As the train rolled through the epic landscapes of mountains, vineyards and bright blue rivers I was transfixed by what was outside the window. I loaded up Google maps to drop a pin at this incredible place I had to come back to, utterly unaware of the station we had pulled into. My map told me I had just arrived at Trento and in a panicked frenzy, I hauled my luggage off the train. Shit, could a city could actually be surrounded by this much natural beauty?
I was like a kid in a sweetshop as I strolled out of the station admiring the towering mountains around me. This is the kind of city break I can get behind, and I’d seen nothing more than the arrivals board yet. I was onto a winner in Trento, one of the most underrated cities in Europe, and a place I hadn’t even heard of a few months ago.
To really appreciate the magnificent setting of Trento, the capital city of the Trentino region, you need to head to higher ground. A relatively cheap cable car will oblige and quickly transport you to Trento Alta, a small mountaintop village with insane views of the city and the valley around it.
Don’t rush, take it all in slowly. Hell, sit down and grab a bite to eat and a glass of local Müller wine at Trento Alta Bistrot, a restaurant and garden just seconds away from the viewing platform. It’s time to settle into that relaxed, in awe and well-fed state that an Italy city break conjures up, but without the crowds and the never-ending list of must visits that the likes of Rome supplies.
In the ‘sunny side of the alps’, there’s no need to exhaust yourself, and I knew this was going to be a city break where I would come back feeling cultured but also rejuvenated, a far cry from the weekends I’ve spent ticking off the attractions at many other cities to return home in desperate need of a holiday.
I almost danced through the streets and alleyways looking for my BnB, losing myself in the ancient frescos and small squares that make up the city, not wanting to break the magic of my new found Europe hidden gem with a hotel check-in. As I arrived at the Heart of Trento BnB though, a friendly face took me to the rooftop room which offered even more spectacular views of the city. I suddenly didn’t even need to leave the room to marvel at this fairytale-like collection of rooftops.
I’m in love with Trento I whispered to myself. Glancing at my watch, I realised I’d only been here two hours, and I prayed this wasn’t going to be a one-night affair that ended up with a walk-of-shame back to the likes of more famed Venice, an ex I felt I was cheating on.
Spoiler alert: this love story has a happy ending, let me tell you all the reasons why…
What I loved the most about Trento was the understated and underrated feeling of it. Honestly, it deserves to be much more on the radar as an Italian city break though, in part thanks to its equally unassuming attractions.
Buonconsiglio Castle is one of these. While it’s hard to appreciate the scale of it from outside, though my BnB provided exception views, inside there is a plethora of art and architecture to keep you in awe.
The main castle in Trentino is now a museum, where painters sit amongst lavender in perfectly manicured gardens, performers and artists come to display their work and an underground wine cellar provides a post-visit tipple.
The fine frescos inside the courtyards, detailed ceilings and painting collections all come together to provide a few hours of history and art induced indulgence while the views from the castle can keep you captivated for just as long.
Italian Food with a Trentino Twist
You can’t talk about Italy and not mention the food when eating is such a big part of life in this country. From orgasmic gelato to some of the best pizza I’ve tasted (Pizzeria Albert where the long-lines are worth the wait), Trento serves up the Italian staples in droves.
The history of the region though, and the change in country lines have left an influence from Austria, and with it, you can find some regional variations here. Canederli is a type of bread dumpling, but more similar to gnocchi, which you shouldn’t miss and I thoroughly enjoyed my tasting at Scrigno del Duomo, where the courtyard overlooks the cathedral and inside ancient walls run through the basement.
Ferrari sparkling wine is one of the most famous in the region, and with vineyards stretching across the mountains, a wine-tour here of the local production wouldn’t be a wrong way to while away a few hours.
As with the rest of my visit to Trento, I enjoyed the fact the relaxing atmosphere from inside the restaurants spilt out to the streets, with beautiful bars serving up Spritz to relaxed cafes never seeming as intense as in other big cities. Italy is famed for its food and its efficient service, but here I was pleasantly pleased by the personality and conversation that came from each server too.
Admire the Art and Architecture
With roman walls and turrets, small cobbled streets of cafes, polished streets leading to the main squares and countless other architectural wonders, it’s easy just to get lost in this some-what open-air art museum.
Of course, the castle might be the main star, but there is plenty more architecture to keep you entertained without being overwhelming.
Start in Piazza Duomo, one of the main squares where the slightly off-centre fountain is placed to ensure the square feels like it is more for the residents than for sculptures to take centre stage. Here you can admire the outside of Cattedrale di San Vigilio, a grand cathedral which also offers some outstanding architecture inside. The Tridentine Diocesan Museum and culture museum also housed here is worth popping in to, and if you can go up, the Torre Civica attached you’ll see some great views over the square.
There are many outside frescos to take in on the buildings, some restored others not, but if you can get access to the University Library halls you’ll find an extensive collection of detailed frescos in some of the rooms here, each in fantastic condition given the cracks running through some of the building.
You’ll see Roman walls and architecture throughout the city but in the basement of the Social Theatre the Sass underground archaeological area is home to some of the best collections. As with many of the attractions in Trento they aren’t always open to the public so swing by the tourist information centre when you arrive to see if access is possible.
Also be sure to take a tour of the many churches throughout the city which feature some breathtaking architecture and art inside, you’ll stumble upon them when not expecting so be sure to pick up a local map highlighting all of the hidden gems which are down smaller side streets.
Although a little depressing, the cemetery which links the old and new city together also is home to some impressive, well laid out architecture.
Head into the Mountains
With such a stunning setting amongst the mountains, it would be criminal not to devote some of your city break to getting lost in nature.
Whether you take a side trip out to the lakes of Valsugana or head off on a mountain bike or urban-hiking expedition from the city, the views and fresh air of the pre-alps is something you shouldn’t miss out on. For an easier hiking root take the cable car to Trento Alto and set off from there or consult the impressive criss-cross of cycle and hiking routes across Trentino and make a bee-line for whichever takes your fancy.
The MUSE Museum for all
The MUSE museum in Trento takes you on a journey through the region and with interactive displays and a tropical rainforest this is a museum I could actually get excited about. I’m not a huge museum fan, but I spent hours here learning about DNA tests, extinct species, playing with displays that were likely for kids but helped me understand eco-systems in the mountains and marvel at the rainforest room which must feel like a sauna escape when the snow falls.
It’s also located in a new are of the city where trendy boutiques and cafes sit alongside glass-high buildings embedded with living gardens. It’s a bit of a contrast from the old, colourful facades of the main city but the views from the grassed parks here are well worth taking in.
Outside of the city
Beyond the city, there are multiple things to do in Trentino, from the Dolomites to watersports on pristine lakes. Just a short drive from Trento or a bus journey will take you to Canyon Orrido di Ponte Alto, a recently reopened gorge and one of the oldest hydraulica powers in the world.
A guide will take you down through the gorge where you’ll stand impressed in front of the ancient bridge before going behind the sheer power of water as it tumbles down. Amazingly, this is also another of Trentino’s many captivating outside music performance spaces.
On a side note, if you did want to arrange a guide when exploring Trento then Luca, my guide at the canyon, is a great guy to get in touch with as he also runs a private guiding business and knows the region inside out.
Discover the lakes of Valsugana
Valsugana, an award-winning lake land which forms part of the Trentino region in Italy was nothing short of breathtaking. Hiking through mountains and breathing in fresh air, kayaking across still waters, gorging on gelato at the lake-side beaches and discovering tiny thermal spa towns were just a few of the many highlights during my two-day escape outside of the city and makes for the perfect combination to extend your Italy city break.
Heart of Trento BnB and the Trentino Card
One of the best places I’ve ever stayed and somewhere I would happily recommend for your visit to Trento is the Heart of Trento Luxury BnB. Each room has been designed by an artist from the city and the bright, breezy space including the kitchen where your breakfast will be delivered each morning is the perfect spot to unwind. With a rooftop room containing floor to ceiling windows being one of the highest points in the city the views and exceptional, or for a lazy day you can power up the hot tub on the balcony and admire the mountains around you in a warm tub of joy.
I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that if you book more than two nights accommodation in Trentino with a partner hotel such as Heart of Trento, the Trentino Guest Card is included in the price. Providing regional transport on the buses and trains, access to many attractions and discounts to a selection of businesses it can help to reduce the cost of your Trentino escape.
Discover more of the region by reading reasons to visit Trentino next.