Beautiful Bolzano (also known as ‘Bozen’ to German speakers), one of the top-ranked places in Italy to live, is abundant in so many things: fresh alpine air, soaring peaks, mountain valleys, and pure, unspoiled nature. Here in this little town of 100,000 people, you’ll find the gateway to the Italian Alps; the Dolomites being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This region in the South Tyrol is a fascinating confluence of cultures: owing to its southern Alpine location on the border of Italy and Austria, you’ll find three official languages spoken here: Italian, German and Ladin (the local dialect of the Val Badia region – just one of five small areas in the world where people speak it).
In this corner of the Alps, nature is the star of the show; embrace it to get the most out of your visit. Here are some of my favourite things to see, do, and eat in town.
Things to Do
South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology
One of the most famous men in the world ‘lives’ here: the Copper Age mummy also known as Ötzi the Iceman. He lived over 5,300 years ago (that’s older than the Egyptian pyramids!), and is possibly the world’s oldest ‘cold case’ file, as the forensics on his body indicate he was murdered. A fascinating museum, you can view the iceman’s preserved remains here and learn more about the life he led.
This contemporary art museum is a modern cube sheathed in glass and metal, set along the banks of the River Talvera. Inside, you’ll discover over 4,500 works from international artists. The Museion also overlooks the spectacular peaks of the Rosengarten massif, another (albeit natural) work of art of its own. Many of the recent acquisitions by the museum are focused on contemporary sculpture.
Runklestein (Roncolo) Castle
A medieval castle fortification famous for its lovely literary frescoes, Runkelstein Castle was first built in 1237. It received its most lauded upgrades from the Vintler brothers, wealthy merchants with high-flying connections with the Count of Tyrol, Leopold III (and the Duke of Austria). The frescoes highlight characters from as King Arthur’s court, the ill-fated lovers Tristan and Isolde, and more. Getting here is simple: it’s a short taxi ride away from the historic town centre.
Farmacia Madonna Apotheke has been dispensing drugs since the 15thC, and in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful historic pharmacies in all of Italy. Go to buy some aspirin, or to simply enjoy the frescoes and statuary. Take the staircase on the left to discover castle relics. It’s worth the visit for an experience you’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else.
Loacker: A Local Legend
In 1925, the confectioner Alfons Loacker founded a business in Bolzano, internationally famed today for its chocolate wafer biscuits, still produced in the Tyrol. Visit the Loacker shop/cafe at Piazza Walther to buy delicious edible souvenirs.
The Pur Südtirol shop features the best of South Tyrol’s local produce. This beautiful shop, adhering to the tenets of the Slow Food movement, has everything, from pretzels and pastries to a wine bar. Don’t miss out on the region’s famous ‘speck’ cured ham. It’s the ideal place to sit with a morning coffee and pastry, or to stock up on incredible regional presents for your foodie friends, or stage an impromptu picnic amongst the scenery.
Market in Piazza delle Erbe
Participate in the local tradition and pleasure of a daily market, with its attendant sights, smells, and tastes. On daily (except for Saturday afternoons and Sundays), the piazza is home to a bustling fruit and vegetable market, where you can get an eyeful of the region’s fresh produce, in addition to flowers, breads, nuts, and spices.