It is always a great experience to discover a new part of the world, even if millions of people have ‘discovered’ it before you. A new city, a new province, a new country – all can seem just wonderful when viewed for the first time. Over the next few posts, I want to introduce you to my newest find – the gluten-free paradise known as South Tyrol.
A few weeks ago, we took a collection of trains and buses through Switzerland and over a pass into the Italian province of South Tyrol. And while there is a more direct route, Zurich – Innsbruck – Bolzano, the route we took via Zernez was enchanting. The bus to Mals winds its way through mountain passes and tiny towns, stopping at pick up spots for hikers and locals alike. That this bus exists was a surprise to me, that it runs every hour was an absolute mystery until I saw how many locals use the service. Why stress yourself driving when you can just hop on the bus to do your shopping or to visit relatives?
Almost two hours after leaving Zernez, you arrive in Mals. From here, you can take the valley heading north to see a church tower peeping out of a lake. Or you can follow the valley east to Merano/Meran and from there, you can head south to Bolzano/Bozen.
Why all of the double names? South Tyrol used to be a part of Austria up until the end of the Great War, where it was handed off to Italy. The area has a very Austrian feel to it, with over 60% of the population speaking German. It feels like there are two reasons for this, heritage and tourism. South Tyrol gets over 40 million tourists a year, and most of them speak German. During our week-long stay, we barely heard any English – which is very odd for a European tourist destination.
And South Tyrol is absolutely worth it as a tourist destination. It is not like Barcelona or Venice, living cities that have been overran with tourists – much to the locals’ dismay. South Tyrol’s economy is heavily tourist based, everyone was incredibly welcoming, and they seem to be aiming to keep tourism as sustainable as possible. We picked up a 7-day card that allowed us on all buses and trains in South Tyrol for only 20€. We actually spent 7€ more to get the Mobility & Museum option, which allowed us into many museums – including the Schloss Tyrol, which has an entrance fee of 7€. If you are planning on getting the Mobility ticket and are considering going to Schloss Tyrol, you might as well just get the M&M ticket. Just learn from me, and don’t keep it next to your smartphone. It will stop working and you’ll have to go and get a replacement. To use the buses or trains, simply insert your card into the little reader on the bus, or at the train station. Make sure that you have done this at least once on your trip, so that it is validated with the date. It doesn’t seem to be so important after that. The only time anyone checked our tickets, he just looked at the date stamped on the back.
It is quite refreshing that a tourist area that relies on people getting to remote areas, has such a good network of buses, that there is no need to drive. During our stay, there was no point where we wished we had a car. I think the only thing it would have changed is that we might have gone to see the submerged town north of Mals. Otherwise, having a car with us would have just been a bother.
So get yourself on a bus or a train, sit back and watch the Italian Alps go by, along with some of the hundreds of ruins and castles that South Tyrol has to offer. Just don’t forget your camera, the views are amazing.
Next up, Meran and Garni Villa Betty.