As the panacea for the exhausting daily grind, a long weekend of skiing, road riding, relaxing or socializing should be on the agenda. But finding the combination of all four is unattainable, a pipedream at the pinnacle of a short break. That’s until you consider South Tyrol’s Merano, a veritable sunspot that delivers all of the above in one stylish, mountainous package at a time of the year when Mallorca is taken over by spring breakers.
Joint decisions are rarely simple; they’re agonized over, reconsidered, revamped and often discarded entirely. But this time around we miraculously made the unanimous decision to avoid the agony of decision-making. We packed the bikes into the Defender and drove south – albeit not as far south as ‘sun, sea and sand’, just enough to reach ‘sun, snow and streets’ but with the added W: wine, wellness and (mouth-)watering local delicacies. A three-and-a-half-hour drive from Munich, Merano is a hassle-free, gentle escape without being a complete case of AWOL.
Acts of persuasion
A die-hard skier, my girlfriend Lena is a ferocious advocate of ski holidays for winter while I’m more prone to yearn for sunny roads in Mallorca – how else am I supposed to prepare for the upcoming season? I’d always considered the Alps as off-limits for a large part of the winter, with road closures and uncivilized temperatures, but this trip was about to disprove my long-held belief.
Lena had to convince me to join her on our first trip to Merano. Of course I relented, nobly sacrificing the idea of my pride-restoring winter training camp, and trying to show due enthusiasm for her holiday aim: the Val Senales Glacier. Fit for skiing until mid-May, our trip was going to involve the glacier, extravagant shopping in Merano (South Tyrol’s second largest city) and indulgent spa sessions in the hotel. I groaned inwardly and, with typical male tunnel-vision, managed to overlook one crucial fact: the lower altitudes of the valley are flooded with sun on a daily basis. Naturally, I didn’t take my bike on the first trip.
Ice on the glacier & by the lake
After that first trip, the spa town of Merano rapidly became our go-to destination for weekends and longer, with each trip revealing how the authentic city is becoming edgier and more stylish. The climate helps, of course; it’s much warmer than you’d expect, more Mediterranean than mountainous. This renders it the ideal base for road riding trips, with quiet roads bringing you back towards the town for a well-deserved gelato. Located within South Tyrol, Merano has the added benefit of uniting the best of two worlds: true-to-tradition Tyrol and Italy, as well as winter and summer, if you like. Road bikes packed and rental skis organized (we’ve grown to love each other’s hobbies), it’s simple to split your day into fresh powder in the morning, and late afternoon sun for a road ride. Of course, I was still right about certain things, like the high mountains still being off-limits, but for base miles the lower altitudes have more than enough kilometres of swooping, quiet roads.
Now I smirk wryly when I hear my friends complaining about the lack of time to cycle due to family and work commitments. Why? Because if you face stress and hard discussions with a little bit of flexibility and creativity it’s often that you’ll find a great solution for you and your partner.
The best routes
Weather dependent, the best routes from March onwards will keep you in the lower echelons of the valleys. Virtually in synch with the seasons, you’ll be able to climb more as the temperature rises and all the passes will be opened by June. Locals know the best routes so it’s a good idea to ask around in the hotel, and the staff will surely know where the snowline is. A ride out from Merano to Lake Kaltern is always a pleaser if you’re looking for a more family-friendly route. The website suedtirol.info/en/ is in the process of compiling a list of the best regional routes.
Eating & sleeping: our picks
In and around Merano – sleeping and eating:
City Hotel in Merano. New hotel, generously sized rooms, cityhotel-merano.it
Hotel Tyrol. Bike Hotel in Partschins near Merano, tyrol-hotel.it
Schutzhütte Schöne Aussicht, a mountain lodge overlooking the glacier, schoeneaussicht.it
357 Pizzeria in Meran, trecinquesette.it
Restaurant Sigmund in Meran, restaurantsigmund.com
Kaltern – Sleeping, eating and quaffing organic wine:
You can find an overview of all bike-friendly hotels on the Bikehotel Website.
Words: Bill Kreutz Photos: Christoph Bayer