'Gerrit and the City' is all about escapism. Sometimes I take you to unexplored cities and sometimes I take you to more remote places. Consider this my first 'Gerrit and the Mountains' piece as I introduce you to South Tyrol, the region located in the Alps of Northern Italy. A region that's all about contrasts: Alpine and Mediterranean, German-Austrian and Italian, traditional and contemporary. There is nothing quite like finding yourself in this sumptuous mountain landscape to escape everything and refocus on yourself. And when you're feeling a cosmopolitan urge, the capital Bolzano is right there for you!
ABOUT THE REGION
With over 300 days of sun per year and the Dolomites, the mountain range that's been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and that's considered by many to be among the most beautiful in the world, what's not to like about South Tyrol? Here are landscapes that will take your breath away and form perfect slopes for the ski addicts. But there's more, since these Alpine peak formations coexist with a Mediterranean wine country, a land where a rural sense of tradition makes way for a southern ease. Just below the snowy mountain tops, you'll find gentle hills, broad plateaux and a mild climate, which make for the best wine growing environment.
During my stay I got to discover Pfitscher, a wine producer from a small village in the South of the region. This family has been making wine since 1861 and is now down to its 7th and still very passionate generation. Composed of the grandfather, the father, the mother and three siblings, the business has kept its human scale. Their vineyards are located on altitudes that range from 200 to 1,300 meters, meaning they get a wide variety of different wines. Italy is mostly known for its white wines and that's not different at Pfitscher as some of their most important wines include the Pinot Blanc and the Sauvignon Blanc, but they've also become known for some red wines like the Pinot Noir and the Lagrein Riserva.
WHERE TO STAY: BERGHAUS ZALLINGER
The newly reopened Berghaus Zallinger perfectly embodies the 'old meets new' spirit of the region as the architects behind the project drew inspiration from the history of the place. The Zallinger has been around since the 19th century and used to look like a little village with several small buildings. For its new design, they remained faithful to that character. This results in three distinct chalets (each with eight rooms) and a separate building where the reception and the restaurant can be found. There's also a spa that can only be reached by braving the alpine air.
In the middle of the mountains, at more than 2,000 meters altitude, the place is immensely romantic. Composed of 90% of wood, the complex fades into the landscape so as not to overshadow the majestic surroundings. At Berghaus Zallinger, it's nothing but peace and quiet, far from the daily hustle. No TV or WiFi in the rooms, only the view over this white paradise. A sense of isolation to refocus on the essential, which starts even before your actual arrival: only the signature red snowcat will take you from Saltria to your final destination!
WHAT TO DO
As mentioned earlier, South Tyrol will definitely please the ski fanatics. But there's so much more you can do there too. Berghaus Zallinger lies in the Seiser Alm or Alpe di Siusi, which is the largest high-Alpine pasture in Europe. Instead of going skiing, you can for instance go snowshoeing across the immaculate landscape (you know, those things you put under your shoes that kind of look like tennis rackets). It will surely bring to life your inner adventurer. Or you can channel your inner princess during a horse-drawn carriage ride; a picture perfect moment right out of a fairy tale. And what about some moonlight tobogganing, going down the slopes on a sled with a torch to light your way and the stars as your only witnesses. And when you've had enough of all the snow, you can always go down to the capital Bolzano...
A DAY IN BOLZANO
In Bolzano you'll get to experience the Mediterranean side of South Tyrol, as 70% of people speak Italian here (as opposed to the rest of the region where most people speak German). Bolzano is a buzzing, modern city, yet it has kept a huge respect for its history, meaning you can still find plenty of ancient architecture and various traces of the past. The city is also relatively small, meaning you can easily discover it by foot. It features the picturesque streets you would expect from this kind of place surrounded by mountains, yet it is also home to a surprising number of trendy hotspots!
Bolzano's main square is the Piazza Walther, which has been named after the medieval musical poet Walther von der Vogelweide of German origin. If you're looking for a place to have coffee, head to Walthers' (at nr 6) or Loacker (nr 11). Attic (Via Argentieri 5) was probably my favorite boutique because of its alternative vibe and interesting offer of clothing for both men and women. The brands on display are mostly Italian and all of the vintage furniture that graces the store can be bought too. At Alexander's (Via Leonardo da Vinci 4) you'll also find Italian brands, but of a different kind: Etro, Moschino, Valentino, ... At this luxury outlet, you enjoy 50% discount all year long. In other words: Partay!
A little further you'll find yourself on the Piazza delle Erbe, a lovely intersection of streets that's the decor for a vegetables, fruits and flower market every day of the year (except on Sunday). And from rural back to premium, at Oberrauch Zitt (Via Portici 67) you're immersed into an exceptional shopping environment. Featuring one of the oldest fresco's of the city, this boutique almost feels like a maze with its many floors and chambers. From casual to chic, this is where the stylish crowd comes to dress! Another store that's housed in a huge building is Maximilian (Via Portici 16), a multibrand store with a cool, urban vibe.
For a simple yet healthy lunch, I'd recommend Humus Bio Bistro (Via Argentieri 18). If you're looking for something a little more refined, you can go to the fifth floor of Thaler (Via Portici 69) to have lunch at its Café Bistro Arôme. The menu includes dishes such as garlic risotto and salmon tartar. Delicious! After your meal, you can go down the different floors to find yourself the perfect fragrance or skincare. For dessert or an afternoon snack, you have to head to Avalon (Corso della Libertà 44) which has the best ice cream in town! The place is a hole in the wall, but the flavors are amazing. Think mango from Pakistan or chocolate from Peru.
To reach South Tyrol, you can fly from Brussels to either Venice, Bologna or Milan Linate. From there you can rent a car to drive to Hotel Tirler (where the Zallinger snowcat will come and pick you up). This is approximately a 3,5 hours drive. Or you take the train to Bolzano and organize a transfer from there (approximately €80.00 one way).