Filling the Cup in the Dolomites

In an earlier post I alluded to what would make us decide to redirect our trip and “country hop” from Portugal to Italy on the fly instead of continuing through Nothern Portugal and into Spain as we had intended. What can I say, we found ourselves in need.

After ten beautiful, excitement-filled days in Portugal, we both realized we were worn out. Just exhausted. Sure we had – as always – pretty aggressively explored each town we visited – hiking, biking, running, fighting jetlag, burning the candle at both ends – it’s our way. But unlike previous trips, we just couldn’t gain our footing. Does this have anything to do with getting older? Or a particularily stressful few months leading into the trip? Maybe a little of both, but regardless of the reason, we were frazzled from the start. Simply said, our cups were empty and it took a deadend in the Douro Valley to make us realize it.

In an instant, we knew to refill and recharge that meant Italy, and more specifically Vattaro. We first came to this small town (pop. approx. 1k) and the Giacomelli family lodge, the Alpenrose, in 2004 for a work trip for Matt’s company. Over the years, we have visited with more and more frequency, each year becoming closer and closer to the people and the land.

Centered around brothers Luciano and Jean Claudio, Alpenrose is a family affair on every level. Luciano handles the guest experience side of things, he’s the people guy; Jean Claudio the facility and grounds, he’s the build and fix it guy; and both, everything in between. Manuela, Luciano’s wife has created a beautiful and inviting spa and wellness center and, Roseanna, wife of Jean Claudio, runs one of the area’s best restaurants. Her gnocchi alone is worth the trip.

Between the two couples, there are five sons: Micheal, Patrick, Andrea, Martin, and Max who are each involved in the running of the hotel in one form or another. I mention the Giacomelli’s all by name because that’s the great charm of this place and the overall area: la famiglia, the family. It is pervasive. Life in Northern Italy centers around the family which leads to a very warm, welcoming, and jovial essence for travellers and a layered, complicated, yet beautiful existance for the family.

We always refer to our time there as “Life with Luciano.” What is this life? For us, it’s days spent hiking and cycling in the mountains to arrive at a beautiful lake resort town for an afternoon picnic and swim, then back to Alpenrose happy and exhausted to be met by Luciano offering a glass of prosecco or a spritz (followed by another and another.) After indulging in a one-course-tops-another kind of meal, the evenings are spent laughing and sharing stories through broken Italian and English with the aid of many hand gestures and bottles of vino (followed by another and another.) Stories like how Luciano and Jean Claudio, as young men in their 20s, took an epic bus trip across the US from San Francisco where the photo below was taken (leading us to call them the Brothers Bandito) to the Grand Canyon, all the way to Chicago and beyond. They have seen more of the States than we have.

Grinning from ear to ear, we wish each other “bouna notte, a domani” to wake up and do it all over again. Each day, the cup becomes a little more full.

Soon I feel shiny and new. Recharged, refocused, happy. Who knows what it is in a place or setting that reaches deep within and refills us. I know it’s different for everyone. Whatever it is, when you find it, well…it’s worth redirecting.

Well, this one is kind of obvious:
It’s loaded with character and characters. Many Italians from Trento and other nearby regions “summer” in Vattaro to escape the valley’s warm temps. We see many of the same people each year, which makes for great fun on each return.

Whether you stay at the “AP”, as I will affectionately call it, or not, you simply must eat there. Night after night, Roseanna and her team create delicious meals where family recipes and fresh local ingredients make for a home cooking extravangza. Warning, get ready to indulge (multi courses, huge portions.)

It might also be fun to camp for a few days on Lago Caldonazza:

Tex – just uphill from AP, Tex is a great choice for antipasta, pizza, and pasta. Do you sense a “bandito” theme going on in this area?

Cafe Nol – great pizzeria and pub on the main road through town. One of two spots for nightlife, outside of the AP bar. The other is a beer garden in the center of town. I don’t know its name, actually, I’m not really sure it has a name. It’s easy to find and well worth a visit.

Ristorante Valcanover – love this place on Lago Caldonazza. The food is great and people are friendly, but best of all is the setting. With tons of lounge chairs and games set in the vast back garden, it’s a fun place to while away a few hours.

Where to start: the Trentino region is famous for its snow sports in Winter, but in Summer, always our season of choice, it is the most amazing setting for hiking, cycling (mountain and road,) running (trail and road,) and horseback riding.

Hiking – my favorite is the hike up to Santa Catarina on Bosentino and then back down to Lago Caldonazza. It’s unbelievably beautiful.

Spa Day – there’s nothing better after a full day of hiking than recharging in the spa at AP. With three different saunas, a steam room, pool, and these crazy cool waterbed loungers, it is a dream.

Lago Caldonazza – this breath-taking lake is located only a few miles from AP via your choice of main road or several different hiking trails. The lake is ringed by an incredibly scenic bike and running path and several good restaurants.

Bolzano – is a lovely 2 hr train ride to this unique culture-mixing city that’s a smash up of Italian and German. Be sure and check out the South Tyrol Museum’s “Otzi, the Iceman” exhibit.

Trento – just a thirty minute bus ride from Vattaro, Trento is a beautiful city to explore with a scenic medieval core. By appointment, you can also visit the museum and winery dedicated to champion cyclist Francesco Moser (madly love this man, btw.)

Per our usual, we don’t rent a car here. It would certainly make things easier, but we prefer public transit and pedal/foot power. For this trip, we flew into Venice, trained to Trento, then bussed to Vattaro. It’s also easy via train from Milan and Florence. http://www.trenitalia.com20140712-180555-65155297.jpg













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