From the beautiful Mediterranean towns of St. Margherita and Portofino to the Dolomite Mountains of the Alto Adige/South Tyrol, this is our last day in Italy. It has been a wonderful journey through some well known and some not so well known areas in Italy. The days were made perfect by the exceptional weather, beautiful scenery, and great food that we have enjoyed along the way. Today’s journey is all about flowers, wine and a great meal at a Michelin star restaurant.
The drive today was just beautiful, passing many well preserved castles and charming churches with tall bell towers. Vineyards and apple orchards grow right to the outskirts of Merano/Meran which is less than an hour from Ortisei. Merano is called the city of flowers. It is a popular destination because of its wonderful Mediterranean microclimate, over 300 days of sunshine and has been known as a spa resort for centuries. You really don’t expect to see oleander and palm trees this far north in a town that is surrounded by 10,000 foot mountains.
Our destination was the botanical gardens of the Trauttmansdorff Castle.
Our hotel had recommended the castle and the 30 acres of gardens, saying that it is the South Tyrol’s most popular attraction.
The castle is now a museum that details Alpine tourism for the last 200 years. Every exhibit has English explanations and tells the story of the risks of early travel through the alps, the age of the Grand Hotels, travel before and after the wars. The top floor is dedicated to the Austrian Empress “Sissi” who used the castle as a holiday resort for several months.
The gardens have received many awards, being named one of Europe’s Top Ten Gardens and The Most Beautiful Botanical Garden in Italy. There are over 700,000 plants growing in a natural amphitheater with a variety of themed gardens.
From tall cypress, exotic tall cacti and agaves, to Renaissance gardens and an English maze, the gardens are beautiful. The paths keep leading you down to the water garden at the bottom.
We didn’t mind the climb back up because there was just so much to see. We spent about three hours between the gardens and the museum and throughly enjoyed every minute. The only problem we had was the battery on our camera went dead and we have so few photos of the gardens.
After a little time spent relaxing back at the hotel, we joined three other guests and Egon Perathoner who is one of the sommeliers at the Anna Stuben Restaurant for a wine tasting in the cellars of Hotel Gardena.
Their cellars hold from 6,000 to 18,000 bottles of wine depending on the season, winter being the high season. It was an extremely interesting tasting of both white and red wines. We munched on parmesan cheese and bread during the tasting. After more than an hour, we were off to dinner in the Hotel Gardena’s Anna Stuben Restaurant. The restaurant is cozy and charming. It looks like one of the ski huts with its pine paneled walls and ceiling, gingham curtains and majolica stove.
Chef Armin Mairhofer has been awarded a Michelin star for his inspired local cuisine. There are a total of 15 restaurants in the Alto Adige that have been awarded Michelin stars, more restaurants than any other region in Italy. Franz Lageder who was the sommelier that accompanied us to Tramin is in charge of the Anna Stuben and is assisted by Egon Perathoner. I have not been to any restaurant where you are served by two sommeliers instead of waiters. That is just part of the incredible service we have had at the Hotel Gardena.
We both enjoyed a multi course meal with a different wine with each course. I’m only including a few of the photos of the meal. The gourmet Tyrolean dishes were prepared with care from local organic products.
Our meal was supposed to come with two different desserts but we were stuffed. Franz said not to worry…he knew what we would enjoy. It was the signature dessert of the Anna Stuben. It was called, Cohiba Gold, a play on the famous cigar.
It was a chocolate cigar with Lebanese cedar wood flavored ice cream, with tobacco and rum drizzle. What a way to end our wonderful visit to Italy.