Trento: The Independent Top of Italy

Trento's imposing Duomo in the main square, next to the statue of Neptune surrounded by water-blowing nymphs. Max Hartshorne photos.
Trento’s imposing Duomo in the main square, next to the statue of Neptune surrounded by water-blowing nymphs. Max Hartshorne photos

These Agritourismos in Trento, Italy offer local foods and local flavors

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

Fresh fennel and zucchini salad in Trentino, the capital of Trento, Italy.
Fresh fennel and zucchini salad in Trentino, the capital of Trento, Italy.

There is an entirely different Italy up in the farthest northern reaches of the country.

As I was told when I was visiting Lazio, just south of Rome, the people, the attitudes, and language and especially, the average salaries, are all unlike most of the rest of the nation.

Trento is an independent state, just like Sardinia and Sicily, although compared to those two regions, Trento is far less like them and more like neighboring Germany and Austria.

Part of Austria

In fact, this was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, before the first World War broke it all apart and turned Trento and Alto Sud into part of Italy.

My visit to Trento in June 2019 began in the marvelously compact city of Trentino.

I disembarked from the train station and only had to walk a short distance across a common to find the welcoming lights of the Grand Hotel Trentino.

Trento: The Independent Top of Italy 1
Marble Sidewalks in Trento

Trentino’s Sidewalks of Marble

This city is history-rich, it’s where the famous Council of Trent met in the 1500s and mapped out the various factions who would split from the Catholic Church. The meeting was here, and the murals on the walls of the buildings tell the story.

Trentino sets their own laws, collects their own taxes, and kind of run their own show in the region of Trento. And it shows.

Well-manicured lawns, clean cities, and a feeling of overall wealth makes this a wonderful tourist destination.

The whole area is called the region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, and it was not part of Italy until the year 1919, part of the settlement after WWI. Trento’s independence was a key part of the treaty.

Storm Damage

In this building in downtown Trendo, the Council of Trent met and decided the future of the Catholic Church.
In this building in downtown Trento, the Council of Trent met and decided on the future of the Catholic Church.

Even a catastrophic freak storm in October 2018, that knocked down millions of trees in the Alps and Dolomites couldn’t make Trentino look bad.

Today, neat piles of pine logs line most of the mountain roads, and the price of lumber has plummeted after so much supply ended up on the hillsides and on the roads after the powerful storm.

When we first arrived in Trento, the city that is famous for the Council of Trent, we took a city tour and I marveled at the city’s sidewalks.

Most of them were marble. Really. And as our tour arrived at one of the most important buildings, we looked up at a mural depicting the famous series of meetings, painted in the 1500s, that marked the momentous occasion when the council met.

Murals depict the four seasons at the Buonconsiglio Castle Castle in Trento.
Murals depict the four seasons at the Buonconsiglio Castle in Trento.

The Council of Trent

Buonconsiglio Castle in Trento.
Buonconsiglio Castle in Trento.

It was here that Martin Luther helped create the split that caused the Catholic Church to separated into the many factions of Christianity.

Today the massive Cattedrale di San Vigilio, the Duomo of Trent dominates the city’s main square.

The Duomo is one of many stunning buildings you can visit here, along with the Royal Apartments in the Buonconsiglio Castle that are decorated with whimsical Cycle of the Month’s frescoes depicting life in the Middle Ages that date back to the 13th century.

Art in the Tunnels

The swift-flowing Adige River runs right through Trento, and next to it are two giant holes, that once lead to tunnels crossing the Piedecastello district.  After the highway was relocated in 2006, the tunnels that were left were turned into one of Trento’s largest art galleries.

Adige River in Trentino.
Adige River in Trentino.

Today there are a colossal 300 meters of art on display in the two tunnels, in two galleries.

History about the city and the region, as well as light and sound installations are presented here, and it’s also a great venue for a big party. That’s how we found it.

Gelato Everywhere

Any evening tour of Trento will include a visit to the Castle, as well as the Duomo which sits imposingly in the town square.

Those famous marble sidewalks lead past many gelato shops, and it seems almost impossible to walk very far without seeing people enjoying their cones on the fly.

With its narrow streets all leading to one of two main squares, Trento is a walking city with about 117,000 inhabitants and a ton of tourists. It’s easy finding your way around.

Using the Trento App

The city has its own mobile phone app that provides local history, guides, and a Trento bus pass.

Friendly local men in Bedollo, Trento.
Friendly local men in Bedollo, Trento.

This works with the Trentino card which is free if you book a hotel here for two nights or longer.

There are more than 60 museums to visit and you get free bus transport during your visit.  Find out about the card and more about the city at VisitTrentino.info.

Heading North

We gathered near the river and boarded a minibus to take in some of the lovely small villages and mountains and meet some locals.  Our first stop, about 40 minutes from Trento, was the magnificent Valle di Cembra. 

Piramidi di Segonzano
Piramidi di Segonzano

Here, nature seemed to be playing tricks on us. As we hiked up a steep path, apparitions appeared. These strange formations were the Piramidi di Segonzano, a series of natural spikes topped with large boulders that look like something  Dr. Suess might have included in his books.

We took in spectacular views of the Dolomite peaks farther north as we walked the steep, invigorating trail.

Trentino’s Agriturismos

Some of the most enjoyable attractions in Trentino are the small farms, called Agriturismos, that welcome visitors to come see how the farmers live and to eat what they produce.

A cheesemaker explains how she makes her cheese in Trentino.
A cheesemaker explains how she makes her cheese in Trentino.

One small farm in the village of Bedello is Fattoria Le Mandre, with a herd of 25 smallish Alpine grey cows that live in the hilly pastures.

The yellow cheese attests to their cow’s all-grass diet, and their milk is used to make Mardre, Bedol and Ciciotta Mista cheese.

Our job the morning we visited was to help the farmer round up his strong and frisky bovines to get them to come back to the barn.

Imagine eight bloggers all trying to communicate with young heifers…whoop whoop, and whatever else we could shout to move them. They finally complied.

The farm doesn’t have accommodations so we stayed at the Belvedere Wellness hotel in Montagna di Pine with sweeping views of the mountains and green all around us.

Cornmeal Gnocchi

Cornmeal gnocchi at the Belvedere Wellness Hotel in Trentino, Italy.
Cornmeal gnocchi at the Belvedere Wellness Hotel in Trentino, Italy.

One highlight of the evening’s dinner at the Belvedere was a light and delicate cornmeal gnocchi.

We had lots of gnocchi in the south and even learned to make it, but nothing was quite as light and flavorful as the cornmeal variety.

We took a drive through the mountains to the Altopiano di Pine,  dotted with lakes and cottages tucked into the hillsides.

Along the way, we marveled at a fantastic waterfall, the Cascada de Lupo, hidden in the woods around a bend in the trail. There are so many entrancing vistas in Trentino–views, mountains and water, all around.

Mas del Saro is run by an American woman, Vea Moser, and her husband Renzo.  It’s a cute little place located on a steep mountain.

It seems like it’s as remote as it can be but it’s actually only about 20 minutes from town.

Vegetarian Dinners

The proprietor of the Agriturismo, Vea, spinning wool at Agritur Mas Del Saro
The proprietor of the Agriturismo, Vea, spinning wool at Agritur Mas Del Saro

Vea serves vegetarian farm dinners on the weekends and sell wool and vegetables at their mountain farm where they live with their two children.

You can join them with a reservation.   http://www.masdelsaro.it

A Hunter’s Feast

Kamaovrunt Aquila Nera is a rustic inn and restaurant that specializes in wild game dinners.

It’s remote location up a winding mountain road, the Strada di Provinciale di Roveta, meant that our cellphones didn’t work but boy, they sure made up for it with the food.

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Stunning views like this are all around Trentino.

Giant platters of roast rabbit, wild boar, venison, beef meatballs and salads, a meal we unsuccessfully tried to scale back. No way, here they bring it all and you eat it all. While we enjoyed the hunter’s bounty, a young couple danced for us to the sound of an accordion. Corny but cute.

An Ancient Forge

Another roadside highlight was to an ancient archeological site in Bedolla, called.

Acqua Fredda, an ancient forge in Bedollo, Trentino.
Acqua Fredda, an ancient forge in Bedollo, Trentino.

This is a recently-discovered site where forges were built to make copper.  Using bellows made from lamb intestines you can watch a demonstration of how the ore was melted down and poured into molds to make tools, back in the 13th century BC.

The original forge is preserved under a shelter, and diagrams explain the history and take you through the lives of these ancient people.

Now you’ve got many good reasons to visit this remarkable part of northern Italy.

Trento is excited that the 2026 Olympics will take place in nearby Milan and Cortina, which will bring more attention to these mountains and their fun-loving way of life.

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