Christmas in the Italian Dolomites

Browing the Christmas Market in Bolzano

Browing the Christmas Market in Bolzano - Credit: Archant

Valerie Singleton enjoys a delightful festive break in this mountainous region of Italy where Christmas fun is taken very seriously

The deep, resounding peel of Rodengo’s church bells, ringing out over the valley, woke me early on Christmas morning. Stepping onto my balcony at the Hotel Alpenland Rodeneggerhof I took in the lovely view - the simple pink church with its tall spire, the impressive 12th century castle and the surrounding snow capped mountains.

I was spending the festive season in the winter wonderland of the Italian Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Six days of glorious mountain air and scenery and coach trips to explore pretty towns and Christmas Markets seemed the perfect remedy to endless rain at home. I was with a group from the tour company Titan, staying in a delightful family-run hotel in Rodengo, or Rodeneck in German. This area of South Tyrol was once a part of Austria, and the people speak and use both Italian and German. The hotel owner Markus Klöcker, his Brazilian wife Fabiana and family looked after us all superbly during our stay.

On Christmas Eve we visited the charming village of Tesero, where we explored its narrow cobbled alleyways to search out the many beautiful Christmas nativity scenes nestled in unexpected corners and courtyards. This centuries old tradition features the fine workmanship of Tesero’s craftsmen who create these imaginative cribs.

We then returned to Rodengo for Midnight Mass in the cemetery of the local church. It was enchanting - candles glowed in the tiny red lanterns on every grave, illuminating the intricate ironwork crosses and commemorative decorations.

Christmas Day was spent in the warmth and comfort of the hotel, with good food and relaxation, though some energetic souls joined the morning walk round the village and returned glowing for Christmas lunch. We each received a Christmas gift – a tiny carved wooden angel made by a member of the Klöcker family, a thoughtful keepsake to remember the day by.

Later, after another excellent dinner, wrapped up against the frosty night and clutching flaring torches, we followed Markus down a snowy path to the Castle Gate to hear about the history of this 12th century fortification, the second largest castle in the South Tyrol. Perched on a precipitous cliff with huge drops both sides, I wondered how they ever managed to build it here! Then it was back to our hotel for a warming glass of gluvine on the outside terrace under the stars.

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Other days we travelled by coach to different villages and towns around the region. One brilliantly sunny morning we wound up into the mountains to the village of Collalbo which offered an ideal photo opportunity with its brilliant vista of jagged peaks. Afterwards we descended to the city of Bolzano in the valley below.

Here we visited the Archaeological Museum to see Ötzi, the 5,300 year old Stone Age man found by pure chance in the Alps in 1991. Perfectly preserved by the ice he is in extraordinarily good condition, as are his clothes and tools which are carefully displayed. To see Ötzi himself, I joined the short queue to peer through a small window at his incredibly well preserved, blackened body. Ötzi now resides in a sealed room which is kept at a constant temperature of minus 6, the sterile water sprayed over him at intervals freezes, making him look as if he has been glazed.

After touring the museum I made my way back through Bolzano’s pedestrianised streets to the main square. This was full of wooden huts selling every imaginable kind of Christmas decoration.

Half an hour away from Bolzano is Merano. This former medieval village has been developed into a renowned spa town, with a modern spa centre offering all kinds of treatments. Even though its surrounded by mountains Merano is only a 1000 feet above sea level, so its mild climate means flowers grow well here, giving the town its nickname, ‘City of Flowers’. Lining the promenade along the River Passirio I discovered another lovely Christmas Market. I joined the locals and their many dogs wandering amongst the colourful wooden stalls, selling an even greater variety of goodies than Bolzano, including breads and cheeses, candles, warm hats, glass jewellery and ornaments.

Everyone in the group agreed that our trip to the Italian Dolomites was a most enjoyable way to spend Christmas. During a last morning stroll to the church, I bumped into Gillian and her husband from our group. Gillian summed our trip up brilliantly. “The only things that would have made our six days even more perfect would have been snow on Christmas Day!”

Fact box

Titan Travel offers a 6 day Christmas in the Dolomites holiday from £995 per person. This includes return flights with British Airways, accommodation based on two sharing, 11 meals, excursions, a Titan tour manager and the VIP Home Departure Service. For more details call 0800 988 5858 or visit