Vineyards and apple orchards lie under the soaring peaks that surround Bolzano, the bustling center of Alto Adige, a pristine and autonomous region in northeastern Italy. Less than a two-hour drive from Innsbruck over the dizzying Brenner Pass, Bolzano is a study in contrasts; a place where Austrian and Italian cultures merge and Old and New World lifestyles converge.
Restaurateur and Italophile Bobby Stuckey once observed, “There are certain places in Italy that catch Americans off guard because they are not what we expect Italy to be.” Alto Adige is one such place. With three official languages – German, Italian, and the ancient Ladin language – plus the addition of English which serves as the common language for visitors, the region is overflowing with culture.
As evidenced by Otzi, the 5300 year-old Neolithic mummy on display in the Museum of Archeology in Bolzano, the fertile, glacier-carved valleys of Italy’s Alto Adige region have nurtured human civilization for millennia. They region continues to nurture travelers with the pristine air of the Dolomites and the pleasures of the glass and table.
The region’s indigenous Ladin language and culture can be traced to 15 BCE when the people of the Central Alps were absorbed into the Roman province of Rhaetia. Filled with poetry and legends heavily influenced by Germanic myths and peopled by all manner of fairies, dwarfs, witches and heroes, Ladin culture is taught in schools and protected by local laws.