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Bolzano is the Italian gateway to the scenic Dolomites, an outdoor wonderland of hiking trails and craggy peaks. It’s the capital of the South Tyrol region, a former Austrian province that was handed over to Italy as a post-World War I spoil. Today, about forty percent of the population still speaks German, and the Austrian influence is unmistakable in the town’s food and culture. Hearty meat dishes are served with dumplings, not pasta, and strudel (made with apples from local orchards) stands in for gelato. The local pork-based specialty, speck, is a delicious salt-cured, smoked ham that is renowned internationally.
Hikers hoping to explore the great outdoors should head to the Dolomites Information Center to set up a mountain tour or to find trail information. However, besides the incredible landscape that surrounds the city, tourist sights are few and far between. Science and history buffs should head to the excellent South Tirol Museum of Archaeology. The museum house the famous Ice Man (or Ötzi), a 5,300-year-old hunter who was found mummified in a mountain glacier in 1991. A fantastic exhibition uses Ötzi’s tale to describe the region’s long history—from the Paleolithic up to the Middle Ages. A stroll through the medieval old town of Bolzano is a treat, too: start at Piazza Walther, then check out the cathedral and the other splendid facades that enhance the city’s squares.