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Bolzano and Beyond: Hiking the Dolomites

The Dolomites are located in the provinces of Trentino and Alto Adige nestled up against the border of Austria and Switzerland.  No, they’re not Italy’s tallest mountains, but the Dolomites are absolutely stunning in their own right, and when people aren’t skiing them in the winter months, they’re hiking them. This region of Italy is a fantastic destination due to its natural beauty and to Austria’s influence in all things cultural –  and food is no exception. It serves as a strong reminder that not long ago in history the Italian peninsula consisted of a number of city-states and did not unite to form the Nation as we know it until 1861.  Each region retains its own distinct flavor and personality, and no where is this more evident than in Alto Adige in the city of Bolzano.

italy-5When I was planning my trip I knew I wanted to get to Alto Adige to hike, and I tried picking the brains of some folks I know that had skied there.  Everyone had their favorite village nestled up in the hillside above Bolzano and originally my plan was to stay in the village of Santa Cristina.  I had gotten it into my head that if I was going to do some hiking, I needed to pick one of the little ski resort villages.  Not so!  It was incredibly easy to stay in picturesque and pristine Bolzano with views of the mountains from the main square, some excellent restaurants and shops to enjoy, and hike to my heart’s delight as well!  This plan offered the best of both worlds.  One of the huge trams, Funivia del Renon, is a five minute walk from the train station and takes about the same amount of time to walk from the city’s main square area where both hotels I stayed at were located.  My first stay was at the Parkhotel Laurin (www.laurin.it) which was right off the square.  I then switched to the Stadt Hotel Citta (www.hotelcitta.info), located on the square.  Both places were excellent, the Parkhotel Laurin being the more elegant of the two and just dripping with old world charm.  Stadt Hotel Citta was excellent as well and its location affords them one of the sought after outdoor cafes that grace the perimeter of the square.  A large band playing traditional music performs daily on an outdoor stage, and crowds congregate to enjoy the show.

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I hiked two out of the three days I was in Bolzano very easily by hopping on the tram, which by the way is a beautiful 15 minute ride with sweeping views.  At the end of the first day I discovered much to my delight that the Bar Mary, a small joint on my list of places to check out, was pretty much right where the tram is located.  There it was, perfectly inviting and just in time for some free tapas (little toasts with a healthy smear of pate) to go with my vino.

IMG_1273So, for those of us who want to enjoy all a city like Bolzano has to offer and do some hiking too, I highly recommend staying in town and using the tram.  There are other trams as well but further away, making Funivia del Renon the obvious pick.  As well, once up in the hiking trail area there is a cute little train that connects the villages, so if you don’t feel like hiking back to the tram you can just hop on the train instead.  The ride offers stunning views as well and adds to the experience.  Doing the Dolomites while staying in Bolzano does offer the best of both worlds – excellent restaurants and bars, great shopping, and hiking with options available to do as much – or as little – as you feel like.  Pretty sweet!

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