Head for the South Tyrol to combine a stylish Italian city break in Merano with superb skiing, fun snowshoe-hiking and luxurious spa treatments
Merano, in the South Tyrol region of the Italian Alps, is the ideal base for skiing, spa visits, stunning scenery and gourmet food. On a long weekend to the region I indulged in fantastic local food, skied on gentle inviting slopes and relaxed at night in outdoor warm salt-water pools listening to underwater music. Bliss!
It’s a short drive from the city centre to the cable car that ascends over a kilometre to Vigiljoch
, part of the Ortler Ski arena resort at 1,500m. Here you can visit the luxurious eco-design five-star Vigilius mountain resort
for a delicious lunch made with love (or just a quick espresso) before continuing up to 1,814m by a one-man chair lift. At the top of the resort I was rewarded with stunning views over the mountain region and enjoyed a fresh, crisp walk on crunchy snow before heading back down to 1,500m for a jaunty hike on snow shoes.
Snowshoe-hiking is a doddle. They look like mini skis but you don’t slide on them - you stomp. You strap them over your waterproof hiking boots and head for the hills. I’m probably the clumsiest person I know and even I was able to climb icy paths and bound up and down steep verges in my snowshoes. They’re great for getting around on without the risk of slipping over.
For those of you who just want to get on your skis, head for the Merano 2000 ski resort, also part of the Ortler Ski Arena. As an inexperienced skier, I was delighted to learn that there is a wonderful selection of beginner and intermediate runs. After a refresher lesson in ski school, I was confidently skiing gentle mountain paths and wide open slopes. Waiting times for the ski lifts were short and connections to neighbouring slopes are well thought out. Best of all, in March you’ll get up to 11 hours of sunshine in which to ski. Sun rise is at 7am and sun sets at 6pm.
No visit to the region is complete without a trip to the Merano’s huge and popular spa, Terme Merano. Known for its distinctive interior, the spa is home to 26 treatment rooms, 12 outdoor pools and several mixed-sex naked saunas. No bathing costumes are allowed and prudes, you will be embarrassed! There’s nothing like a good pummelling from the outdoor water jets in the salt-water pool after a good day's skiing. Treatments include everything from classic sports massage to more local options (including wine and wool baths) to being smothered with buttery chestnut extract.
You’ll be spoilt for choice in the city (which feels more like a town) for eats. Make sure you head to Castle Kallmünz for dinner. What was originally a 16th-century horse and carriage park is now the Restaurant Kallmünz. Here you’ll be served by friendly waiting staff, with five-course delights from the local region washed down with fine wines and after-dinner digestifs. For cheaper eats and delicious pizza, check out Pizzeria Bruschetta, just 10 minutes' walking distance from the centre. It’s a busy restaurant with a great vibe and serves up tasty, humungous mains.
For sophisticated after-dinner cocktails, head to Sketch Lounge. Cosy leather couches and an underground nightclub set the scene for a good party until the morning hours. If you’d rather ditch the DJ, check out Rossini’s: a coffeehouse by day and cocktail bar by night, it's popular with all ages.
I spent my stay at the central and stylish Hotel Aurora
. Every room is different. My small and cosy room had a futuristic well-lit bathroom and mirrored ceiling. If you’re feeling more extravagant, opt for one of the incredibly swish and gigantic suites, complete with garden balcony overlooking the promenade, ceiling flat screen TV and free-standing bath next to the bed.
Walking around Merano at night or during the day is a joy. Although there is so much on offer and of course many tourists visit, the city never feels overrun. Exploring the mix of narrow streets, old churches and wide open promenade alongside the Passirio river is a great way to spend an afternoon. People here are friendly and helpful and if you’re looking to escape fellow Brits abroad, South Tyrol doesn’t get that many. Not yet anyway - so visit before the rush.
Fly from London Gatwick to Verona with British Airways for around £96 return. The transit from Verona to Merano takes approximately 1½ hours.
: rates start from €82 euros for a single room and €138 for a double, including breakfast. Suites start from €240 per room including breakfast.
Vigilius mountain resort
: single rooms start from €225 and doubles from €310. Prices include breakfast, move&explore sports programme, all regular cable car rides and the use of the chair lift and ski lifts at the Vigiljoch.