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Merano, a spa town of art nouveau and contemporary design
The second largest city in South Tyrol after Bolzano, Merano is located at the meeting point of three valleys: Val Passiria, Val Venosta and Val d'Adige, and enjoys an unusually mild climate.
The Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the legendary Sissi, and with her the nobility and intellectuals of Europe, chose it as a favourite destination for every health retreat.
Indeed, hotels and stately homes inspired by the art nouveau style that was in vogue at the time date back to this period and are some of the most popular architectural gems in the Alps. These include the Pavillon des Fleurs, the Kurhaus and the Puccini Theatre.
The thermal baths, treatments and cure routes, in the heart of the city centre
The cube of steel, glass and wood that houses the new Merano Thermal Baths complex is a masterpiece of contemporary design, harmoniously integrated into the urban context: 25 pools, located inside and in the thermal park, which includes five hectares of green trees, an elegant sauna area and a state-of-the-art spa, where you can pamper yourself with exclusive and original treatments such as the malt and hop peeling, massages with warm herbal pads and the buttermilk bath, Empress Sissi's favourite.
In the footsteps of Sissi
But let the beloved empress guide you along Merano's most famous themed path, which bears her name. The three-kilometre-long Sissi Trail connects the city centre with the prestigious Trauttmansdorff Castle, via highlights and vantage points.
It starts from the Kurhaus, the Art Nouveau masterpiece palace and symbol of the city, and leads through the shady stretch of the Parco Elisabetta and the Roman bridge over the Passirio, the oldest bridge in the city, to the Hotel Bavaria, another Art Nouveau gem, and to Rottenstein Castle, where Sissi was a guest of her brother-in-law, Archduke Karl Ludwig. And then on to Pienzenau Castle, a jewel tucked away in a park of centuries-old cedars and pines, and finally to Trauttmansdorff Castle, the empress's official residence during her health treatments in Merano, where she occupied the entire top floor.
With its extraordinary variety of flowers and plants, the garden of Trauttmansdorff Castle symbolises the green soul of Merano, which has earned the name “garden city” because of its large parks and beautiful flowering promenades, the result of a favourable interaction between Alpine and Mediterranean climates. Botanical species from all over the world, from 80 different ecosystems, can be found here.
Merano 2000, the sportsman's paradise on the roof of the city
From Merano it is just a cable car ride to Merano 2000, in Avelengo, the sunny terrace of the city, a panoramic plateau with a large ski and hiking area. In the summer it serves as a base for hiking and mountain biking excursions, and in the winter it is criss-crossed by 40 kilometres of alpine ski slopes, most of which are covered in artificial snow, a snow park, two toboggan runs, one of which is one kilometre long, and two tracks for cross-country skiers. For experienced skiers, we also recommend the Val Senales glacier skiing area, with slopes that start at over 3,000 metres and are mostly black runs.
Ötzi Glacier Tour
And it is precisely from Maso Corto, the last village in the Schnals Valley, that the guided Ötzi Glacier Tour starts. It leads to the site of the discovery of the Similaun mummy, the so-called “Iceman”, who has lain on the Schnals Valley glacier for more than 5,000 years.
It is a tour either by foot or on skis up to the Giogo di Tisa, at 3210 metres, the terminus of a demanding but exciting crossing, involving a roped party and some rock passages secured by wire ropes, which is recommended for both mountain lovers and history and archaeology enthusiasts. Caution: you must be in good physical shape, have good stamina, experience and the proper equipment. As always, before a hike, enquire locally about the conditions of the route.
Merano BZ, Italia
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