From November 29 to December 23, the picturesque streets of Alto Adige/South Tyrol's regional capital invite you to experience the magic of an Alpine Christmas during the annual Mercatino di Natale. Thousands of visitors come to celebrate the holiday season by strolling through Bolzano’s fabled Christmas market with a steaming cup of hot mulled wine in hand as they inhale the sweet scents of cinnamon and spice.
The beautifully decorated Piazza Walther is the festive meeting place where family and friends gather to share in Yuletide joy. This historic square in the town’s medieval district is a picturesque scene right out of a children’s storybook with over 80 stalls stacked with glass Christmas tree decorations, handmade arts and crafts, wooden toys, candles and ceramics.
Here the romance and magic of a traditional Christmas is alive and well. Shimmering lamps and candlelight bathe the city in a magical glow as people celebrate the traditions of a bygone era while indulging their sweet tooth with artfully decorated seasonal pastries that seem to have jumped off the pages of a medieval cookbook.
Live Christmas concerts are also held throughout the historic centre in churches and other venues, along with beautifully displayed nativity scenes. There are also horse-drawn carriage rides as well as numerous activities and exhibitions. This is a special time of year in Bolzano where the outdoor market is filled by the sights, smells and sounds of a good old-fashioned Christmas.
However, an Alpine Christmas would not be complete without the Sfilata di San Nicolò e i Krampus. Though most Canadians are familiar with Jolly Old Saint Nick’s European heritage, few are familiar with his dark servants the Krampus: towering mythical devils with pointed horns, bulging eyes and whip-like tongues who accompany him on his earthly journey.
On the eve of December 5, when the sun sets behind the mountain peaks and darkness envelops the land, the Krampus come out from the woods to parade through the streets and alleyways of Alpine villages to scare adults and children.
During the parade, the rowdy Krampus scare bystanders with their pitchforks, sticks and whips as the procession of Saint Nicholas makes its way to the local church. While Saint Nicholas rewards children who have been good with gifts and sweets, the scary Krampus are there to punish those who have made the “naughty list.” One look at the Krampus and children are scared straight back to the path of good. After the parade, the noisy Krampus are rewarded with holiday drinks to celebrate the holiday. The Krampus provide the same spirited fun of Halloween and are a great addition to your traditional holiday festivities!
Next time you’re planning your Christmas holidays, consider taking the whole family on an adventure to Bolzano to experience the magic and fun of an old-fashioned Alpine Christmas while enjoying the beauty of the region’s magnificent landscape.
Where to stay
Feel snug and at home this winter with a stay at the lovely Hotel Greif in central Bolzano, steps away from the Cathedral of Bolzano and the Monument of Walther von der Vogelweide. It is also within close proximity of Piazza Walther where the Christmas Market is located.
Experience old-world opulence at the state-of-the-art Parkhotel Laurin located in the heart of Bolzano. The ground floor is also home to one of Bolzano’s best restaurants and the perfect place to enjoy a great meal after a day of sightseeing. If retreating to the countryside for rest and relaxation is on your to-do list, then a stay at Hotel Hanny is in order. Located 2.5 km from the centre of Bolzano, the hotel is surrounded by mountains and tranquil cycling and hiking trails.
Where to eat
If you’ve ever wanted to dine in a 13th century medieval castle then here’s your chance! Located up the hill from Bolzano, Ristorante Castel Flavon-Restaurant Haselburg offers a new take on traditional dishes with panoramic views over the city. Enjoy the hearty flavours of the South Tyrolean Mountains at the elegant Restaurant Laurin where chefs use locally grown ingredients to create their signature mouth-watering dishes.
After a long day you’ll appreciate the hearty servings of traditional dishes at Hopfen & Co, an 800-year-old inn set in the Habsburg era.
This South Tyrolean capital is a charming city with lively streets and historic squares, surrounded by vineyards and an incredible landscape leading into the magnificent Dolomites. The city’s Austrian influence is displayed in the town’s food and culture. Bolzano is a great destination for nature enthusiasts with its beautiful walking trails, green hills and three cable cars that whisk visitors away to enjoy the panoramic views of this outdoor wonderland.
Bolzano is located on the crossroads between Northern and Southern Europe and is easily accessible by train as it is a major hub of the railway system in the Central Alps. The Airport Bolzano Dolomites is located 5 km outside of the city centre and can be reached from most major European cities.