7 Reasons to Visit Bolzano, Italy
7 Reasons to Visit Bolzano, Italy
In many ways, Bolzano is a very relaxed and inviting city. Filled with car-free streets, a daily food market, vineyards, and even a castle, it has a very high quality of life. In fact, surveys often find that it’s one of Italy’s most livable cities.
Another appealing aspect of Bolzano is its location. From the downtown, it’s less than an hour’s drive to the UNESCO-listed Dolomites mountain range near Italy’s northern border with Austria. Also, hills, vineyards, and mountains ring the city.
Unique Blend of Italian and German Cultures
Even though Bolzano is located in the Alto Adige (Italian) region of northern Italy, many locals still refer to it by its original name, the South Tyrol. Despite being part of Italy, Bolzano was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a long time. In 1919, right after World War I, Italy annexed Bolzano and the South Tyrol from Austria.
Today, many in Bolzano and the surrounding South Tyrol still speak German as their first language and hold onto traditional Austrian culture. So, when you visit Bolzano, you’ll hear mostly German spoken, rather than Italian.
Walk Bolzano’s Cobblestone Streets and Promenades
Against this backdrop of history and a beautiful location, Bolzano offers many things to do.
When you first get to Bolzano, it’s hard not to notice its human scale. One of the simple pleasures of visiting the city is to stroll and soak up the relaxed pace of daily life. Whether walking downtown or along the river promenades, people take their time as they greet each other and chat, instead of rushing here and there. Locals get around via bicycles, even when it rains.
Shop the Daily Markets
In addition to strolling, you can check out the main square and shop the daily markets nearby. When we were there, the car-free streets filled quickly with locals looking for fresh produce from the colorful stands.
Sample Wine Estates
Surprisingly, there are over 20 private wine estates and a wine cooperative in the city. Many of the vineyards are located on steep mountainsides in and around Bolzano.
To sample local wines, sign up for one of the many guided wine tours of the South Tyrolean wine route offered by the Tourist Bureau, all year round.
View Frescoes at Castel Roncolo
Another local highlight is the medieval Castel Roncolo, perched on a large rock high above Bolzano.
The castle dates back to the 1200s, when it protected the outer lands of the Count of Tyrol. Today, its main claim to fame is its trove of secular frescoes from the Middle Ages. It’s the largest collection of its kind, and thanks to careful restoration, most of them are in great shape.
Take a Walk on Renon, the Plateau above Bolzano
One of my favorite things to do in Bolzano is taking the cable car up over 3,100 feet to the Renon plateau. There, you can spend a whole day walking on more than 120 miles of trails. It’s very easy to go from hamlet to hamlet among peaceful woods and get views of the Alps along the way.
Also on Renon, you’ll find tall cone-shaped earth pyramids in several places. Earth pyramids are natural pillars formed by deposited clay. After the last Ice Age, over 25,000 years ago, earth pillars formed from moraine clay soil left behind after the glaciers melted.
Another highlight is Path 35. Known as the Freud Promenade, it honors the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud, who often left the hubbub of Vienna for the peace and quiet of Renon. In 1911, he spent his holidays at the Hotel Post in Collalbo.
It takes about 1.5 hours to walk the length of the Freud Promenade, which goes from Soprabolzano to Collalbo. To get to the path, take the funicular (every 4 minutes) from Bolzano. Signs near the cable car station point the way to the start of the trail.
Finally, in addition to the mountain views, you’ll see some charming hamlets with onion-domed churches, which are common in the Tyrol regions of Austria and Italy.
See Ötzi the “Ice Man” at the Archaeological Museum
In 1991, some hikers accidently discovered the frozen body of Ötzi, who was murdered in the mountains between Austria and Italy over 5,300 years ago. The glacial ice preserved Ötzi’s body naturally over all those years. Today, you can see it at the Achaeological Museum.
Take an Easy Day Trip to Merano
For a great day trip from Bolzano, check out Merano. Located about 21 miles to the northwest, it lies in a pretty setting at the foot of the Alps.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Merano grew quickly from a small mountain town into a tourist and health resort. The reason? The pure local water and therapeutic baths.
Merano’s main street, off-limits to cars, has pastel-colored buildings on both sides and five medieval drinking fountains. With its Mediterranean climate, the city’s lawns are brimming with colorful flowers and exotic trees.
For strolling, Merano has two promenades that run along the scenic Passirio River. Shops, cafes, and terraces are on one side, while a lovely park is on the other.
Where to Eat in Bolzano: The Torgglhaus
Back in Bolzano, a good place to eat in the central pedestrian zone is the Torgglhaus. To get there, climb the steep stairs to its three dining rooms on the second floor. After you settle in, order some pizza or Italian food, and top it off with local wine.
Where to Sleep in Bolzano: Parkhotel Laurin
The Parkhotel is a lovely spot by the central pedestrian zone. It features works of art in every guest room and throughout the hotel. For instance, the wall panels of the breakfast room and the Laurin Bar feature hand painted murals. Moreover, the deluxe rooms have luxurious marble bathrooms.
As the hub of the South Tyrol, Bolzano offers the chance to sample an unusual Italian-German culture. Toss in some peaceful strolling spots, museums, local markets, vineyards, and scenic hikes, and Bolzano is well worth a visit.
From Bolzano, you’re only a half-day train ride away from the rich cultural heritage of Venice.