7 Things You May Find Surprising About Trentino

Here we go again singing the praises of the Italian region that stole our hearts over 16 years ago on the first visit. Is now the right time to talk about travel to Trentino, or anywhere for that matter?

We believe it’s always the right time to DREAM…about travel, about experiencing new places and about meeting new people. So, here we go, let’s dream together about these majestic mountains.

“The last two Americans in Italy.”

When we arrived back in Trentino, Italy – the region we’ve called home for the last six summers – that’s how a local friend dubbed us. 

Of course, that’s certainly far from true, particularly in Tuscany, Veneto (Venice), Lombardy (Milan) and Lazio (Rome) regions where many Americans live permanently or own vacation properties. Yet, here in the northernmost region of Italy, it’s rare, even in a “normal” (i.e. non-pandemic) summer to meet another visitor from the US – or Australia or the UK, for that matter. This year, as per usual, we meet mainly Dutch, Austrians and Germans – and, most notably – Italians.

This is where Italians come to vacation in summer to escape the heat of cities and connect with nature. This has never been so true – and, as needed – as this summer. We always feel fortunate to spend time here, cycling, trekking and running, but this year is special. 

Social distancing is part of the natural landscape in this land of alpine lakes, rolling vineyards and soaring mountain peaks. Trekking trails stretch for hundreds of kilometers connecting small, picturesque villages and cycling paths, known as pista ciclabile, are as plentiful, and, as well maintained as roadways.

When we all travel again – and, we will all travel again – I wonder what experiences you will crave? Will it be different than before? I suspect and hope it will be (more on that topic later this week).

I also suspect fresh air and sparely-populated mountain trails will call more strongly than bustling and crowded cities. And, when you factor in the hearty Italian food and wines on offer in Trentino, well…this is a post-pandemic dream travel destination in many, many categories.

Here Are 7 Things You May Find Surprising About Trentino

  1. This is the Italian Alps.

    Most people refer to the mountains in this northeastern regions as Dolomites and those to the northwest in Valle d’Aosta as Alps. Yet, when you arrive here and see the majestic peaks soaring like towers in every direction, you have no doubt this eastern section of Europe’s highest and most extensive mountain range lives up to the legendary Alps designation.
Image compliments of VisitTrentino.com

I often tell people the story of when my grandmother came to visit us a few summers ago. She was 93-years-old at the time and this was her first trip to Italy. On the drive to Trentino, we took what you might call “backroads” in route from beautiful, bustling Venice to our apartment in a tiny mountain village. For most of the two hour trip, she was silent as she gazed out the window to the scene rolling by. Dense pine forests opening to clear blue streams, sunflowers, roses and daises vying for attention, grape vines carpeting forever-undulating hills, mountains of all shapes and colors, for as far as her eyes could see.

At some point, she turned to us with tears in her eyes and fire in her voice and asked, “How did I not know this was here?” She was genuinely perplexed and, honestly, somewhat pissed. “No one told me about this place,” she said.

This woman who had collected National Geographic, Time and Newsweek for decades, explained that she had never seen this place in any of her magazines. “I didn’t know this existed,” she said.

I wondered…if she had known about it, would she have visited sooner? I like to think she would have.

My grandmother gazing at the Altopiano della Vigolana mountain range from our kitchen window.

From the capital city of Trento, you will find the famous Brenta Dolomites to the west and Fassa and Fiemme Dolomites to the east and north, but that only scratches the alpine surface. At 10,968 feet (3,343 meters), the beautifully-named Marmolada is the highest mountain in the Dolomites, and she is exquisite.

My favorite mountain – and, trust me, anyone who spends time here develops a favorite – isn’t the tallest or most challenging. Mount Marzola, referred to locally as la signora sdraiata or “the reclining lady,” adorns an area consisting of five small villages known as Altopiano della Vigolana. At a modest 5702 feet (1738 meters), the sloping formation makes for long and challenging, yet accessibly, lovely trekking. And, the image of her throughout the day’s changing light and shadows, stretching out like a guardian mother watching over all, always leaves me awestruck.

2. As remote as it feels when you’re here, Trentino is remarkably accessible.

Many friends have come to visit us over the years and everyone is struck by how easy it is to travel here. Thanks to Italy’s extensive public transportation system, renting a car isn’t essential and can often be more hassle than it’s worth.

You can reach Trento by train from Venice in about 3 hours, from Florence in four hours or Verona in one hour, then take buses to the surrounding picture-perfect villages.

If I were planning the ideal slow-savoring type of trip for you to Italy – in what will be our post-pandemic world – that’s the exact route I’d recommend. Four to five nights in either Venice, Florence or Verona (not all three, because…remember “slow-savoring”) to immerse in an iconic Italian city, followed by a week in Trentino, split between the immensity-sophisticated city of Trento and one of the smaller villages. These days, many hotels in the area, including our go-to spot, Hotel Alpenrose, rent e-bikes making it possible for anyone and everyone to explore surroundings.

3. Grapes thrive in this mountainous landscape. 

When many of us think of Italian wines, thoughts drift to beloved Tuscans like Chianti, Brunello and Bolgheri or wildly popular Prosecco from the Veneto, but connoisseurs have long found the wines of Trentino to be equally distinctive and impressive. 

Simply put, grapes thrive in this environment that offers huge temperature swings from day to night. Truly, wouldn’t we all thrive in warm, sunny days and cool, breezy nights?

Like the people, the region’s wines are elegant and hearty. Teroldego Rotaliano is the most famous red and it’s lushly dark and rich. I also like the lighter and fruity red Marzemino.

You all know how I love the bubbles and this region overflows with them. The sparkling wine specific to Trentino is known as TrentoDoc and it’s crisp, dry and elegant, just our style.

4. Northern Italian cuisine is hearty, comfort food.

Naturally, pizzerias and gelatorias are as abundant as wineries, but the area’s culinary scene features flavors reflecting the northern climate and position bordering Austria and Germany.

You’ll see more cows and goats than cars and begin to understand why towns like Asiago and Vezzena are renowned dairy destinations and how the region offers 20 types of distinctive cheese designations.

Polenta and speck are prominent in main courses (known as secondi) on most menus. And, dumplings like canderli and stranglopreti serve as delicious (and dangerously filling) first plates, or primi.

5. It is sometimes referred to as “Little Finland.”

While you won’t find an overindulgence of vodka or reindeer here, you will find gorgeous alpine waters in abundance. Trentino boasts 297 lakes! From the famous shores of Lake Garda to our neighborhood lakes of Caldonazzo and Levico, the variety is astonishing. Some are ideal for swimming, while others serve as water sports meccas. Many are surrounded by sailing clubs, restaurants, cycling and walking trails and a handful even offer camping sites.

With deep blue waters and surrounding forest, Molveno is often referred to as the most beautiful lake in Italy.

Lake Garda is a sports lover’s mecca with windsurfing and sailing, plus a “floating” cycling path.

Toblino Lake is renowned for the 12th century fairytale-like castle nestled above.

And, Lake Ledro is home to a 4,000-year-old archeological site.

And, that’s just the beginning. So, is the “Little Finland” designation beginning to make sense now?

6. Four Seasons for Outdoor Lovers

You well know this is our favorite place in the world during summer, when trail running, cycling, swimming and trekking are in abundance and warm days and cool nights offer a respite from heat and humidity, even in August.

As cooler temperatures of fall set in, villages really come to life. Traditional festivals and harvest events pack the calendar and it’s still good weather for trekking and cycling.

Winter is all about alpine and cross-country in destinations like world-renowned Madonna di Campiglio as well as ice-skating on frozen lakes. And, not surprisingly, the region is flat-out spa-crazy. Just about every village boasts a wellness center and taking regular saunas is generally thought of as a good health & wellness necessity.

As snow starts to melt and wildflowers bloom, the area’s rivers and lakes are at their most pristine. This is a great season for long-distance treks from one rifugio mountain hut to another and the trails surrounding crowded-in-summer destinations like Lake Garda. Check out Visit Trentino for more suggestions.

7. Trentino offers surprises for modern art lovers.

Most people are surprised to learn that this outdoor mecca also boasts a thriving arts scene.

World-class museums like MART Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rovereto and multi-cultural festivals like Trento Film Fest offer an impressive array of exhibitions and events throughout the year.

Perhaps fittingly, my two favorite art experiences in the region are both open air.

First, there’s Arte Sella. It’s known as the Contemporary Mountain and features dozens of large-scale sculptures, all made from branches and leaves, dotting hiking trails crisscrossing the mountain. This truly unique and inspiring installation has been in the making for the last 30 years and features the work of over 300 artists.

And, then there’s an event series ahead of its time. Sounds of the Dolomites has long presented folk, rock, jazz and classical concerts in harmony with nature.

Imagine receiving a hiking map along with your show ticket, then setting out on a trail – together with the musicians who will be performing – and walking to the alfresco “stage.” Can you imagine anything more perfect in this new dawn of travel?

Sounds of the Dolomites concert series, Trentino, Italy.

Neither can we. It’s just another reason why Trentino should be on your when-we-travel-again, post-pandemic dream travel list.

Interested in similar stories? Here’s a few more stories I have written about the area:

Strangling the Priest. An Oh-So Trentino Recipe for LightTraveling

Navigating Car-Free Venice with My 93-Year-Old Grandmother for Fodor’s

Cycling Trentino, Italy for Paste magazine

Lessons in Experiencing La Dolce Vita in Italy for Intrepid Travel

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