1. Where to Stay
Experience total isolation at Vigilius Mountain Resort (from $412), a carbon-neutral, mountaintop hotel accessible only by cable car. Sustainable-architecture star Matteo Thun designed the 41 minimalist larch-and-slate rooms and eschewed TVs for terraces with panoramic views. Borrow a mountain bike from the lobby and take the nearby trails through the Dolomites.
Thun also created Pergola Residence (from $248), which melds into its surroundings with a heather-covered roof and patios camouflaged by pergola. The twelve rooms each have a state-of-the-art kitchen and are steps from the center of the picture-perfect village of Lagundo.
Reconnect with civilization at the full-service Steigenberger (from $205), in the city of Merano. The hotel boasts its own spa, indoor-outdoor pools, whirlpool, sauna, in addition to an underground tunnel to the adjoining Thermal Baths. Book a suite for a balcony view of the surrounding mountains.
2. Where to Eat
Chef Armin Mairhofer earned one Michelin star for his Mediterranean-inspired fare at Anna Stuben. There are only four tables in the snug, raw-wood dining room, so book ahead of time.
Go rustic at Tilia, a tiny eatery housed in an 800-year-old, stucco farmhouse. Snag a hand-carved wooden chair or sit upright on a pine bench, while sampling the seasonal handiwork of 35-year-old chef Chris Oberhammer. All the herbs come from the garden out back.
Wrought-iron partitions offer privacy to Jasmin’s twenty diners, but don’t be fooled by stuffy floral-patterned banquettes. Chef Martin Obermarzoner’s cuisine is ultramodern, marrying unlikely ingredients into daring dishes like oyster shooters with white-chocolate shavings and a passion-fruit purée.
3. What to Do
South Tyrol’s wineries produce a bounty of hard-to-find (in the States) Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Vernatsch, Lagreins, and Spumantes—they’re also a showcase in striking, sustainable architecture. Tour them along the Wine Route, stopping off at Manincor Winery, the region’s largest estate producer. The semi-subterranean modernist wine cellar, designed by local architect Walter Angonese, was built with minimal impact on the land. Alois Lageder, in Margreid, produces award-winning whites in a solar-powered ultramodern steel-and-glass building; even the equipment is run off a photovoltaic energy system.
The best way to protect the saw-toothed Dolomites—which have more than 10,563 miles of trails—is to explore them on foot. For rigorous hikes, take the Vigiljoch Seilbahn cable car up to Monte San Vigilio, grabbing a trail map at the station. Take the three-hour climb to Hochwart, a wind-swept peak boasting postcard panoramas. For a more leisurely stroll, head back to the valley floor to the Waalweges, a 100-mile network of pathways that follow century-old irrigation channels through orchards and vineyards. From Lagundo, the hour-long Waalwege to the medieval village of Dorf Tirol is idyllic for its twelfth-century castle.
Have your pick of 25 pools (salt-water, indoor-outdoor, cool-dip, whirlpool) at the 50,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Merano Thermal Baths. A transparent cube of glass and steel, designed by Thun, houses sauna, spa, and pool rooms, while the sprawling outdoor complex is dotted with larger pools and landscaped with lily ponds and rose gardens.
4. Insider’s Tip
South Tyrol is lightly treaded by English-speaking tourists, so your trip will go much more smoothly if you speak the language—actually, languages. The region (known as “Südtirol” in German and “Alto Adige” in Italian) is bilingual, so pick up a few phrases in German or Italian to get by.
5. Oddball Day
Drive the storied Stelvio Pass, one of the Alp’s highest and most scenic mountain passes—its heart-stopping corkscrews and 60 hairpin turns once derailed famed race-car driver Stirling Moss and have starred in countless car commercials, TV shows, and movies. From Merano, drive west on SS38 about an hour to the Stelvio National Park, stopping at a few leg-stretching points of interest—like the botanic trail or the 700-step staircase canopied by 500-year-old larch trees. Continuing on the park’s main road, begin the zigzagging, fifteen-mile climb up the pass. At the top, rest up at Livrio, a summer-only ski resort (it’s closed the rest of the year because of the high risk of avalanches) located at an altitude of 10,400 feet on a glacier with thirteen miles of trails. You could join the Italian ski team on the trails—they train here during the summer months—or just calm your nerves with a whiskey-soaked “Bambardino” in Livrio’s bar (open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for non-guests).
South Tyrol’s Portal has in-depth guides and tips on top walking trails and hikes.
Southern South Tyrol, an Über-localized official tourist Website, is up to date with hotel deals, restaurants, and festivals and cultural events.
The Sudtirol blog has reviews in three languages from travelers’ recent trips to the region.