Berlin lets you escape from the usual conventions: you can drown your sorrows in a dark club for 3 days and not only will you find love among like-minded ravers, you also won’t be looked down on afterwards. You can litter the streets with the leftovers of your soulless carcass while you recompose yourself mentally; and spend your last 3 Euro on a great, wonderful sandwich that brings you back to life.  Berlin is a miracle wonderland, and most people return to their homes with that great memory. Sometimes, Berlin becomes their second home, and they are happy to come back to experience this unique atmosphere.

But what if Berlin is your FIRST home?! Then your escape game really needs to step up. When you’ve got Berlin, the people here, the laissez-faire attitude and the freedom, you may need a bit of change from time to time.

While Brandenburg can be an option, I simply refuse to see those flatlands as my “second home”. To really heal from the stress of the city, I prefer the Alps. To be specific: to a special part of the Italian Alps, the autonomous region of South Tyrol.

Too early: flight from Berlin to Munich, then rental car to Merano.

Getting to Merano

It’s not expensive to get or be there and it’s actually really close. That said, there are no direct flights to South Tyrol or to my destination of choice, Merano. In a day and age where you can get an Uber-Helicopter ride in NYC, this seems a bit outdated.  I was annoyed at first, I also realized that getting from Berlin to Merano by plane to Munich and then by car (4 hours) was actually the most fun AND peace I’ve had in a long, long time.

Yes, it takes some time out of a tight vacation budget, but it’s worth it: driving towards the Alps, seeing more and more gigantic and beautiful mountains pile up in front of me, listening to my favorite music and seeing my best friend sleeping shotgun (and secretly hating me for having booked the early flight), I don’t think something’s ever given me as much calm as this trip. The beauty of the drive is that it lets you be part of the traveling process, and not just merely a body that is being shipped from A to B.

No, there are no shortcuts to Meran. And that’s what makes it a beautiful destination to free your mind.

Merano: Full of Soul

What makes Merano and South Tyrol exceptional – you know, apart from the SPECTACULAR VIEW – is the weird and charming mix of Italian vibes and Alpine styles. You’ve got what the heart desires in Italy: food and coffee and wine. But there’s also this really Alpine consciousness about everything, and somehow, the whole region has engineered a wholesome travel experience for all kinds of visitors.

It’s not just a ski trip. I have never even been skiing, but you could if you wanted to. Your whole family could. You and your side-chick could. Everybody could do pretty much everything; it’s chill.

I’m a hike and bike sort of person, so that’s what we did. And moving around a bit is a great excuse to eat and drink even more afterwards. A dip in the pool? Great, I’ll have another steak. A Spaziergang to the restaurant? I’ll have two or three sides, please.

Then there’s Merano, the little town with it’s own microclimate. If you’ve ever been to Sintra, the little magical city next to Lisbon, you will know what to expect. It’s foggy first, and then it’s crystal clear; it’s got palm trees painted on the foreground of mountains. There’s something about a city in a valley. Time stands still in Merano.

Not because people aren’t civilized or there are no ATMs; but when a place is surrounded by immobile, gigantic mountains, you simply know that nothing CAN change. The landscape’s been like this forever. There are no buildings or high-rises that could alter this panorama. And while man-made architecture certainly has a varying effect, nothing can beat the overwhelming feeling of safety due to being enclosed by a massive, nature-made formation of rocks.

The Mountains of Merano

I’m rambling about mountains again.

Obviously, the most urgent questions that my peers tend to ask is: what would you do in the mountains if you don’t ski? Well, since my mission was to relax, I basically ended up shocking my body with tremendous and deathly amounts of food. Knödel, Frittatensuppe, Pasta, Pizza, and high fine-dining with fresh produce from the region. Butter made from farms nearby? Sure. Fresh raspberry jam from? Yas. South Tyrol cheese, teas, chocolate and fruits? YAS YAS YAS. It’s a general rule that things taste better while you’re on vacation, but f-me, Merano seriously knows what’s good. I was drooling for four days.

And basically, you can think of Merano (and most of South Tyrol) as a really big spa. Most of the accommodations are small family run businesses, managed by various generations who have grown up in the hospitality industry; they’ve definitely perfected their trade.

And there’s nothing like leaving rude and grumpy Berlin to be greeted by smiles and good spirits everywhere. In Berlin, talking to service people is always such a tiring experience, whereas here, everybody chats you up and seems to be interested in what you’re doing. I had a spontaneous crush on a concierge at the Miramonti who was about 10 year younger than I just because he said “oh, your fashion style is so Berlin”. Like yes habibi, thank you, I am only wearing my worst clothes because I don’t need to be seen in Mitte, and yet you think I’m cool. I love you. Marry me. I really hope he’ll never read this.

The Miramonti, by the way, is a great place to stay if you’re looking for a couple’s retreat. Juli and I were  wasted on the romance, although we did spend a lot of time in bed (mostly watching TV because that’s what vacations on full stomachs are for). We also went horse-riding, a thing that, at 27 years old, I really didn’t expect to be doing ever again.

Life was good. I’m going back to South Tyrol in a couple of months. I’ve now officially entered the age of repetitive visitations, and I’m happier for it.