The gently historic capital of Alto Adige, BOLZANO (largely known by its German name, Bozen) straddles the junction of the jade-hued Alpine waters of the Talvera (Talfer) and Isarco (Eisack) rivers. Winter and summer see the town’s 100,000 population swell with tourists, although it manages to maintain a relaxed pace of life and is possibly the best jumping-off point for flits into the surrounding mountainscape. Away from the high trails and slopes, Bolzano’s centre provides enough distraction for at least a day of exploration, the highlight of which for most is “Ötzi” the iceman and the museum dedicated to this prehistoric phenomenon. The local wine isn’t bad either, with Bolzano located at the head of the Wine Road (Strada del Vino/Südtiroler Weinstrasse), which runs south to the border with Trentino.
Located in a predominantly sunny, sheltered bowl, for centuries Bolzano was a valley market town and way-station whose fortunes in the Middle Ages swayed as the counts of Tyrol and the bishops of Trento competed for power. The town passed to the Habsburgs in the fourteenth century, then at the beginning of the nineteenth century Bavaria took control, opposed by Tyrolese patriot and military leader Andreas Hofer. His battle in 1809 to keep the Tyrol under Austrian rule was only temporarily successful, as in the same year the Austrian emperor ceded the Tyrol to the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy. More changes followed, as Bolzano was handed back to Austria until World War I, whereupon it passed, like the rest of the province, to Italy.