Vipiteno / Sterzing, Trentino-Alto Adige
This is one of the most attractive towns in the region trapped in the ‘wrong’ country, i.e. South-Tyrol. This region has a complex and moving history (see A Nationality Trapped in the Wrong Country?) and was once part of a larger German-speaking area. After the war one half was annexed by Italy, and there were many brutal but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to ‘italianise’ the residents. Thus there is now little part of Austria seemingly misplaced in Italy. The population is German-speaking, Italian is spoken with a heavy accent, and the architecture is thoroughly foreign. Most residents feel uncomfortable being labelled as Italian and will often declare their nationality to be ‘Südtiroler’.
Vipiteno is a stone’s throw away from the border with Austria and is a classic little village of medieval alpine architecture: crowstepped gables, pastel colours and pretty wooden signs. At the end of the picturesque main street is a backdrop of snowy mountains. It’s a delight to wander the main street bedecked with flowers and slip off into narrow alleyways to find atmospheric birrerie called names like Sterzingkeller. Everything seemed very fresh, bright and clean in comparison to many Italian cities…
What to do:
Admire the Torre delle Dodici (1469), the narrow needle of a clocktower that elegantly separates the Città Vecchia from the Città Nuova, decorated with a clock face and sun dial dating from 1473.
Castel Tasso sits astride a rock in the south of Vipiteno and is one of the oldest, most historically rich and best preserved castles in the region. Dating from the 12th century, it features intact walls, rooms with ancient furniture and gothic fireplaces.
High on another rock near the castle sits the tiny church of San Zeno, from 1300. A nice bracing walk takes you up to the little church and affords a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside and castle.
You can find many traditionally ‘Tirolese’ products like sachertorte and strudel to take home as gifts. All the patisserie looked very enticing and we tried at least three and were satisified by all. Speck, produced locally, is often available vacuum packed so you can take it home as a gift. A shop called Il maso dello speck on the main street in the Città Vecchia should fulfil all your culinary desires!
Admire the doors
I think this town could be awarded an accolade for most beautiful doors. Along the high street every one was intricately carved with coats of arms, floral wreaths and architectural elements.
What to eat:
The gastronomy is also notably Austrian, with a celebrated Latteria producing milk, butter and yoghurt. Indeed there is a festival of yoghurt in July and August where restaurants in and around Vipiteno prepare traditional dishes and new creations using the quality yoghurt from the Latteria Vipiteno. Here you must also try canederli and speck. Canederli are similar to dumplings but are made from dried bread, milk, eggs and flour and flavoured with cubes of speck and cheese. There are different varieties in rainbow colours for example green containing spinach or pink containing beetroot! They usually come in brodo, a soup or broth, or coated in melted cheese. There is a sagra (meaning festival) of canederli on the second sunday of September which means lots of free samples and experimentation!
Where to eat:
If you have access to a car there is a great artisan brewery five minutes outside of Vipiteno. Its interior is firmly un-italian, with sleek modern wood tables and chairs and minimal decoration. In fact the main show pieces are the large shining copper vats storing the artisan beer. The brewery lies on the road from Vipiteno to Bressanone and is called AH Braeu, look out for the statue of a giant man with a long beard and black hat. The canederli here were scrumptious and they do some interesting fusions of ‘Austrian’ and Italian food.
In Vipiteno itself and for a rather more elegant meal, you can visit the historic Hotel Lilie where you can taste, in their words, ‘The exceptionally good cuisine [that] blends the rich local culinary tradition with the peerless flavours of Mediterranean cuisine.’
Where to stay:
Just off the main street we found a very peaceful elegant hotel (despite being only 2 star) which managed to be traditional yet fresh, avoiding the traps of kitsch and coarse that many small Italian hotels fall into. We had a balcony where we could breath deeply the sharp mountain air and admire the craggy silhouettes as the sun set.
€86 at Wipptalerhof Hotel for a double ensuite with balcony and breakfast included (a hearty one including locals cheeses and Speck and typical breads with rye and seeds).
When to Visit:
The best options are either during summer to coincide with the yohurt festival and with a rich programme of concerts and folk displays, or at Christmas time when, like many of the towns in this region, it transforms into a festive spectacle of lights, Christmas markets and warming food.
This article is now available to download as a GPS enabled map guided you to all the places mentioned in this post! Click on the link below: