Like the Northern towns of Lake Garda, Bolzano hasn’t been Italian for as long as the rest of the country.
The German/Austrian heritage is clear from the architecture, the prevalence of German restaurants, bars, food and in listening to conversations as you wander through town. It’s a real melting point of Germany and Italy, when one minute you feel like you’re walking down a street in Munich and the next you could have stepped into Bologna.
I was mostly getting my bearings this morning. Having established a list of places I wanted to go I wanted to work out how I was going to get to them and my largely first stop was going to be Tourist Information… if I didn’t get distracted on the way.
Yes of course I did. The city is surrounded by mountains. The residential and shopping areas are full of buildings painted different colours, it’s a city that prioritises walking and cycling with green ways along the river and clearly marked routes throughout the streets (be still my beating heart) so it’s just a very easy place to spend time.
And this was before I started looking for the points of interest I intended to visit.
One visit to the Tourist Information Office at some point… later… I emerged with a travel and museum card that would get me around Bolzano and across South Tyrol for the next six days at the princely fee of €34. (Spoiler alert: With today’s activities, I would have spent €17 so I think this was a good value purchase).
This magical card would not only get me on the buses but would also cover me for trains and cable cars. It’s the first time so far on this trip that I’ve seen such an integrated ticketing system for public transport. This cheap? They’re definitely trying to get people out of cars. Extensive information is provided on where you can visit and what you can do when you’re there.
I set off forthwith to stumble upon a cable car. Yes I could have read a map to find the nearest one but the plan for today was now just to see what I found.
(And I wouldn’t be walking back down either).
I didn’t really know what I was going to do once up there but I was confident I’d work something out.
The Renon Cable Car was built in 1966. In 1907 a cog railway was inaugurated to carry visitors fron Bolzano and up to the Renon Plateau, a popular summer resort now and then.
In the 1960s a road was built between Bolzano and Ritten, and after that the railway was nearly abandoned and maintenance reduced. Shortly before the cableway was opened in 1966, a train derailed on the railway and many people were seriously injured and some of them even killed. The likely cause was thought to be sharply reduced maintenance in the wake of the road construction.
You can of course walk but the cable car takes 12 minutes to cover 4.5km and climb 950m. I’m a quick walker but even I would struggle to match that.
On the way up, I spotted a sign that gave me my next destination. Fortunately I didn’t have to go by bus…
…that queue was getting a bit hairy.
One of the remnants of the railway up to the plateau can still be used. This is a light rail line that connects the villages along the plateau. Most trips serve only the section between Klobenstein (Collalbo in Italian) and Oberbozen where you leave the cable car (Soprabolzano; Upper Bolzano in English), a distance of about three miles.
A ride along the railway line offered the most stunning views. Geographically, I knew I was in the wrong part of the world but I was fully expecting Heidi to come running over the hiils.
The alpine chalets, painted white withcarved wooden balconies, triple floors, standing in meadows of dandelion clocks and buttercups further built this expectation.
Heading to Klobenstein/Collabo, my destination (after a further ten minute bus ride) was to visit Europe’s tallest and “most perfectly shaped earth pyramids”, which are to be found on the Renon mountain.
One for the geology geeks:
Earth pillars started forming from moraine clay soil left behind after the last Ice Age when the glaciers of the Valle d’Isarco covering the valley melted away. In dry condition the soil is hard as stone, but, as soon as it rains, it turns into a soft muddy mass, starts sliding, and so forms 10 to 15-meter-steep slopes. Through additional rainfall, these slopes will erode.
Earth pyramids consist of cone-shaped pillars formed by deposited clay and a boulder on top – they often form rather bizarre shapes, and tend to be shrouded in mystery.
However, where there are rocks in the muddy mass, the clay soil underneath these rocks stays protected from the rain. So, while the surrounding material is continually carried off with the weather, the protected pillars literally rise out of the ground to form majestic earth pyramids. It’s hard to tell how long the formation of a full-blown earth pyramid actually takes, simply because it depends on too many factors. It’s just as difficult to assert how old an earth pyramid might be or can get.
The other exclamation is that they are the remains of witches.
The short walk from the bus stop offers astonishing views.
With no sign of a small child herding her grandfather’s goats, I continued wandering. Bolzano, and its surrounding villages, apparently had the highest standard of living, shared jointly with Bologna in 2020. With views like this, high quality green space and public transport, with so far very reasonable prices for food and drink, I can see why.
I do not get views like this at my local railway station