|These wholly mountainous
regions located on the Swiss border straddle the valley of the River
Isarco, which flows from the Brenner Pass,
into the River Adige and on into the Mediterranean.
Germanic and Italian cultures blend here to the extent that, towards
the north, German is increasingly found as the first language. The
Dolomites to the east are a range of distinctively craggy
mountains, isolated to such an extent from both Italy and Switzerland
that, in the more remote valleys, the inhabitants speak Ladin, an
ancient Romance language not to much different to Latin. The area
is traversed by clearly marked mountain paths and served by numerous
hostels, making it an ideal area for hiking and climbing.
The principal town of Trentino is Trento, well
worth visiting for its wealth of art works, gathered by the dynasty
of princes who ruled the area between the 10th and 18th centuries.
Many of these artistic acquisitions are viewable in the town’s
museums, and include the Castello di Buonconsiglio, Museo
Diocesano Trentino and the Museo Provinciale d’Arte.
is the principal town of Alto Aldige, further north.
A somewhat austere commercial town, it appears as an unlikely portal
to one of the most extraordinary panoramic drives in Italy, the
mountain route through the Dolomites to Cortina
d’Ampezzo called La Grande Strada delle Dolomiti.
Upon entering the Val d’Ega, at the start
of the route, the scenery is suddenly lush with foliage and rocks
as the light seeps through the forest trees. About 20km (12 miles)
from the beginning of the route is Lake Carezza,
a beautiful limpid pool of bright green water reflecting the trees
and mountains surrounding it. This is just the beginning of an awe-inspiring
passage through the Dolomites and its small alpine towns, ski resorts
and endless panoramas of craggy peaks and tree-clad mountainsides.
One of the most famous mountain resorts and the second-largest town
in this region is Merano, 28km (17 miles) north
of Bolzano. Popular for its spas, thermal waters and moderate climate
with the temperature remaining above freezing all winter, despite
its close proximity to a range of snow-laden ski slopes, it is also
visually rewarding, with extensive landscaped gardens and a charming
mixture of architectural styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau. The
Merano Valley is dotted with historic castles,
several of which have been transformed into charming castle hotels.