[ September 27, 2004 ]
Trentino-Alto Adige: an unexpected surprise
Trentino-Alto Adige region
Fact Sheet

Region composed of two provinces: Bolzano or Südtirol (to the north) and Trente (to the south).
Regional capital: Trento
Population: over 900,000 inhabitants
Official languages: Italian, German, Ladin
Surface area: 13,613 km2
Location: North-east Italy, to the south of Austrian Tyrol

When one evokes images of the magnificent Mediterranean country that is Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige is not exactly what comes to mind. Far, far away from the burning sun of Sicily where we were transported last month, we now find ourselves at the other extremity—in the “Great North” of Italy! The stage upon which a rich and exciting history was played out, the meeting ground of people from the north and south of Europe, a place that boasts the most breathtaking of scenery, Trentino-Alto Adige is indeed very unique.

Was darf ich Ihnen bringen? (Hello, what would you like to order?) When you speak German, it’s easy to know what to answer. But, if you don’t, there is still no reason to panic! Chances are the waiter will naturally switch to the language of Dante which is still easier to understand, even for those who don’t quite master it—after all, it is a Latin language! The reason for this ease in moving from one language to another, you see, is that most of this region’s inhabitants are bilingual, if not trilingual! Let’s take a look at how exactly this came to be.

A bit of history…

Surrounded by Lombardy to the west, by Switzerland to the northeast, by Austria to the north and by Venetia to the east, Trentino-Alto Adige was home to a succession of peoples of Latin and Germanic cultures. This piece of history is precisely the reason for this region’s very unique personality.

In the 1st century B.C., Trentino-Alto Adige was conquered by the Romans who Latinized the entire population. Then, in the 5th century, the Ostrogoths left the influence of their Germanic language. The Lombards (6th century), the Francs (8th century) and the Holy Roman Empire succeeded one another, with only a small portion of the Latinized population preserving its language—Ladin (Italian and German are the official languages of the area and Ladin is considered a minority language. In present-day Trentino-Alto Adige, all three languages are used).

Under the sovereignty of the Habsbourgs of Austria, the prince-bishops governed the region from 1363 until 1802, when the principality was secularized and merged with Austrian Tyrol. Seized by the French in 1809, the region remained under the rule of the latter until it was returned to Austria in 1814. Then, during the First World War, under the Treaty of Versailles signed on June 28, 1919, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was officially declared dissolved and, with the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, also signed in 1919, South Tyrol and the province of Trent were awarded to Italy.

At that time in history, the region had only 7,000 Italian-speaking people compared to 220,000 German-speaking people. Today, things are significantly different as Italian predominates, with 62% of the population speaking the language, second in line is German at 31% and finally Ladin at 3.2%.

However, in 1946, after the Second World War, an agreement between Italy and Austria granted Trentino-Alto Adige its status of independence thereby ensuring the parity of the Italian and German languages.

Trentino-Alto Adige is, in short, a region replete with stunning landscapes, cities and monuments of an extraordinary beauty, and one that offers culinary treasures born out of the best of two cultures!

An indulgent tour

A magnificent region of deep valleys, endless greenery, majestic mountains, and tranquil lakes… serenity permeates every last corner through wide open spaces that bring about a feeling of peace and tranquility.

This peacefulness and abundance of nature is doubtless a big part of the reason why the region’s many thermal springs—true oases of well-being that were once a favourite getaway for Empress Sissi—are so successful!

In addition to its some 300 moderately sized lakes—perfect for fishing or sailing—the region also boasts a splendid array of mountainous landscapes including, most notably, that of the Dolomites, mountainous red-rock peaks considered among the most beautiful in the world in part due to their glorious colours—colours that change continuously throughout the day! The Dolomites owe their name to Déodat de Dolomieu, a geologist from Dauphiné (France) who discovered their chemical composition in 1789.

A stay in Madonna di Campiglio, San Martino di Castrozza or even Val Gardena is a must for any winter sport enthusiast. These now highly coveted getaways are sure to please! And, with its Dolomites Superski, Alto Adige boasts the most extensive ski facilities in all of Europe: 1,200 km of slopes divided into 12 zones.

For those who aren’t into skiing, the mountain also offers an endless stream of surprises and discoveries. Let’s not forget that it was here, in the glaciers of the Dolomites that Ötzi, the Ice Man, was found… 5,300 years after his death!

A wealth of monuments, the beauty of the architecture and endless discoveries are what lend the cities in this region their special quality—that of being a true embodiment of history that visitors can enjoy with respect and admiration.

Let us discover them, starting with those of the province of Trentin:

Rovereto is revered for its castle and the church of San Marco—two beautiful XVth-century monuments—as well as for its Teroldego Rotaliano wine and its Marzemino wine, which served as an inspiration for Mozart, particularly when composing for the Don Giovanni opera in which it is mentioned! More modern-day attractions include the Museum of Contemporary Art whose opening in 2002 was an international-recognized event.

Trento, amidst its thousand and one wonders, is most recognized for its dome of Roman and Gothic architecture which, between 1545 and 1563 was the gathering place of one of the most renowned ecumenical councils.

The valleys bordering the province of Alto-Adige, with names as beautiful as the views they offer—Val di Non, Val di Fassa, Val Gardena and Val di Fiemme—are vast and luxurious, inviting visitors to enjoy truly memorable strolls through magnificent landscapes.

Bolzano, the meeting place of Latin and German culture, is home to a number of artistic treasures. Its beautiful marketplace and the Porta del Vino (Wine Gate) located within the city’s Gothic Cathedral and artistically engraved with images of grape-pickers hard at work in the vineyard are not to be missed. Among the wines which are masterfully produced in this region are Terlano and Colli di Bolzanos!

Merano and the surrounding area, as well as Bressanone, are splendid medieval cities whose array of numerous, magnificent castles stand as a reminder of the power of the prince-bishops who once governed the region.

A taste of Trentino-Alto Adige!

As you enjoy all of the enchanting discoveries this region has to offer, meal times are sure to lend their own savoury finds. In Trentino-Alto Adige, Italian and German influences make their way onto your plate to make dining a truly memorable experience!

In the province of Bolzano, rye bread and smoked meats such as Speck serve as the basis for many recipes and are used in traditional meals such as Schlutzer, a type of rye-flour ravioli and Knodel—also known as Canederli—made with stale bread, eggs and milk.

In Trentin, soups, meat and game dishes accompanied by polenta and dairy products are common culinary choices. Lake Garda, for its part, serves as the inspiration for local fish-based specialties such as aole escabeche or salted meat carpaccio.

A platter of typical cheeses would also be a welcome addition, with Asiago, Valpadana Provolone, Grana Padano—products also made in bordering regions—as well as Ubriaco which literally means “drunk,” most likely because it is soaked for 6 to 10 months in red wine and matured with a coating of grape skins and seeds so that its rind is stained purple! Pretty original, wouldn’t you say?

And, why not accompany this culinary voyage with a regional wine that is perfect for pairing with the delectable flavours of these traditional dishes. White wines from Alto-Adige, made from Sylvaner, Riesling, Pinot Gris or white grape varieties are renowned, and reds created from Schiava and Lagrein varieties are equally as excellent, particularly those from Santa Maddalena! Among the most popular of Bolzano’s DOC appellations is the Alto-Adige appellation of which Colli di Bolzano, Meranese, Santa Maddalena, Terlano and Valle Isarco have recently been made a part.

To the south, in the province of Trentino, one can indulge in wines of Casteller, Teroldego Rotaliano, Trento, Trentino Marzemino and Valdadige appellations made from typical varieties such as Teroldego, Lagrein, Schiava as well as Merlot for reds, and Trebbiano, Nosiola, Garganega, Müller Thurgau and countless others for whites.

And, of course, who could forget this region’s spumante (sparkling wines), some of which are recognized as being among the best in all of Italy!

Lastly, for a sweet finish, what better than a tasty strudel—a pastry made with apples, which, along with grapes, are also a regional specialty. There are over 55 varieties of this fruit grown in Trentino-Alto Adige… enough to confuse even poor Eve when it comes to choosing just one!

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