We decided on a day trip to Bolzano to cool off if the protective embrace of the Dolomites

The three-plus hour journey from Treviso was well worth it. But let me assure you, on this particular August day the heat almost did us in. When we arrived in Bolzano it was around 100 degrees. The heat wave in Europe has been such a scorcher it appropriately has been called ‘Lucifer’. Upon returning home, it took me a full day to recover and bring my body back to a normal temperature.

We enjoyed a lovely day there however, thanks to a strategy of drinking lots of water, chasing shaded areas, and ducking into to shops with robust air conditioning.

Okay, with the heat factor out of the way, let me share what I’ve learned and experienced (thus far) about Bolzano.

A fusion of Italian and Austrian cultures

Bolzano is part of the autonomous Trentino-Alto Adige provinces of Italy. It’s in the area called the Alto Adige, meaning “above the Adige river”. The area is also called Sudtirol, or South Tyrol, recognizing its history as having once been part of Austria.

At the end of World War I this area was deeded over to Italy. Imagine one day being Austrian and then the next day being told you’re Italian. Move to Austria or get with the program of becoming Italian – that became the message over the next several years. In fact it became a requirement that inhabitants of this area speak only Italian. Some people learned enough to fake it. Others who resisted were recipients of onerous coercive tactics.

Thankfully that didn’t stick, and now Bolzano and other inhabitants of the Alto Adige enjoy a friendly, multi-lingual culture.

When you enter the Alto Adige, you’ll notice most everything being translated into both German and Italian. And when you sit down for lunch or dinner, your menu will have both languages. The people who work in bars and restaurants usually are adept at switching between the languages depending on their “read” of the clientele. The woman who served us for lunch restaurant effortlessly switched from speaking Italian with us to fluent German with the couple at the adjacent table.

In the public sector, most people need to get a certification attesting to fluency in both languages in order to be hired for a public service job.

Beautiful architecture

Bolazno has been handsomely rendered in the Tyrolean style of architecture. Church roofs are tiled and spires make you think you’re in Innsbruck – a far cry from the churches in other parts of Italy.,

I was also struck by the light, happy touches of color. Walking through Bolzano made me think of boxes of pastel-colored salt-water taffy from my childhood days.

You can tell this is a well-maintained city and part of one of the wealthier provinces of Italy. Streets and buildings seem to be meticulously maintained. People clearly take pride in their city.

Prepare to dine well and drink amazing wines

We stopped at Fink, a short walk from the main piazza, for our lunch. It was a stab in the dark, but it turned out to be a lucky choice. They had gluten-free pasta options, so I opted for spaghetti al ragu, while Simone had one of his favorite dishes of all time – canederli, a typical Tyrolean dish of bread dumplings. Simone’s canderli were made with speck and cheese, and served on a bed of kraut. Groans of satisfaction accompanied our meal.

We followed the advice of our wait person and enjoyed a crisp, refreshing bottle of Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella) – dry, with subtle floral notes, a touch of peach and a mineral finish. I’m already researching where I can buy half a case of this wine!

After lunch we walked until the heat halted us once again – this time an ice cream for me and a strudel for Simone (more groans of satisfaction).

Bolazno’s Modern Art and Archeological Museums.

We made it to Museion, the Museum of Contemporary Art, just before closing, and enjoyed several very different photo exhibitions. My favorite was a wall of Diane Arbus photos.

We’ll have to save the Museo Archeologico dell”Alto Adige for our next trip. Otzi, the Iceman (found frozen in a glacier), and his artifacts can be found there.

We’ll definitely be going back, probably in late fall or winter, to experience the area in the light of a different season. We also plan to make a two-to-three-day trip of it and spend two nights. We’ll break journey with lunch in Verona – about half-way there.

Now, time to learn more about this beautiful and fascinating region…

This trip was a reminder that Italy’s regions can be vastly different. Yes, if you’re American, the cultural differences between New York and South Carolina are pretty pronounced. But ratchet that up several degrees to really understand the differences within Italy. And don’t get me started about the proliferation of dialects. That’s another story altogether.

Eva Sleeps

I plan to read a piece of historical fiction in which the main character, Eva, is drawn back in time to the Alto Adige during the tumultuous period of transition. It’s called Eva Sleeps, by Francesca Melandri and was Elle Magazine’s Book of the Year.

That’s it for our trip to Bolzano. I hope I’ve whetted your appetite to explore the area for yourself.