Claudia Da Rin

Frozen in Time: Christmas in the Dolomites

May the Christmas Season bring only happiness and joy to you and your family

Christmas is snow, snuggling up beside a cozy logfire and endless runs on a pristine ski slope. It’s drinking mulled wine and pulling Christmas crackers, baking delicious biscuits and watching old movies. Spending time with families and friends, recharging our batteries, winding down and unwrapping presents. It may also be the perfect time to travel, perhaps to a new country, one that shows deep love and respect for traditions.

That’s Italy, where else? You may zig zag across the entire peninsula and discover exciting, interesting Christmas traditions, and yet it’s South Tyrol you’ll want to head to,  for some proper Christmas bonanza! This is the land of mighty, proud and alluring Dolomites, the rock cathedrals sung by countless poets and artists, the mesmerizing guardians of a fairy-tale setting: the region is rich in legends, picturesque villages, ancient traditions, year-round surprises, with the added unique experience of Christmas markets. Now is the time to go!

A classic holiday tradition – Christmas markets in South Tyrol

Starting from the end of November and continuing until early January, Christmas markets enrich the lively cultural scene in South Tyrol. Boasting a long history, dating back to Medieval Germany – Dresden’s one-day Christmas market taking place in 1434! – visiting them will not simply provide you with countless choices of pretty ornaments, appetizing delicacies and fairy lights. It’s a combination of sights, scents and music, along with a stark festive mood, that make them so unique.

Looking at their history across the centuries, Christmas markets adapted to social and cultural changes, such as the Industrial Revolution and the two World Wars, always offering a special atmosphere. Adapting also means keeping ahead of times, which is why such markets are also champions of sustainability, a keyword for modern times. Stalls are in fact always made of wood and sell products made locally, mostly by hand, employing wood or renewable sources, continuing on-going traditions and fostering the local economy.  It doesn’t get greener than that!

The Five Stars Route

ISetting off on a whistle-stop tour, enjoy the five stars route, encompassing Christmas markets in the towns of Bolzano, Merano, Vipiteno, Brixen and Brunico. Each with its own pretty old-town feel, the quaint streets of these South Tyrol gems come to life with Christmas cheer. Start with the biggest Christmas market in Italy: Bolzano. Dating back to 1990, 150 stalls line Walterplatz and will have you wander from one amazing handicraft to another. The elegant spa town of Merano sees its many pretty stalls along the Passer river: picture yourself looking at snowflakes falling while the moon lights the town - isn’t it romantic?

Moving north along the region, Brixen and its stunning cathedral, St.Michael’s parish church, provide a terrific background to the thirty-odd stalls that sell local nativity scenes, glass and ceramic goods, scented candles and glitzy decorations. Cross one of the four gates in Brunico to see the pretty thirty-five stalls, adding charm to the lovely town centre and its coloured houses.  Vipiteno, the Fugger Town, is home to a unique Christmas market: peruse around the stall to the sound of the 25-bell carillon in the Zwölferturm tower. A very pretty sight, it was crafted in an Innsbruck foundry and resonates with an aria composed by a local musician across the whole town, adding to the magic of the Christmas season. Enjoy some hot apple juice and mulled wine!


Val Gardena – the Christmas Valley

Val Gardena is home to a very special handicraft tradition – walking through its many pretty villages, you will see many wooden statues and shops selling all sorts of shapes and images. At Christmas, two towns thrive with an extra special atmosphere, one of which is  Nadel da Mont, the Christmas market in Selva di Val Gardena. A superb location for skiing, part of the Sellaronda circuit, this market sees nine bright wooden huts and thirteen small wooden gondolas dotting the village and bringing on a festive cheer.

Add a snow sculpture contest and historical photos adorning the streets: there’s magic in the air. Nadel Urtijeii in Ortisei is sublime: the capital of Val Gardena is a supremely quaint town, its brightly coloured houses showcasing the splendid local architecture. The magic of the place reaches its zenith in the holidays with a proper Christmas village. Lodenlounges, the cozy wooden huts, are your invitation to try a delicious delicacy or admire a wooden sculpture, while listening to local groups playing music. Walk along the pretty streets and kiss under the mistletoe, under the watchful eye of towering Dolomites. This is pure fairytale!

Paisc da Nadé - The Christmas village

The warmth of Ladin folk embraces you as soon as you pay a visit to Alta Badia, its charming villages crowning an unforgettable holiday seasoned with lovely vistas, amazing experiences and delicious gourmet food and wine. Christmas, here, touches on an even higher note, with glittering decorations, classic melodies and fabulous traditions, such as San Micurà - Saint Nicholas arriving on 6 December, bringing gifts and laughter. From La Val to Colfosco, Corvara and Badia, plus San Cassiano of course, a series of magic lights decorating the houses, concerts, delicacies and pretty nativity scenes will stir emotions for true Christmas cheer.

And when snow comes, enjoy a different, old-style adventure like the 3,1-km long toboggan run, Trù dla liösa Foram. Starting in Piz Sorega (2,003 m), this natural slope goes all the way down to San Cassiano, through meadows and woods, your gaze looking at Lavarella and Contourines. Children (and adults) will love this!

Enjoy Christmas biscuits

Bring the magic home with you with this simple South Tyrol recipe! Hazelnut squares

To make the dough, place the flour on a working surface and mix with baking powder. Knead the butter, sugar, egg, lemon zest and salt until the dough is smooth. Wrap in cling film or a canvas and place in the fridge for about one hour. Afterwards, place the dough on a surface and roll it out to reach a 5mm thickness.  In the meantime, gently warm the butter, sugar, vanilla and water. Stir the chopped hazelnuts in the mixture and let it cool. Spread the topping evenly on the dough and bake in the oven (180 º for about 10 minutes).

Let it cool and cut in small squares. Melt some chocolate in a saucepan and dip half of the squares in the melted chocolate, place on a baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes.

Serves 6 - Ingredients

  • 150 g flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 65 g butter
  • 65 g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 grated lemon zest
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100 g butter
  • 100 g sugar
  • 10 g vanilla sugar
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 100 g hazelnuts, chopped
  • apricot jam, to spread over squares
  • dark chocolate to dip the squares in

Best Hotels in the Dolomites

You don’t need to dream as the traditional families know very well how to take care of your marvelous stay and make your fairytale dream come true! 

I represent exceptional, family owned boutique hotels and private yachts in Italy that reveal the soul of their owners: not merely time spent admiring and rejoicing in splendid surroundings, but a journey into local habits and traditions, nurtured by unique personalities and delivered with love.

Alpina Dolomites - Alpe di Siusi (in the photo)

Comfort and innovative design combine with world-class mountain opportunities to bring you the ultimate Alpine experience

Ciasa Salares - Alta Badia

Native alpine materials infuse this charming Dolomites hideaway, offering direct access to some of Europe's best skiing. 


Gardena Grödnerhof - Val Gardena

Merges the fairytale landscape of the Dolomites with contemporary luxury.