South Tyrol - Part Two: Castles & Walks, Merano & More Food...

I can't believe all this is a whole month ago! I know it's an old cliché, but time really does seem to accelerate with each passing year. My days and weeks have been busy with work and filled with everything from keeping up with my emails to, of course, cooking. It feels like I've been so busy that I could easily have forgotten I ever took this trip. Well, I could have, if it wasn't for the fact that it has left me with such an impression that I'm still occasionally wondering whether I dreamt it all (I didn't). If you haven't read the first part yet (yes, I took so many pictures that I decided to post it in two parts), you can do so HERE

Where I concentrated on Bolzano in the first post, this one is all about a day we spent in and around Merano. A long, sunny and beautiful day that started with a walk from the picture-perfect village of Tirolo, through vineyards and past magical views up to Castle Tirol. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the castle is a testament to the history of this part of Italy and gave the region its name. Battles fought over the years, kings and queens, knights and dragons (the latter referring more to the stone sculptures in the Knight's Hall rather than actual history - though I'm happy for anybody to prove me wrong) , stepping into the castle feels like travelling through time and shares a lesson about the complex history of Tyrol and South Tyrol. First built in the 11th Century, the thick walls of the castle have weathered wars, changes in governments, the moving of borders and with it the renaming of the region. Today it is home to the South Tyrolean Museum of History where we were given a tour and talk by one of the most knowledgeable tour guides I have ever met. 

Tirolo 4.jpg

After the castle visit and the extensive history lesson, we were chauffeured to Merano. I don't know if there's a perfect time of the year to visit, but the turning leaves on the trees combined with a (mostly) sunny day and views of snow-capped mountains in the distance make me think that Autumn might be it. We made our way along the river trying to take in as much of the beauty as possible, frantically wielding cameras in all directions looking to capture nature and people in a way that would do it all justice. Since we had reservations for lunch and were therefore just a little pressed for time, it was all down to capturing whatever my gut-feeling said was most representative of the moment. Looking back at the images now, I can say that these really are what I saw and how I remember it. 

Lunch was at the fantastic Meteo restaurant, the 'local' and favourite of über-mega (yes, mega in the "I'm not worthy", star-struck sense, the kind that leads to embarrassing exchanges...) photographer Brigitte March Niedermair. Brigitte had met up with us at Castle Tyrol where some of her work is being exhibited and graciously agreed spent part of the day with us. It's always a treat to be introduced to the favourite restaurant of a true local as opposed to having to rely on ratings websites and this one was no exception. Unassuming but quirky, devoid of any airs and graces (don't expect anyone to fan around you or cater to your insecurities about your lack of Italian vocabulary here), this restaurant served us some of the best food I've ever eaten. Melt-in-your-mouth burrata with honey and walnuts, veal cheek so tender that all I could think was "I have butter at home more solid than that", all washed down with a glass of beautiful wine. The only expression that comes to my mind thinking back to this lunch is "happy as a pig in mud"... 

                        Photographer Brigitte March Niedermair

                        Photographer Brigitte March Niedermair

A hearty lunch requires being followed by a long walk and that's exactly what we did. Living in London, I felt so lucky to not have to carry an umbrella and to be able to breathe the fresh and clear air whilst walking up the Tappeiner Promenade. The strange but beautiful mix of alpine and mediterranean vegetation combined with the views we were rewarded with made lugging my big camera up the hill worth it. The many "serious walkers" (read: hiking boots and rucksacks) we encountered on the promenade made me feel a little like the proverbial "idiot tourist in high heels stuck up on a cliff face" (even though I wasn't actually wearing high heels, but you get the idea), but I didn't mind so much as I was just happy to actually take in those views. And drink the best freshly squeezed grape juice ever! A lovely elderly man was selling fresh grape juice from his garden half-way up the hill and it tasted like the most sweet and fruity drink you can imagine. 

We walked back down into Merano and wandered around town for a little while. As the evening drew closer the mountains seemed to grow darker and the lights came on giving the place an autumnal fairytale look. The town seemed to be buzzing with people old and young, dressed up and casual, laughing and chatting, all out for a Saturday night. For our last dinner (don't judge, it must have been a whole 5 hours since our last meal!) we made our way to Pizzeria 357 where we were warmly greeted by the smiling Maria Antonietta. Now, I'm no "pizza connoisseur" or expert on the subject (I'll leave that to the Italians), but I would swear that this was the best pizza I've eaten in my life! Let's just say I even ate the crust - which, if you know me, never usually happens. The atmosphere in the restaurant was so warm and clearly family-oriented (and I was even allowed behind the bar to take some photos) that I had to seriously stop myself from calling Maria Antonietta 'Mama'. We ate, drank, talked and laughed and it was the best way to end our visit to South Tyrol.

                                    Maria Antonietta 

                                    Maria Antonietta 

I'm not yet sure about future travel plans (though I know I'll be visiting the Christmas Market in Munich in a couple of weeks) and I like to discover new things as often as possible, but given half a chance, there's no question that I'd return to South Tyrol in a heartbeat. This area with its mixed heritage, amazing landscapes, incredible food and lovely people really has captured my heart.