“It’s not like here,” I was told, during a visit to Lazio, just south of Rome. “It’s much different than the rest of Italy,”
I visited the far northeastern corner of Italy this summer and realized it really is a whole different place than the rest of the country. Just two hours south of Austria, I felt like I was in that country instead of Italy.
Trentino, Trento, Italy
Trentino, officially the Autonomous Province of Trento, is an independent state, just like Sardinia and Sicily. Although, compared to those two regions, Trentino is far less like them. It is more like neighboring Germany and Austria. Trentino was occupied by Italy in November 1918 and was annexed in 1919.
Today there are people who live here who speak Italian, Ladin, Mocheno and a few are still conversing in Cimbrian!
My visit to the Trentino region began in the marvelous city of Trento. I disembarked from the train station at night and only had to walk a short distance across a grassy common to find the welcoming lights of the Grand Hotel Trentino.
The hotel is a magnificent edifice, a nod to the grand properties of old that once were the norm. There are many other hotels, but this one is right in the center and definitely old school cool.
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Trento’s Sidewalks of Marble
Trento is rich in history. It is where the famous Council of Trent met in 1545 and began to map out the various factions who would split from the Catholic Church. The meetings began here, and the murals on the exterior walls of the buildings on the narrow street tell the story.
The city’s marble sidewalks lead to the Piazza Duomo, the impressive heart of the city of around 540,000 residents. Marble, just like those expensive countertops in fine homes.
The imposing Trento Cathedral dates back to the 1000s and is worth a visit. Lions guard the outside walls, and it was built on top of a 6th-century church. Frescoes from the 14th century depict stories of local legends on the walls. A statue and fountain of the god of the Ocean Neptune grace the cobblestoned square, a gathering place for tours and people watching.
The city’s Buonconsiglio Castle is another historic stop in the city. At the very top are the Royal Apartments and the Aquila Tower. The precious 15th-century frescoes here are called The Cycle of the Months. They show and tell how common people and royalty lived during the period. The nobles are all a bit larger than the commoners. They are shown doing all of the tasks for every month of the year.
Exploring the Country Up North
We drove north out of the city. Our first stop was a park for a hike over very steep terrain and guarded by strange ancient rocks perched atop spindly formations jutting up from the ground. These are the Piramidi di Segonzano, and they resemble something that the great Dr. Seuss would have drawn in a children’s book.
The Piramidi di Segonzano
An hour’s drive over mountainous roads led to a lush valley known as Valle di Cembra. Wine grows all over the steep hillsides. In the distance, we could see views of Lago Delle Piazze and castles perched on faraway hillsides. It is a magical place!
In the nearby region of Altopiano di Pine, we drove past vacation homes next to the large lake and passed by a spectacular waterfall. Cascata del Lupo, that was worth a photo stop, is around a bend in the river.
That evening we stayed at the Hotel Belvedere Wellness and Family, which stretches across the mountain road and is very quiet in the evenings. Dinner here was fabulous, especially the cornmeal gnocchi. It was fluffy and melted in my mouth (note to self, figure out this recipe!).
The next day we set out to meet a few of the farmers who run the small agriturismo operations here and to contribute to the delicious local cuisine.
Everywhere we drove in Trentino there were busy greenhouses, carefully tilled fields, and row upon row of strawberry plants growing, along with dozens of other crops like apples and pears. I never knew that this part of the country was such an agricultural powerhouse!
We rolled on, through more steep mountain passes that led to Bedollo. We were entering Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, the northern part of the region, and also a center of logging and agriculture, about 20 miles north of Trento.
Alpine Grey Cows
At the Fattoria Le Mandre, the farmer has a herd of around 25 Alpine Grey cows, who are smaller and yet stronger than their black and white Holstein cousins.
The young cows run up and down these steep mountain pastures. To our amazement, they are pretty darn hard to catch. Our job was to help the farmer round them all up and direct them to the road back to the barn.
Visitors to the farm enjoy helping with these tasks. They also enjoy tasting the fine Mardre, Bedol and Ciciotta Misa cheeses they make here.
Le Mandre also has a restaurant open to the public. It has stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains and the Lago di Pine, a sparkling spring-fed lake.
At the Agritur Klopfhof in Valle dei Mocheni-Bersntol, we sampled smoked donkey, served with local cheeses and pasta with a simple ragu of herbs and ricotta. Large pork and beef gnocchi rounded out the hearty lunch, followed by a much-appreciated snooze in the sun overlooking Lago di Pine. Relaxing is a way of life here, even for busy farmers.
Along a winding, high altitude road strewn with fallen trees from a terrible October 2018 storm in the region, we pulled over at a parking area in Bedollo at the Acqua Fredda. In the 13th century, a forge was built by ancient metalsmiths here.
Today you can see how ax heads and other tools were made, using an inflated sheep organ as their crude bellows. We watched an artisan pour the molten tin into a crude container that would shape a useful tool. Diagrams on the walls inside the indoor/outdoor pavilion tell the story about the ancient customs here and the centuries of history and toolmaking.
Baita Alpina Agriturismo
We drove more mountainous roads until we reached another Agriturismo–Baita Alpina–where a hearty farmhouse lunch awaited. In the northern tradition, polenta with pork sausage was on the menu. This is with a starter of tagliatelle pasta studded with porcini mushrooms.
Lunch was a relaxed affair, passing the little carafes of red and white wine, not worrying that we’d be sleepy after since the afternoon would simply consist of resting beneath the shade of the eaves and looking out over the million-dollar view. Life as it should be!
We could have dined al fresco or in the farmhouse’s cozy stone interior. Either one would bring forth simple, local, just about perfect foods from their friends the farmers.
Meeting the Sheep
At Agritur Mas Del Saro, located twenty minutes from the city of Trento, but a world apart with the steep mountainous setting, we met a family who is making a great go with their own agriturismo concept. Vea and Renzo work in various capacities including the chef, server, sheep wrangler, and parents to their two kids, Pietro and Viola at their agriturismo in Sant’Orsola.
They keep three donkeys, chickens, and fields full of vegetables for dinner every weekend when customers and guests join them for dinner. It’s like joining their family. Sorry, they do not accept credit cards. However, well-behaved dogs are welcome.
You’ll come away feeling like you just met your long lost relatives who happen to own a farm!
Dinner is 28€ and includes everything but the wine. This is available from July till October, with Wednesday till Saturday open for dinner and on Sunday for lunch. If you’re there later in the year, it is available from November till June from Thursday till Saturday for dinner and for lunch on Sundays.
You can see more photos from Trento here.
Belvedere Wellness & Family Hotel Via D. Targa, 45, Montagnaga di Pine- Trentino 39-0461-557750 www.familyhotelbelvedere.it
Agritur Klopfhof, Maso San Lorenzo, 16, 38050 Fierozzo S. Felice, Valle dei Mocheni-Bersntol, Italy Tel 3472914399, www.klopfhof.it firstname.lastname@example.org
Agritur Mas Del Saro, Loc Mas del Saro, 38050 Sant’Orsola TN, Italy +39 342 726 4291 www.masdelsaro.it
Find more information about Trentino on its excellent tourism website.
About the Author: Max Hartshorne has been the editor of GoNOMAD.com Travel since 2002 and is proud to have published travel articles by hundreds of writers since then. He lives in South Deerfield, MA.