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TRENTINO - ON THE WARM SIDE OF THE ALPS

Looking down towards Lake Garda from a mountain village churchFor comfortable autumn or spring temperatures, consider the Italian Alps north of Lake Garda. In Trentino province - named after its principal town of Trento - you can eat well, drink well, and enjoy activities from walking and mountain-biking to horse-riding or following nature trails.

The bonus is stunning scenery - vineyards and medieval villages along the Adige river valley, with castles perched on hilltops above the age-old highway that links the Brenner Pass to Shakespeare's Verona further south. There are 297 lakes, where all except Lake Garda itself have a ban on powered boats. 

If you prefer to keep off water, the local Bardolino red wine costs around 2 a bottle. Nearer to Trento an excellent sparkling white spumante tastes close enough to champagne at one-sixth the price. Higher up the valley is Golden Delicious territory. The crop is exported or stored over winter, or converted into apple strudels, apple juice or alcohol.

Travel Facts

 

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TRAVEL FACTS

By road or rail, aim for Innsbruck and over the Brenner Pass.

Closest air access to Lake Garda and Trentino is via Verona, but routes via Milan can be more competitive. Ask your travel agent about lower air prices or package deals. 

More information: Trentino has the best range of free brochures compared with any other Italian region. The tourist office can send you excellent stuff on touring, camping, lakes, castles, wine and good food, summer and winter sports. 

More information: Italian State Tourist Office (ENIT), 1
Princes Street, London W1B 2AY. Tel: 0207 399 3562.  
 

Travelsphere escorted holidays

 

Depending on the day's temperature, you can go higher to cool down, or south to Lake Garda to warm up among orange trees, olives and palms.

Lowest in altitude, Riva del Garda is Trentino's top resort, with pedestrianised cobbled streets, city gates and colourful building facades. There are shops galore of the usual kind that feed off tourism: art galleries, souvenir stores and jewellers. Boutiques offer ladies' high-fashion shoes at high prices. Wrought-iron balconies drip with flowers, especially when they've just been watered. 

But the location is perfect. A perpendicular mountain rises directly behind the town to make an ideal suntrap and draught excluder from alpine winds. The waterfront is decorated with a castle, a watch tower, arcades and a full range of hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes. 

At the other heightextreme is the San Pellegrino valley, where dramatic fever-chart peaks turn pink like a rose-garden in the setting sun. According to legend, a magician changed a girl into this chain of mountains, which seems a stupid way to treat a girl.

From the San Pellegrino Pass, a funicular operates to the top of Col Margherita at 8,300 ft for a stupendous 360-degree view of the entire Dolomite group. If clouds roll in, panoramic postcards are on sale.

The sparkling mountain air sharpens the appetite, and good, hearty grub is available at mountain refuges and open-air locations. 

Preparing open-air polenta At rustic picnic tables in a pine-forest clearing our party ate a real mountaineers' meal. Polenta - thick yellow stodge made from maize flour - was helped down with beef stewed goulash style and smoky sausages grilled over a wood fire. 

With bottles of red wine, then coffee and grappa to finish, our stomachs needed siesta time.

A big plus point for Trentino province is care for nature. The Stelvio National Park is the biggest in Italy and protects deer, chamois, steinbock, mouflon and marmot. Logging goes on, but in sensible style without murdering the landscape.

Most farmhouses are timber, like cuckoo clocks, and numerous wooden hay barns are scattered among the meadows. Brown Swiss cattle stand knee-deep in grass and alpine flowers, or sit down to think and admire the view. Little wooden footbridges cross the rushing white-water streams, used for rafting. 

Trento, the provincial capital, makes a perfect base, or a stopover for anyone motoring down from the Brenner Pass to the better-known Italian cities.

Palazzo Geremia on via Belenzani in Trento The central streets are no-go for cars. Everything focuses on the cathedral square, where the locals stroll around and gossip with friends without risk of being mown down by snarling traffic. 

It's a great location for doing tourist sightseeing sitting down at a cafe. A large fountain is topped by Neptune waving his trident, as though trying to fend off anyone who might fancy the statuesque nudes who splash in the water below. 


 It all captures the atmosphere of centuries long past. But the 20th century has added its own charm with evening floodlighting. The main street called via Belenzani, leading to the cathedral and lined with palatial Renaissance buildings, becomes a lavish stage set. 

Trento's second most important tourist focal point is Buonconsiglio Castle, the ancient seat of the Prince Bishops, who ruled for centuries in great splendour. They built a series of fortress-like palaces within the original medieval defensive walThe Clock tower overlooking Cathedral Square in Trentols. 

The castle now doubles as the Provincial Art Museum. In the Aquila Tower is a famous cycle of frescoes, dating from 1407, that depict the cycle of the months, with the peasantry at work and the aristocracy at leisure.

For January there are court ladies playing snowballs. In September villagers are bent double, transporting grapes to the wine press. October is time for a bear hunt. The nobility are shown in splendid costumes, enjoying their tournaments, the sport of falconry, courtship and bridal processions. All these frescoes were decoration for the Prince Bishops' private retreat. They certainly knew how to live it up in their 5-star luxury castle.


For other viewpoints of Italy, read these articles: 

ITALY CUISINE - Finding your way around the menu

ROME - doing as the Romans do

TUSCANY - Tasting the flavour

VENICE - City without wheels


"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Northern Italy Insight Guide - covers history and the local culture, sightseeing details and high-quality photographs.

Frommer's Northern Italy - an up-to-date guide to the entire region.

The Classic Food of Northern Italy - written by Anna del Conte, one of the great experts on the traditional cuisine. 

Italian Lakes and Northern Italy (AA Best Drives S.)  - ideal for motorists, with selection of 25 itineraries, with hotel and restaurant recommendations.

Michelin Guide Italia 2007 - Covering the whole of Italy in the series' usual dependable style. Perfect for visitors who plan to explore other regions of the country.


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