Updated: Feb 5, 2020
With no flights booked for the immediate future and my work diary filling up, it looks like this blog will be lacking in travel updates over summer. However, since I have been lucky enough to live and work in some beautiful places in Europe, I have decided to write about a few of these towns while I plan the next adventure. I hope these posts will be useful to anyone looking for some travel inspiration! I thought I would start with Bolzano, a city that, although Italian on paper, has a complex linguistic and cultural identity.
At first glance, the province of South Tyrol is full of contradictions. An Italian province since 1919, when it was annexed following the First World War, South Tyrol is also semi autonomous, enabling it to keep most of its taxes and awarding it considerable legislative power. While some call for a reunification with Austria, other residents strongly identify as Italian. As a result, the trilingual province has a unique character that is evident in its architecture, culture and cuisine.
Bolzano offers many of the attractions you would expect of a capital city. The main piazza, named after 13th Century poet Walther von der Vogelweide, is where you can find the tourist information centre, several cafes and bars (a little more pricey given the location), and the cathedral, with its striking tiled roof. Take a wander around the streets, lined with beautiful frescoed buildings, and stroll under the arches of Via Portici, the perfect place to window shop. The best of Tyrolean and Italian cuisine is on offer; try some traditional Knödel to warm you up on a cold winter’s day or go for an authentic Neapolitan pizza at Da Zio Alfonso. The town also offers several museums, and is famously home to Ötzi the iceman.
However, unlike other large cities, it is easy to escape the busy centre (a tempting prospect in the hot summer months) and explore the peaceful surroundings, which are a complete contrast to the urban centre. Bolzano has no less than three cable cars, so the mountains are just a short journey from the very centre of town. I would recommend a visit to Renon/Ritten, known as the ‘sunny plateau’, a beautiful area for a walking, with a well-marked path to view the ‘fairy chimneys’ (earth pyramids), and a great place for taking in spectacular views of the city. The modern cable cars depart every 4 minutes, and the trip is a bargain for the views you can enjoy during the journey (the first photo was taken as the cable car was leaving the station). If you would prefer to keep your feet on the ground, I would recommend taking a stroll along the Sant’Osvaldo trail or along the Talvera river, stopping for a gelato on the way. Take the free shuttle bus to Runkelstein Castle, where you can find well-preserved medieval frescoes depicting King Arthur and Tristan and Isolde as well as scenes from everyday court life.
Given its proximity to Italian and Austrian cities (less than two hours from Verona by train and just over two hours from Innsbruck), I am surprised that Bolzano is not a more popular day-trip destination. It’s not often that you can combine a city break with fresh mountain air, but Bolzano offers the best of both worlds.