It might be hard to imagine that one of the most visited country in Europe has still regions that are untouched by the masses of visitors. If you want to discover Italy off the beaten path, head over to Trentino, a tiny autonomous province in the far north of the country.
Despite the last 10 years since I have been visiting Italy extensively, it was just a couple of weeks ago when I first set foot in Trentino. Traveling by bus from Verona, the highway swept between valleys covered in vineyards, laid at the foothills of tall, snow capped mountains.
Valle dei Laghi is one of the places where I have spent quite a bit a time, during my trip to Trentino. The name of the valley translates as “The Lakes Valley”, and no wonder, as it is home to many beautiful still bodies of water, extending all the way to the North of Lake Garda – the biggest in Italy.
How to get to Valle dei Laghi
If you base yourself in Trento, the buses B204 and B230 leave every hour from the main station, alternatively, towards Vigo Cavedine and Drena. If you want to have freedom to explore the valley at your own pace, I recommend hiring a car. There is an Europecar office in Trento from where you can rent a Fiat 500 for around 24 euros a day. And hey, there is something romantic about driving a Fiat 500 in Italy, don’t you agree?
Easy hiking in Trentino: trekking in Valle dei Laghi
Trentino is mostly known for the mighty Dolomites, which, I have to confess, took my breath away. However, if you want to experience some easy trekking surrounded by stunning views, Valle dei Laghi is a great alternative to the long trails in the Dolomites.
A great route to trek among vineyards in Trentino is from Lasino to Pergolese, two beautiful villages located on the opposite sides of a hill.
The hiking trail is easy, but you still need proper closed shoes with a good grip as there are areas where it is covered in tiny rocks, easy to slip on.
At the beginning of the hike, as I went up the first hill, I turned around to see the beautiful panorama opening up behind me. The lush green valley is dotted with picturesque villages among rows of vines and apple trees. On the left, on top of a cliff, still standing tall for over 900 years, is the medieval Madruzzo castle.
As I continued walking on the zig-zag road, I reached the tiny Chisetta di San Siro, a stone church surrounded by flowers, dating from the 12th century. Even if it has been rebuilt and extended a few times, the structure of the church and the frescoes on the right-hand side wall are still original. The church is taken care of by volunteers and I was lucky that one of them was on site when I visited, and I could step inside to see the frescoes and the altar.
The trail continues for another hour or so, passing through forests flanked by tall, sharp, almost vertical cliffs.
Enjoy horse riding through the vineyards
In the hills of Cavedine you will find Cavalcailvento Ranch, an equestrian centre where you can learn how to ride a horse or practise your riding skills. The centre offers lessons and excursions through the nearby vineyards and forests, and along Cavedine lake. For children, they also have a few ponies.
I can count the number of times I have been on a horse on the fingers of one hand, so I was a bit unsure about how the experience will be, especially that the horse was quite big. However, I did not make a fool of myself and did manage to get onto the saddle without falling. The walk, starting in a vineyard and continuing through the woods was very pleasant and relaxing, especially with the stunning views.
As I was a newbie, my horse was led by a guide, to whom I chatted the entire way. We talked about horses, Italy, scenery, and how she just arrived there only a few days ago. I thought she looked very familiar, but I didn’t put the puzzle pieces together until it was too late, and I left the stables. I travelled with this girl on the same bus, from Verona to Trento. She was sitting on the row opposite me, and I remembered how she was telling her seat neighbour that she was in Italy because of a work experience. How coincidental was that?
A one-hour horse riding lesson at Cavalcailvento costs 25 euros whilst excursions are priced at 25 euros an hour or 40 euros for 2 hours. They also offer multi day riding trips, which cost 80 euros/day. You can enquire more information of book a horse riding lesson in Trentino by clicking on this link.
Wine tasting in the vineyards of Trentino
For a wine tasting with a view, head over the Azienda Agricola Fratelli Pisoni, a family run vineyard in Pergolese. Here, brothers Marco and Stefano are producing bio wines from the Nosiola grape variety, which only grows in Valle dei Laghi.
The Nosiola grapes are used to make DOC wines, in blends such as Muller-Thurgau or Pinot Grigio, but also in the production of the sweet Vino Santo, unique to the area.
Azienda Agricola Fratelli Pisoni produces both white Nosiola wine and Vino Santo, which you can taste in their beautiful outdoor terrace just next to the vineyard. Nosiola DOC is a light bodied, dry and crisp white wine with citrusy, apricot and peachy notes. It is a perfect wine to drink during a hot summer day. Vino Santo however, is a little bit more special.
The Nosiola grapes used for Vino Santo are harvested late, in mid-October, and let to air dry on grids for 5-6 months. With the help of Ora del Garda, a unique breeze blowing every afternoon through the valley, the grapes become affected by the noble root, which enhances their sweetness.
The dried grapes for Vino Santo (or the Holy Wine) are pressed only during the duration of the Holy Week and then transferred to small oak barrels to age. The minimum aging time for Vino Santo is 3 years, but most of the producers age it for at least 7. At Azienda Fratelli Pisoni, Vino Santo is aged for 9-10 years. The Vino Santo they currently sell comes from the year 2000 grape production. The oldest Vino Santo they have for sale dates from 1977 and it is priced at 215 euros a bottle. Not much if you consider how old the wine is. However, in their cellars, brothers Pisoni have Vino Santo dating from 1862!
The taste of Vino Santo is sweet, with an intense aroma of hazelnuts. It is one of the most prestigious dessert wines in Italy. Apparently there are only 5 producers of Vino Santo in Trentino, which makes it kind of hard to find anywhere else. Also, don’t confuse Vino Santo with Vin Santo, which is specific to Tuscany.
Marco is so proud and passionate about his wines! While you are sipping from the refreshing Nosiola or enjoying a glass of Vino Santo, he can tell you so many things about the process of making wine and the family history of his vineyard. If you are lucky, he will show you the cellars, where all the old precious Vino Santo is kept. Once a year he organises an event to which he invites only a few people, where they taste a few of the vintage Vino Santo. How amazing is that?
You can book a wine tasting by clicking on this link.
Stargazing on top of Monte Bondone
Monte Bondone has an elevation of 2,180 meters and its plateau is a perfect spot to spend a romantic night together with your loved one, gazing at the stars. It is well known that in order to see the stars you need to be in a location far away from any light source, which reduces visibility. Light pollution is the main reason why you can’t really see many stars from your home, in the city.
In Viote of Monte Bondone you will find the “Terrace of the Stars” astronomical observatory, that has powerful telescopes through which you can observe closely not only stars but planets as well. It is quite special to look towards Saturn and see not only its rings but also its three moons orbiting around it.
If you decide to go stargazing on Monte Bondone keep in mind that once the sun sets, at such high altitude it gets quite cold, even in summer. Bring a jacket and a blanket with you, to avoid cold spoiling the experience.
Close to the astronomical observatory there is an Alpine Botanical Garden, which you might like to visit before the darkness of the night sets in.
If you want to book a visit or find out the events held at “The Terrace of the Stars” during your stay in Trentino, send an email here.
Sip honey and walnut grappa
I only had grappa a few times in my life and I am not really that keen on it because I find it too strong for my taste. But when I had the chance to see how grappa is produced I took it, because it is always interesting to learn about how things are made.
The journey of grappa starts with a grape, and more specific with the skins, seeds and stems (pretty much with what is left over after the pressing of the grapes) which are distilled in an alembic. Then, the liquid is moved into oak barrels and aged for 12 to 24 months.
I tasted grappa at Distilleria Francesco, a small family distillery on the shores of Santa Massenza Lake. At their agricultural farm they produce different types of grappa, from the classic white one to the aged reservas, from the fruit grappa to herbs infused aquavit.
My favourite was the honey and walnut grappa. At the first sip I felt the high alcohol taking over my taste buds but, a few seconds later I tasted the soft, sweet and fragrant aftertaste of honey and walnut.
You can contact Distilleria Francesco for a visit by sending them a message here.
Be amazed by the power of the water
Did you ever think of visiting a hydroelectric power plant and see how water gets turned into electricity? Actually, did you think it was even possible? In Trentino there are a few hydro electric power plants belonging to Hydrotour Dolomiti that you can visit, one of them being Santa Massenza, located on the lake with the same name.
The turbine room of Santa Massenza power plant is 600 meters inside the heart of the mountain and has a volume of 150,000 cube meters. As you approach the turbine room the sound of the water going through becomes louder and louder, even scary at some point.
The guided visit takes you to the old control room, where you can see the entire process of how electricity is created by the water passing through the turbines. It is quite impressive!
Practice rock climbing in Trentino
There are many climbing spots around Valle dei Laghi, especially around Sarche and Toblino lake. There are plenty of vertical cliffs for all levels of climbers, from beginners to advanced.
If you feel adventurous, there are also Via Ferattas with stunning views over the entire valley. Among these are Via Ferrata Rino Pisetta (very hard) and Via Ferrata Che Guevara (easier but long).