While we visited numerous lovely places during our overseas jaunt, all lovely for different reasons, I think perhaps my favourite was Merano in Italy. Merano is a city set among vineyards, apple orchards and snow-capped mountains and has an ambience difficult to explain. It feels comfortable, homely, just right.
Early after our arrival I realised that although we were in Italy, the Austrian influence was very strong indeed. Dual names were used for many places and Austrian coats of arms appeared more often than I would have expected. There were few people we found who spoke English, but one of them I enquired of about the Austrian influence in Italy. He told me that Merano had been part of Austria before the First World War and that after the war, Italy had taken over the city. However, the Austrians who live there, which is the majority, have never let go of their language or Austrianness, despite almost 100 years since WW1.
One of the things I liked most about Merano is that the city has been built around the existing vineyards and orchards so that there are vast hectares of them outside the city and on some of the hill slopes. Unlike many cities, they haven't bulldozed their agricultural asset to build concrete and metal structures.
Many of the houses and buildings on farmlets are hundreds of years old, made from stone and cement. Some have religious boxes with a cross bearing their Saviours' image in crucifixion with candles burning. Such faith!
The town centre is nicely laid out with covered walkway arches through which the crowds throng from shop to shop, all classy, nicely decked out shops, restaurants and hotels.
As the locals follow the very sensible practice of having an extended lunch break during which everything stops except the restaurants, the latter are chock block full of Meranians (?) drinking wine and eating scrumptious foods.
If you ever visit northern Italy, try to get to Merano ... it's a lovely city with much to see and do. If you ski ... on snow, you can do that all year round.
PS: Photos posted soon