A car is ideal for getting to your next activity appointment on time, and scoping out hillside hamlets, but be prepared for frequent snowfalls and icy road conditions in the winter.
Verona and Innsbruck airports are two hours away by car. Lufthansa and Air Alps (www.airalps.com) fly to nearby Bolzano in four hours from London Heathrow. A stopover is required.
It's possible to travel from London to Innsbruck, just over the Austrian border, via Brussels. See www.europeanrail.com for more details.
Country code for Italy: 39. Merano: 0473.
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.
Do go / Don't Go
The ski slopes open from December to February. From May through to autumn the upland pastures are popular for walking, biking and riding. The turn-of-season shutdowns are in March and November.
The South Tyrol's Austrian genes mean cricket-ball-sized canederli (dumplings) come drenched in melted butter. Try the hearty schlutzkrapfen - Tyrolean spinach and ricotta-filled ravioli. Vinschgerlen (Rye bread rolls) are chewy and spiked with caraway; smoked speck is tender and delicate. If it all sounds a bit heavy, a wide choice of gourmet restaurants have also sprung up, preparing local fare with a lighter, even Mediterranean touch.
It's best to book ahead; ask your hotel for details of local firms.
Restaurant cover charges often represent the service charge, but it's customary to round up the bill if the service is to your liking.
Walking boots, sunscreen, all your usual ski paraphernalia in season. We swear by our CamelBak hands-free hydration systems.
At the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, gaze into the face of 4,000-year-old Otzi, found mummified in a glacier by hikers in 1991; see www.iceman.it for more details. South Tyrol's mediaeval castles and monasteries include Muri-Gries Monastery (www.muri-gries.com), which makes and sells red wine, and is open on weekdays.
Bolzano is home to the usual Italian catwalk suspects including Missoni, Dolce and Prada. You can take home some excellent wines, from perfumed Gewürztraminer to deep reds from the sunny lower slopes of the Dolomites.
Try tandem paragliding for an eagle's-eye view of the scenery. You don't need to be super-fit or highly trained - it's like a flying armchair. Contact Tirolfly (+39 335 67 66 891).
Follow the waalweg footpaths along the ancient irrigation channels in the Vinschgau Valley near Merano, through orchards and chestnut woods to Juval Castle.
Early August There's a less hairy, more classical tone to the Merano Music Festival (www.meranofest.com). November The Merano Wine Festival (www.meranowinefestival.com) and Culinaria are twin comestible festivals showcasing local dishes and regional wines. December There is a rather Mitteleuropean Christmas market in Bolzano, lasting most of the month. It's a great place to pick up a few last-minute gifts. Check www.suedtirol.info for details of local events.