Bolzano’s top attraction is a 5,300-year-old man named Ötzi. This frozen "Ice Man" was discovered high in the mountains on the Italian/Austrian border in 1991. Police initially believed the corpse was a lost hiker, and Ötzi was chopped roughly out of the glacier, damaging his left side. But upon discovering his copper-bladed hatchet, officials realized what they had found a nearly perfectly preserved Stone Age hunter. Later, researchers pinned down the cause of his death--an arrowhead buried in Ötzi’s left shoulder that led to uncontrollable bleeding and a quick end.
As the body was found right on the border, Austria and Italy squabbled briefly over who would get him. Tooth enamel studies have now shown that he did grow up on the Italian side, so it's only fair that Bolzano's South Tirol Museum of Archaeology is Ötzi's final resting place (www.iceman.it).
With Ötzi as the centerpiece, the museum takes you on an intriguing journey through time, recounting the evolution of humanity--from the Paleolithic era to the Roman period and finally to the Middle Ages. The exhibit offers informative displays and models, video demonstrations of Ötzi’s extraction, and his personal effects. You’ll see Ötzi himself--still frozen--as well as an artist’s reconstruction of what he looked like when alive.
Also in Bolzano, you can take a quick, easy cable-car ride over the countryside to the touristy resort village of Oberbozen, where Sigmund Freud and wife once celebrated their wedding anniversary. The reasonably priced, 12-minute ride offers views of the town, made-for-yodeling-farmsteads, and distant views of the Dolomites. But if you want to hike among real mountains, linger in the Alpe di Siusi instead.
In spite of all the ski resorts, the regional color survives here in a felt-hat-with-feathers way. Whether you experience the Dolomites with your hand on a walking stick, a ski pole, or an aperitivo while mountain-gazing from a café, it’s easy to enjoy this Germanic eddy in the whirlpool of Italy.
(Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his blog on Facebook.)