When it comes to conjuring up an image of the perfect holiday destination, sunny weather, great food/wine, friendly people, a dramatic landscape and quaint towns and villages – where you can stay somewhere with character and comfort – all have to come somewhere near the top.
If you’re also looking for mountains where you can walk in clean air, water to swim in without worrying about pollution, a landscape where bears, eagles and deer roam at will – you’ll probably be thinking either Canada or one of the great US national parks. One of Europe’s best-kept secrets, however, has all of this in buckets, without a long transatlantic flight – and it’s in the hitherto virtually unknown (in Ireland) northern Italian province of Trentino.
Stick with me for a while and hear more – even if you think you know Italy back to front and upside down. Trentino is sandwiched-in between the highest Alps and the verdant plains around Venice, Verona and Vicenza. This means it has a great climate, while also offering the clean air and water of a mountains/lakes holiday.
It’s been fought-over territory for centuries, and no wonder, between Italians to the south and Austrians to the north, and the scars of giant concrete fortresses, now covered in grass, can still be found at strategic points.
In addition, because it’s under an Austrian spell, the villages are made of wooden Alpine-style chalets, bursting with flowers, interspersed with pastures, where cows nod contentedly amongst fields of wild flowers , cowbells providing a musical backdrop for walkers.
Think about the scenery in “The Sound of Music” and you’re not far off it, which is only fair as the Von Trapp family actually lived in one of Trentino’s many castles for centuries.
The countryside is divided between the lush valleys, with their acres of apple groves and densely packed vineyards (producing the champagne-like “spumanti” whites and the soft “marzimino” reds) and the mountains.
At the southern end of Trentino lies Lake Garda, and the resorts of Torbole and Riva de Garda where cute pavement cafes nestle in the pedestrianised streets and you can take boat tours to see the mountains reflected in the pristine clear waters.
The capital is Trento, and a finer Italian city it would be harder to find. It has a splendid Duomo, painted buildings, wonderful restaurants (try “Le Due Spade” (“The Two Swords”, ph: 0461 234343) or “Il Orso Grigio” (“The Grey Bear” ph: 0461 984400).
Here you will find subtle-tasting pastas, the local delicacy “porcini” (wild mushrooms) and gelati (ice cream) and – of course – wines to die for. There’s also more Austrian-style fare in the many mountain “rifugi” (small upland wooden chalets). Here, in a local version of the ploughman’s lunch, you can feast on hearty fare such as polenta, beans, baked cheese, tasty meats – and more wine!
Getting to Trentino is easy, via a scheduled flight to Verona or Brescia and hire a car, or by chartered flight organised by Topflight.
See www.trentino.to, to plan an independent holiday with the help of the tourist office. If you want a more organised holiday, a specialist tour operator in the area is Topflight. The company offers 4.5* holidays (in the Hotel Astoria Park) on a half board plus afternoon tea basis for Eu759 a week and 3* holidays (B&B) at the Hotel Gabry for Eu589 a week
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