You might as well admit it. When you think Italy you probably don’t think of tall snow capped mountains, skiing, or other winter sports, right? Well you should. Italy has some fine winter resort towns complete with ski runs, awesome mountain views, clear mountain lakes, and fresh Alpine air. One of those towns is Bolzano, or Bozen in German.
Where you may ask is Bolzano. It’s the largest city in northern Italy’s province of Sudtirol or South Tryol. Now is that part of the Italian Alps or the Dolomites?
Ok, short geography lesson here. The Alps is one of the great mountain ranges of Europe. It stretches from Slovenia and Austria on the East all the way to France and Germany on the West. It passes thru Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Monaco along the way. Quite obviously the part the passes thru Italy is called the Italian Alps. Now the Dolomites are technically part of the Alps but this specific mountain range is on Italy’s Northeast corner just a 2 hour drive from Venice while the area commonly referred to as the Italian Alps are in Northwestern Italy closer to Milan, Turin, and Como.
Both areas have fine ski resorts although the Dolomites offer a larger variety of slopes where as the Alps are mostly intermediate slopes. But it’s said that although both ranges have awesome mountain views those in the Alps are more breathtaking. If you’re having a hard time deciding which part of the Italian Alps to visit, you should consider visiting both and deciding for yourself.
Summer or Winter? When should you visit? Well if you’re a skier and love winter sports then of course winter is the time to head for either mountain range. Both ranges offer a variety of winter activities. But if you’re like me and don’t ski nor do very well in cold weather then Spring, Summer, or Fall are the best times; unless you want to go to the winter market!
I’ve been to Bolzano in the Spring and Fall when the weather is perfect. Not cold and not hot. There are many things to do in and around Bolzano in the warmer weather. You can hike, ride horses, explore the mountain, visit the museums and churches, and hang out at the piazzas for some truly wonderful cuisine.
Bolzano is really the best gateway to the Dolomite resorts located in the Ritten Renon area. That’s the sunny plateau located above the city of Bolzano. From Soprabolzano or Oberbozen (quite literally upper Bolzano) you can explore little mountain towns and hike the mountain trails all the way to Rittner Horn or Corno del Renon.
In this article I will mostly talk about the city of Bolzano and a little bit about Soprabolzano. Those are the areas we hang out in. We don’t ski and don’t take very long mountain hikes. We’re more of the dinning and people watching sort.
Also known as Walther Platz, Piazza Walther is the largest square in Bolzano. It’s located about a 5 minute walk from the Bolzano train station. You can’t miss it, there’s this huge statue of poet Walther von der Vogelweide in the center.
The square is bordered by colorful hotels and you’ll find the Assumption of Our Lady Cathedral across the street.
There are also many cafes and restaurants in the square, it’s the perfect place to people watch! In the winter the Piazza is home to the largest Winter Market in the area that is visited by millions of tourists and locals. It is also home to the large flower market in the spring and summer.
We usually stop there from the train station. We love to sit at one of the cafes and order a cappucino to wash down some fresh apple strudel.
I love the mix of Italian and German cuisine in the area! One of their specialties are dumplings! Yummy!
Via Portici/ Via Museo
Behind Piazza Walther is the busy Via Portici. Stroll down here and you’ll feel like you’re strolling thru a Bavarian town lined with colorful Bavarian style buildings.
The streets are filled with outdoor vendors on warm weekends and lined with all sorts of shops year round. Whatever you’re looking for you’ll probably find it here.
Further along the street turns into Via Museo, this is where you’ll find one of the gems of Bolzano. Ötzi the Iceman.
Yes, this street leads to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. A museum that serves as the final home to the Copper Age Mummy called Ötzi.
Admission – €9 for adults, €6 kids or family pass €18 family pass for 2 adults and children under 16.
The 5,300 year old mummy was found quite by accident in the Schnalstal glacier in 1991. He was uniquely well-preserved along with his clothing and the implements he had with him. He turned into a media sensation and today is still revealing some of his ancient secrets as scientists from around the world study his cloths, tools, weapons, and body.
Yes, you can see him in a freezer built just for him. It keeps him preserved in the same conditions he was surrounded by when he was entombed in the glacier for 5000 plus years.
You can gaze at him thru a small port hole in the large freezer as much as you want, but pictures are forbidden.
But you are welcome to photograph this artist rendition of him. The face was fashioned using modern day technology after studying his skull. It’s a technique used by forensic anthropologists world wide.
You can see his clothing and tools displayed in sealed cases not far from his body.
There’s also a small inter active section where you can try on a replica of his clothing and braid twine.
The four floors of the museum are dedicated to everything Ötzi. Displays other than his body, clothing, weapons, and tools show the foods he ate and the results of tests and exams they have done to answer some of the questions about who he may have been, what he did, and how he died. It truly is the place to learn everything you want to learn about one of the world’s most famous mummies, who according to studies was more than likely murdered 5,300 years ago. There you go an unsolved prehistoric crime! Definitely worth a visit!
Walking Paths, Bridges, and Parks
The Talvera River runs right thru the heart of the city just a short walk from the Archeological Museum.
There are bridges that span the river at various points and walking paths and parks along the river’s edge on both sides.
It’s a great way to spend the day relaxing, walking, or biking. The parks have several recreation fields and playgrounds. The kids will love it! And don’t forget the views up the mountains! Awesome!
If you haven’t gotten enough of the markets head to the other side of the bridge. Here you’ll find vendors selling everything from carpets to clothing and purses. Further along it becomes a foodie’s delight!
You’ll find stalls selling ready to eat foods like rotisserie chickens. And lots of stalls selling veggies and fruits, sausages and speck, flowers, and cheeses, and even sweets. It’s a great place to pick up a picnic lunch to enjoy at the riverside.
Renon Cable Car & Soprabolzano (Oberbozen)
Not to be missed is a ride to Soprabolzano on the Renon Cable Car.
The station is located about a 5 minute walk from the main train station in a different direction than Piazza Walther. (Walk out of the station and head up the street on your right. You’ll run into a round building with cables behind it heading up the mountain. Buy your tickets in the building then up the escalator or elevator to the boarding platform. Tickets are €4 each way. Remember to validate your ticket before heading into the cable car.)
This cable car ride takes about 20 minutes and offers spectacular views of the city below as well as the mountains you’re heading towards.
The cable car takes you to Soprabolzano Here you will find resorts and restaurants as well environmentally friendly public transportation to take you to the Alpine villages scattered in the mountain.
The Railway Renon is a historic narrow gauge rail system that runs west to east from Maria Asunta to Collalbo with stops along the way. It stops both ways at Soprabolzano. Tickets cost €3.50 one way or €6 roundtrip. You can enjoy the mountain views along the route and stop at any of the stops where there are trailheads that lead to mountain hikes.
The railway uses a mix of restored cars and modern ones. The views along the way are worth the ride even if you never get off the train.
Soprabolzano is also the hub for the buses that will take you to all the villages of Renon. It’s an excellent way to get around.
Up on this high plateau and beyond you can enjoy winter and summer activities. Winter activities of course center on snow so sking, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and sledding are all very popular. In the summer you can swim, ride horses, hike, bike, and even go llama trekking. So there’s really something for just about everyone.
I prefer to have drinks and snacks at the balcony of one the hotels right by the cable car station. There you can relax, drink some local wine, enjoy the beautiful views, and watch the cable cars pass by.
Other Places of Interest include a beekeeping museum on Renon. A couple of castles in Bolzano, some churches in Bolzano and on Renon, a historical farm, and an art museum. If you like malls there’s one not far from Piazza Walther. If you get a Big Mac attack you can satisfy your craving at the McDonald’s on the side of Piazza Walther just across the street from the Cathedral.
If you have a car you can easily make the drive to Bolzano. It’s a 2 hour drive from Venice.
If you want to rely on public transportation it’s a bit trickier and longer. You can catch a train to Verona Porta Nuova from just about any major city, but the further away you start the longer the ride. At Verona Porta Nuova transfer to a regional train or a Frecciargento (fast train) for a direct ride to Bolzano. Regional trains cost $16 per person each way and takes 1 hour 40 minutes to get there. The fast train cost $36 per person each way for 2nd class and takes 1 hour and 27 minutes. Be sure you get off at Bolzano Bozen that’s the main train station. The other 2 stops will take you further away from the city center.
Where to Stay:
There are many hotels, B&Bs, and hostels in Bolzano to fit most any budget. You’ll also find budget to luxury accommodations in the villages of Renon.
The best way to get around Bolzano is by public transportation, specially if you plan on heading up to the villages of Renon. You can save money with a RittenCard which gives unlimited access to all public transportation in the area as well as free admission to area attractions including the Ötzi museum. RittenCard also gives access and discounts to many other activities and festivals on Renon.
The card is virtually free, it’s included in your room fee and is given to you at check-in. The card is good for 7 days and must be validated each time it’s used. If you’re staying longer than a week a new card will be issued to you before the first one expires. What a great deal!
Ready to book your Bolzano getaway? Call us at Savvy Nana Travel we turn plans into memories!