More wanderings in Italy’s far north

 

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The next stop in our chillout trip was a village in the Alto Adige called Palù di Giovo, located roughly 10 km north of Trento. The terrain is very hilly & covered with vineyards. Narrow roads crisscross their way across hills with lots of hairpin bends that make for fun driving – if you have a good car. Unfortunately, ours was pretty gutless – when I tried to test it out on the autostrada by putting my foot to the floor, pretty much nothing happened. This was a bit of a worry because driving on the autostrada in northern Italy starts to become a little more like driving on the autobahn in Germany – lots of fast cars in the right lane, except this time it is not uncommon to see Maseratis & Ferraris. The local roads in the region also have some pretty steep grades – on one occasion I thought we would not get up the hill in 1st gear it was so steep.

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We stayed on a vineyard/apple orchard in a B&B called Maso Pomarolli [see https://www.agriturmasopomarolli.it/index.php/en/], which was part of the ‘farm stay’ or Agriturismo network.  The property was certainly in a picturesque location.

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They make a very nice white wine and also a red from the grapes that they grow [We did not try the red because the weather was rather hot.]

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The B&B & parcel of land is owned by the families of two brothers [who inherited the property from their father & grandfather]. They have had the B&B for about 20 years to supplement the income they make on their farm. It is clear that they genuinely like to meet & interact with people – but they do not speak English, only Italian. This goes for other people in the village also. Indeed, the local region is interesting in that way: in some of the neighboring valleys no Italian is spoken at all. Instead, a dialect called Tedesco is used in those locales. So, when visiting the area, one needs to consider which language is spoken in these more mountainous regions – otherwise communication might be difficult.

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The B&B is not that far from the Western part of the Dolomites & also from Lake Garda. We did take a drive up to the northern part of Lake Garda – less touristy than the southern end – & it certainly was scenic, as this iPhone pano shows.

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Lots of birdlife on & around the lake…

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We also took a trip up to Molveno Croz Dell’Altissimo – a very beautiful cable car & then chairlift ride with views of Lake Molveno. In winter this is a skiing area & in summer it is a hiker’s & mountain biker’s paradise.

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The locale made me think a little of Switzerland, but when I got on the chairlift I really did feel like I was in Switzerland because of the way cowbells could be heard at a distance…

It was an unexpectedly hot day – we had taken the obligatory layers with us & it was a surprise to be sitting on the chairlift with a t-shirt on. Unfortunately, of all the time spent away, that was the day that I felt quite unwell – but the scenery did certainly help you forget about that…

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In the afternoon we could see that the weather was rolling in & were able to get down from the mountain before an almighty thunderstorm. Wow, how the thunder resonated in the valley!!! Since the weather was going to be crummy we decided to look for indoor activities as we headed back to our locale. We stopped in to the Casa d’Arte Futurista Depero, in a smallish town called Rovereto. This museum is devoted to displaying the life & works of Fortunato Depero [1892-1960] a local Italian futurist who was a painter, sculptor & designer. He was one of the founders of the Italian futurist movement in the early parts of the 20th century. The exhibit also features textiles, woodworks, furniture etc. of his designs. Overall, I liked his work a lot – there is a certain warmth in it that is usually missing in work by other futurists. I cannot show you the works – photography was not permitted in the museum. One of Depero’s most iconic functional designs from the 1930s is of the triangular small Campari Soda bottle that is still in use today! I had bought one in Rome when I was at OHBM, but did not yet know that it was a design classic or even the back story behind it…

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The above image comes from the museum’s website [see: https://www.inexhibit.com/mymuseum/casa-darte-futurista-depero-museum/]

Back in our locale that night we went out to dinner at a really great restaurant called Trattoria Vecchia in a tiny little village called Sorni [see https://www.trattoriavecchiasorni.it/]. Thanks to local Trento neuroinformaticien, Paolo Avesani, who recommended the place to us! The road to it was interesting, pretty much room for 1.5 cars & lots of hairpin bends. Would have been nice if the car we had was less gutless… The trattoria has been there for aeons & has had to expand into a second space across the ‘road’ from the original restaurant & kitchen. The new space is delightful – it is pretty much all glass [sliding open panels] with gorgeous views of the valley with vineyards & surrounds, as the image below shows:

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Needless to say the food was fabulous – here is what we had for dessert – a nice apricot tart & a millefeuille with fresh cherries & pistacchio creme. Delightful!

The next day we took a trip to Bolzano – an interesting small city even further north in Italy, getting closer to the border with Austria. It is actually in a region called the Südtirol. As it’s name would suggest, German is one of its languages alongside Italian. That said, I do understand a bit of German, but the version of it spoken here is a dialect – so I had no idea what was being said. I had to try to listen to people speaking Italian instead [even though I have trouble with that also]. The city is picturesque in the way you would expect – markets, old buildings in narrow streets with a mountainous backdrop:

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One of the things that Bolzano is famous for is it’s South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, which was entirely renovated to feature the Neolithic mummy called Ötzi the Iceman.  Ötzi’s remains were found by a German couple hiking in the mountains northwest of Bolzano on the 19th of September 1991 – across a route that has likely been used for millenia. He is called Ötzi because he was found in a region known as the Ötztal Alps on the Italian side of the Austrian–Italian border – the black dot below shows where he was found in relation to Bolzano today [red dot] [map adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%96tzi].

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Ötzi’s remains have been dated back to ~5K years & the artifacts he had on him [a copper axe!], as well as his clothing, have necessitated a revision of archaeological history. No photographs are permitted in the permanent exhibit. One can view the remains through a glass window in a purpose-built ‘cold room’ designed to replicate the conditions on the mountain that he was found in. In this way the remains will not deteriorate. The precautions to preserve Ötzi are very elaborate – there is a generator in case of a power failure, a second cold room he could be moved to if there was a problem in the original room & the local hospital also has a 3rd cold room for him, if all else fails. The exhibit is really worth visiting – there is so much interesting background information – piecing together the details of his life & the fact that he was murdered [shot in the shoulder by an arrow that pierced a major artery]. There is also a full body/facial reconstruction of him – made using modern 3D technology for the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. It shows the 45 year old Ötzi in a full-size model that is really compelling…

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The above image I have reproduced from the museum’s website –  for more details take a look at http://www.iceman.it/en/.

It would have been nice to check out more of Bolzano, but time was very short as the next day we had to make our way to Verona – as I was flying out from there to get back to Paris. The other half stayed on a bit in Italy for a few more days. On our way to Verona, we did stop at the Castel Beseno – a truly amazing fortress about 20 km from Trento that was of major strategic & military importance in the region for many centuries [https://www.buonconsiglio.it/index.php/en/Castel-Beseno and also https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castel_Beseno].

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The Castel Beseno complex is very extensive & completely covers the hill. It has been built up progressively in stages over the centuries. It overlooks the valley [as can be seen in the image below], so potential invaders can be seen from a long distance away.

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Altogether there are 5 such fortresses in the region – the others are Castel Caldes, Castel Stenico, Castel Thun & the Castello del Buonconsiglio. [This reminded me a little bit of the ‘5 Sons of Carcasonne‘ – a set of fortresses strategically positioned in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southwestern France to keep the Spaniards at bay…]

Many battles for the possession of these 5 castles in the far north of Italy took place over the centuries as power struggles between the German Empire & Italian city-states ensued. Unlike the other 4 fortresses, Castel Beseno was never captured by invaders because of its inaccessibility on the hill, as well as its many stages of fortification. The oldest parts of the fortress date back to medieval times. As the centuries progressed, fortifications were extended to encompass increasingly more parts of the hill. The final imposing structure measures some 250 meters in length & 50 meters in width – forming the shape of an ellipse that crowns the hill. This was its final form in the 16th century –  impenetrable because of the intricate set of gates & inner walls that it had. It had a garden & rain water was also collected in a cistern, which is still there today. It is truly an imposing structure when seen from the valley. Walking around the complex also takes a lot of time – so many nooks & crannies to explore & so many stairways to go up & down… The image below comes from the brochure that is available at the ticket office – the only way to really appreciate the entire structure is from the air [or perhaps by drone].

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Remarkably, over the centuries only 3 families have owned it! First it was family Beseno, then the Castelbarco & finally the Trapp family, who had it from 1470 to 1973! It was then donated to the Autonomous Province of Trento & is used today for events & historical enactments. Below are some more photos I took of the place:

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With reluctance, the next day we headed to the airport in Verona – it was time for me to head back to Paris. That said though, I was very happy when I got to Rome’s Fiumicino airport – during my layover I was able to stop in at the Venchi store & get some gelato for lunch…

It was pretty sinful. I chose 2 flavors: caramelized fig/mascarpone & a gelato made from their nocciolata. Double pleasure… [Their nocciolata is my favorite hazelnut chocolate spread – it is not very sweet & is made of dark chocolate. It has hazelnuts from Piedmont & a little bit of olive oil. Happily I can get it in the USA… see https://us.venchi.com/spread-and-other-chocolates/chocolate-spreads]

This post ends as it started: with an image taken from from a scenic point in the hills on the way to Maso Pomarolli. The sun had gone to bed for the day & the nice coolness of the evening was beginning to roll in. Nice to sleep with all the windows open & ‘listen’ to the peace & quiet in that farming community. Thankfully for us, there the roosters crowed in the mornings at around 10 am, so there was no commotion early in the morning. There were a few days when the cows mooed extremely loudly – sounded like they were having a bit of a turf war [pun intended]… Sorry about the pun, but a particularly punny friend of mine who was also traveling in Europe has been driving me bonkers with punny direct messages for the last couple of weeks…

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How quickly our time in Italy came to an end. It was a really good week for me – got a much needed recharge of my mental & physical batteries. Next post? Me back for my final week in Paris, before heading back home to the USA.

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