Trentino-Alto Adige is situated in northern Italy, and borders Austria to the north, Friuli-Venezia Giulia to the east, Veneto to the south, Lombardia to the west and Switzerland to the northwest. The two provinces that make up the region of Trentino and Alto Adige may be under the same administration but their language and food culture are somewhat different. Trentino is today more Italian than Alto Adige (also known as Sud-Tirol) although both were formerly part of Austria.
The region is situated within the Dolomiti or Dolomite mountain range (part of the Alps). The valleys provide good farmland for growing crops, fruit trees and vines, and pasture for animals, including horses. Tourism here is centred on sport and relaxation: summer hiking and winter skiing drive the tourist economy. As frontier regions, Trentino and Alto Adige are filled with spectacular castles and battlements, usually positioned on high vantage points along the mountain passes.
In Alto Adige German is used as much as Italian: street signs are written in both languages. The ‘Tirolese’ way of dressing and cooking are also traditional to this area. One of the area’s most famous products is Speck dell’Alto Adige IGP, a lightly smoked, salt-cured ham that is only made in the province of Bolzano. Alto Adige farms apples, and entire valleys are given over to growing this crop in perfectly manicured orchards. Cheese is another local product as cows are brought to graze in the high mountain pastures in summer here.
The wine industry is very important in both provinces, and the area is known for its fine, mineral wines that are often made in an Austrian style, especially the whites. Merano is famous for hosting an annual wine fair in autumn. The Abbazzia di Novacella, in the province of Bolzano, is an impressive 12th-century abbey that runs a school and produces wine on the slopes of the Isarco valley. It is known for its native grapes, including Sylvaner and Kerner. Micro-breweries abound in this region as beer is always a popular alternative to wine.
What to See
Many Italians like to take summer holiday in the mountains to escape the summer heat, and the Dolomites offer a popular region for healthy vacations. There are beautiful lakes, forests, hills and mountains to explore.
Good resorts for winter sports include: Vigo di Fassa, Canazei, and San Martino di Castrozza. For outdoor enthusiasts, good trekking areas include the Lago di Braies (Braies lake), Tre Cime di Lavaredo (The Tre Cime range), and Lago di Misurina (Misurina lake, reputedly the most beautiful Alpine lake). Val Gardena is a beautiful valley with ski resorts.
The Strada delle Dolomiti from Bolzano to Cortina takes two days but is a breathtaking drive. The views of the Marmolada, Passo di Sella, Tondi di Faloria, Plose, and Tofana di Mezzo are spectacular. Another scenic driving tour, which takes two days, is the Gruppo del Brenta; it starts at Trento and meanders through valleys, along lakes, and through the mountains. The Val di Genova is particularly beautiful and has a waterfall (Cascata di Nardis). The lake, Lago di Tovel, is another picturesque destination. Good winter sports centres include Madonna di Campiglio and Campo Carlo Magno.
The most important towns to visit are Bolzano and Merano. Bolzano has repeatedly won the rankings for best Italian city to live in. It’s a handsome place, with a medieval city centre. Merano is better known for the spas that attracted many important writers in the past, including Franz Kafka and Ezra Pound. Well documented walks through the town include the Passeggiata d’Inverno, Passeggiata d’Estate, and Passeggiata Gilif along the cooling river. Above Merano the drive through Val Venosta is worth doing.
Other towns to visit include: Bressanone (Tyrolean riverside town), Chiusa/Klausen (a village evocative of another era known for producing beer and its beautiful Monastero di Sabiona, monastery) and Rango (a quiet rustic country village where traditions are preserved known for quaint osterias, hazelnuts, and wood oven baked bread). The hilltop villages in the Valle del Cordevole, particularly Alleghe on the lake, are another good excursion.
Bring home wine, grappa, Speck dell’Alto Adige IGP (smoked salt-cured ham), a grembiule (blue aprons worn by locals), and woodworking from Val Gardena.
Trentino is divided in its gastronomic culture between the pull of Italy to the south and Austria to the north. Like in Veneto, polenta is a staple, often eaten with a range of wild local mushrooms. Alto Adige is closer in many ways to Austria: not only is German the most common language here, but the food is also distinct from what we normally think of as Italian. Instead of prosciutto, the favourite pork product here is Speck dell’Alto Adige IGP, a salt-cured smoked raw ham that features on every antipasto board. Breads are definitely northern European in style: of rye or whole grain flours, they are often studded with caraway or other seeds. Schüttlebrot (a crisp rye flatbread with caraway seeds) is a staple. Carne salada is cured beef served thinly sliced with a dressed side salad. Game is common in the mountains, including venison, red deer and wild boar as well as wild ducks and other game birds.
Smoked meats are prized here and are made from pork, beef, goose, donkey, horse or veal. They are often sliced and served with rye bread, butter and pickles or boiled until they become soft. Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) and potatoes (usually boiled or roasted) are popular vegetables, as are turnips and other root vegetables. In spring and summer there are also wild greens from the pastures.
Typical ingredients include chestnuts, wild mushrooms, apples, grapes, blueberries, lingonberries, raspberries, blackberries, wheat, corn, rye, barley, buckwheat, vinegar, freshwater fish, game, pork and stoccafisso (stock fish).
The iconic dish from Trentino-Alto Adige is boiled smoked meat with sauerkraut, often served with beer or local wine. The cuisine here is simple with few courses and reflects their geographic location in the mountains.
There are many types of warming soups and stews made from meat, tripe, gulasch, sauerkraut, and broth with canederli (bread dumplings). They include milzschnittensuppe (meat broth with spleen, egg, and marjoram-filled toasted sandwiches), zuppa di farina / brennsuppe (toasted flour, butter, and water and sometimes potatoes, milk, and lardo), zuppa di trippa (tripe and vegetable soup), and zuppa di gulasch (beef, onion, potato, paprika, garlic, and tomato soup). Gulasch originates from Hungary but is eaten on Sundays throughout the region. Another popular local specialty is gröstl (potato and meat pie).
Desserts are not to be missed and exemplify the Austrian influence on the region. They are often homemade and tend to be substantial. Strudel is the most popular tart, whether filled with apples or other fruits and nuts (thin pastry rolls filled with fruit, cream, and nuts), chocolate cakes iced with whipped cream like dorso di capriolo, kaiserscharmarrn (sweet omelettes filled with candied fruit), zelten (whole-wheat yeasted cake filled with nuts, dried figs, pine nuts, and candied orange and citron), biscuits, sweet breads, fruit tarts, and fritters made from fruit and jam such as crostoli, ferro di caballo, fortaie, riccetti, and straboi / straboli.
There are also many sweet drinks such as white or red grape juice, fruit cordials, and hot chocolate with whipped cream.
The region produces excellent red and white wines from an array of different grape varietals. Some white grape varietals to try include Sauvignon Blanc, Sylvaner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Müller-Thurgau, Kerner, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Grigio. Suggested producers of white wine include Abbazia di Novacella, Cantina Terlano (Kellerei Terlan), Cantina Produttori Valle Isarco (Eisacktaler Kellerei), Giuseppe Fanti, Franz Haas, Kuenhof, Manincor, Maso Furli, Pojer e Sandri, Pravis, San Michele Appiano (St. Michael Eppan), Schreckbichl Colterenzio and Unterortl.
The most important red grape varietals are Pinot Nero, Lagrein, Teroldego, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Marzemino. Buy from red wine producers such as Alois Lageder, Foradori (for Teroldego) Franz Haas, J. Hofstatter, Letrari, Manincor, San Leonardo, San Lorenzo, San Michele Appiano (St. Michael Eppan), Sandri e Pojer, Schreckbichl Colterenzio and Unterortl.
Trento DOC produces some excellent champagne method sparkling wines. The top of the class is made by Ferrari.
What to Eat
Typical local dishes in Trentino-Alto Adige include (most typical in bold):
Bosniaken (rye bread with cumin seeds)
Gramolato / Ciopa de pan taià / Cioa mantovana (flattened braided bread joined together)
Kornspitzklein (cereal bread)
Vorschlagbrot (rye bread with caraway, fennel and anise seeds)
Salumi (Cold Cuts)
Carne salada (cured beef flavoured with salt, pepper, juniper berries, bay leaves, and rosemary, sometimes with lemon, onion, or cinnamon, served either raw dressed with oil and lemon juice, seared in butter, or stewed with beans)
Hirn profesen (deep-fried battered bread topped with calf’s brains)
Polpette di fagioli (croquettes of beans puréed with eggs, parsley, and breadcrumbs)
Riebl (buckwheat and milk fritters)
Testina di vitello all’agro (sliced calve’s head with sliced onion, oil and vinegar)
Primi (First Courses)
Canederli (bread dumplings made in different sizes served in broth or with cheese and may be flavoured with any of the following: leberknödel (liver); canederli neri (rye bread with speck or smoked pancetta); canederli al formaggio (cheese and herbs); canederli allo speck (salami, speck and chives); canederli di magro (served in butter with cheese), canederli di grano saraceno (buckwheat dumplings), spinach, beetroot, mushroom or calve’s brains)
Frittatensuppe / Brodo con frittatine (herb omelette strips, served in broth)
Gerstsuppe (barley, vegetable, and smoked meat soup)
Gnocchetti di formaggio Zieger (gnocchi broiled with Zeiger cheese)
Milzschnittensuppe (sliced, fried spleen sandwiches, served in broth)
Ravioli di patate (potato ravioli filled with ricotta, nutmeg, and spinach, served with parmigiano-reggiano cheese and butter)
Schinkenfleckernl (baked egg pasta with butter, egg, and ham)
Smacafam (buckwheat pastry mixed with broth and lucanica trentina sausage)
Tagliatelle con la trota (tagliatelle pasta with tomato sauce, onion, celery, and trout)
Zuppa di cetrioli (cold cucumber and tomato soup)
Zuppa di crauti (sauerkraut and polenta soup with cumin seeds)
Zuppa di farina / Brennsuppe (soup of toasted flour, butter, and water, sometimes with potatoes, milk, and lardo)
Zuppa di fegato (liver or spleen soup with bread)
Zuppa di lumache (snail soup with peas and cream)
Zuppa di trippa (tripe and vegetable soup)
Secondi (Main Courses)
Anguilla alla trentina (eel cooked with onion, herbs, cinnamon and white wine, sometimes with beaten eggs and vinegar)
Bauerngröstl (fried sliced boiled pancetta, potatoes, onions and herbs with a little broth)
Bauernschmaus / Carre di maiale con lingua, salsiccie e crauti (boiled mixed meats such as smoked pork loin, picked tongue, liver sausage, blood sausage and würstel, served with crauti and sometimes canederli)
Camoscio al ginepro (roasted chamois stuffed with mushrooms and juniper berries, served with a creamy juniper berry sauce)
Camoscio alla tirolese (chamois with wine, vinegar, herbs and buttermilk)
Capriolo ripieno (red deer saddle stuffed with venison, sausage, paprika and kirsch liqueur)
Erdapfel-Reibler / Frittata di patate (potato omelette)
Fagiano al forno (pheasant baked with Speck, carrot, leek and celery)
Grostel di baccalà (salt cod or stock fish with sautéed potatoes, garlic, onion and parsley)
Lumache alla meranese (chopped snails with lardo, herbs, white wine and broth, served mixed with pea purée)
Manzo al latte (beef topside with lardo, rosemary, vinegar, milk and broth)
Manzo brasato al vino (beef braised in red wine)
Oca al forno (goose baked with apples and marjoram)
Probusto (boiled or broiled pork or beef sausage flavoured with paprika, pimento and mace)
Schmorbraten (braised beef with wine, herbs and tomatoes)
Schopsernes (lamb stew with potatoes and cabbage)
Tafelspitz (boiled beef served with potatoes, butter, onion and horseradish)
Tonco de pontesel (stewed beef, veal, and pork with broth and polenta)
Trota in blu / Blau forelle (poached trout in vinegar and white wine)
Contorni (Side Dishes)
Cavolo rapa (kohlrabi with butter and sugar glaze)
Carote (carrots with butter and sugar glaze)
Crauti / Sauerkraut (shredded, salted, fermented cabbage)
Funghi (mushrooms sautéed with onion, parsley and garlic)
Insalata di patate (potato salad)
Puree di patate (mashed potatoes)
Salsa di cren (horseradish sauce)
Bienenstichtorte (dough filled with custard and whipped cream and topped with almonds)
Bina badiota (sweet raisin bread)
Brazadel (ring-shaped Christmas cake)
Buchteln / Pasta levitate con creme alla vaniglia (sweet bread filled with jam and served with vanilla custard)
Chifelini / Kiffel (fried crescent-shaped potato pastries coated in sugar)
Christollen (Christmas cake filled with almonds, pistachios, candied citron, raisins, and rum, topped with butter and icing sugar)
Crostata (jam tart)
Crostoli / Grostoi (fried pastry flavoured with grappa and filled with custard or jam, served at Carnival)
Dorso di capriolo (chocolate cake filled with apricot jam, glazed with chocolate, and topped with pine nuts)
Ferro di cavallo (a horseshoe-shaped dried fruit fritter filled with whipped cream)
Fiadone (crescent-shaped pie filled with almonds, cherry syrup, and rum)
Fortaes / Fortaie / Straboi / Strauben (sweet funnel cake fritters dusted with icing sugar and served with lingonberry jam)
Frittelle di mele / Apfelkuchel (apple fritters dusted with sugar and cinnamon, served with lingonberry or raspberry sauce)
Gugelhupf (bundt cake flavoured with lemon and raisins)
Knieküchel (doughnut filled with blackcurrant jam)
Murbe (fried crescent-shaped rye flour ravioli filled with jam)
Nigelen (pastry fritters sprinkled with poppy seeds)
Pinza de lat (cake made from bread, raisins, cinnamon, and lemon zest, may be topped with pinza di peri (sliced pears) or pinza de pomi (sliced apples))
Ricetti (A yeasted fritter covered with honey or poppyseeds)
Torta di castagne (chestnut cake served with whipped cream)
Torta di fregoloti (friable cake sometimes made with almonds, grappa, cinnamon, or lemon zest, to be enjoyed with a glass of vin santo wine)
Torta di pane e cacao (chocolate bread and butter pudding)
Torta di papavero (poppy seed cake flavoured with cinnamon)
Torta marmorizzata (chocolate and vanilla marble cake)
Torta Simona (cake flavoured with cinnamon or nutmeg)
Zelten / Pandolce (pressed dried figs, dates, raisins, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, candied orange zest and grappa or brandy topped with honey, candied fruit, walnuts, and/or almonds, traditional for Christmas)
Almkäse (a firm cow’s milk cheese from Alto Adige, one of the region’s oldest cheese)
Bergkäse (a firm pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Upper Val Pusteria, a cheese produced for the past 30 years)
Caprino di cavalese (a firm, mature mixed goat’s and cow’s milk cheese from Cavalese and Fiavé Pinzolo, previously made all over Val di Fiemme)
Casolèt (a soft to semi-firm, fresh to semi-mature raw cow’s milk cheese from Trento, the name means small cheese in Latin, caseolus)
Dolomitikonig / Re di Dolomiti (a soft to semi-firm, semi-mature cow’s milk cheese from Trento, this cheese is about 80 years in production)
Grana Padano Trentino DOP (a cow’s milk cheese similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan))
Graukäse (a grainy, firm cow’s milk cheese from eastern Alto Adige, sometimes lightly smoked, this cheese has been produced for a long time, the name means “greyish” referring to its colour)
Hoamatkas (a firm cow’s milk cheese matured in hay from Val Venosta, the name comes from dialect “heimatkäse” meaning home cheese)
Lagundo / Bauernkäse (a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese produced in Velloi, Rio Lagundo, Rablà, Parcines, Tablà, and Monte Sole)
Malga (a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese from Bolzano, the most sought after varities are Malaga Fane which has been in production since the 17th century and Malaga Stelvio which has been produced since the 14th centure, malga means mountain dairy)
Malga stagionato nelle vinacce (a firm cow’s milk cheese coated with wine and grape pomace from Alto Adige, Lagrein wine and grape pomace was traditionally used as it was cheaper than olive oil)
Mattone (a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese from Bolzano; the milk comes excluively from Pinzgauer cows)
Nostrano (a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese from Trentino, the most sought after are Fiavè and Val di Fassa)
Puzzone di Moena (a soft, semi-firm raw cow’s milk cheese from Trento which dates back to ancient times; the name means “stinky” as it has an intense aroma)
Spressa delle Giudicarie DOP (a low-fat cow’s milk cheese from Giudicarie, Chiese, Rendena, and Lero valleys is an ancient cheese produced at least since the 13th century, this cheese is eaten as a table cheese but also used in cooking, including in polenta carbonera)
Sterzing / Sterzinger (a semi-fat cow’s milk cheese)
Tosèla (a soft, elastic, fresh,cow’s milk cheese from Valle di Primiero, Lower Val Sugana, Val di Tesino, the Asiago plateau, and Massiccio del Lagorai, the name comes from the verb “osare” which means “to shear” referring to the treatment of the curd before moulding)
Trentingrana (a hard, grainy, crumbly cow’s milk cheese from Trento, this cheese uses the same production technique as parmigiano-reggiano, it should have the “Trentino” mark on the rind)
Vezzena (a grainy, buttery raw cow’s milk cheese from Trento, this is a star cheese of Trentino, the flavour of the cheese changes depending when in the season the milk was produced)
Vorderkäs (a soft cow’s milk cheese from Val Senales)
Ziger / Zigerkäse (a soft, fresh to semi-mature, cow’s milk cheese mixed with chives, salt, and black pepper from Val Pusteria, Lower Val d’Isarco, and Belluno Dolomites, the name comes from the German word “ziege” which means “goat”)