
A long history of border changing (akin to musical chairs) has left Alto Adigeans staunchly clinging to every vestige of their personal heritage, be it Austrian or Italian. But with a keen eye, one can uncover moments of assimilation—the best of which are in the kitchen. While Austrians never sacrificed their language, fashion, or punctuality to the Italian lifestyle, they eventually found that a well cooked tagliatelle is irresistible. And even Italian chefs have to admit there is nothing wrong with a little speck.
Alto Adige often caters to Austrian and Italian cultures with harmonious balance. But at the Bierhkeller Latsch, patrons embrace biergarten-chic in all its glory. In a log cabin overlooking fields of apple trees, the Rinner family (who indeed don dirndls) prepare hearty Austrian pub grub inspired by local products. Pair crispy rosemary-roasted potatoes with artery-clogging pork shank wrapped in speck, or crispy, buttery french fries with finger-staining spare ribs. You can walk off the calories in the neighboring apple orchards; it’s breathtaking.Recommended:
Hansi Baumgartner began his culinary career in Alto Adige as a chef, and today his cheese shop is a favorite among chefs well beyond the scope of the region. Baumgartner does not simply make cheese; he perfects it. Using his chef’s know-how, Baumgartner selects the freshest and purest cheese from his own stock and that of local farmers and elevates the flavor components to make artisan products (he’s something of a cheese mixologist). Among others, Baumgartner sells blue cheeses topped with cacao beans, Caprin dal Fen wrapped in hay, and Ragusano D.O.P melded with carob. To those who worship in the house of curd, visit Degust.Recommended:
To watch a chef walk toward you wearing lederhosen and a traditional mountain cap is to experience the bone chilling fear of the ill-informed tourist; “What have I gotten myself into?” But don’t worry, because this chef, Chef Franz Mulser, is one of the most inspirational chefs in the region of Alto Adige. Mulser draws inspiration from the fresh air of Alpi di Suisi, a plateau that rests in the Dolomites where cars are banned and hay is hailed for its healing powers. He reimagines the fresh, pure flavors of the air into hearty and rustic dishes that are both familiar and full of intrigue. Hay Soup served in house-made ciabatta tastes like earth and sky.Recommended:
A small gelateria outside the city center, Avalon offers a hundred varieties of gelato, which sounds like a gimmick, but isn’t. Every day a new selection of gelati becomes available, varying from classic (like fresh vanilla and dark chocolate chip Stracciatella) to strange (Bombay Dream, made from a basmati rice base with nutmeg, cardamom, anise, and fennel seed). Creativity and pure ingredients ensure that, at Avalon, a specific gelato exists for every conceivable customer.Recommended:
At Kaiserkron, an über-ritzy tavern off the Piazza Walthler, Chef Mathias Pesolderung prepares food that is both rustic (via Austria) and fresh (grazie Italia). Chef Karl Baumgartner of Alto Adige’s famous Restaurant Schöneck is the consulting chef, and his influence is present in every bite. While he never breaches into the avant-garde, Chef Pesolderung skillfully balances two opposing culinary philosophies on a single plate, in a purposeful menu filled with pleasant surprises.Recommended:
In the small village of Novacella, where winding roads curve around vineyards that climb the rocky hillsides, family-run Hotel Parcherhof offers guests a taste of the simple life (with the necessary soupçon of luxury). The restaurant serves regional classics, augmented by the skill of Chef Richard Pichler to meet the spa hotel’s elegant atmosphere. The menu changes daily according to the chef’s ritual stroll through the hotel garden, but keep an eye out for Eisack Valley Parkerhaus Sylvana White Wine Soup with Parsley, which is tangy, light, and frothy, and made from the family vineyard’s wines.Recommended:
This grand hotel restaurant overlooks the peaks of the Dolomites, and at sunset it provides guests with the perfect spot to witness light transform the cliffs from silver to rosy pink. And Restaurant Parkhotel Holzner maintains a mature yet relaxed environment. Dishes like White Asparagus with Ham and “Bozner Sauce” and Braised Veal Cheek in “Lagrein Dunkel” Sauce on Vegetable Polenta emphasize the quality of a star ingredient by cooking it simply and pairing it with a complex and well executed sauce. The richness of the dishes might be inspired by French cuisine, or simply meant to encourage the taking of a digestivo on the back porch that overlooks the surrounding peaks.Recommended:
Chef Anna Matscher runs Zum Löwen with her husband Alois (the wine director) and her daughter Elizabeth (the hostess). A renovated country barn houses the restaurant, and the space’s modern interpretation of classic bucolic style mirrors the sophisticated fare prepared, served, and paired by the Matscher family. Anna Matscher is a celebrity in Alto Adige’s culinary world for her sweet and easy manner—traits that are evident in her cuisine. Her Millefeuille of Knödelscheiben and Venison Ragout extracts the gamey flavor of the meat and adds layers of light-as-air dumplings to soak up the savory juices.Recommended:
Abbazia di Novacella, a working monastery, functions as a sustainable small village. The grounds include castles that date back to the 11th century, vibrantly hued gardens, and an acclaimed vineyard. Little boys of the monastery boarding school dash between corridors and kick footballs amid the guided tours. Guests can peruse the stunning Baroque Cathedral (ask to see the iconic dangling foot), museum, library, and winery. A shop sells regional and monastery-made products, including teas and wines, and the restaurant offers a small taste of the wines that have been sustaining monks and their guests for centuries.Recommended:
It wouldn’t be a trip to Italy without a stop to a sun-kissed piazza café to sip an espresso and watch impeccably dressed Italians saunter by. In the city of Bolzano, there is no piazza like Piazza Walther, and no café like the Loacker Moccaria. With a “coffee sommelier” on hand to ensure each cup is impeccably served, and an array of dolci based on Loacker wafers, the popular Alto Adige cookie sold worldwide, it’s as easy to let an afternoon slip away here as it is for Italian women to walk across the cobblestones in three-inch Dolce & Gabbana stilettos.Recommended:
Hotel Greif is a historic yet modern styled hotel in the center of Bolzano’s historic district. Each sparely elegant room features the work of a local artist (for more information on yours, read the tiny booklet attached to the key). Those fortunate enough to snag a corner room can witness the goings-on of Piazza Walther and enjoy private views of the Duomo, but may find themselves awakened by church bells. Breakfast is served on a cozy covered terrace with views of the very mountains that cultivated the morning’s fresh cheeses, cured meats, breads, and fruits.
The sister hotel to Hotel Grief offers the grand hotel experience for those who seek more extravagant accommodations. It maintains its 19th century elegance with original furniture and moldings restored by the hotel’s carpenters. Willow trees sway and flowers perfume the air in the hotel garden—perhaps the most picturesque aspect of life at Hotel Laurin. It’s easy here to sip a glass of local sparkling wine and forget that you’re not in paradise.
Perched on the cliffs of the mountains outside Bolzano, this museum offers a small taste of life as Reinhold Messner, the first man to ever climb Mount Everest without oxygen. Messner takes a philosophical approach to mountain climbing, and his museum showcases the religious icons inspired by mountains across the world. The castle features a theater, a garden, and guided paths through the hills so visitors can experience climbing (on a smaller scale) for themselves. At the café, guests sample Messner Farm cheeses and cured meats. Apparently, the next step after climbing Mount Everest is mastering a damn fine speck.
An idyllic spot alongside the Talvera River, this park offers tourists the opportunity to respite like a local. With the muted roar of the river and terra cotta-shingle-studded mountains in the distance, people watching couldn’t be more pleasant than on these tailored greens. Bring some local products and a bottle of vino and watch the Bolzani lounge and play. For those seeking to cover ground, biking and jogging paths run parallel to the park.
Speck is one of Alto Adige’s most prided products; it takes credit for 10 percent of the smoked cured meat’s production in Europe. The Recla company produces speck from naturally fed pigs and imparts the smoked and cured meat with flavors of the region—Beachwood, rye, fennel, rosemary, and marjoram all present themselves in the aromas of the speck. Visit the factory and inhale the process as much as the history. The smoke room is full of the powerful Beachwood smell that whets the appetite with overpowering force.
At the Sud Tirol Museum of Archaeology, Ötzi, the only mummy to survive the Copper Age, is displayed in all his glory. The Ötzi exhibit includes his body, a stylish outfit (bearskin hats were so in that year), and a life-size replica of what scientists believe he once looked like. The fun part of the museum rests on the top floor, where the craziness that Ötzi’s discovery inspired is on full display. You’ll find letters to the museum curators from “experts” attempting to barter money for Ötzi’s story, an Ötzi memoir by a woman who claims to have been Ötzi in a past life, Ötzi jelly beans, and yes, a photo of Brad Pitt’s Ötzi tattoo.