If you are hankering for a special European tourist destination, you should consider the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northern Italy on the border of both Switzerland and Austria. Its tourist attractions include the Dolomite Mountains, that the famous architect Le Corbusier called “The most beautiful work of architecture even seen,” glacier lakes, and Alpine forests. In fact the region is composed of two parts, Trentino in the south and Alto Adige in the north. This article presents Trentino; a companion article presents Alto Adige.
We’ll start our tour of Trentino at Rovereto near the border with Lombardy. We proceed northeast to the local capital, Trento, and head west first past the village of Comano with its thermal waters then past the typical Trentino village of Tione. Here we turn northeast to finish our tour at the ski resort Madonna di Campiglio. There is a lot more skiing in the area, but it’s over the border into Lombardy not very far from Switzerland.
The medieval city of Rovereto, population about 35 thousand, has had its share of warfare. In 1796 Napoleon won a bloody battle against Austria. And in World War I Italian and Austrian troops fought a bloody, inconclusive battle. Every night fall the thousands who died there are honored by La Campana dei Caduti (The Bell of the Fallen) that tolls 100 times in remembrance of the fallen of all wars as a warning for future peace. This bell, cast in 1924, is the largest bell in the world that rings full peal.
The Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra (Italian Historical War Museum) was founded after World War I in order to commemorate the war and to prevent future wars. It is situated in a medieval castle exemplifying Fifteenth Century Venetian military architecture with its tunnels, moats, and towers. It is perhaps the world’s largest anti-war museum. An annex displays World War I artillery in an air-raid shelter from that time. For a change of pace, visit MART, the Museo D’Arte Moderna e Contemporaneo (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art). The focus is on a local artist, Fortunato Depero, but the collection includes works from Picasso, Leger, Klee, Kandinsky, Lichtenstein, Modigliani, and Warhol among others.
Trento, population about one hundred thousand if you add in the suburbs, is Trentino’s major city. Its main historical claim to fame was the 1545 to 1563 Council of Trent that marked the beginning of the Counter-Reformation. The fight to join Trento-Alto Adige to Italy was a major reason for Italian participation in World War I.
The Duomo (Cathedral of San Virgilio) is a Twelfth-Thirteenth Century Romanesque-Gothic structure built over a Sixth Century Church dedicated to the city’s patron saint, San Virgilio. Whenever the Council of Trent came to a decision, it was read at the Cappela del Crocifisso (Chapel of the Crucifix) located within the cathedral.
The Sixteenth Century Renaissance Santa Maria Maggiore Church hosted many sessions of the Council of Trent. The courtyard at 18 via Rosmini contains the mosaic floor of a Roman villa of the Second Century A.D.
The Castello del Buonconsiglio (Castle of Good Counsel) started in the Thirteenth Century next to the city walls. Over the centuries it grew. This castle includes the Museo Provinciale d’Arte (Provincial Art Museum). Be sure you visit the frescoes including the famous Fifteenth Century Cycle of the Months, portraying contemporary life in Medieval Trentino in the Torre Aquila (Eagle Tower) and the late Sixteenth Century frescoes depicting hunting scenes in the Torre del Falco (Falcon Tower).
Other sights to see include several historic churches, underground remains of Roman streets and villas, the modernistic train station, the Museo Storico in Trento (Trento Historical Museum) scheduled to reopen soon if not already, and the Museo dell’Aeronautica Gianni Caproni (Gianni Caproni Aeronautical Museum) located at the airport. Check out the Mountain Film Festival.
Not far from Trento, especially if you are willing to drive on Alpine roads competing against Alpine drivers, are two great sites; the medieval spa town of Levico Terme and the Alpine Botanical Garden home to more than one thousand species of plants originating in the Alps and other mountain ranges across the globe. Madonna di Campiglio advertises itself as Italy’s number one ski resort. The clientele is mostly Italian and the slopes are generally intermediate level, but there are slopes for beginners and experts as well. The resort boasts 57 lifts and 150 kilometers (90 miles) of ski runs with a capacity of over thirty thousand skiers per hour. There are 40 kilometers (25 miles) of cross-country ski trails. You can go to the city center and back without ever removing your skis. For a change of pace, visit the nearby Adamello-Brenta Natural Park encompassing 450 kilometers (300 miles) of mountain paths, but you will have to remove your skis to do so. This resort recently hosted the Snowboard World Championships. Head a bit north to Campo Carlo Magno, a mountain pass that Charlemagne may have traversed on the way to his coronation in Rome in the year 800.
Since you have come this far you should consider visiting two more sites; Bormio about sixty miles (one hundred kilometers) northwest of Madonna di Campiglio and Passo dello Stelvio about twelve miles (twenty kilometers) north of Bormio just south of the Swiss border. These sites are situated in Lombardy, far from the cities and towns described in our various Lombardy articles. Bormio includes many long pistes and a one mile drop. You will find Roman baths (frequented by none other than Leonardo da Vinci) and a spa. Bormio is an entry point to the largest national park in the Alps, Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio with six hundred different species of mushrooms. Passo dello Stelvio is the second highest European mountain pass.
What about food? Trentino cuisine has a real Alpine accent and includes plenty of butter, cheese, game, and wild mushrooms, dozens of which can be found in local markets. The nearly three hundred lakes and rivers furnish plenty of fish. Expect to eat potato, buckwheat, and mostly corn polenta. A major contender for Italy’s most weirdly named dish is Strangolapreti (Priest Strangler). No record actually exists of priests giving up the ghost when faced with these Spinach, Egg, and Cheese Gnocchi but the idea was that their delicate throats couldn’t handle these robust Gnocchi.
Let’s suggest a sample menu, one of many. Start with Orzetto (Barley Soup with Ham). Then try Trota alla Trentina (Marinated Trout in Lemon and Red Wine Sauce). For dessert indulge yourself with Zelten (Wheat Cake with Dried Fruits and Nuts). Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.
We conclude with a quick examination of Trentino-Alto Adige wine. Trentino-Alto Adige ranks 16th among the 20 Italian regions for acreage devoted to wine grapes and 14th for total annual wine production. The region produces approximately 55% red and 45% white wine. There are eight DOC wines of which six are found in Trentino (one DOC wine is shared with Alto Adige and another with Alto Adige and with Veneto.) DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. A whopping 79.1% of Trentino-Alto Adige wine carries the DOC designation, which is far and away the highest percentage in Italy.
The Trentino DOC covers the entire Trento province and provides over twenty types of wine. The most recent Trento-Alto Adige wine that I tasted was a Vino Novello (New Wine) that probably wasn’t typical of Trento-Alto Adige wine but was typical of Vino Novello wine. The less said the better. There actually is a wine called Pinot Grigio Trentino Concilio (Pinot Gris Council of Trent) but I haven’t tasted it.