An hour north by train from Bolzano, MERANO (Meran) lies in an attractive, broad stretch of the Adige (Etsch) Valley. Neatly tended apple orchards and vineyards cover almost every square inch of the lower slopes and valley floor, but when you look upwards the scale changes due to the two great mountain ranges – the Ortles (Ortler) and the Giogaia di Tessa (Texelgruppe) encircling the town. Closer geographically and in looks to the Swiss and Austrian Alps than the Dolomites, the grandeur of the landscape turns up a notch here – and a simple event like a summer storm becomes a drama, with the whole valley reverberating to the rumble of thunder.
A well-heeled spa town, relaxed, stylish and packed with affluent shoppers and spa-goers, Merano has a mild climate that attracted Central Europeans at the beginning of the last century after Empress Elizabeth of Austria – known as Sissi – chose the town for her winter cure. The époque bequeathed a resort of fin-de-siècle hotels, gardens and elegant promenades.