Merano is not Murano. That seems obvious when reading it, but when told that we are staying in a centuries old hotel that once was a hunting lodge in that location, the immediate reaction was – ‘huh, that is really interesting…’ So I initially thought Murano…canals, gondolas, glassblowing, etc., all of which could not be further from the truth….even if you do fly in to the same airport (Venice)!
As a result of this phonetic mixup, Merano was more than a pleasant surprise – a spa town with restorative waters that people have been visiting since the 1930s. It is surrounded by impressive peaks and is super quaint but yet cosmopolitan at the same time, Mediterranean influenced but with an alpine feel… a half Italian, half German gateway to the Dolomites.
In every shop, restaurant, or café one is greeted with “Bitte, Prego” as this area with its interesting history (Italian, Austro-Hungarian… World War challenges and annexation only fully resolved as recently as 1972.. check Wikipedia If interested) is today almost 50/50 German and Italian speaking. We did not hear any other languages while there (leaving behind the well-documented tourist masses that flock to the other ‘Merano’ near Venice) – and enjoyed what feels like an undiscovered, un-touristy corner of the world.
We’ve come to the conclusion that this region has to be ranked in the list of top unsung destinations in Europe- especially in the non-winter sports months… unknown by all except for the maybe the German and Italian regular visitors who, it seem, very much prefer to keep it that way…
And high above the town sits Castel Fragsburg, the aforementioned former hunting lodge now five star resort that has been sympathetically and thoughtfully restored by the Ortner family. It is almost impossibly located – perched on the side of a South Tyrolean peak among the regions ubiquitous grape vines and apple trees, with views that honestly have to be seen to be believed.
This small area of Sud Tirol or Südtirol or Trentino-Alto Adige has a microclimate (more mild in the summers, cooler in the summer with 300 days of sun per year) that has lured visitors for over 350 years for various pursuits. Castel Fragsburg is unique in that it has the feel of one of the top grand European hotels, but yet it has just 20 suites. It initially appears that it may be over the top luxury when you first drive through their entryway, but then the property reveals a mountain lodge feel, which is complemented by a nod to its past with faultless décor, the staff’s traditional regional clothing, and the fact that the Ortner family has instilled a level of service that blends impeccable hospitality with being welcomed as friends.
On top of this all it has a Michelin starred restaurant, with full 180 degree views of the mountains across and valley below which can be enjoyed from a terrace literally clinging to the edge of the property during the warmer summer months. A truly fun menu is a reference point for the abundant produce of the region. It allows you to explore the best of Italian, Austrian andGermanic influences on the local diet, and is complemented by a wine list that highlights the again fantastic but yet somewhat underappreciated (by the rest of the world) wines of the area… we’d suggest a local Nosiola from the Trentino DOC!
I cannot think of another location where we have dined with such a spectacular setting. The quality and presentation of the food distracts from the amazing views and the fact you feel like you are suspended above the scenery, while the ever-changing light on the surrounding mountains and valley below distracts from the food and wine in front of you…. and then eventually you succumb to the additional distraction of your suite.
Castel Fragsburg is a perfect place for a vacation/holiday. A property where one could stay and rest (and dine) comfortably for weeks at a time without leaving, or alternatively it is perfectly located as a jumping off point to explore the forests, lakes, waterfalls (one of which is just an easy 15 minute walk from the hotel) and the mountains of the Dolomites and Tyrol Schistose Alps with epic day hikes and adventures available within easy striking distance.
One day hike falling in to that category that we might categorize as a ‘must do’ is the often Instagrammed but has to be seen in real-life Seceda, or Seceda-2500m depending on what your search preference is. Just an hour from Merano and short on time we took the Ortisei to Seceda cable car up and then quickly separated ourselves from the groups beginning their day hikes in this area of the Dolomites. The geology here is very unique – striated pyramids jutting up from green alpine fields and cliffs plunging off on one side. In the other direction: panoramic views complemented by the often changing and variable weather conditions that only add to the dramatic setting.
It continues to amaze us that such spectacular settings are so accessible as day hikes, and that there is such an abundance of hiking opportunities seemingly from every picturesque town that you stumble upon (we’d highly recommend a visit just to see the quaint Ortisei / Urtijëi and the Val Gardena).
We are on a mission to explore this area more broadly and further lift the veil on this fantastic region. Each return trip home results in a feeling that we need to go back again soon… and we will!