Overshadowed by Monte Bedone, just 13km away, Trento is beautifully situated, encircled by mountains and exuding an easy-going pace of life. Visitors inevitably gravitate to the central, café-lined Piazza del Duomo, all fading frescoes and cobblestones, with fashionable shops, boutiques and restaurants occupying the narrow streets that lead off it. Mammoth, moss-covered city walls lurk beyond.
Trento was known as Tridentum to the Romans, a name celebrated by the eighteenth-century Neptune fountain in the central Piazza Duomo. From the tenth to the eighteenth centuries, the city was a powerful bishopric ruled by a dynasty of princes; it was the venue of the Council of Trent between 1545 and 1563, when the Catholic Church, threatened by the Reformation in northern Europe, met to plan its counterattack. Later, throughout the nineteenth century, ownership of the city, which remained in Austrian hands, was hotly contested, and it only became properly part of Italy in 1919, following World War I.
If soaring peaks get your pulse racing, a trip east of Trento to a group of stunningly bare peaks called the Pale di San Martino is unmissable. Now 2000m above sea level, the range was formed as a coral reef sixty million years ago – white shells crunch underfoot as you walk, and the pale rock reflects light, even at dawn. The Pale are part of the Parco Naturale Paneveggio, an area of gently rolling woods and summer pastures with many walks, trails and campsites. The nearest resort is San Martino di Castrozza, the terminus for buses travelling from Trento along the Valsugana and the Val di Fiemme.
The most dramatic part of the Paneveggio national park is the Pale di San Martino – a large plateau surrounded by razor-sharp peaks that range from 2600m to 3200m in altitude. You should be prepared for snow, wind and rain, even in the summer, as well as scorching sunlight and the most stupendous views. There are two main entry points – the Val Canali (accessed from Fiera di Primiero) and the cable car from San Martino di Castrozza.
The Val Canali was described by Amelia Edwards in the nineteenth century as the most “lonely, desolate and tremendous scene to be found this side of the Andes”. Things have changed slightly since then with the arrival of the Alta Via 2 walking route which runs through here, but the valley retains a feeling of isolation.
Top image: Trento, Italy © lorenza62/Shutterstock