When a part of the world is as dominated by mountains as Trentino in Italy’s glorious north undeniably is, it can be easy to forget there are four seasons in every year.
Standing in late winter atop the tangle of ski runs that drape themselves conveniently across the precipitous slopes above the town of Madonna di Campiglio, casting an appreciative eye over a far-reaching blanket of crisp white snow ever so slightly yellowed by the drifting sands of the Sahara Desert blown in from afar on invisible winds, and shadowed by the towering peaks of the Dolomite mountains behind me and Alps in front, it’s hard to conceive how this would all look outside of winter’s icy grip.
As my mind wanders and contemplates the awesomeness of the environment, my local mountain guide, Marco Maganzini, snaps me out of my reverie with another story of year-round derring do that unwittingly answers my question. The truth is, this place is a playground every day of the year, snowbound or not.
Indeed, where we’re standing at this very point, says Marco, transforms into an outdoor concert area in the summer where guests laze on carpets of perfect green grass and take advantage of the area’s natural acoustics to enjoy classical and rock concerts. The trails we’re ski touring over will soon be laced with the studded tracks of hikers’ boots and mountain bikers’ tires. The frozen ice falls clinging to shaded rock faces will slowly melt, but the climbers and adrenaline seekers will remain, swapping crampons for climbing shoes in search of new heights and highs.
The Trentino region sits conveniently just a few hours north of Milan and Venice, skirting Lake Garda to its south and stretching north into the fringes of not just the Alps but also the UNESCO World Heritage Dolomites. Its unique landscapes incorporate picture perfect villages and towns, rolling green hills and vast lakes, all set against that ever present mountain backdrop – the kind of European settings you read about in novels and skim pictures of in glossy magazines. Here then are the essentials for any visit, no matter when you go.
where to stay
Lefay Resort & Spa Dolomiti
Set over the town of Pinzolo in the Rendena Valley amid the pine and fir tree forests that blanket the lower slopes of the Dolomites, Lefay Dolomiti is a wood, stone and glass-clad sanctuary of luxury, relaxation and recuperation.
Designed and built with a classic Alpine retreat aesthetic that helps belie its sizable footprint, the Lefay succeeds spectacularly in blending in with its natural surroundings. Cleverly drawing the outside in through acres of glass windows and a design theme that embraces the raw, natural materials of the region and elevates them to stylish and cozy, the whole place feels warm and comforting – exactly what you need after a day in the mountains .
This ode to nature pervades almost every aspect not only of the hotel’s design but also in Lefay’s commitment to keeping things as green as it can. Green Globe and ClimaHotel certifications and a commitment to fully offset carbon emissions show good intentions to not just use but also contribute to the hotel’s fabulous but fragile environment.
Spread across floors and buildings, the eighty-eight rooms and suites ensure your exercise routine doesn’t end when you get off the gondola. But navigating elevators and lengthy hallways is a small price to pay for the reward each room offers – five-star everything, including the views from spacious balconies (take your pick to gaze out over the Alps or the Dolomites).
The true jewel of Lefay is its spa. Four levels, 54,000 square feet and an entire floor of treatment rooms in which to embark on the ‘Lefay SPA Method’ – a combination of classic Chinese treatments and western scientific research. Upstairs, an enormous pool invites you to swim from inside to outside via a silent sliding glass wall and ponder your insignificance against the enormity of Mother Nature (while getting a nice bubble massage from the whirlpool seats dotted around under the water line).
Head down a level and you’ll enter the adult-only spa zone, nearly 20,000 square feet of sauna, steam and soak options arranged into seasons with different temperatures and humidities you can follow as you see fit. Enter the Green Dragon, Red Phoenix or White Tiger zones to restore your inner zen before embarking on ‘the Path of the Black Tortoise’. It admittedly all sounds very theatrical, but once there, bedecked in soft white robe silently and contemplatively padding from Dragon to Tiger to Tortoise, it somehow feels like the most natural thing in the world!
where to eat
Grual at Lefay Dolomiti
Staying at the Lefay handily makes you a local at one of the region’s best restaurants, Grual (named for a local mountain despite the unfortunate similarity to the food of Charles Dickens’ Oliver – although you’ll definitely ask for more…) Fine dining in a quite extraordinary setting, the exec chef has created an ‘altimetric’ seasonal menu that showcases Trentino ingredients plucked from different altitudes on the surrounding mountains. From the valley floor, pick lake sardines and radicchio, from the alpine pasture pick red turnip and nostrano stravecchio (a regional hard cheese), and from the high mountain pick arctic char or roe deer to name but a few. Combining such fresh local and seasonal ingredients creates dishes that feel unique, taste delicious and are fitting to the location.
Rendenèr Alpine Food
Tucked away behind an innocuous suburban street in Pinzolo, newly opened Rendenèr restaurant has set tongues wagging with its warm, friendly service and flavor-packed interpretations of regional and Italian alpine classics. The menu changes seasonally but keep your hopes up for the local pork belly or squid ink spaghetti, although if they’re absent the regional specialty polenta is a staple that always gets rave reviews. Let the knowledgeable waiter-meets-mâitre d’ pair your food with regional wines and plan for a long lunch or longer evening.
Ancient Mildas serves up a history as rich as its food from its 14th century convent setting in the tiny commune of Giostino. Entertainingly decorated with paraphernalia that tells the story of the resident Pizzini family it may be, but it’s the historic and hearty traditional family recipes that bring locals and visitors back time after time. From gnocchi to risotto, the now ubiquitous polenta to the herbed filet steak, there’s much to choose from but if you’re organized enough, call a day ahead and preorder the traditional menu for the ultimate local culinary experience.
It would be remiss to talk about the food of Trentino without mentioning at least one mountain-top retreat. There are many mountainside restaurants with lodging (commonly known as ‘refuges’) but Rifugio Boch is a culinary marvel at around 8,000 feet serving the thousands of skiers, snowboarders, hikers, bikers, climbers and dreamers who traverse the slopes every week from its heavily stocked canteen. But if you have the time and the inclination, head upstairs and sample the delights of the restaurant proper for some gourmet north Italian food with unbeatable views – all easily accessible from the Express Groste lift via Madonna di Campiglio.
what to do
skiing and snowboarding
Trentino’s biggest ski area is the Campiglio Dolomiti di Brenta – nearly 100 miles of slopes and runs; four snowboard parks; long, spectacular gondola rides; and a single ski pass that gives you easy access to the whole lot. For the more adventurous, freeride and off piste skiing is plentiful with expert guides readily available to take you on towering ski tours high into the wilderness where it’s just you, your thoughts and the mountains for company.
The wider Dolomite ski region covers some 500 miles of runs, which is more than most skiers will cover in a lifetime. And with a ski season that runs from late November to mid April and a bounty of slopes and terrain to suit all skill levels but minus the crowds of more famous resorts, snowbound stoke is as good as guaranteed.
hiking and biking
Once the snow has melted, Adamello Brenta Natural Park offers just as many thrills for those on two feet or two wheels. Mountain bike trails crisscross the slopes with dedicated, challenging runs and gondolas operating year round so you can avoid the long ride up and instead just enjoy the terrifyingly fast ride down.
If road cycling is more your thing, head down from the mountains and ride the DOGA cycling circuit that connects the Dolomites to the altogether more serene Lake Garda for a change of pace and scenery.
Climbing and trekking
If your kicks come from more extreme situations, those craggy peaks should more than suffice. From treacherous ice climbs in the winter and guided via ferrata tours (fixed rope lines novices can follow) in the summer to the awesome climbing challenge La Via delle Normali across the peaks of the Brenta Dolomites, you can choose the level of difficulty and intensity, be it a novice afternoon excursion or a multi-day epic hike and climb combination that takes in the very best the magnificent Dolomites have to offer.