Trentino Alto-Adige: The Alpine Region at The Top of The Boot
As an Italian living in Chicago, I hear the question Where are you from? at least ten times a day. I’m sure it’s because of my accent and as soon as I proudly say Italia, they ask me the hardest question: Which city? I’m from Trento. And there aren’t many people on this side of the pond who even know that it exists, let alone where it is. So I start helping my interlocutor with some geography: Trento is in the very north… An hour away from Verona, 3 hours from Milan, and 2 from Venice. As my colleague Michaelanne said in her blog about Emilia-Romagna, Italy is shaped like a boot so why not use it to explain where a region is? In the boot, Trentino-Alto Adige is located in the right upper stitching; that’s right, it’s a border region – which leads us to the explanation of its uniqueness, beginning with its hyphenated name.
The region borders Tyrol in Austria to the north, Switzerland to the northeast, Lombardy to the west and Veneto to the south. The location makes this region extraordinary, and when I say extraordinary, I really mean it. First of all, it’s an autonomous region, which means that we have more legislative and administrative authority than the other 19 regions in Italy. This is due to Trento-Alto Adige’s very particular situation of having two main distinct cultural groups: the German speakers, and the Italian speakers. Furthermore, my region is sub-divided into the two regions of Trentino (province of Trento, which is also the capital city) and Alto Adige or Südtirol (the province of Bolzano). The reason for this split is that the area was formerly a part of Austria until its annexation by Italy in 1919.
As I mentioned, Italian and German are the main groups, and there are other small minorities that speak the Bavarian dialects Ladin, Mocheno and Cimbrian. The linguistic variation is so prevalent that when you go to Bolzano, you’ll hear people speaking in both Italian and German. In fact, in the entire province everything is bilingual, from the signage to the schools. It’s very particular to the region and is a sign of the history and tradition of this area.
What You Should See There
But what does your region look like? This is the next question I field. It’s without doubt a mountainous region but at the same time it’s much more than that! Despite being small, Trentino Alto-Adige has a lot to offer. We have mountains, valleys, lakes, castles, vineyards, apple orchards, breathtaking scenery and above all unique traditions and history. In Trentino Alto-Adige you can go skiing, fishing in our rivers, explore creeks and amazing alpine lakes, walk in the woods and hunt for mushrooms, and also taste elegant wines.
This region is an active holiday destination, and it is especially a paradise for sports lovers! Depending on the season, you can take advantage of our amazing ski areas, hiking and Nordic walking routes, horseback riding, discover the entire region by the cycle paths or mountain bike trails. For more adventurous travelers, try paragliding, rafting, and rock climbing.
If you still have energy after all of these outdoor activities you can partake in one of my personal favorite “sports:” wine tasting! I love wine and one of my favorite spots in Trento is Cantine Ferrari, the pioneers of Italian sparkling wine. I’m really proud of the wines from my region and every time I have guests, I bring them to this cantina to discover the best of our wineries, cellars, and distilleries.
Trentino Alto-Adige is an active destination, but in between the sports and wine tastings, you’ll want to visit Trento’s and Bolzano’s many art and cultural spots. In Bolzano there are two must-see museums: The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, where you can admire Ötzi, one of the world’s best-known and most important mummies; and the Sudtiroler Weinmuseum, one of Italy’s top wine museums. If you like modern art, you can’t miss Rovereto’s MART museum where you’ll find one of the country’s major collections of 20th Century Italian art. In Trento you can also visit the Buonconsiglio castle, the largest monumental complex in Trentino-Alto Adige.
If all these possibilities aren’t enough to start planning a visit to my region, read on…because it’s time to talk about food!
What You Should Eat There
The thought of talking about food makes me feel homesick already! Trentino Alto-Adige’s food is traditional home-cooked food, the kind of traditional food that comes from the experience and love of a grandma or, in Italian, nonna. The cuisine of my region is a reflection of the typical products of a mountain territory whose cuisine has been shaped by various influences and historical events like World War II. Trentino Alto-Adige’s representative dishes are simple and defined by the different cultures that coexist inside the territory.
One of my favorite dishes is Canederli, large round bread dumplings made with Speck (smoked ham) or cheese and boiled in broth. Usually this is nonna’s favorite dish because “nothing in the kitchen can be wasted” and Canederli are made with stale bread. Then you should try Polenta e spezzatino, or the Alto-Adige version Gulash, which is slightly spicier. Don’t forget to taste our dairy products and salumi like Speck and Luganega accompanied by Tortel di patate, grated potatoes mixed with flour that are fried or baked. If you go to Bolzano, you should stop by the kiosks in Piazza Walter and try the Bratwurst and sauerkraut. I know your mouth is watering, but save a little space for the dessert, the strudel di mele is delicious!
All these yummy delicacies have to be matched to our fantastic regional wines. As for the food, we have a wide wine selection for every taste! I suggest you try the aromatic Gewürztraminer or Pinot Grigio (my absolute favorite) for whites and for the reds, the fresh and light Schiava or the full-bodied Marzemino and Teroldego will be instant hits.
Bring Trentino Alto-Adige To Your Kitchen Table
When an Italian leaves Italy, even if it’s just for a short time, his or her main concern will be food. Yes, food! When I announced to my family I was moving to Chicago, my Nonna’s main worry was: “What will you eat in America? Do they have pasta over there?” It was difficult to stop her from filling my suitcases with homemade sauce and pasta!
I was also worried because sometimes it’s difficult to find certain products in the US, but a week after my arrival, I was saved. A friend brought me to Eataly. For an Italian, food is like a religion and that place became my temple! It’s really difficult to explain but I felt home, and I spent an inordinate amount of time there browsing their shelves because I was so surprised to see not only Italian products, but also regional ones as well. I felt like an Italian Dorothy in Oz… there’s no place like home, and being so far away from it, that familiar box of pasta and the honey your mom usually buys made me feel right back in Kansas…er, Trento. So I returned to my apartment with two products from my region: Pasta Monograno Felicetti and Mieli Thun.
At Eataly you can find an ample selection of the Monograno Felicetti pasta and I picked the Matt Conchiglioni because I love their ridged outside and the deep bowl interior. I’m a pasta corta lover and these seashells are big and made with a strong and rich variety of durum wheat. The texture is rough, which makes them perfect for holding sauces. I cooked my pasta very al dente and added sautéed cherry tomatoes, baby onions and parsley. I dished it out with a sprinkle of raw Italian EVOO and a grinding of black pepper. Doesn’t it look delicious and spring-like?
It was then time to open the honey, made from the local producer, Mieli Thun. At Eataly you can find a lot of variety of honey and since they come in such convenient small packages, I chose more than one! I love to add Acacia honey to my nighttime herbal infusion; its delicate vanilla undertones are divine. Moreover Nonna Idalia says that it’s the perfect natural remedy when your throat is burning. You add a little to a cup of hot milk or hot water with lemon juice. Then I had the Castagno (chestnut) honey and the Arancio (orange) one that I use in my yogurt. I know lot of people eat cheese with honey, but it’s not really my thing – I’ve never liked to mix sweet and salty. I’m a picky Italian, I guess!
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