Have you ever been anywhere that makes you stop, look around and just take a breath, absorbing everything around you? Standing in the middle of the Piazza Duomo I felt like I was frozen in time whilst I watched everyone else buzzing around me. The sound of the Fountain of Neptune, the smells of tomato and vinegar’s coming from the restaurants, the sounds of old scooters navigating the cobbled streets – I was quickly brought back to life by the proud bells ringing loudly from the Cathedral San Vigilio. It was lunch time.
I was visiting the city of Trento for a short conference before embarking on an adventure north into the foothills of the Dolomites. The weather was a strong 32 degrees with not a cloud in sight – perfect for a golden tan, not so great for a grumpy 1 year old. We had spent a couple of days exploring the old town in of Trento and it was like being dropped into the middle of ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Ornately painted buildings, Catholic shrines and ancient looking family emblems embellished the old architecture. Despite the obvious appeal for adults – good food, even better wine and other Italian indulgences – there were also great offerings for children.
We visited the Buonconsiglio Castle and Wilf spent hours running up and down the well-kept gardens, full of neat hedgerows and rose-adorned arches. To top it off the backdrop of the snow-covered Dolomites was like a painting from a fairy-tale. Mix castles with gelato, the children’s, Museo delle Scienze and endless pizza; it was an ideal place to have a family holiday with the perfect balance of culture, adventure and child-like fun. But this was just a stepping stone.
We set off on our cultural adventure and our first stop was the Valsugana region. Just 45 minutes north of Trento we went back further in time. After checking-in to the stylish boutique hotel Locanda In Borgo we headed straight away to visit a WWI Fort (Forte Colle Delle Benne), situated 660 metres above Lake Levico. This was an Austrian Fort, used as a look-out in WWI and can be visited at various times on the summer for the minimal price of 4 euros. We went on to have lunch on Lake Levico with the most beautiful set up thanks to Taverna Hotel Du Lac. Our dinner table was extended onto a pontoon into the middle of the lake with the most incredible backdrop, something that anyone can experience for an extra 20 euros pp. The endless courses of fresh fish, risotto and pasta almost put me into a heavenly coma – but that’s not quite possible with a 1 year old. I was, however, able to take him the lake beach to splash around and cool off in the crystal clear water.
The afternoon was spent tasting fine wines with Cantina Romanese and drinking Aperol Spritz in the gardens of Castel Pergine. I was so pleased to reach my bed and Wilfred was also – he was a little trooper soaking it all up, despite falling asleep in his lunch and dinner!
Our second day in Valsugana started with a mountain bike ride up into the Dolomites. A 10 km cycle with Wilfred in a bike trailer on the back, up into the mountains to see some modern art and eat lunch. Well unfortunately Wilfred had decided he’d had enough of the trailer after 2km, so we ended up cycling the 2km back and then making the journey by car – it’s all about compromise with a 1 year old! He did like the beautiful and interactive modern art at Artesella. This was followed by yet another wonderful lunch at Dall’Ersilia Mountain Bistrò – sitting inside an arch of small trees which kept the cool in and heat out without having to sit inside.
The afternoon we were all feeling the heat and that post-lunch sluggish feeling. We visited Castel Ivano for a tour and of course a wine tasting. The roses blanketing the front of this castle were some of the best I have ever seen, the perfect sun-trap for an early evening aperitif. Before we knew it we were heading for yet more food at Agritur Rore for an alfresco dinner and homemade wine. Wilfred was usually fine for the first 20 minutes, eating some freshly made pasta and drinking milk before he either needed to run around or crash out on my lap.
The next morning we were leaving for the region of Val Di Non, not a long journey and still approximately 1 hour from Trento. Our first stop was the ancient Castel Valer and we were lucky enough to be shown around by the Count himself who still resides in the castle to this day. Much of the castle has been left untouched, including the min-grand piano once played by Mozart!
Of course the tours are a little too long for young children so eventually Wilfred was ready to run around. One of the wonderful staff from the castle took us to a private balcony where there was a very old outside oven and water basin that they let Wilfred splash about it. It has to be said that although facilities around Italy for infants weren’t always great, the people themselves more than made up for it.
In the afternoon we visited the Melinda Apple Company, Val Di Non is known as the apple region with its endless apple orchards and perfect growing conditions. Mondo Melinda has numerous underground tunnels where they store their products in a cool and dry place to preserve them before shipping. This was a great place to stock up on toddler and baby treats. They sold ideal little snack posts with dried apple crisps, fruit mousses and fruit pouches – all natural with no added sugar or preservatives.
After stocking up on toddler treats we headed to Lave Tovel and I have to say this was easily one of my favourite places. I cannot believe that I had never heard of the Trentino Provence before I visited – especially when it was home to places like Lake Tovel. We mooched around the lake stopping to take phots and videos as the sun went down. It was the perfect shot with the clear reflection in the lake and a great place for Wilf to stretch his legs and play. It was home to several beaches and each end housed facilities and a café of some kind. I could’ve spent the day here with Wilf and I fully recommend you don’t leave this spot off your holiday plans.
I made the decision to have an evening in with Wilf, so to speak. He was in desperate need of a good night sleep – as was I! We spent the last two nights at Hotel Viridis and they were incredibly good at catering to children’s needs. They were happy to give him milk, meaning I didn’t need to buy any local milk and try and keep it refrigerated. The hotel room was out of a romantic comedy, stepping out onto the balcony with panoramic views of Lake Santa Giustina as the sun was setting. The hotel kindly made Wilf some fresh pasta (again) and me a perfectly cooked rare steak so eat in our room in a more relaxed environment.
Feeling fully refreshed the following day we embarked on what is actually a famous Catholic pilgrimage to an 11th century sanctuary high on a rock. Watch out for a blog on our trip to the St Romedius Shrine. Having hiked most of the morning with a sweaty toddler strapped to my front the picnic awaiting us on Lake Coredo was a welcome sight and once again like something out of a storybook. Wilf and I took our places on a colourful picnic blanket by the lake and got stuck into our hamper of local goodies, gathered from all local suppliers to show of the region’s finest food and drink.
The final stop on our adventure was to Castle Thun . Straight away you could see the obvious Austrian influence in the architecture. There were so many Austrian hints around that have bleed into the Italian culture from the previous wars – for example the heavy presence of Apple Strudel, a dessert to be found in most Trentino restaurants. We were able to freely wander around this impressive castle and try and to imagine what life would have been like living here 1 hundred years ago.
Every castle we explored, every risotto we tasted and every wine we savoured took us back in time. Back to when life was slower, to when people chatted over dinner and to when the most important thing was family. I learnt a lot while visiting the proud province of Trentino. I learnt that we need to soak up every aspect of life and not rush through like we are ticking off a list, we need to sit and eat and talk to people we love without being glued to our phones. We need to explore with all our senses when we visit somewhere new. The Italians sure do know how to live.