We take our time waking up, pack up our bags and store them at the B&B so we can wander Verona for the morning before catching the train to Bressanone. We set off in search of breakfast, Italian-style, which means cappuccino and cornetto (an Italian croissant). We head back to a lively cafe on the quiet side of the Adige where we saw locals hanging out last night. Out of cornetti we try two different pastries instead and are not disappointed. The cappuccino is fantastic.
We head to the Roman arena where last night 10,000 people saw the opera Rigoletto in one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in Italy. What an amazing place to take in a show.
It’s already getting warm, and so we shamelessly stop for a gelato to break up the walk, even though it is before 11 in the morning. We wander through the red-bricked and crenelated Castelvecchio and over the old bridge, up the Adige where we see rafters and a kayaker plying the rapids. We start making our way back toward the neighborhood near our B&B so that we can grab a quick lunch before heading back to the train station. And this is where things start to unravel!
The pizzeria opens at 12:30, so we figure we have plenty of time to catch a 1:50 train, but service is slow, and there’s a huge rush for lunch. We start to panic a bit and end up taking half our pizza to go (feeling very un-Italian) and dash back to the B&B to grab our bags. Luckily we catch a bus right away and make it to the train station with just seven minutes to spare. We make a mad dash to the platform as we jump on the un-air conditioned train sweating profusely. Oh well! So much for the shower. At least we made the right train.
It takes a while for us to cool down, but the air finally starts flowing in as we take off from the station. As the train moves north we pass through valleys with limestone cliffs on either side. Every bit of flat space and even some terracing is occupied with grapevines. This is a big wine region as we will find out soon.
Before long we are pulling into Bressanone/Brixen and checking into the Hotel Jarolim. It is immediately apparent that there is something different about this Italian town. All the signs are dual language, written in both Italian and German. In fact, we hear more German spoken than Italian. It turns out that this region is politically and culturally unique.
Trentino Alto-Adige is an autonomous part of Italy with an interesting history. Caught between the Austrian Hapsburg Empire and the recently unified Italy, the region became something of a political football. Culturally, both German and Italian languages are used interchangeably; the architecture is more Austrian, while the food is a blend of South Tyrol Germanic dishes and more typical Italian pasta.
We stroll down into the centro storico to explore this curious blend of culture up close. Bikes go whizzing past us on the carefully marked bike paths. The historic center lies within a rectangular area accessible via a few gates. There is a large central piazza dominated by three different, vertically oriented churches with towering campanile. There is a pleasant garden at one end and several narrow streets to wander. We stop for a beer in the main piazza and then stumble into a wine-tasting street festival.
For a nominal price of 15 euro, we are given a wine glass and are able to try as many local wines as we like. We decide to sample a few before grabbing a tasty cheese plate from a woman who politely describes all of the cheeses to us in Italian.
We stand around a wooden barrel eating our cheese and listening to three guitarists playing a wide variety of music. People are laughing and talking and sitting at picnic tables that have been set up. We take a pause from all the wine and grab dinner at a cute garden restaurant we saw while wandering around the town earlier. The pasta is amazing: tagliatelle with fresh, local chanterelles in a cream sauce and gnocchi with capers, olives, and fresh burrata and a pesto drizzle.
Well-sated, we wander back to the wine tasting which is now in full swing. The street is packed, and the atmosphere quite lively. We meet a woman who is from the nearby Val Gardena and strike up a conversation.
She is an amateur sommelier and has come to Bressanone for the wine-tasting hoping to find some small-production local wines to sell in the shop she runs. She explains how special the wine is from the Val d’Isarco/Eickartal and that almost all the wine produced here is white wine, which seems perfect on this warm summer night. She comes from a region that still speaks Ladin, a strange language that persists here and sounds to us like a mixture of French, Dutch, and Hebrew but in fact is an obscure Romance language.
We also discover that the Val Gardena is just up the valley, relatively speaking, from the Val di Non where the Sparapani clan is from! Small world. We feel like we lucked out stumbling into this local event and enjoy a quiet walk home to go to bed.