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Merano is a spa town situated to the north-west of Bolzano, in the northern Trentino-Alto Adige region, located about 350 meters above sea level and among the Venosta, Passiria and Adige Valleys.
The town is more German-Austrian in feel than Italian, and is a pleasant place best known for it spa waters and treatments.
Merano old centre is a calm and enjoyable place to explore, with colourful pastel-painted arcaded buildings lining the streets, and the town is attractively surrounded by rocky mountains and green valleys.
The town has a mild micro-climate which allows sub-tropical plants to grow and other plants to flourish. This can be seen best at the very impressive large gardens at Castle Trauttmansdorff.
The River Passirio passes through the town, and it is popular and pleasant to walk along the river banks - this is one of the best ways to enjoy Merano, because of the gardens that line the river. The so-called 'winter walk' and 'summer walk' along the river each lead to ancient bridges.
A tour of Merano
Merano old town includes the part of the arcades which connects the Piazza Duomo, Piazza del Grano and the Steinach quarter, with the three city gates still preserved.
The center today is thought to be the site of the ancient Roman settlement called "Castrum Maiense," which was located in the current residential quarter of 'Maia Alta', where remains dating back to Roman times have been found.
The Street of Portici was built in the 13th century by Meinhard II, the Count of Tyrol. About 400 meters long and stretching from the Piazza Duomo to Piazza del Grano it is low-arched and supported by stone columns.
The building façades on this street date from various different periods, and inside you can glimpse the typical plan of the buildings with their stairways, courtyards and skylights.
From the Middle Ages on this important street was the centre activity in Merano, and the Mint was also located here between the 13th and 14th centuries.
The Chapel of St. Barbara is behind the apse of the Cathedral, and is a Gothic structure with an octagonal crypt downstairs. Inside the chapel, as well as vaulted ceilings, you will see the wooden altar painted with faux marble, with the altarpiece depicting Saint Barbara, by a local painter called Matthias Pussjäger (1654-1734).
The Piazza del Grano is at the bottom of Via dei Portici and once served as Merano marketplace. In 1310 the Convent of Poor Clares was founded: the church dedicated to Saint Catherine monastery was connected to a single-span covered bridge that crossed the Via delle Corse.
Today you can see cloister, with frescoes in the International Gothic style, detached from the ancient Church.
The Steinach quarter of Merano is based around the Duomo, the Passiria gate and the right bank of the Passirio River. Construction of the city began here in the 13th centuryand some of the buildings and palaces still retain their original character.
In particular, the roman style bridge, built in the 17th century, connects the Steinach quarter and the old part of town, with the walk called "Gilf" and the quarter of “Maia Alta”. This is the oldest bridge over the Passirio River.
Merano Cathedral itself is dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron of traders, farmers and carters, and is near the commercial district, once the point of collection and sorting of goods from both the north and south.
The construction of Merano cathedral began in 1302 and lasted until the mid-15th century. It is a large gothic building with three naves. Outside, the south side was richly decorated and took on the function of the main church façade.
In 1271 Meinhard II erected the hospital and the adjoining Church of the Holy Spirit outside the city walls, and Sigismund of Austria (1427-1496) completed the work. This is a church with a longitudinal plan and a choir with a polygonal vault. The exterior features buttresses, while the façade is surmounted by a small bell tower with a pointed arch, decorated with symbols of the Trinity and the kneeling figures of the commissioners.
On the southern side is a 15th century fresco of Christ Crucified between Mary and St. John, by Ambrosius Gander. Inside there is a group of the Crucifixion from the mid-14th century, and also medallions that recall the flooding of the church from the Middle Ages to the 18th century.
Other religious buildings of great artistic value in Merano include the church of San Vigilio, with a gothic altar and 15th century frescoes, and the romanesque style Church of Santa Maria del Conforto, dating from the 12th century and containing a cycle of Byzantine-style frescoes.
It is also Merano's location that is much of the attraction to visitors - both for the castles in the vicinity, and for the easy access to the impressive mountain ranges that it provides.
Just outside Merano the Trauttmansdorff castle is now a local Tourism Museum, and also has very picturesque gardens to explore that run down the slope of the hill below the castle to a small lake.
Two natural parks (Parco Naturale Gruppo del Tessa and Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio) and the Ortles mountain range are all close to hand, and offer numerous opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities such as mountain biking.
Be sure to sample some of the gastronomic specialties of the Upper-Adige region when you visit Merano, which offers various dishes in the Tyrolean and Italian tradition. The choice is very varied, appealing among them are the speck, cheeses, homemade bread, the "Weinsuppe" made with beef broth in cream and white wine, radishes and crunchy salads.
A traditional local sweet is the strudel, and in autumn you can sample "chestnuts with the ‘vino novello’ ("new wine"), a long-standing tradition of Upper- Adige.
See also history of Merano.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Trentino-Alto Adige guide.