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South Tyrol, situated between snow-clad Alpine peaks and Mediterranean sun, is Italy’s northernmost region, bordering Switzerland to the north-west, Austria to the north-east, and the rest of Italy to the south. The natural landscape along the Adige and Isarco rivers is breathtakingly beautiful – their fertile plains covered by vineyards and orchards are flanked by sheltered valleys and sublime mountains. The cultural landscape offers a wealth of highlights, both in proud hill towns and in picturesque villages: the trade route across the Brenner Pass along the Valle Isarco to Verona has been the main link between central Europe and Italy for centuries. Extensive fresco cycles of chivalric tales decorate the walls of the province’s rugged castles, and murals of the Romanesque to Baroque periods depict stories of the exemplary lives of saints in no less imposing parish churches: for centuries they have been accompanying merchants en route to Venice, pilgrims on the road to Rome, and knights on their quest to conquer the Holy Land.
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Early morning flight from London Heathrow to Munich. We continue to Bolzano, stopping en route for an included dinner before arriving at your four star hotel.
A day in Bolzano and surroundings: in the morning visit the richly decorated churches and cloisters of the Dominican and Franciscan friars. Afternoon excursion to nearby Castel Roncolo, rising high above the Isarco River, with murals depicting scenes of chivalric pastimes. Return to Bolzano via Gries whose parish church houses the shrine of a fabulous Late Gothic altarpiece by Michael Pacher, one of the greatest woodcarvers and painters working in Tyrol in the second half of the 15th century.
Founded in 14 BC as a Roman military camp, Vipiteno/Sterzing is present-day Italy’s northernmost city, a mere ten miles from the Brenner Pass and the Austrian border. In the Middle Ages lead and silver mines in the nearby valleys attracted the attention and patronage of the Fugger bankers from Augsburg: merchant houses and the parish church of St. Mary, the largest between Munich and Verona, reflect the town’s prosperity, as do the remaining figures, woodcarvings and painted panels of an enormous winged altarpiece by Hans Multscher from Ulm, displayed in the former House of the Teutonic Knights.
Coach transfer to Missian and from there on foot past vineyards and through shaded woods up a hill to the ruins of the castle of Hocheppan, the Castello di Appiano, with spectacular views of the Dolomites. In the castle’s courtyard, a 12th century chapel has walls completely covered with superb frescoes of the early 13th century. After a hearty Tyrolean lunch in the castle inn, return to Bolzano for some free time.
Bressanone/Brixen is the region’s most beguiling town, its cathedral combining Romanesque cloister walls covered in graceful frescoes with baroque onion domes. The city’s prince-bishops amassed artistic treasures in their palace — now a handsome museum — with a magnificent Renaissance courtyard. After lunch a short coach trip will take us to Novacella/Neustift, the most significant abbey in Tyrol, set among award-winning vineyards. Visit the Baroque collegiate church with famous ceiling frescoes by Matthäus Günther, the library with its precious manuscripts, a maze-like art gallery, and the unique Baroque gardens with fishpond and aviary.
Signs for the strada del vino will direct us to the charming town of Tramin/Termeno which has given its name to the aromatic gewürztraminer grape. There, perched on a little hill, the church of San Giacomo in Kastelaz holds a 13th century frescoed menagerie of fantastic hybrid creatures in one aisle, while in the other courtly saints and angels tell the story of St James. After a lunchtime visit to one of Tramin’s famous cantine, a short drive over to the village of Pinzano whose parish church is home to one of the most beautiful carved polyptychs of the late 15th century in the South Tyrol by Hans Klocker.
For centuries the prince-bishopric of Trent vigilantly retained its independence from the Counts of Tyrol and the Republic of Venice, and paid only nominal allegiance to the German Empire. The city became notable as the venue of the eponymous council (1545-63), which articulated Counter-Reformation policy. Its principal buildings — the duomo and the Castello del Buonconsiglio — are impressive showcases of the prince-bishops’ glorious rule from the Romanesque period to the secularisation of 1803, while grand and richly decorated palazzi are fine manifestations of Renaissance town planning. In the afternoon continue to Munich airport for a late afternoon flight to London.