The Italian Spa Town of Merano
Planning a trip to the northernmost region of Italy, the beautiful South Tyrol? Then you cannot miss the province’s second-largest city! Merano (or Meran) is a vibrant spa town nestled at the entrance to an Alpine valley. With its mountainous location, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that it is always cold and snowy. But this is not actually the case. In fact, the exceptional surroundings create a unique Alpine-Mediterranean climate that encases the city. On one side, the city is framed by snow-capped mountains, while subtropical plants like palm trees grow in the lower valleys. There is much to draw culture-lovers to Merano and the city offers a number of diverse sights to explore and enjoy. The area is characterised by fantastic natural scenery and majestic mountains – suitable for sports enthusiasts both in summer and winter.
Merano City and its Main Attractions
Today, South Tyrol belongs to the modern state of Italy. This region is, however, unique in the peninsula. Until 1920, the land was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even now, the traces of Germanic culture are still evident, both in the city’s architecture and its culture.
German and Italian are two of the official languages in South Tyrol, alongside Ladin. Though 70% of the region speak German as a first language, the residents of Merano represent an even mix of Italian and German speakers. This one-of-a-kind history and blend of culture has produced numerous marvellous attractions in Merano. Let’s take a look at a few…
Since the 19th century, Merano has been a famous spa resort due to its mild climate. The symbol of the city’s spa town status is undoubtedly the Kurhaus – an Art Nouveau masterpiece. It opened in 1874, and as the house became more and more popular, Viennese architext Friedrich Ohmann renovated and enlarged it. Thanks to its new design, today’s visitors can admire the beauty of the great Kursaal (grand hall) and the rotunda. Throughout the year, this impressive building hosts a variety of events, including the famous Merano WineFestival in autumn and the so-called “Matura balls” (graduation dances) of German schools in the city. Of course, the venue is also available for concerts and other events. During the coronavirus pandemic, this old spa building resumed its original function as a health resort and transformed into a vaccination centre.
St. Nicholas’ Church
If you’ve ever looked for pictures of Merano online, you will surely have seen the second landmark of the city, the St. Nicholas’ Church, also known as Merano Cathedral. Located in the centre of the Old Town, it has been listed as heritage protected since 1980. Dedicated to the town’s patron saint, Saint Nicholas, this church was built in the late Gothic style, and renovated several times, until it gained its current form in 1465. It houses many frescoes, paintings and interesting sculptures as well as stained-glass windows and a rose window, typical of Gothic cathedrals and churches. The bell tower overlooks the entire city, offering visitors an unparalleled panoramic view of the area – once you’ve conquered the 83-metre climb to the top.
Merano Old Town Centre
Once you have visited Merano Cathedral, you are already in the middle of the old town. The location is simply sublime and characterised by quaint, narrow streets. During hot summer days, you can relax in the shade of the medieval Laubengasse, or meander around the shops. As you get further away from St. Nicholas’ Church, the streets narrow down even further, and after 200 metres, you will reach the Passeier Gate -one of three city gates. From there, you can go on an idyllic walk along the Summer Promenade. With gorgeous trees lining the way and providing both scenery and shade, this is a perfect spot to stroll along and while away a summer’s day.
The Tappeinerweg in Merano
Already in walking mode? Then you definitely need to check out the Tappeinerweg (Tappeiner Promenade). It is located on higher ground than the city. At this height, the walk offers a fantastic view of the city and the valley that both tourists and locals enjoy. There are multiple ways of reaching this walking path: if you are already in the old town, you can take the steep stairs just behind St. Nicholas’ Church. In just five minutes you will reach the top. Alternatively, you can access the path from Galileistraße, a less-steep option. The Teppeiner Promenade is one of the most beautiful high-altitude promenades in Europe, offering a beautiful mix of Mediterranean and Alpine vegetation. That’s right, on the promenade, cacti and palm trees grow next to conifers. The highlight of the promenade is undoubtedly the Gunpowder Town (Pulverturm or Polveriera), another Merano landmark boasting a stunning view.
Merano – A Winter Paradise
Merano is the perfect place to beat those winter blues and relish in everything the colder season has to offer. The valley is truly a paradise for all winter sports enthusiasts and hikers. Merano and its surroundings are home to countless resorts for skiing, snowboarding, sledding or simply walking in the snow. The nearest skiing area is the Meran 2000. In total, the slopes boast an impressive stretch of forty kilometres for beginners and experienced skiers to enjoy themselves in the snow.
We recommend you visit this area (as well as all other skiing resorts in South Tyrol) during the week. On weekends, locals join tourists, so the slopes may be a bit crowded. The skiing areas in Vinschgau, a beautiful valley east of Merano, are also worth a visit. In Sulden, you can ski at an altitude of 3,250 metres, right next to the Ortler, the highest mountain in South Tyrol. A truly unforgettable experience!
Heading south, you will reach the Dolomites, a region renowned for its natural beauty. If you are looking for a change in scenery, you can get to Val Gardena in about an hour by car. A Dolomite valley per excellence, you can experience the unique natural spectacle of “Burning Dolomites” in the autumn months, when sunsets transform the mountains into glowing rocks.
If you do visit the Dolomites to ski, you may want to consider buying the pass “Dolomiti Superski”. This pass grants you access to twelve of the most beautiful ski resorts in South Tyrol. Of course, the ticket is quite expensive and only worth it if you plan to stay longer in South Tyrol.
Always keep in mind that, even though directly in the Alps, South Tyrol isn’t always snowy. Climate change has altered the local weather quite dramatically in recent years. For example, it might snow for just one day one season and the next winter, metres of snow could cover the slopes. Organisers prepare resorts with artificial snow to counteract this effect and offer fantastic ski opportunities throughout the season.
Hiking in Merano
Prefer to be cosy at home in winter and explore in the warmer months? Don’t worry, Merano and the surrounding areas are more than suitable for outdoor activities in the other seasons. You don’t even have to travel up to the mountains, as many beautiful hikes start in the city.
One of the most popular hikes takes you 2,291 metres up to the top of Mutspitze. You can do the whole hike without any cable cars, but it is a long trek of over eight hours. We recommend that you take the ropeway from Dorf Tirol to Gasthaus Hochmuth (1,351 metres). From there, you will reach the summit in around three hours. The hiking trail is quite steep, and on sunny days it can get very hot, with little shade. However, the view from the peak is breathtaking, with views encompassing all of Merano and even glimpsing Bolzano at the end of the Adige Valley.
You can, of course, embark on many other hikes near Merano. Most destinations are reachable by bus, so you don’t even need a car. A trip to the Dolomites or surrounding valleys like Val d’Ultimo is also not to be missed. The latter two valleys offer extensive biking trails, so are perfect for keen cyclists. But don’t worry, despite South Tyrol’s mountainous profile, there are also gentle trails; you don’t have to ride up and down steep hills all the time!
If you’re looking for a destination brimming with possibilities and beauty, you have found it in South Tyrol. From the climate to the culture, Alpine meets Mediterranean in this beautiful spa town. From soaking up history and culture with trips to churches and the Kurhaus, or indulging in the spectacular view from the Tappeinerweg, South Tyrol has it all. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bag and start your next adventure in Merano!