We were in Italy – it said so on the map and license plates. Yet we heard many more ‘Guten Tags’ and ‘Gruss Gotts’ than ‘buongiornos.’ And restaurants boasted homemade apple strudel and Spinatknödel alongside pizza and gelato. I could have sworn we were in Austria… until we would step into, say, a coffee bar that could only be Italian.
But if the dual cultures of South Tyrol at times left us mildly disoriented, we felt no confusion about the charm, beauty and fun family experiences in this bilingual northern Italian province, where we spent a three-day holiday weekend in spring with our two youngest kids.
Where to stay in South Tyrol – farm stays
A word about farm stays: I like the idea. My kids adore animals and pet every furry creature they meet. They love farms and exploring outside. And I love to provide them with enriching experiences that make their hearts soar.
What I don’t love so much: Roughing it. Budget matters for my family, but I consider my backpacking days behind me, and I’m wary of sleeping on straw in a barn.
And that was the beauty (besides the scenery, that is) of Schererhof, perched amid wildflower-strewn meadows and paths for walking and riding, just above the village of Kastelruth: I got to relax in a new, light-filled holiday apartment, while my toddlers got to live on a real farm, nothing but a flight of stairs between them and a pack of cute animals.
The roomy, spotless two-bedroom/two-bathroom Abendrot apartment conveys Alpine country warmth (red-checkered bedding in Swiss pine-furnished bedrooms, homemade cake when we arrived). But it’s modern in the ways that matter (well-stocked kitchen, good shower, storage, dishwasher, washing machine, Wifi). Large windows and balconies enable nonstop gaping at the vistas that literally surround the farm.
Wee ones will find baby equipment (upon request) and extras such as books, games and coloring pages. But with 300 days of sun said to grace the region each year, kids will likely spend time outside, picking flowers, patting animals and making friends on the playground beside the old apple tree. Lukas and Nadia, the preschoolers who live with their family on the farm, shared their tractors, balls, chalk and other outdoor toys: They’re sweet and generous hosts, just like their mom, Birgit.
Schererhof is part of the Red Rooster, a South Tyrolean network with strict quality controls for farm stays, inns, local products and handicrafts; for example, families must themselves live and work on the farm, so visitors have an authentic experience. The Red Rooster team advises farmers on making their holiday offerings comfortable and appealing.
Cute critters and Mary Poppins in the mountains
We stopped by another Red Rooster farm B&B catering to families, Weberhof, in Ritten – corkscrewing up even more eye-popping mountain roads to get there. The farmers, Verena and Walter Rottensteiner, showed us around (note: the apartments were full, so we couldn’t personally see them from the inside) and served an almost completely farm-made snack of Schüttelbrot and fixings.
Verena is the Mary Poppins of South Tyrol (she loves kids and *fyi!* said she might consider a little babysitting…). Critters on the farm include chickens, cows, cats, miniature goats and bunnies. There were ducks not long ago, too, but foxes ate them – sad, but that’s how nature rolls, and kids get to learn all about it here.
The huge play area on a hill amid the tall pines is made mostly from local wood and lets kids explore in an uncontrived setting. Mine swung, climbed, discovered hatched egg shells and ‘cooked’ in a two-story wooden playhouse. And they did NOT want to leave.
What to eat – tips around Kastelruth and Bolzano
Birgit delivered a breakfast tray piled with products from Schererhof and other local farms to our door every morning. Lunch was a picnic from the Spar supermarket in Kastelruth. Thumbs up, too, for the gelateria on the main road, across from the Spar.
Dinner was a snap, even with two punchy toddlers. These restaurants are about 5 minutes’ drive from Schererhof.
- Gasthof Toni serves Austrian-Tyrolean specialties and Italian classics and was friendly and quick.
- Hotel Cristallo had a brighter dining room, but similar food and – score! – a kids’ play corner (small, but it let us adults finish dinner before it was ice cold).
For a more traditional experience, near the city of Bolzano:
- Föhrner: Incredible views paired superbly with traditional dishes and wines made right there by the farmers. Elegant, but still welcoming of kids and our casual, farm-ready clothes. It’s a Red Rooster inn with a lot of history (first mentioned in the 12th century). (Find more farm inns here.)
Exploring South Tyrol – tips for what to do
With kids or without, there’s lots to see and do, even in the off season. We were tired but happy every night, in true Any Working Mom fashion.
Note: Having a car was ideal for us in South Tyrol (and ensured the kids would nap between activities). But Schererhof, Weberhof and others provide a free pass for all kinds of local public transport, from buses to trains to cable cars. If you’re arriving by public transport, you can arrange to receive the transport pass in advance.
Our favorites activities:
- Völser Weiher (Pond of Fiè): Pretty, and a perfect walk with toddlers. Little docks, boat rentals, playground, food, swimming (or ice skating). The highlight for my kids: catching tadpoles and finding frogs.
- Farm life: At Schererhof, horse around with horses and kitties, feed and pet moo-cows and receive slobbery kisses in return. At 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., Stefan and Birgit welcome visitors to watch how the cows get milked.
Kastelruth (Castelrotto in Italian): Beautifully preserved, mostly car-free old town, dreamy views, shops and restaurants. A nice spot for a family walk in between the nature treks.
- Bolzano (Bozen, in German): Park at P7 near Marienklinik and Mareccio Castle, then it’s a short walk into the heart of the old town. Bolzano feels more like Italy – despite beer gardens and boutiques selling traditional Austrian costumes. Very lively (on a weekday, at least), with market stalls, shopping, restaurants, museums, pretty buildings.
- Castles: Preschoolers might not be ready for informative tours of South Tyrol’s castles, but ours were excited to see the castles from the outside. (I was, too!)
More options (on our list for next time):
- Themed, kid-friendly walks such as this and this, around Seiser Alm (Alpe de Siusi), Europe’s largest mountain plateau. In early May, we heard these were still too muddy from melting snow.
- Ritten (Renon): Stroller- and toddler-friendly walks, restaurants and outings, and family skiing, among other activities. Connected to Bolzano by cable car, and there’s also a little narrow-gauge train.
- River boating
- Museums: Possibly interesting for older kids (e.g. a school museum and farm museum in Kastelruth).
Have any tips from your own visit to South Tyrol? Questions about a possible visit? Please let us know in the comments below (scroll all the way down) – thanks!
Disclosure: Accommodations at Schererhof and lunch at Föhrner were made possible by Red Rooster so that Any Working Mom could test the facilities. AWM writes only about topics and products that we stand behind and provide a service to our readers.
Looking for more family getaways? Read Any Working Mom’s tips for London with big kids or London with little kids, or try Davos or a trip around Graubünden by train (the latter two in German only, for now). zu den Kommentaren