This year we spent the last week of the kid’s school break in Bressanone, a town in Northern Italy close to a glacier for skiing. It’s also called Brixen, by its German name. South Tyrol, or Northern Italy, recognizes both German and Italian as official languages, so all the towns have two names. The road signs are in both languages, and everyone speaks a little bit of everything. Not so much English, but we’ve gotten really good at smiling over the years. It’s amazing what you can do with a smile and some patience.
The Alpine peaks of South Tyrol stretch down into Italy from Austria, Switzerland, and France. This makes for a wonderful mix of all the best parts of German and Italian life. Alpine huts with flower boxes on the windows, apres-ski villages, cozy dining rooms, melted cheese, vineyards, thermal baths, wine, and the best pizza we’ve ever had.
It was also a history lesson, where we learned that over decades and many wars, Italy and Germany have drawn borders around the region of South Tyrol, each claiming it as their own. After World War II the area was officially given to Italy. Driving down from Innsbruck we passed castles, more ski resorts than we could count, and beautiful towns, each with its own church rising up against the Alps. After the war Italy re-located its citizens from the South to the North, to “strengthen the Italian influence.” That explains the pizza. They seem to have done a pretty good job.
And since Italy is Catholic and Epiphany hasn’t happened yet, it was still Christmas here!
Brixen-Bressanone was more charming than we imagined. A huge church in the central square stood glowing over the Christmas markets set up below, where Aperol Punsch and gingerbread were being sold to families wrapped up in scarves and furry hats.
That was one of the first things we noticed that was different from Austria. The families are back! Out in the open in the evening air, enjoying life together. We like that.
The stone streets of the inner city were winding, charming, and pedestrian only. It almost made us forget how cold it was.
This huge elephant made us forget how cold it was too!
We didn’t know before we went, but Brixen-Bressanone is home to an attraction called Soliman’s Dream. People come from all over the region to watch a laser light show projected onto the Hofburg Palace walls, telling the story of Soliman. The narration was all in German but we figured out it involved an elephant. The pictures don’t really do it justice, but it was a great show!
All over the town there were Christmas lights strung up over the streets, and people out walking and ice skating in the cold winter air. It was clear we were in the heart of Ski Country because all the stores were having sales on ski boots and puffer jackets. There were cute hotels, restaurants full of candles, and people drinking wine. This trip turned out to be just what we were hoping for! I’m already planning our return. Maybe in the summer, or in the fall, or maybe with some family. Or maybe next year for Christmas.