Bolzano, Italy: Gateway to the Dolomites
Bozen in German or Bolzano in Italian is the capital city of the province of South Tyrol. It has a dual identity as both an Italian and an Austrian town. Bozen was a part of the Austrian Empire from 1813 until 1916 when it became a part of Italy. Up thru WWII and afterward, there was an effort to send Italians up to Bolzano to "Italianize" Bolzano, but still today the German/Austrian culture is clearly evident and many residents still speak German. We found this town especially unique because of the cultural dichotomy. We found ourselves feeling very much like we were in both Italy and Germany or Austria depending on what establishment we entered. It is quite rare to feel like you are getting both great local Austrian food and Italian food next door to each other.
Bozen is known as the gateway to the Dolomites, which are part of the Italian Alps. From the city, travelers can catch a cable car to the mountains for hiking areas and other small towns.
Bolzano is also known for being home to Otzi, also known as the Iceman, which was discovered in the mountains above Bozen in 1991. He was nearly perfectly preserved in a glacier and it is estimated that he lived over 5300 years ago, making him older than the pyramids in Eygpt! The Otzi museum in Bozen is extremely well done and tells the story of how Otzi died and what his life was like. I highly recommend a visit if you are in the area! Visitors can even see what remains of Otzi. He is kept in a precisely climate-controlled chamber.
Bolzano is a great place to experience an old medieval town, authentic Italian and Austrian food and great outdoors without the crowds of other major tourist destinations in Europe.