Capital city of the province of South Tyrol, ranking the top spot for the best quality of life in Italy and home to Otzi the Ice Man; Bolzano creates a lot of intrigue to say the least. Only an hour and a half drive from Corvara in the heart of the Dolomite Mountains, it begs to question why you wouldn’t venture out for the day to experience the Italian city lifestyle. So with camera in hand I set off to wander the streets to get a feel for such a beautiful city.
After finding a convenient car park in the centre, I wandered out onto the Walther Platz, a large cobbled square home to the magnificent cathedral dating back to 1184 and a multitude of open air restaurants. I went in search of the main street, Via Portici, which stretches a mile long through the city centre and is home to the main high-street shops. It was quite evident I had come upon it when a slow stream of people pulled me in to join the flow. I noted the ever-popular Sportler and Mountain Spirit on my journey, outlets providing excellent outdoor gear for a mountaineering adventure so close to the city. Although it was noticeably busy (compared to the secluded mountain paths), I never felt suffocated by people and never found myself fighting for space on the kerb.
The one thing that screamed out to me at every turn was the fantastic medieval architecture. Pastel colours of green, blue, pink and yellow stood side by side along busy, narrow streets below. The gothic cathedral and the many castles scattered in the area provide ideal photographic opportunities and will have you standing in awe.
As I wandered to the outskirts of the city, I came across the river Talvera and headed straight for a bridge. Looking over the side, I could see many cyclists passing underneath, heading towards an open field where many people were enjoying a wander and a snooze in the sun. I found a signpost offering 10 different suggested running routes – running, cycling and walking are hugely encouraged by the three-way division of the path. Cycling was evidently the most popular as every street had rows upon rows of parked bikes. Nobody objected to cyclists carefully riding through the streets and it added a conventional feel to the city.
The 23 museums on offer in Bolzano are very accessible from the centre and I myself came across 3 without even trying. Possibly the most sought after, the South Tyrol museum of Archaeology (dedicated to the Otzi exhibition since the 20th anniversary of his discovery), is a 10 minute walk from the Walther Platz – a must see for the keen historian. Contemporary art and natural history can also be enjoyed in an afternoon; just pick up a free map from the tourist office!
What I feel really adds to this wonderful city are the numerous cafe’s found along the criss-crossing streets. Many sit reading their paper whilst they sip their coffee or afternoon Spritz, momentarily glancing up to watch passers-by. If you fancy some fresh fruit or Italian delights, then the market with its wide open stalls has plenty to offer, and if the tantalising smells don’t convince you to have nosey, then perhaps the genuine friendly conversation with stall holders will.
As like many cities, Bolzano has modernized over the years. The buildings have however kept authenticity and the general Italian lifestyle adds a unique feel to the city, creating a contrast of modern and traditional living. With so much history to explore, a collection of museums to visit, many Italian delights (and many ice-cream flavours) to try, Bolzano really does offer a perfect respite between a unique walking holiday in the Dolomites and a flight home back to reality.