One of the northernmost regions in the country, Trentino-Alto Adige is bordered by Austria, the Italian regions of Lombardia and Veneto, and Switzerland. Snow-capped mountains, lush rivers, pristine lakes and waterfalls, expansive forests, and farms are every-day sights for those lucky enough to visit the beautiful skiing resort town of Madonna di Campiglio.
I had the pleasure of visiting Madonna di Campiglio last October, guest of a friend who has a home there, with the intention of doing some hiking, good eating and drinking the local wines. Befitting a premier skiing resort, Madonna di Campiglio is not easy to get to but skiers and hikers are hearty souls and they will not be deterred by a bit of inconvenience, thus I reached MDC by flying into Milan Malpensa from where I transferred to Milano Centrale train station to catch a train to Trento with an intermediate change in Verona, and finally reached MDC by car totally famished!
As a quick historical overview, as in all of Italy, in the Trentino area one of the first groups to settle was the Romans. The Lombards and the Franks followed, and then in the 14th century, the areas of Trentino and Alto Adige were conceded to the Habsburgs of Austria, who ruled the territory for five centuries. Finally, after WW I Trentino and Alto Adige became part of Italy as we know it. Due to its origin, one is not surprised then by the fact that there are two main languages spoken throughout the region: Italian in the Trentino section, and German in Alto Adige.
The Dolomite Mountains that dominate this region, a protected UNESCO site, are perfect for winter activities such as skiing, dogsledding, ice skating, and more and the beautiful skiing resort of Campiglio boasts 55 lifts that connect to the different major ski areas, such as the Val di Sole, the small town of Pinzolo, Dos del Sabbion, and the Dolomite-mountain area of Brenta including 3Tre, the very slope where competitive skiers race during the world-cup event that bears the same name.
To safely explore this vast area, it is strongly suggested that one be accompanied by an expert mountain guide if hiking or ski instructor, but I was lucky to have the gracious company of my friends with whom I embarked upon an invigorating five-hour excursion through magnificent trails, valleys and cascades, while basking in the glorious Fall sun.
As Italy would have it, no matter how far north one is or how remote the location, lunch time on the trails is a welcome and delicious treat served at many of the mountain lodges dotting the mountains, all serving the best in local specialties.
The local cuisine, referred to as Tridentina cuisine, is still influenced by the Habsburg era, Austria, Veneto, and Lombardy, while the Bolzanina cuisine is inspired by Germany and Slovakia.
Regardless of their provenance, some of the better known specialties of the area include speck, a type of cured meat similar to prosciutto but made using the shoulder rather than the leg of the pig; canederli, which are similar to gnocchi, goulash made from steer meat, noodles, and root vegetables; and strudel made from apples or other fruits. Soups are also common and welcome especially in the cold, wintry weather, as are sausages and dumplings which take inspiration from Austrian, Hungarian, and Slavic influence.
Whatever specialty is chosen, at either mountain-top lodges or Michelin-starred restaurants in Madonna di Campiglio proper, one can be sure it will be a mouth-watering experience!
As in all of Italy, Trentino Alto-Adige has a well-established viticulture thus affording visitors the opportunity to encompass, along with outdoors as well as cultural activities, the many local wine producers such as Ferrari, Alois Lageder, Pojer, and Foradori, where one may sample wines produced from varietals the region is known for: Rebo, Cabernet, Muller Thurgau, Marzemino, Moscato Giallo, Lagrain, Nosiola, and Teroldego. This area is also known for its sparkling wines, known as Talento, as well as its own version of the sweet wine Passito, which in the Valley of the Lakes is made from the indigenous grape varietal Nosiola.
Cultural festivals abound in Italy and Trentino is no exception! One of the most colorful and celebrated takes place during what is known as the Habsburg Carnival which in 2013 will be from February 10-15th. One can further appreciate the Austrian Habsburg influence by participating in the various activities planned, during which Madonna di Campiglio is transported back to the times of the Habsburg Court, honoring the Austrian Emperor Francesco Giuseppe and his beloved wife, Elisabetta d’Austria, nicknamed “Sissi”. During the carnival, the town is imbibed with cheer and festivities, as Madonna di Campiglio adorns itself with the Austro-Hungarian flag and holds royal dinners, parades of ladies and knights in traditional 19th century garb, fireworks, and waltzes to recreate the magic of the Habsburg-era parties. After dusk, ski torchlight processions will take place through the town and on the ski slopes. It is a truly majestic sight to see the town decorated as though it were the 1800s, set against the amazing backdrop of the Dolomite Mountains glittering from the lights of the festivities.
A spectacular escape is waiting for you in Trentino-Alto Adige, where the culture, the food, and the wines will be enriched by the incomparable warmth of the local people and the Italian sun!