Although fairly small, the town of Bolzano in Trentino Alto Adige, has a lot to offer: beautiful, quaint, bilingual and sophisticated, it brings together two very different lifestyles – the Mittel European and the Mediterranean, and often showcases to its visitors the best of both worlds.
Historically, Bolzano has been an important center of commercial exchanges between Italy, Germany, Austria and the rest of Northeastern Europe and, upon a first glance, it is immediately clear that different cultures have met and prospered: the town center, tidy and picture perfect, resembles the downtown areas of Austrian cities like Salzburg or Innsbruck, yet there is something in the air that makes Bolzano very Italian.
A tour of the town should definitely include Bolzano’s beautiful churches. The Cathedral of the Diocese of Bolzano – Bressanone stands over what remains of an early Christian, a late Medieval and Romanesque basilica that dates back to 1180. The building of the new Cathedral took more than one century and the new imposing construction, completed around 1420, is a splendid example of Gothic style. The bell tower stands 65 meter tall and was built by the famous architect Hans Lutz von Schusseried between 1501 and 1519.
On the North side the beautiful Crucifix by the Veronese School, with a small votive image bearing the symbol of the pilgrim of Santiago de Compostela is definitely worth a look, while on the Western side a gorgeous rose window has been restored after the bombings of the Second World War, and is back to its ancient glory. Inside the church there are beautiful examples of baroque architecture, from the marble altar by the Veronese Ranghieri and Allio, to the baroque chapel of the graces added in 1745.
Maybe less grandiose, but still worth a visit is the Dominican church, built by Dominican friars that settled in Bolzano in 1272. A part of the ancient structure is today’s Music Academy, which hosts a prestigious international piano competition and other important cultural events. The church is noteworthy especially because it’s home to many precious examples of Bolzanine painting from the 1300s on the eastern side of the cloister and on the west wall of the church. However, the crowning jewel of the entire building is the San Giovanni chapel, a long and narrow side chapel with the most magnificent fresco cycle of the Giotto School in the area.
Franciscans friars too settled in the town in 1221 and built a church that dates back to the first half of 1300. Its cloister in Gothic style is a pure delight, and so are the many frescoes and the magnificent wooden altar by Hans Klocker of Bressanone dedicated to the Nativity.
Bolzano features also many stunning castles that look even more beautiful against the backdrop of the Italian Alps. Firmian castle is home to the extraordinary Mountain Museum project by pro climber Reinhold Messner and will strike a chord with those who love extreme sports and life on the mountains. The museum collection is exhibited in the turrets, rooms, and courtyards and offers the visitor a complete vision of the hiking and climbing worlds and the special relationship between man and mountain. For more information and opening times visit: www.messner-mountain-museum.it
The Roncolo Castle, at the beginning of the Val Sarentina to the north of the city, is easily accessible on foot via the greenbelt footpath along the Talvera River. Built in 1237 on a rock, the castle has been extended and restored several times and houses splendid frescoes depicting scenes of medieval everyday life. The castle also features a restaurant offering the opportunity to enjoy local delicatessen in a medieval ambience – something kids (and grownups alike!) very much enjoy.
Bolzano is also the ideal destination for those who enjoy good wine and food. Surrounded by approximately 500 hectares of vineyards, its particular climate, good soil and variety of cultivating areas create the perfect conditions for an exceptional production. Try the Lagrein and Santa Maddalena, two grapes from the region that make a well rounded, smooth wine.
Speck, too, is a must try while in the area: this delicious lightly smoked and cured ham is unlike any other and is good on its own, but also as part of many local recipes. A meal in Bolzano wouldn’t be complete without a slice of classic apple strudel, baked according to the traditional recipe of Alto Adige Served with vanilla ice-cream or whipped cream is the ideal way to end your lunch or dinner (or both!) For a very typical meal grab a table at Restaurant Zur Kaiserkron, right in the city center, and order knodels, delicious bread dumplings made with speck and local cheese.
Bolzano can be reached by car taking the A22 Modena Brennero highway or by train from Verona, Venice, Bologna and Milan. The closest airports are Verona Villafranca and Innsbruck.