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The high life - a gourmet guide to Trentino - Trentino, Italy

Where to stay

Accademia Historic noble house in the town centre transformed into a boutique hotel with Italian taste and quality. Doubles from £90. Via Vicolo Colico 4-6, Trento, 00 39 0461 233600, accademiahotel.it

Hermitage Biohotel A luxurious, chalet-style hotel converted from a century-old farmhouse by the Maffei family, who still run it personally. It is set away from the bustle of the town in a wooded valley with views of the mountains above. Doubles from £157. Via Castelletto Inferiore 69, Madonna di Campiglio, 00 39 0465 441558, biohotelhermitage.it

Hotel Leon d’Oro Pleasant, modern business and tourism establishment with rich historic origins in attractive Rovereto. Doubles from £76. Via Tacchi 2, Rovereto, 00 39 0464 437333, hotelleondoro.it

Casa del Vino della Vallagarina A beautifully restored palazzo in the centre of a village 10 minutes’ drive from Rovereto. With lovely terraces and a stellar restaurant, it represents great value for money. Doubles from £84. Piazza San Vincenzo 1, Isera, 00 39 0464 486057, casadelvino.info

Astoria Park Sleek modern hotel, a 15-minute walk from the lake and town centre, with rooms set around a tall glass atrium. Doubles from £80. Viale Trento 9, Riva del Garda, 00 39 0464 576657, astoriaparkhotel.it

Travel Information

Trentino is an autonomous province of Italy, situated in the country’s far north. Its capital is the city of Trento. Italian and German are both spoken. Currency is the euro, and time is two hours ahead of GMT. Flights from the UK to Verona take around two hours, and Trento is a one-hour drive from the airport. Trento and the province’s other main town, Rovereto, can both also be reached by Italian and European long-distance trains.

flies direct from London Gatwick to Verona’s Valerio Catullo Airport. easyjet.com
Ryanair offers direct flights from Birmingham and London Stansted to Valerio Catullo Airport. ryanair.com

Visit Trentino
is the official tourist board. Its website is full of helpful information to help you make the most of your stay. Also worth checking out are those of the Madonna di Campiglio, Pinzolo and Val Rendena tourist board, and the Piana Rotaliana Königsberg tourism offices. visittrentino.info campigliodolomiti.it pianarotaliana.it

Where to eat

Prices are per person for three courses and a drink, unless otherwise stated

Antiche Mura Attractive corner restaurant away from the bustle of the town centre with a small, pretty terrace. Expect the likes of scallops with smoked bacon, beans, mint and fennel, and potato gnocchi with Trentingrana cheese cream, chanterelles, hazelnut sauce and violet potato chips. From £40. Via Bastione 19, Riva del Garda, 00 39 0464 556063, antiche-mura.it

Casa del Vino Sit inside, in the pleasant, rustic interior, or on the delightful open-air terrace and enjoy daily-changing set menus, put together each morning by chef Carmelo Donato, with fish on Fridays and more experimental dishes on Saturdays. Recommended is the excellent, feather-light soufflé of Trentingrana cheese and chestnut flour polenta. From £45. Piazza San Vincenzo 1, Isera, 00 39 0464 486057, casadelvino.info

Chalet Fiat Reached by cable car, this fun venue boasts fabulous views. Deliciously robust, traditional staples may include quenelle of Storo polenta served with fresh chanterelles, rich goulash soup, and pasta stuffed with Rendena beef, cannellini bean cream and local lardo. From £59. Via Monte Spinale, Madonna di Campiglio, 00 39 0465 946090, chaletfiat.net

Green Tower Smart, old-fashioned, wood-panelled dining rooms, with banquette seating, white linen, ornate brass light fittings and white-jacketed waiters. On the menu are traditional classics, such as dumplings with speck and Puzzone di Moena cheese, and carne salada with sauté beans and tortelli di patate – similar to rösti – plus a renowned venison stew. From £31. Via Torre Verde 29, Trento, 00 39 0461 231545, ristorantegreentower.com

Hermitage Cheerful and bustling Michelin-starred restaurant featuring wood panelling and colourful upholstery throughout. Chef Giovanni D’Alitta combines expert technique and artistic ambition using the finest local ingredients. Stand-outs include spaghetti with cheese and pepper, roast quail with braised greens and red onion, and salt-aged beef tartare with aromatic sesame crackers. From £113. Via Castelletto Inferiore 69, Madonna di Campiglio 69, 00 39 0465 441558, biohotelhermitage.it

Leon d’Oro Traditional ristorante/pizzeria in a cavernous, buzzy space with
a long line of tables arranged on a narrow pedestrianised street just off a central lakeside piazza. Run by the Salvaneschi family since 1922, there’s an excellent choice of high-quality regional dishes, including lake fish, as well, of course, as the top-notch signature pizzas, loaded with fresh toppings. From £59. Via Fiume 28, Riva del Garda, 00 39 0464 552341, leondororiva.it

Locanda Camorz Small, relaxed garden restaurant on the periphery of a pretty village in the vineyard triangle of the Rotelian plain. On the small menu are Florentine steaks, unusual carne salada made with aged beef, in the northern Spanish manner, and tender chicken cooked slowly at a low temperature and served with a cream sauce. From £55. Via dei Camorzi, Mezzocorona 17, 00 39 0461 603926, locandacamorz.it

Locanda Delle Tre Chiavi This old-school hostelry in Isera – the Hampstead of Rovereto – is housed in a huge old stone mansion converted with taste. Proprietors Sergio and Annarita Valentini offer generously sized Trentino dishes such as pasta stuffed with cream of saffron. From £45. Via Clementino Vannetti 8, Isera, 00 39 0464 423721, locandadelletrechiavi.it

Locanda Margon Luxuriously austere grey dining room with discreet, Michelin-two-star service and a menu featuring diminutive dishes of exquisite, artistic cooking. There’s a large selection of rare vintage Ferrari sparkling wines, and chef Edoardo Fumagalli offers a special menu to accompany them: the £170 Iridescenze e Bollichine menu features such items as trout egg ravioli, watercress and speck, along with a 2010 Riserva, and roasted pigeon legs, grapes marinated in lime juice and Brussels sprouts, accompanied by a 2007 Riserva del Fondatore. From £112. Via Margone di Ravina 15, Trento, 00 39 0461 349401, locandamargon.it

Food Glossary

Chief variety, along with bèchi-panzalini and schiacciatina, of the region’s wide range of brown breads, frequently made with rye, millet or barley and flavoured with herbs and seeds
Dumplings made with lard, bacon and sausage
Carne di cavallo affumicata
Cured and smoked rump of horsemeat, predominantly produced around Rovereto
Carne salada
Preserved lean beef
Meat cuts generally including ubiquitous speck, from Alto Adige, made of flavoured cured pork loin or leg, supplemented by sausages including Luganega, mortandela and salami
A fine, pale cheese made from fragrant mountain cow’s milk. Other outstanding examples of the region’s rich tradition of cow cheeses are Trentingrana, a seasoned cheese much used in cooking, Casolèt, Canestrato, and Nostrano, all raw milk cheeses, and the strong-flavoured, matured Puzzone di Moena
Trentino’s most common white wine grape, used to make light dry whites and also vin santo, sweet white wine
Wheat polenta, from prized growing regions such as Storo,is popular, as is chestnut polenta, mixed with cream cheese or fried
Small dumplings, originating from Alto Adige, made with leftover bread, milk, egg, and spinach
Major local red wine grape which is returning to popularity after previously having been eclipsed by international varietals

Food and Travel Review

‘This is not the place to wear out-of-season Benetton; everything must be right in season – from produce to polo shirts – and it is most emphatically not the place to order a glass of prosecco'

For neat introduction to Trentino, go for lunch at the Green Tower in the regional capital Trento, a city at the very hearth of the Northern Italian province in every sense. The ornate wood panelling, polished brass fittings and touches of stained glass perfectly evoke the geographic confluence of Alsace brasserie, Tyrolean beer hall and Roman ristorante. Businessmen, couples and families tuck into dishes typical of the area: polenta rather than pasta and a variety of gnocchi-like dumplings comprised of bread, milk, egg and assorted pork products. Green Tower is at the crossroads of Trentino history, where timelines converge - the adjacent Torre Verde, after which it's named, was the riverside extension to the great Castello del Buonconsiglio, whose massive fortified bulk towers on the hill above. The castle was built in the 16th century to control the valley road and the River Adige, part of a direct route which passed from Rome up to Central Europe. During the early-20th-century German domination, the castle was a prison for condemned Italian partisans. Four hundred years earlier it was the seat of the bishopric chosen by Rome to host the Council of Trent, the big doctrinal offensive of the Counter-Reformation. If all this history sounds unappetisingly stern, it’s worth bearing in mind that the popes who attacked Martin Luther’s heresy were also major epicureans, as witnessed by the 1570 cookbook of the papal chef Bartolomeo Scappi, with its menus of vast exotic feasts, and by the frescoes of daily life in Buonconsiglio’s magnificent state rooms.

Food and Travel has an invitation to a more exclusive but equally impressive monument. On a wooded hill high above Trento, the beautiful, small, Venetian-style palace of Margon, built at the same time as Buonconsiglio, also contains exquisite frescoes, but seen only by caretakers and guests of the proprietor. The estate belongs to the Ferrari wine company, whose vines surround the complex and its Michelin-starred restaurant, the Locanda Margon, a tall 1890s villa down the hill. Here we’re entertained by Camilla Lunelli, a member of the family now owning Ferrari, in the expensively austere grey dining room. As often as the exquisite titbits succeed each other, Camilla gets up to warmly greet another party of suave diners. This is not the place to wear out-of-season Benetton; everything must be right in season – from produce to polo shirts – and it is most emphatically not the place to order a glass of prosecco. Ferrari is the oldest and most prestigious maker of the region’s Trentodoc, a sparkling wine made of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes by strict champagne methods – secondary bottle fermentation – as opposed to the cheaper Charmat or tank method applied to prosecco.

To accompany the rare Ferrari vintages, Margon’s chef, Edoardo Fumagalli, demonstrates his remarkably inventive handiwork: a little millefeuille of local venison tartare, so immaculate it could be fine patisserie; a carrot which is actually poached salmon, trout shaped and coated in a lacquer of crayfish and carrot bisque. After stints in kitchens everywhere from Edinburgh to Milan, Fumagalli is relishing the abundance of local produce, from Lake Garda oil and lemons to the fish and game on his doorstep, not to mention the birch sap in the venison glaze, which he taps from Margon’s woods. We’re introduced by Camilla to Paolo Massobrio, the Milan-based restaurant critic, who happens to be seated at the next table. ‘I think Edoardo’s showing delightful creativity using local products,’ he says. ‘The thing about the food of Trentino is that it’s mountain food, but light and elegant.’

We head deeper into the mountains, to the Hermitage Biohotel in Madonna di Campiglio, an upmarket ski and hiking resort in the lee of the Brenta Dolomites. Trentino’s big geographic advantage is in encompassing both a mountainous north, just below the Alto Adige, where German is spoken, and a semi-Mediterranean microclimate in the south, around Lake Garda. With the Alpine diet talked of as an equally healthy equivalent of the Mediterranean diet, Trentino is in the happy position of being able to enjoy the best of both.

As well as skiers, summer cattle and 50 or so bears, these hills contain abundant herbs. The star of Trentino herb-gathering is the pioneering ‘herb lady’ Noris Cunaccia, whose small premises in the Val Redena is a place of pilgrimage for top chefs from around the world. The Hermitage chef Giovanni D’Alitta is no herb slouch himself. We arrive in time for an aperitivo prepared from an afternoon’s foraging with his brigade – a tableful of 20 prettily named plants – la pimpinella, erba di San Giovanni, menta d’acqua – but definitely no zafferano bastardo, a poisonous wild flower which killed a couple of inexperienced foragers only last year. Afterwards, we dine on Michelin-complex plates of local salmon trout, rabbit, pork and fruit. ‘I regard the restaurant as a showcase for all the food producers around us,’ says D’Alitta.

‘Trentino’s big geographic advantage is in encompassing both a mountainous north, just below the Alto Adige, where German is spoken, and a semi-Mediterranean microclimate in the south, around Lake Garda’

The following day, it’s a cable-car ride up the mountainside to Chalet Fiat, which resembles a very smart motorway services with stunning views. And pretty stunning food, too: rich and copious goulash soup, lovely Storo polenta steamed with mountain ricotta, great wooden-slab dishes laden with local hams, preserves and pickled vegetables, and renowned mild, fragrant Trentino cheeses.

Apart from a few goats, credit for the outstanding variety of cheeses goes chiefly to the region’s cattle, particularly local breeds such as the Alpine Grey, and above all, the Rendena. In summer, herds of small, black Rendena graze in the hills, watched over by herders who live in mountain huts for the season. In autumn, the cows are driven back down to the valley farms for the winter. We get to the farm and agriturismo Maso Pan just as its returning Rendenas are installed in a huge barn next to another even bigger one crammed with fragrant blow-dried hay. A trailer unloads the posse of muddy, excited cattle dogs and their kennels, back from a summer’s work. Like other cattle regions, a whole culture surrounds the Rendena, with shows, festivals and bovine beauty competitions accompanied by folkloric brass band and accordion music, one of which we miss by a day in Madonna di Campilglio. As some compensation, Maso Pan’s owner, Signor Polla, has us taste generous amounts of yet more delicious cheeses from his herd.

Needless to say, the cattle involved in Trentino gastronomy are not only living beasts. The proud owner of the Macelleria Ballardini butcher’s shop shows us the salt-lined refrigerated chamber where beef is aged and the tubs where it is marinated in salt, juniper berries, garlic and bay leaves to make the Trentino speciality carne salada – salted meat, delicious either raw as carpaccio or griddled, traditionally served with soft brown beans and crisp, sizzling potato rösti. And a glass of one of the red wines for which the region is as noted as it is for sparkling ones. We have suitable visits booked, of course, with two very different producers of Trentino’s red wine.

Firstly, Tenuta San Leonardo, a beautiful property on the valley road south of Trento. To one side of its great stone gate sits a chapel dedicated to San Leonardo; to the other, a little wooden- hut café dedicated to glasses of red around the barrel tables under the trees shared by elderly and cheerful estate workers, some of whose families have lived on the estate for generations. We are shown around the alleys of linden and the plots of vines, trained overhead in the local pergola manner by Marchese Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga. The son of the second Marchese Carlo, he studied oenology in Switzerland and Tuscany and initiated the 1980s upgrade which resulted in the prize-winning range of new wines, led by the flagship assemblage of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Among the certificates on the walls are menus featuring San Leonardo wine at dinners for Barack Obama and Pope Francis: it’s good to see the papal predilection for choice plonk didn’t die out with the Counter-Reformation. Nor is the church absent from modern San Leonardo: a part of the garden is devoted to flowers for the annual Saint Leonard’s Day mass and estate workers’ feast

If San Leonardo represents old-school fine-wine aristocracy, our next destination, the Foradori winery, is a mould-breaker. Foradori is situated in the middle of the Rotelian plain, a triangular expanse of vineyard and farmland surrounded by jagged hills, producing, until recently, large quantities of mediocre subsidised table wine, according to Theo, the newest member of the family to enter the business. We talk in the estate’s courtyard in the quiet little town of Mezzolombardo. Theo’s mother, he says, was the inspiration behind the decision, then controversial, to ditch the pinot noir that everyone was growing for international conformity and recultivate biodynamically, using native grapes, particularly teroldego, whose excellence was mentioned as far back as the annals of the Council of Trent. Twenty years on, Foradori finds itself at the forefront of a movement which has succeeded in spreading the reputation of teroldego wine as far as the US, we’re assured by Foradori’s New York distributor, who happens to be visiting.

‘A prize-winning range of new wines is led by the flagship assemblage of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. On the walls are menus featuring San Leonardo wine at dinners for Barack Obama and Pope Francis’

Trentino is famous not only for its wine, but also its chief byproduct. Time to check out grappa, pausing in Trentino’s second city, Rovereto, for a look at the concert hall where Mozart performed – Rovereto has a reputation as Trentino’s culture capital – and the museum of the Bontadi company, Italy’s oldest surviving coffee roaster, which is a must for lovers of vintage espresso machines, as curvaceous as contemporaneous Alfa Romeos and Lancias.

The reputation of Trentino’s grappa is due in part to the high quality of the raw material – the grape lees and other detritus of grape-pressing – and partly that of the distillers, which are mainly independent family firms. The Marzadros are a perfect example. As we tour the gleaming still rooms and ageing cellars and inspect the ever-growing range of fruit and flower grappas, Alessandro Marzadro, a third-generation family member, talks of the challenges of rejuvenating the market for grappa, which was traditionally a spirit drunk once a week after dinner by oldsters. Marzadro has already successfully pioneered aged grappas with its Diciotto Lune brand and single-variety bottles.

Thinking of the similar problem addressed in Cognac via campaigns to popularise trendy new mixes, I ask about cocktails. ‘It’s not easy,’ says Alessandro, ‘you need the financial muscle of a Bacardi or a Campari to do that. But we have tried to encourage independent barmen; you could try the Rivabar in Riva del Garda...’

And so, to the final piece of the jigsaw, Trentino’s own mini Mediterranean. Riva del Garda is an elegant resort at the tip of Lake Garda. It’s popular with Germans, for whom it really is the Med, a couple of hundred kilometres nearer. Garda’s olives, Italy’s most northerly, are exceptional, their oil highly prized, and their terraced groves, overlooking the sparkling waters, a delight for the eyes.

In the evening the waterfront and the old town of Riva buzz with locals and holidaymakers alike and the restaurants are full. In the lovely old Leon d‘Oro we eat perch and carp from the lake and bemoan the shortage of snails which threatens the following weekend’s snail sagra (festival). The next day, in Antiche Mura, a smart little place away from the centre, we encounter the culinary personification of the geography. À la carte and tasting menus feature dishes such as Monograno Felicetti spaghettoni pasta with onion cream, marinated sardines, pine nuts and crunchy village bread; ravioli filled with wild boar ragù, fresh beans, aubergine and seasonal herbs; and a super-smooth hazelnut and salted caramel ice cream with soft biscuit and apricot.

And what, finally, about the grappa cocktails? Late at night, in the Stygian gloom of the Rivabar, we run them to earth – three or four of them which have English names such as Garda Lake Funk and Liquid Prozac. They are quite palatable, but unlikely to win over the sophisticates in the Locanda Margon in their present form. One can see Alessandro Marzadro’s point: more work needed on grappa cocktails, particularly the names. Though, frankly, in a region as blessed with excellent food and beverages as Trentino is, this is not likely to be a major issue.

Words by Philip Sweeney. Photography by Marina Spironetti. They travelled to Trentino courtesy of Trentino Marketing. visittrentino.info

This feature was taken from the October/November 2020 issue of Food and Travel.

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