Explore Trentino-Alto Adige
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.Read More
Bolzano’s top attraction by far is the Museo Archeologico, a superb and informative exhibition built around the Ice Man, a frozen, mummified body discovered in the ice of the Ötzaler Alps in 1991, just 92m from the border with Austria. At first a policeman estimated the body – nicknamed “Ötzi” – to be around 100 years old – he was out by around 5200 years, as later experts dated the corpse to around 3300 BC. Visitors queue up to peer into the €200,000-per-year, temperature-controlled cell where the surprisingly diminutive Ötzi lies dry-frozen, his complexion that of dry-cured ham and glistening with tiny ice crystals, but it’s the rest of the exhibits that really hold interest for most. These include possessions found on or around the body – his still serviceable bearskin cap, his longbow and arrows, firelighting gear, a shamanic first-aid kit – as well as an incredibly realistic, life-size silicon model showing what experts think Ötzi would have looked like and numerous displays and films explaining how he came to be preserved on the mountainside. The Ötzi story is one of the most fascinating archeology has ever produced and arguments about who he was and how he died rage on in academia.
The Ötzi Cult
Since Europe’s most famous ice man was discovered on a lonely Alpine mountainside, an entire culture has sprouted around this anonymous Ladin forebear. Conspiracy theories have come thick and fast with some “revealing” Ötzi to be a Peruvian mummy transported to the Alps for publicity purposes. Others have claimed to be his direct descendants, while the “Ötzi diaries”, which appeared in the wake of the infamous “Hitler diaries” were quickly dismissed as a bit of tomfoolery. Perhaps more seriously, the “Ötzi curse” stems from the fact that he was found on a palindromic date (19.9.1991), and indeed some people linked with the discovery have since died. But the most bizarre episode concerning the icy corpse came when a woman offered to bear a child using Ötzi’s 5000-year-old sperm. The offer was politely rejected.
Bolzano’s museum of contemporary art, Museion, is housed in a strikingly contemporary building, opened in 2008. Appropriately for a bilingual area (or trilingual if you include the Ladin tongue) the theme “art and language” is central to the works in the permanent collection, with two thousand pieces in the area of art that lies between images and words.
The Wine Road
The Wine Road
Fans of the grape are certainly well catered for around Bolzano, with a Wine Road (Strada del Vino;wweinstrasse.com) enabling visitors to indulge in a happy combination of sightseeing and tastings. The 30km route proper begins at Terlano (Terlan) just north of Bolzano, but you can also join it at Appiano (Eppan) and wend your way through sunny vineyards to Salerno (Salurn) halfway between Bolzano and Trento. This is one of the oldest wine-growing areas of all German-speaking regions – some claim the tradition goes back to the Iron Age – and it’s also one of the smallest in Italy. Certainly, the wine industry was well established in Roman times, with the colonists from down south finding that locally made barrels with metal hoops were much better for transporting wine back to Rome than their clay amphorae. The vines in the region are often strung on wide pergolas, the traditional method of viticulture here, which allows the Ora breeze blowing from Lake Garda to circulate around the grapes, giving a beneficial cooling effect. Others are on hillsides too steep for machinery, so all work still has to be done by hand.
The route’s main halt is CALDARO (Kaltern), home to many sixteenth-century buildings in Uberetsch style, combining northern Gothic and southern Renaissance architectural details. Wines from the vineyards around this small village have won numerous awards; one of the best places to taste them is Punkt (wwein.kaltern.com), a wine bar/information point on the main square. Alternatively, three cellars close to the village centre also offer wine tasting – Kellerei Kaltern, Erste Kellerei Kaltern and Neue Kellerei Kaltern (werste-neue.it). Within walking distance, too, on the Wine Road on the way to Lake Caldaro, the producer Manincor (wmanincor.com) is well worth a visit for its combination of modern architecture and traditional estate buildings, as well as its fine vintages.
Another centre to head for is the village of TERMENO (Tramin), from which the varietal Gewürtztraminer gets its name.
Bolzano’s cable cars
Bolzano’s cable cars
A trip up in any of Bolzano’s three cable cars gives a small taste of the high peaks that surround the city. The first ascends from Via Renòn (Rittnerstrasse), a ten-minute walk from the train station, to Soprabolzano (Oberbozen). It’s the longest cable-car journey in Europe, with the largest change in height. Alternatively the San Genesio/Jenesien cable-car ride offers stupendous views of the Catinaccio/Rosengarten massif – the station is at Via Sarentino, 1.5km north of the town centre along the river (bus #12). On the high Alpine pastures at the top, you’ll see blond-maned Haflinger horses grazing. The third cable-car goes to Colle/Kohlern from the station across the river south of the train station at Ponte Campiglio. The oldest cable-car ride in the world, it celebrated its centenary in 2008. For fares and times, see w sii.bz.it.