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BOLZANO: GATEWAY TO THE DOLOMITES

BOLZANO was the subject of sniggering in Italy last month when it was rumoured that prime minister Silvio Berlusconi might be taking a trip there. The capital of the South Tyrol region, you see, is the site of the only sex addiction clinic in Italy. <br /><br />Whatever his reason for going there, Berlusconi could hardly pick a better spot to take a recuperative break. Bolzano is a charming and intriguing little town that was a part of the Habsburg Empire before being absorbed into Italy after WW1. It bears the stamp of both the Latin and Germanic cultures and in the most attractive street, the covered arcades of the Via dei Portici, beer cellars nuzzle up beside elegant boutiques, and menus offer both dumplings with pasta.<br /><br />The town and the whole area have been important for millennia for those crossing the Alps, something made clear by the town&rsquo;s most famous tourist attraction: Otzi, the so-called &ldquo;ice-man&rdquo;, who can be seen at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology. <br /><br />The remains of this mysterious chap were found by hikers in 1991, and it turned out that he had been there for longer than his finders thought &ndash; over 5,000 years.&nbsp; <br /><br />He was pulled out of the ice and now you can go and see the incredibly well-preserved collection of his possessions, including arrow-heads, and the the pouch in which he carried hot ashes as a portable fire-starter. Amazing stuff, although it seems a bit unnecessary to actually have his body on show. Even kids seem to find it gruesome. (Adults, &euro;9, family entry for adults and two children, &euro;18. Audioguides now available in English, see: www.iceman.it)<br /><br />The great thing about Bolzano is that there isn&rsquo;t much to do, apart from sitting in the square in one of the cafes and sip a Hugo or a Veneziana, the local aperitifs which are drunk at all times of the day. However, those itching to get their walking boots on can take a cable car up and stroll about, taking in their first views of the distant Dolomites.<br /><br />The other great thing is the hotels. The Parkhotel Laurin is a fantastic Jugenstil edifice with a wonderful bar, a marvellous outdoor dining area and one of the pleasantest gardens and swimming pools I have ever wasted a succession of afternoons in. You also get use of the gardens if you stay at its sister the Greif, a modern art hotel, with original works on the walls of each room &ndash; this is where we stayed, and the view out on to the square and the cathedral, with its zig-zag patterned roof, was a joy. Brilliant breakfasts on the terrace, too. <br /><br />Hotel Greif, 39100 Bolzano, Walther Square (entrance: Raingasse), tel: +39 0471 318 000. Rooms from &euro;140 for a double. See: www.greif.it. <br /><br />Albergo Parkhotel Laurin, Via Laurin, 4, 39100 Bolzano, tel. +39 0471 311000. Rooms from &euro;138 for a double. See: www.hotel.laurin.it. <br /><br />Getting there: British Airways (www.ba.com, 0844 493 0787) flies twice a day from London Gatwick to Verona from &pound;115 return. easyJet (easyjet.com; 08717 500 100) flies to Innsbruck from London Gatwick, Liverpool and Bristol with prices from &pound;45.98 return). Bolzano is approximately a 90-minute drive from both Verona and Innsbruck. Low-fare Dolomiti transfers run from Bergamo, Verona, Venice and Treviso airports to Bolzano in South Tyrol from &euro;17 each way. There is a bus service from Innsbruck airport. See www.lowcostcoach.com.