Bolzano: A city at the heart of the Alps

Until 1918, the city belonged to the Austro-Hungarian administrative region known as “Tyrol.” Today, it is part of a district that enjoys the highest level of per capita wealth in Italy, that of Bolzano (which encompasses hundreds of municipalities).

Despite being part of the Italian province of Alto Adige/Südtirol, the conspicuous sight of disciplined motorists and motorcyclists waiting patiently at traffic lights adds a distinctly un-Italian flavour to the city. Of the two newspapers published in Bolzano, one is written in Italian, the other in German. Interestingly, a sister language to the old Latin of Roman times, called Ladin, is still spoken in the area, particularly around Val Gardena.

The staple bread, which is ubiquitous throughout Bolzano, is made with crunchy whole grains in a style reminiscent of Viennese bread. When it comes to drinks, the locals have a slight preference for beer over wine. But this should come as no surprise given that a vast majority of the region’s residents have Germanic origins.

Mountainous country

Not far from Bolzano are the Dolomite Mountains — a large outcrop of limestone, featuring karst lithology that climbers are particularly fond of. The mountain range is home to extreme peaks, including eighteen that reach altitudes of over 3000 metres. The region is a playground for hikers. During high season, cozy huts welcome them with food, shelter and, of course, wine.

The cable car ride between Via Renòn (Rittnerstrasse) and Soprabolzano (Oberbozen) is one of the longest in Europe. Be sure to have a camera on hand to capture the sublime landscapes, which change dramatically from one side of the mountain to the other. The local tourism offices (Azienda di Soggiorno e Turismo), in conjunction with the specialized mountain guides at Arc Alpin, offer an interesting array of excursions.

Ötzi, the Iceman

A truly unique and fascinating experience can be found at the Museo Archeologico dell’Alto Adige in Bolzano: Ötzi, the Iceman. Preserved in ice for over 5000 years, this man is thought to have been a shepherd who was around 45 years old when he died of hypothermia after suffering a shoulder injury. His body, tanned by the freezing cold, has been on display since 1998 in an enclosure replicating glacial conditions (temperature and humidity). His nickname, Ötzi, refers to the Oetztal Alps on the border of Italy and Austria, where his body was discovered. Found almost intact, along with clothing and tools, this man from the past has provided valuable insight into the lifestyle and techniques of the people who roamed the area long ago.

3 Things to do in Bolzano

In the vicinity of the archaeological museum, streets lined with pretty, pastelcoloured buildings will charm most visitors, as will the pace of daily life that is far removed from the frenzy of urban centres.

The famous Piazza Walther, which locals think of as the city’s “living room,” is enchanting with its peaceful aura. Its Austrian-style palaces, built during the reign of Napoleon, offer a glorious foreground to the snowy mountain tops behind them.

Touring the city’s residential streets by foot or by bike is a great way to admire the lush private gardens that generously overflow onto the sidewalks. More than 40 kilometres of bike lanes snake through the city’s hills and green spaces. The website www.sentres.com/it/bici offers a range of different itineraries, including detailed descriptions. Bicycles are readily rented at the city’s information office or at one of Bolzano’s various rental stations (www.comune.bolzano.it). 

Still, nothing beats a ride on one of the city’s three cable cars. Soaring above beautiful valleys with meandering streams, vineyards and picturesque church spires may not quite be nirvana, but it certainly seems close.

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.

Surroundings

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.

Getting there

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.

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