Within reach of the ragged Dolomites, Bozen (or Bolzano as it is known in Italian) is a little known city to many Australians. The capital of the northern region of Süd Tirol (South Tyrol) sits alongside the Adige River in a steep valley on the A22 autoroute which runs between Innsbruck and Verona.
The region was part of Austria until the end of World War 1 when it was taken over by Italy, and Sud Tirol (Alto Adige in Italian) retains much of its Austrian heritage and culture. These days Süd Tirol has autonomy from Rome, and one of the many concessions granted with autonomy was the re-introduction of the use of the German language, which was banned when the region became part of Italy. These days town and street names are all sign-posted in both German and Italian and most residents speak both languages. (I'll use the German names in this article but you can check the Italian versions at the bottom of the story.)
It's from a small mountain hamlet above Bozen that my husband's family originate and I've been lucky to visit the area on a number of occasions and have really come to love it. I blogged about a previous visit to the region here.
Bozen itself is a large city with a population of around 100,000 and, in 2012, it was voted as the city with the best quality of life in Italy. It's great for shopping (the Christmas markets are excellent) and the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology is home to Ötzi, the ice man whose preserved body was found deep in the alps some years ago.
But to me, the main attractions are out of the city. With so many mountains close by, the choice of activities is enormous. A modern cable car whisks you from Bozen up to either Oberbozen on one side of the valley or Jenesien on the other - both offering plenty of outdoor activities and stunning scenery.
Süd Tirol is a popular destination for walkers and mountain bike riders, and we have enjoyed hiking on some of the many well-marked walking tracks in the area. Europeans in general seem to have a real love of walking and I'm always amazed at the number of multi-generation families out walking for the day. You'll frequently see groups with three generations - and the family dog - out enjoying the great outdoors - it's a wonderful sight.
And what better way is there to reward your efforts after an invigorating walk than a hearty traditional Tirolean meal at one of the many Gasthofs dotted throughout the region? Many of the gasthofs are working farms which offer meals to walkers during the summer months. It's real hearty cooking made and served by the farmers themselves.
As well as its outdoor pursuits (which include skiing in winter), wine also plays an important part in bringing tourists to the region. The South Tyrolean Wine Road is an independent organisation made up of 16 towns and villages promoting wine, but you don't need to follow the exact route to enjoy a drop of wine tasting - wherever you look you'll seen vines planted on the mountainside. The most famous drop from the region is Santa Maddalena, a red.
I think the one thing that really draws me back to Süd Tirol, though (apart from family, of course), is the stunning scenery. The sharp peaks of the Dolomites, the lush, wine-covered slopes, the crystal-clear alpine streams and the fresh mountain air - it's Mother Nature at her very best and all just a ten minute cable car ride from Bozen.
The Italian names for the towns and cities mentioned above are:
Bozen = Bolzano
Oberbozen = Soprabolzano
Jenesien = San Genesio
Need to know
Bozen is located on the A22 autostrada 123 km south of Innsbruck and 170 km north of Verona. Frequent inter-city trains service Bozen and there's also a regional airport.
Where to Stay in Sud Tirol
Check the Bozen Tourism website for places to stay in the city. If you prefer to stay in the mountains, I can recommend Messnerhof apartments at St. Georgen (between Bozen and Jenesien). We loved the traditional Austrian-style accommodation (which was self-catering) and the owners, the Prinoth family, were great.
Where to Eat
Traditional meals served at the mountain gasthofs are rarely bad so you shouldn't go too far wrong no matter which one you choose. If it's a light snack you're after, we had one of the best pizzas we've ever eaten at Babsi's Imbisstube in Oberbozen.
Would you like to visit the Sud Tirol region of Italy?