August is a strange time in Milan. It’s usually unbearably hot, very humid and eerily quiet in the city. The streets are deserted, many shops and restaurants are closed with signs posted on their doors that read, “Chiuso per ferie,” which means closed for vacation. Most Italians take their yearly vacation in August. In Milan, that means the city is virtually empty as the Milanese escape to the seaside or to the mountains. This year we made our August escape to the mountains, specifically the town of Merano, nestled in the hills of Trentino- Alto Adige.
Choosing where to stay in Trentino is difficult. There are so many beautiful places to choose from and August is peak season so availability was scarce. It was especially crowded as Italians and Europeans in general vacationed close to home this summer. We chose to visit Merano, which is nestled in a valley surrounded by the foothills of the Dolomites and sits on the banks of the Passer River.
Merano is a small town of approximately 41,000 people. Its history is long and rich dating back to the Roman era. The city and the surrounding villages have a very Austrian alpine feel. The region is famous for its wines, apple orchards, castles and abundance of outdoor activities.
The nearest large airports are Verona, Bergamo, Milan and Venice. Merano is reachable by train as well. From Milan it is a 4.5 hour train ride. Merano is a three hour drive from Milan. Merano is very walkable and has great public transportation, but if you want to explore beyond the town (which I highly suggest) you will need a car.
Things to do:
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list! There is so much to see in this area. There’s a castle on every hill, quaint neighboring towns and lots of wineries to visit.
1) Stroll through historic Merano.
The pedestrian area is charming with lots of shops and restaurants to enjoy. Besure to visit the church of St. Nicholas (patron saint of Merano) located at the end of the Laubengasse in the old town centre between the Domplatz and Pfarrplatz.
2) Passeggiata Lungo Passirio
Passeggiata Lungo Passirio is a scenic walkway that runs along the Passer river. It’s a relaxing and beautiful walk where you’ll see some beautiful architecture, parks and local art.
3) Giardini di Castel Trauttmansdorff
Giardini di Castel Trauttmansdorff (Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle) built around the medieval castle of Trauttmansdorff, located just outside of Merano’s city center. The gardens are enormous and truly stunning. There are plants from all over the world, man made ponds, observation decks, and so much more. You could spend an entire day exploring the gardens and enjoy lunch or an aperitivo in one of the cafes overlooking the gardens and the valley. The castle houses the Tourism museum which explains the history of tourism in Merano. The cost of the museum is included in your ticket to the gardens.
4) Castel Tirolo (Tyrol Castle)
Castel Tirolo (Tyrol Castle) is an imposing medieval castle built circa 1100 which is the ancestral home of the nobility of the South Tyrol region. Today it houses the South Tyrolean Museum of History. There are many castles in the area around Merano but this castle stands out among the rest. It’s size, location and history set it apart. If you only see one castle during your visit, make it this one! It’s located in the quaint town of Tirolo which is a few minutes away from Merano. Important note about visiting this castle – Do not follow google maps or any other GPS directions. You cannot reach the castle by car. You must park your car in Tirolo (look for the parking lots just before entering the town center). From there you must walk to the castle entrance. It’s about a 20-30 minute walk (depending on where you park) to the castle entrance. Believe me, the walk to the castle is part of the experience as you pass vineyards and orchards and enjoy the amazing view of the valley.
5) Merano 2000
Merano 2000 is the ski/hiking area just seven minutes away from Merano. Whether you’re visiting in summer or winter there is plenty to do. Merano 2000 offers daily and multi-day ski passes. In summer you can choose different hikes based on difficulty and take a break at one of the many chalet restaurants along the hiking paths. At the summit station there is a playground and petting zoo for kids and a fun bob ride down the mountain. My husband and son went down twice! You can check out pricing and hours here.
Forsterbrau – A historic brewery and restaurant. They are the top brewery in town and their menu offers local favorite dishes matched with their beers. We had the Weinerschnitzel (veal cutlet deep fried) with potatoes and Goulash (beef stewed with vegetables served a dumpling). This place is very busy so be sure to make a reservation in advance. You can find their menu and more info here.
2) Trattoria Flora
Trattoria Flora – Located in the heart of old town Merano. I would classify the cuisine as Italian with an Austrian influence. The old world meets modern ambience and the delicious menu makes it the perfect place to spend an evening. We enjoyed the bruschetta, wild boar ragu, speck pizza and apple strudel. You can find their menu here.