Bolzano -Italian Alps or Dolomites? – Winter or Summer?

Bolzano -Italian Alps or Dolomites? – Winter or Summer?

BolzanoYou 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?

BolzanoOk, 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.

BolzanoPiazza Walther

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.

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bolzanoThere 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!

bolzanoVia 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.

bolzanoYes, 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.

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bolzanoYou can see his clothing and tools displayed in sealed cases not far from his body.

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bolzanoThere’s also a small inter active section where you can try on a replica of his clothing and braid twine.

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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!

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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!

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bolzanoMarkets

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.

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bolzanoRenon 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.)

bolzanoThis cable car ride takes about 20 minutes and offers spectacular views of the city below as well as the mountains you’re heading towards.

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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.

bolzanobolzanoThe 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.

bolzanoI 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.

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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.

Getting there:

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.

Getting around:

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!

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Things to Do in Bari & Quick Train Guide

Things to Do in Bari & Quick Train Guide

BariBari  located in south eastern Italy, the part we fondly refer to as the heel of the boot, is the second largest city in the region.  It is a port city on the Adriatic Sea and the capital of Italy’s Puglia region.

To be honest there isn’t a whole lot to do in Bari, it’s not a major tourist destination.  However it is an ideal base for those who want to explore the Puglia and Basilicata regions.  It’s a major train hub with  trains heading to all the interesting places that one will visit.

But before I get to the trains let me first point out a few places of interest in Bari.  The city itself is like any large city filled with modern buildings, roads, and traffic.  Not exactly a place of great interest.

BariLast fall we headed to Bari and used it as our base to explore the surrounding areas.  We stayed in the Hi Hotel Bari which is situated in the outskirts of the city.  We chose this hotel over  those closer to the city center because it was newer and seemed to be in a safer neighborhood.  It turned out to be an excellent choice.  The room was spacious and came with lots of amenities including a buffet breakfast, in room coffee machine, 24 hour self service coffee and tea in the lobby, and even the use of bicycles.

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The only down side to this hotel is the distance to the city center and the train station.  It requires a short taxi ride that costs about €10 each way.  But since the room is less expensive than those in the hotels in the center of town the cost of the taxi isn’t a big deal.   And the friendly staff will happily call you a taxi anytime of day or night.

Anyway the major place of interest in Bari is a visit to the old town which is known as Barivecchia.  It’s a quaint little town with narrow winding streets, piazzas, and interesting architecture.

BariOne of the highlights of the old town is the Basilica of San Nicola.  San Nicola, or Saint Nicholas, is the patron saint and the protector of Bari.  And yes that’s the Saint Nicholas who many of us know as Santa Claus.

bariThe classic Romanesque style Basilica was built in 1197.  It houses the bones of San Nicola in the crypt within the church.  It has a stunning painted gold ceiling, an amazing altar, and a collection of sculpture and mosaics.

The church holds wide significance throughout Europe and the Christian world.  It is a pilgrimage site for both Catholics and Orthodox Christians form eastern Europe.

This church stands proudly in the center of the old town on the harbor side of the citadel.   It is definitely worth a visit!

There are  other churches in the old town including the less popular Church of San Sabino.

BariThe Bari Castle located west of the old town center.  It’s a Norman Castle built in the 1100’s and is in excellent condition with its original walls and towers, and a moat on 3 sides.

You can visit the castle and explore its passages, walk thru the central courtyard, and marvel at its fantastic architecture.  There are also rooms where you’ll find artifacts on display, and boards that has some history of the castle.

Its elevated location makes it a great spot to view the city.  [spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

bariIn my opinion the best part of Barivecchia is the town itself.

You can spend hours wandering the narrow streets.  You’ll find some delightful shops, cafes, and restaurants in the quaint building along the streets and in the piazzas.

Old Town Bari is alive with residents.  They live in the buildings within the city walls.  If you’re lucking you might spot one of the residents sitting by her door making Orecchiette.  It’s a pasta typical in the Puglia region.  It gets its name because its shape resembles a small ear.  Ear in Italian is Orecchio.  Don’t leave the area with out sampling this local specialty.

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BariPiazza Mercantile is a delightful Piazza surrounded by quaint buildings, shops, and restaurants.

One corner of the piazza is dominated by the Colonna Infame, the infamous column.  This is where bankrupt debtors were taken for punishment and public humiliation.

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BariI did mention that Bari is a port city, so it stands to reason that the city should have an awesome promenade or corniche.  And it does!

The Lungomare Nazario Sauro is a walkway that stretches about 1000 meters along the coast.  It’s a great place for a stroll or to sit and contemplate the sea.

It’s also a great place to walk off all the pasta you ate at one of the restaurants across the street in the old town.

If you have the time and inclination to wander around Bari a bit more you might want to stop by the orange building you’ll find in the “new” section of the city.  This is the Teatro Petruzzelli, the fourth largest theater in the country.

 

In my opinion the old town is definitely worth a short visit, 2-3 hours is more than enough time to wander and explore.  But in our case we used Bari as our base and took trains to Alberobello, Martina Franca, and Matera in the Basilicata region.  There are many other places to visit including Ostuni, Locorotundo, and Lecce.  But we didn’t have enough time so we picked the 3 towns that were easily accessible by train.

Bari is serviced by 3 train companies; the state owned Trenitalia and Ferrovie Del Sud Est; and the Ferrovie Appulo Lucane.  All three have their own stations, platforms, and tracks.  Each company services a different area although some routes do overlap.  You can catch all 3 trains at Bari Centrale, Bari’s main train station.

Trenitalia:

Trenitalia is the country’s main railroad.  These trains link towns and cities to each other.  Their trains include the high speed trains that link major cities like Rome, Milan, and Florence to each other.  The intercity trains link major cities to smaller towns, and the regional trains are the slow local trains that stop in most towns along its route.  You catch these trains in the main station.  Tickets can be purchased from the ticket office or machines located in the front as you enter the station.

Ferrovie del Sud Est or FSE:

bariFSE trains and buses service the Puglia region.  It’s part of the state owned railroad.  These trains run on different tracks and are very slow.

The ticket office and tracks (there are 2) are located to the left of and  behind Bari Centrale.  To get there you must go to the left side of the main train station, to the stairway that takes you under the tracks.  You will see a sign at the top of the stairs.

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At the bottom of the stairs is a passage that takes you to Trenitalia tracks 3-10, and the FSE station and platform.  Access to this platform is located on the right side of the passage towards the end.  Go up the stairs and the ticket office will be on your left.

Tickets to Martina Franca cost €5.90.  Tickets between towns are €1.10.  These trains also go all the way to Lecce, but very slowly.

We took the 8:22 train to Martina Franca which was the last stop on that route.  The same train stops at Alberobello, Locorotunda, Castellana Grotte, and other small towns in the Itria Valley.  We got to Martina Franca at 10:20.   For directions to the city center of Martina Franca click here.

After rambling around the Baroque town we hopped on a train to Alberobello.  You can easily do both towns in one day.  You can even fit in Locorotundo if you have the energy!

Trains to Martina Franca and back to Bari run about every half hour.  There are no trains on Sundays.  Instead take the FSE bus from the FSE station.  Bus tickets are the same price  as train tickets.

Ferrovie Appulo Lucane:

bariAppulo Lucane  or FAL trains service towns in the Puglia and Basilicata regions.  It’s a privately held railroad that runs on its own tracks and moves very slowly.

The FAL station is in a separate building that is in front of and to the right of Bari Centrale.  You can buy tickets from the machine on the right side of the hallway leading to the tracks, the ticket office further down the hallway on the right, or the tobacco shop at the end of the hallway on the left.  Tickets to Matera cost €4.90 each way.

Once you have your ticket proceed to the end of the hallway and up the stairs to the platforms, there are 2 tracks.

 

bariSome trains to Matera are direct, others require a transfer in Altamura.  Don’t worry the Altamura station has only 2 tracks and each train car displays its destination.  Trains to Matera run about every hour.  Ask at the station if you must change trains in Altamura.

For directions from the Matera station to the Sassi click here!

bariNow whether you’re headed to Rome, Alberobello, Matera, or anywhere on any of these trains the most important thing to remember is to validate your ticket before getting on the train.

There are validating machines located on every platform.

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Ready to plan your next vacation?  Call Savvy Nana Travel!  We’ll help you plan an awesome vacation!

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