February 18, 2018

Italy’s South Tirol: Wine and the Dolomites

Easter weekend my husband and I visited with our daughter in San Luis Obispo, CA.  As part of our weekend, we spent most of Saturday in beautiful Avila beach.  This beachside community is home to Alapay Cellars where we enjoyed tasting some of their great wines.

One of their red wines, Lagrein, caught my eye because I had never heard of these grapes and it tasted great.  Our host told us the grapes are from Italy so I did a little sleuthing and discovered they are grown in the Alto Adigo region or otherwise known as South Tirol.

More sleuthing and I discovered this region is home to the Dolomites, a mountain range I have long wanted to visit.  So where is South Tirol and why should you visit?

Majestic Dolomites South Tirol Italy

Majestic Dolomites from Suditirol Marketing/Frieder Blickle

Alto Adigo or South Tirol is located in the northeast corner of Italy right up against Austria and Switzerland.  This area is known for its dramatic scenery, medieval cities, apples, wines, olive orchards, castles, the Dolomites, extreme sports and many winter activities and resorts.  The area is Germanic speaking and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WWI.

There are many great reasons to visit but here are 4 that looked interesting to me!

Food and Wine: Finding good food in this area should not be an issue since there are 15 restaurants in this one tiny region that have at least one Michelin star.  You will find a nice variety of food that includes traditional Alpine cuisine along with foods more thought of as Italian, pizza and pasta!  Of course, you will also find local apples, olives and chestnuts.  As part of your visit, you might wish to take a drive on the South Tyrolean Wine Road.  This road winds its way through picturesque villages full of narrow streets and grand houses.  Along the way you can discover romantic medieval castles and maybe even take a dip in the warmest lake in the Alpine area, Lago di Caldaro.  All while enjoying great wine!

Vineyards South Tirol Italy

Vineyards from Suditirol Marketing/Helmuth Rier

Castles: If you enjoy castles, then you are in the right place!  The South Tirol region is home to more than 400 castles and manor houses.  You will see these castles high above the valley floor and nestled in amongst the vineyards.  Among the castles is Schloss Tirol Castle.  This castle is a fine representation of both Romanesque and Medieval architecture.

Beautiful Dolomites South Tirol Italy

Beautiful Dolomites from Suditirol Marketing/Frieder Blickle

Dolomites: The Dolomites have been on my list since the first time I ever saw a picture of them probably 10 years ago.  I am a mountain girl and these staggeringly beautiful mountains still call me today.  What I didn’t know was they were part of a coral reef from eons ago. The Dolomites are part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage and are among the most impressive mountains you will ever see.  You might not know about all the WWI history that is in this area.  The Via Ferrata are trails left over from the war and allow everyone access to history and the beautiful views.  For more WWI history visit the Museum in the Tre Sassi fortress.

Medieval Villages: From the smallest village in the area, Glorenza, to the largest, Bolzano, the region is full of charming medieval villages.  The villages still contain burgher houses, arcades, narrow streets and central squares that are all steeped in history!  Glorenza’s 900 residents are surrounded by the intact wall dating back 400 years.  Bolzano, the regions capital, is home to a gothic cathedral, medieval town square, Schloss Runkelstein and an archeological museum which houses Otzi, the 5,300 year old man found in the area.

Dolomites South Tirol Italy

Views of Dolomites from Suditirol Marketing/Frieder Blickle

Yes there are many reasons to visit South Tirol but it is the Dolomites that are calling me.  In case you aren’t convinced yet, here is a video to watch that will make you pack your bags!


Have you been to South Tirol?

What would lure you to visit?

6 Free Things to do in Budapest

For a city that has over 2,000 years of history, Budapest looks great!  Despite the years of invasion, oppression and even independence, Budapest has been able to maintain its title as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

The history of this city will make your head spin and shows how Budapest was a revolving door for invaders.  First settled by the Celts then the Romans who were followed by a pillaging at the hands of the Ottomans.  Next were the Turks, who left some great baths, and then the Hapsburg Empire.  It was during the Hapsburg rule that Buda and Pest were merged.  A free country after WWI, Budapest was declared a communist country at the end of WWII.  Later the Soviet Union came in to squash a rebellion and a people until the communist era ended in 1989-1990.

You can see the visual images of all this history on the buildings making up this city’s stunning sights.

Budapest is bisected by the Danube which is crossed by 9 bridges.  The buildings include all styles of architecture – Classic, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau – sometimes even in the same building!

Budapest Hungary

Budapest by ** Maurice **, on Flickr

Music has been a part of Budapest’s history for centuries.  Music lovers, or not, will find a plethora of musically related events and sites to behold.

Budapest’s many World Heritage Sites will entice any traveler and keep you busy for days.

I will be spending a few days in Budapest later this summer and have been looking at ways to stretch the budget.  Below are a few of the free or nearly free things I have come up with.

-From the west side of the Danube take in the panorama that is Castle Hill.  This is a must-see district for any Budapest visitor as the castle walls and cobbled streets will be a vision in your mind for a long time!

Castle Hill Budapest Hungary

Castle Hill by Bruce Tuten, on Flickr

– From here you could visit the Romanesque Matthias Church.  This church reflects the history Budapest has endured and was even once transformed into a mosque during the Turkish occupation. Here you will find architecture, history and art all for about $4.

-While in the Castle district, don’t miss Holy Trinity Square.  In the center you will find the ornate Holy Trinity Column which dates back to 1713. The square was the main marketplace of Buda during medieval times and the column is a memorial to all the people who died during the plague of 1691.  Also in the square is a replica statue of Pallas Athene, protector of cities.

Fisherman's Bastion Budapest Hungary

Fisherman's Bastion by mdid, on Flickr

Fisherman’s Bastion is located at the site of the medieval fish market and is one of the most beautiful sights in Budapest.  Not only is the structure magnificent but so are the views of the Danube and the Pest side of the city.  The stunning architecture is both neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque.

Heroes’ Square is devoted to “the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our national independence,” and is one of Budapest’s most emotional monuments. Don’t forget to take a picture of the Millennium Monument and the tall column with the archangel Gabriel on top holding the Hungarian crown in one hand.

Heroes Square Budapest Hungary

Heroes Square by mdid, on Flickr

Nagycsarnok or Great Market Hall is an architectural gem.  Its Baroque roof is just a part of this 20th century structure.  There are over 200 market stalls where you will find souvenirs as well as paprika, salami and wine.  The bottom floor is where you will see lively shopping complete with bartering.   A real  taste of Budapest in this more traditional  part of the market.


I know Budapest is full of amazing sights to see.

What did I leave off the list – free or not?

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Romanesque!

Traveling introduces us to a world we may have never paid much attention to.  You don’t need to be an art major to appreciate art in the Louvre or an architect to appreciate beautiful buildings like Notre Dame in Paris.  This is part of what traveling is all about, learning.

Cathedral in Vezelay France Romanesque Architecture

Cathedral in Vezelay by Fred Hsu, on Flickr

As we marvel at the enchanting buildings we visit we are told they are Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque or Modern architecture.  We say to ourselves, “Hmmmm, this is  interesting and beautiful” and move along to the next feature.  But what are those different architectural styles all about?  What makes something Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque or Modern?

Durham Cathedral Britain Romanesqu Architecture

Durham Cathedral by Glen Bowman, on Flikr

I have decided to learn more about architecture and will be writing about the different architectural styles you may encounter while visiting Europe.

St. Sernin Cathedral Toulouse France Romanesque Architecture

St. Sernin Cathedral Toulouse France by chantrybee, on Flickr

I’m starting with Romanesque.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela Romanesque Architecture

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela by sedoglia, on Flickr

Romanesque architecture is a style associated with the medieval time period and started showing up between 1000 and 1200 AD.  It is known as the first “European” style of architecture and was influenced by the massive buildings of the Byzantine Empire seen by knights during the crusades.

Pisa Italy Belfry and Cathedral Romanesque Architecture

Pisa Belfry and Cathedral by Leithcote, on Flickr

Churches during the medieval times were the center of town and the communities revolved around them.  They were the local seat of power.  The churches built in the Romanesque style were built of stone and were the prominent building of the area.

Mainz Cathedral Germany Romanesque Architecture

Mainz Cathedral by Dietmar Scherf

Romanesque churches are made of massive, thick stone walls and, in this time, were the only building made of stone.  The doors are topped with layers of round arches.

Clonfert Cathedral Galway Ireland Romanesque Architecture

Clonfert Cathedral by irishFiresdie, on Flikr

Romanesque buildings do not have a lot of windows and, therefore, tend to be dark and may be considered foreboding.

The ornamentation was Christian themed and figures were of people.

Altar at Bamberg Cathedral Germany Romanesque Architecture

Altar at Bamberg Cathedral by Andrew Corwin

Romanesque architecture also includes decorative moldings and arcades as well as columns and murals on ceilings and walls.  A very noticeable component is the tall towers, which could be seen for miles.

Statuary over the entrance, Speyer Cathedral Romanesque Architecture

Statuary over the entrance, Speyer Cathedral by rjones0856, on Flickr

We’ve all been to Romanesque style churches or castles.  What are your favorite examples of Romanesque architecture?